What Are Election and Predestination? Richard Phillips tackles this thorny question with a biblical mind and precision. Phillips begins with the doctrine of election which he describes as “the foundation on which the salvation of every believer rests: God’s own free and gracious choice of us.”
Phillips rightly notes that election takes place before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). The author makes a strong case for the covenant of redemption where the Father and Son come into covenant in eternity past. The Son voluntarily agrees to redeem the elect of God by dying on the cross. The Father in turn, promises the Son the salvation of all the elect, those whom he chose in eternity past.
The author is quick to point out that the doctrine of election is not derived from the pen of a theologian. Rather this doctrine is the teaching of God. He cites numerous Scriptures to bolster his point and argues that since this doctrine emerges in Scripture, God’s people must receive it.
Since some people maintain that the doctrine of election leads to pride, Phillips seeks to press home the opposite point, namely, this doctrine in reality leads to humility. He cites A.W. Pink approvingly: “The truth of God’s sovereignty … removes every ground for human boasting and instills the spirit of humility in its stead. It declares that salvation is of the Lord – of the Lord in its origination, in its operation, and in its consummation … And all this is most humbling to the heart of man, who wants to contribute something to the price of his redemption and do that which will afford ground for boasting and self-satisfaction.”
Another typical objection to the doctrine of election is that it promotes lazy Christians. Phillips eagerly notes that nothing could be further from the truth. Again he leads the reader to numerous Scripture reference that lead the believer to the pursuit of holiness. He cites Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “Because we have been chosen to holiness we must and will become holy … According to Paul we are not chosen with the possibility of holiness, but to the realization of holiness … Being ‘chosen’ and being ‘holy’ are inseparable … God, who has chosen you to holiness, will make you holy …”
Some may hold that the doctrine of election leads to presumption. However, Phillips maintains that election actually promotes and encourages assurance. “If we can say to God,” writes Phillips, “that we trust in Jesus, then God tells us that our faith is grounded on the solid rock of his eternal election … Election gives assurance not to unbelief but to faith; it provides God-given confidence of our security in the sovereign grace of God.” Ultimately, the doctrine of elections give glory to God, the glory that rightly belongs to him alone.
Phillips rightly makes a contrast between election and predestination. “God elects persons and predestines things.” It is in this context that the author refutes the so-called notion of election according to foreknowledge. He adds, “But this concept (election according to foreknowledge) nullifies the very idea of election; it renders pointless the teaching that Paul is so clearly trying to convey, namely, that salvation rests on God’s own character and purpose.”
The author includes a brief section that addresses the issue of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility – both of which are taught in God’s Word. Phillips writes, “The Bible asserts both predestination and human responsibility without reconciling them, and we must be willing to leave it at that.” These twin truths are not, as some have supposed, “parallel lines that meet in eternity.” At this point, we must simply embrace both biblical realities and be comfortable with mystery.
The section on predestination responds to the two primary arguments that are advanced by our Arminian friends, namely, that predestination is unfair and it is incompatible with human responsibility. Phillips argues against these notions in a winsome and theologically precise way. James Boice is helpful here: “It is not justice we want from God; it is grace. And grace cannot be commanded. It must flow to us from God’s sovereign purposes decreed before the foundation of the world, or it must not come at all.”
Richard Phillips has written an excellent defense of the doctrine of election and predestination. He fairly and graciously overcomes the arguments that are so typical in a debate where one experiences more heat than light. I highly recommend this resource to those who struggle with this doctrine as well as the convinced.
There is a strong movement in America that is returning to our Reformed theological roots. Richard Phillips’ short treatment of this subject serves as a basic introduction to the doctrines of grace and should be utilized by anyone who struggles (as I did for over two years) with these doctrines. A more comprehensive treatment may be found in John Murray’s, Redemption Accomplished and Applied and Lorraine Boettner’s, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. See also Chosen by God by R.C. Sproul and The Pleasures of God by John Piper.
Soli Deo Gloria!