Dr. Richard Land, President of the Christian Life Commission; “Unconditional Election.”
Dr. Land’s title for his presentation was called “Congruent Election: Understanding Salvation from an Eternal Perspective.” Dr. Land is a D.Phil from Oxford, and is both bright and articulate. He stated clearly in his introduction that he did not believe at all in L of TULIP (Limited Atonement); he believed totally and completely in P of TULIP (Perseverance of the Saints); but as he would show in this particular session, he only believed in fractions of Total Depravity, Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace as defined by the Calvinists. Then he made his money statement, “If God had chosen to send Jesus to die for the elect, He would still be a loving, merciful and gracious God – but, that is not what the Bible teaches.”
Land proceeded then to explain what he believed the Bible to teach in terms of election. He began by showing what he called “The Leland Compromise,” which is the name designated for the view of salvation held by 19th Century Baptist John Leland. Dr. Leland believed in both the eternal purpos of God in election and the freedom of the human will. He believed that the preaching most blessed of God is that which emphasizes God’s sovereign grace with a little bit of Arminianism sprinkled in. Land said that Baptists in the south, seventy years before the formation of the SBC, followed Leland's view, emphasizing BOTH God’s sovereignty and human free will. Land observed that we Baptists are always at our best when both truths are emphasized. He added that too many preachers today try to rationalize one truth over the other.
Dr. Land then personally confessed “I believe election is consistent with the free will of man.” He then suggested the more difficult question is “How should election be defined?” Dr. Land proposed that some of the early leaders of the SBC, commonly called "The Founders," taught that God “unconditional elects” certain sinners to salvation, while excluding others. Dr. Land said this "Founders" view of election was contrary to the view of election held by the majority of Southern Baptist laymen at the time. Accordingly, said Dr. Land, some SBC leaders today hold to a view of the Calvinistic doctrine of "Unconditional Election" - a view not held by the majority of the SBC.
Dr. Land said this Calvinistic view of election arises when Baptists confuse the Old Testament teaching of God electing the nation of Israel with the New Testament teaching of God electing sinners. The former he called “Abrahamic election” and the latter he called “Salvific election.” He said Presbyterians confuse the church of the N.T. with Israel of the O.T., and Southern Baptists who hold to Presbyterian ecclesiology have made the same error and taught that God elects certain sinners (not all) to salvation, just like God chose one nation Israel (not all nations) to be His people. He then explained that Romans 9-11 is a consideration of NATIONAL election, and nowhere in Romans 9-11 is personal election to salvation the subject. He said Dr. H.A. Ironside helped him see that the Apostle Paul was referring to nations in Romans 9-11, not individuals.
Dr. Land then became specific on what he believed what the Bible taught about election. He quoted Romans 8:29 which states that we are elect according the “foreknowledge” of God. Dr. Land said God desires all (pas) men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. God willeth all men to be saved, and He has given His Son as a ransom for all, but He does not violate our freedom. He will not force us to be converted. He allows us to choose for ourselves.
But, according to Dr. Land, this is where God's “foreknowledge” comes in to play. God knows all things that happen in time - now. There is no "future" to God. Everything is now to Him. God treats sinners as either “elect” or “non-elect” because He knows what the sinner will choose from eternity. Time is irrelevant to God. Again, the future is the now to God. Therefore, He desires all to be saved, He gives His Son for the atonement of all sins without exception, and all that is lacking is the sinner’s reception of what God has provided, and God will treat sinners based upon His knowledge of how they will choose.
Dr. Land then made clear what is required for God to “elect” a sinner. “As the sinner attempts to respond to the saving work of God, then God gives to that sinner saving faith.” In other words, God gives the faith, and treats the sinner as His elect, His child, etc . . . when God sees “an attempt to respond.” He does not turn a deaf ear to the sinner who calls upon the name of the Lord. But, what makes Dr. Land’s view different from classical Armianism is Dr. Land believes God knows the decision of that believer BEFORE creation, and He gives eternal salvation based upon that sinner's initial "response" to God's redemption. God does not give that initial response, but God responds to the sinner's response. And, God treats that sinner who responds as one of "the elect" because God knows what the response will be from eternity. Thus, the title for Dr. Land's talk – Congruent Election. Dr. Land quoted C.S. Lewis who said “To God all the physical events and human acts are present in an eternal now.” God has all knowledge, and He knows which sinner will choose to receive what God has provided in Christ Jesus for every sinner.
My Disagreements With Dr. Land’s View of Election
I appreciated Dr. Land’s desire to protect the reputation of God as a loving and gracious God. It seems to me that most of the speakers at the John 3:16 Conference, including Dr. Land, were seeking to prevent what they perceived to be a Calvinistic belief in partiality – that God creates some sinners in order to save them, and He creates other sinners for the purpose of condemning them. However, if Dr. Land and others would think through their belief that God's "foreknowledge" is simply God "knowing" who would receive His redemption, then they would see that they also are faced with the dilemma of God creating people He knows He will ultimately condemn. God simply knowing the future "free will" choices of sinners does not exempt God from the accusation that He creates sinners with their destiny set before birth of ultimate condemnation.
If in the fulness of time a sinner, one that God knows will not choose to receive the redemption God has provided, comes to the moment of decision, it is impossible for that sinner to choose to receive Christ - for if he did, then God's "knowledge" would be imperfect, and God would not be God. In other words, if salvation is dependant upon a sinner’s response to God’s redemption, and if God simply knows how the sinner will respond, then God is creating sinners that He knows will never believe. He is therefore creating sinners that He will ultimately condemn. Why not just not create them?
To avoid this dilemma of asking why God creates sinners that He knows He will ultimately condemn, some Baptists, like Dr. Greg Boyd, now teach “open theology.” "Open" theists make the claim that the future is “open” and “unknown” to God. This denial of God's omniscience allows the claim to be made that God is TRULY desiring all sinners to be saved, so much so that He creates every human being with the sincere HOPE that the sinner will respond, but He does not really know if the sinner will - or will not - respond. This gives to open theists the peace of mind that God is not creating sinners He knows He will ultimately condemn. The future is open to God - it is unknown.
There is, however, another view. It is the orthodox, historic Baptist, and biblical view of "election." The very view Dr. Land seems to oppose. This view of election is held by those who believe the Bible teaches every human being justly deserves the condemnation of a holy God because every human being is a rebel against God. This rebellion (sin) is not God's fault, it is man's choice. While God takes no pleasure in the death and condemnation of the wicked, He does justly choose to bypass some sinners for deliverance from their rebellion in order that His holiness and justice might be made manifest. However, God has also graciously chosen to save an innumerable company of sinners through Jesus Christ for the praise and the glory of His grace. To those whom He has chosen to redeem, He has also freely given to them all things associated with their redemption, including the gifts of faith and repentance. Those sinners who repent and believe in Christ have experience God's gracious power, for "in the day of His power, His people are made willing." The belief that a sinner will only find Christ lovely when God awakens that sinner to the beauty of Christ is to give to God all the credit for a sinner's salvation.
God's grace and the absence of God's grace is a little like darkness and light. There is no such thing as darkness – it is simple the absence of light. One never really appreciates light until there is a comprehension of darkness. So too, God may choose to righteously punish sinners by bypassing them with His grace in order that those who experience His grace might appreciate what it is that they have received from their gracious God. Bottom line, it seems to me that if Southern Baptists really believed that every sinner is responsible for his or her rebellion to God, and that God is under no obligation to convert and deliver a rebel, then there would be no complaint that God chooses not to save every sinner, but there would be a remarkable astonishment and an unbridled joy that He has chosen to deliver even one sinner - not to mention the innumerable company of sinners the Bible says God has chosen to redeem.
Dr. Land is not an Arminian. He did an admirable job attempting to combine God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility. However, I think both were not emphasized quite enough. Man is responsible - to obey God perfectly. God holds man responsible for this perfect obedience. Yet, no man seeks God. No man obeys God. No man listens to God. We are all rebels. We are all sinners. The fact that a great number of us will one day repent of our sins and fall in love with Jesus Christ is because He first loved us. Our salvation is due to God's unconditional choice to redeem us and shower us with His favor, which includes the softening of our hard hearts and the vivifying (regeneration) of our spiritually dead hearts. I agree wholeheartedly that if a sinner desires God to save Him, God will. But for a hardened rebel like me to even begin to desire Christ's Lordship, and for me to even come to the point that I hate my rebellion to God, then God must first change my heart. We love our rebellion way too much, and just as it is impossible for the Ethiopian to change the color of his skin or the leopard his spots, so it is impossible for those of us accustomed to doing evil to change our ways.
Contrary to what Dr. Land stated, I believe that when Southern Baptists sometimes talk like a little like Arminians might talk, or when we Southern Baptists sometimes theorize like Arminians theorize, or when we Southern Baptists sometimes debate like Arminians debate, we Southern Baptists might need to just do a little more biblical preaching and a little more gospel singing. The most powerful preaching of the Bible, and the most effectual singing of the gospel, comes from the preaching and singing that exalts the biblical truth that “God saves sinners through Jesus Christ.”
I am reminded of the story of Charles Spurgeon leading his congregation in singing one of the hymns of the famous Arminian Charles Wesley. The congregation sang:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose went forth and followed Thee.”
Spurgeon closed the hymn book and exclaimed “Wesley, where is thine Arminianism now?”
I really think when Dr. Land and other Southern Baptist preachers preach the Word, which both he and other Southern Baptists do quite well, the theorizing of congruent election goes out the window and God is given sole credit for sinners repenting and turning from their sin.
God's foreknowledge is not simply God "knowing" facts about His people; God's foreknowledge is God's everlasting love for His people. Adam "knew" his wife Eve and she conceived. God "foreknew" His people and they were redeemed. Thank God for his everlasting love (Jer. 31:3).
In His Grace,