After contemplating Scripture, doctrine, and terms, I began to consider whether election was truly unconditional. This led me to determine that God can be viewed as a condition of election. While this is not often considered, I seek to open a discussion regarding the terminology related to unconditional and conditional election. Are the terms used properly according to their normal use? Do they accurately describe the full sense of the view held about election? It is my view that both Calvinists and Arminians believe in conditional election; they differ on the condition.
Dogmatic Calvinists argue that election is “‘unconditional’ because it is not conditioned upon anything that God sees in us.”1 Dogmatic Arminians argue that election is dependent upon man’s faith. However, both miss the truth in order to disprove the other and define their terms in relation to the opposition.2
Election is conditional because it is limited to and stems from God’s sovereign will.
Webster’s dictionary defines unconditional as “not conditional or limited; unqualified.” In order for election to be truly unconditional, it cannot be limited by any preceding fact. However, election is limited by a preceding fact, namely, God’s sovereign will.
Election is not dependent upon man, as the Arminians teach, for Romans 3 teaches that no one is righteous nor seeks God. Furthermore, if man must act first, then man supersedes God.
Election is not unconditional because that would mean nothing limits or precedes election. However, election is limited by the bounds of God’s will.
Some may argue that this argument is not for conditional election, but for unconditional election. On the contrary, as mentioned earlier, in order to be unconditional, there must be no limitations or preceding facts. God’s sovereign will absolutely precedes and limits election so that only those whom God wills to be elect are in fact elected. Unconditional election would allow all to be elect despite the will of God.
Some may argue that Calvinists believe God’s will is inherent in unconditional election. If Calvinists truly believe that God’s will limits and precedes election, then they cannot hold to an unconditional election. Either God’s will limits election, resulting in conditional election, or it does not limit election, resulting in unconditional election. One cannot believe in an election that is both limited and unlimited at the same time, even if it is couched in vague terms such as ‘inherent.’
Therefore, election is something restricted by and done according to God’s willful choice. Contrary to the dogmatism of many Calvinists and Arminians, election is conditional upon God’s will. To quote Reformed theologian W. R. Godfrey, “the foundation of [election] is simply the good pleasure or will of God.”3
1Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 679.
3Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. “Predestination.”