The Mystery of Election -- By: John W. Eddins, Jr.

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 11:1 (Fall 1993)
Article: The Mystery of Election
Author: John W. Eddins, Jr.

The Mystery of Election

John W. Eddins, Jr.

Professor of Theology
Faculty Lecture
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
January 30, 1990

Affirmation: The mystery of election inheres in the being of God whose essence is revealed in Jesus Christ to be love—love which glorifies God in God’s purpose to recapitulate all things through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Personal knowledge of divine election and reflection upon that knowledge in a doctrinal form often evoke two strikingly different responses. Peter, who believed that he had been elected by Jesus to be an apostle, begins his epistle with both an affirmation and a blessing: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you” (1 Pet. 1:1–2).

Augustine of Hippo also became aware of his gracious election beginning with his conversion experience in Milan, in A.D. 386, when he heard a voice beseeching him to read, and he read Rom. 13:13. However, Augustine’s disposition towards those Christians who disagreed with him on election hardly expresses a blessing. In his work Against Julian, he writes concerning the apparent morality among the nonelect with biting sarcasm directed against Julian of Eclanum (Against Julian,
4. 17):

God forbid that we should admit the existence of true virtue in anyone except he be righteous. And God forbid that we should admit anyone to be truly righteous unless he lives by faith: “For the righteous lives by faith.” Who then of those who wish to be thought Christian (except the Pelagians alone, or perhaps you [i.e., Julian of Eclanum] alone even amongst the Pelagians) will apply the epithet of “righteous” to an infidel?

When the doctrine of election—election by the loving God of all things—becomes an issue in theological and ecclesiastical endeavors, extremely unlovely words and deeds are made manifest—-especially by those who perceive themselves to he the elect of God for salvation. If, indeed, theological reflection itself is inherently polemical and destructive of individual piety, the church, and common decency, this attempt to examine the doctrine of election may be extremely risky for us and whatever tranquility we presently experience.

Because doctrines have been taken so seriously and set forth in such unlovely controversy, both Christians and others have resorted to caricature. Many of us have heard the caricatures of election since ou...

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