Friday, September 16, 2016

Does a Corporate View of the Doctrine of Election lead to a more missional worldview?

*For Part 1, "Does a Wesleyan view of grace lead to a more missional worldview?" click here.

Divine election has mission in view.
                              -Dr Clark H Pinnock

I recently re-read Dr Pinnock’s contribution to the book Perspectives on Election (Find in a Library) and I found myself highlighting completely different areas from the first time I read it. His chapter is titled “Divine Election as Corporate, Open and Vocational”.[1

I wonder how anyone could read this chapter and afterwards not be convinced that the corporate view is a more missional; more Jesus-centred; more gospel-saturateda more Biblicalunderstanding of election. 

As Dr Pinnock points out regarding the traditional view, “Everyone (I think) knows that election is not much preached about these days, and understandably so, because the traditional version contains little gospel.” (p 277)

But when we examine the Biblical idea of “election” we find just the opposite: “There is no hidden decree here but only good news through and through” (302). Dr Pinnock explains, "Election in the Bible has to do with God’s strategy for the salvation of the nations. The calling of a new people with its new way of being together in the world, this is God’s plan to turn the world right-side up.” (p 283) And: 

Election is not about the destiny of individual persons for salvation or damnation but about God’s calling a people who in the New Testament setting live according to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and proclaim good news to the world. [...] The focus is not on the salvation of the elect body itself (though this is assumed) but on the hoped-for consummated new humanity. (276-277)

How is the idea of “election” used in the Bible?

First, we see it used throughout the Old Testament, where election was corporate and included all those connected to the covenant head (Abraham, then Jacob/Israel). Dr Pinnock writes:

God established a special relationship with Abram with world transforming potential. ... God committed himself to this covenant with Israel, a lowly tribe, and established a relationship which will eventually include all peoples.
God declares: “You shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5). The election is of a people (it is corporate); Israel is God’s holy people and treasured possession. ... God gave Israel a most-favored-nations status and for a reason. ... Israel was not called to an exclusive salvation but to a priestly vocation intended to bring the whole world to God.
They have been blessed, but with favor come expectations. God loves the people in Israel but has a ministry in mind for her, namely, a mediating role in the salvation of the world. Isaiah expresses the heart of it. Most succinctly God says, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). The idea of a priestly kingdom is that Israel is going to serve as a representative people and will have a mediating role within the wider world. (p 284-285)

Does this same understanding of “election” follow into the New Testament?

Dr Pinnock continues, “The point and meaning of the election of Israel is now to be found in Jesus of Nazareth. ... In the New Testament the election is narrowed down to Jesus Christ himself.” (293)

We hear God’s voice at the baptism of Jesus: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). God says at the transfiguration: “This is my Son, My Chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). This was no election to salvation (Jesus did not need be saved) but to service. In particular, he is the one through whom God brings salvation. Dying on the cross, he was taunted in these terms: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (Luke 23:35). (292)
Election is now seen as relative to the Son, to his mission, death, and resurrection. Jesus is “the elect” par excellence and God has chosen to elect us “in him.” We become part of the corporate “us” in the body of Christ. (294)
[I]t needs also to be understood as participation in Jesus Christ. By faith we share in his death and resurrection. ... In Christ, with Christ, into Christ, and through Christ--all such expressions speak of a new corporate reality. It is the presence of the risen Lord with us in the community which is his body and the realm of the Holy Spirit. ... It makes us all part of the process of world transformation. (294)

Notice how Gospel-centred this is! Further connecting the goal of election to the mission of God, Dr Pinnock writes:

This is how I see it: God's mercy is freely available and the elect body open to any and all who hear God's call. .... When a person believes in Jesus, he or she is incorporated in the body of Christ, and all that had been predestined for the group now applies to that person as well. God is sharing his life with the world and does so through the instrumentality of Jesus Christ and his church. (287- 288)
He has predestined the church to be conformed to the image of his Son and uses it to bear witness to the rest of humankind. The election of Israel, too, did not have in view only salvation; it also had in mind a priestly vocation, intended to bring the whole world to God. The love by which God loves the church is meant to spread into the whole world. The church is not a community intended for a salvation exclusively its own. It comes with a calling to reconcile the world to God through its praise and ministry.(288)
Those who know God are meant to make him known. Divine election is a wonderful gospel doctrine. God has unconditionally elected a people to serve as the vehicle of salvation for the whole of humanity.
God has chosen a people for the sake of all the nations. This interpretation of it upholds the perfect love and goodness of God. God's ways are fair; he saves all he possibly can. He does not leave anyone out arbitrarily. (313)

And finally, “God's desire to save all sinners is clear, and election does not contest it. Indeed, election is an instrument and means to make salvation happen.” (297)

Our calling is to be partners in God’s work of salvation. Mission and outreach, not salvation as our private possession, is the goal of election. Too often we have taken our own salvation to be the goal and assigned mission to paid emissaries. Too often we can be so busy edifying ourselves that we have little time for our neighbour. (287)

The church is not an end in itself; it has been given the power of the Spirit in order to take the gospel to the world and to make disciples of every nation.” (285)

[1] In footnote 3 he recommends William W Klein’s excellent book The New Chosen People: A corporate view of Election, and in footnote 4 adds, “If my favorite exegetical source is WIlliam Klein, my favorite systematic authority is Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. III (Grand Rapids: Eardmans, 1993).”  As I’ve mentioned before, Dr Klein’s book was the single biggest influence in my own adoption of the corporate election view.  

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