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Doctrine of election too transcendent for human explanation, Patterson says

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The doctrine of election, though supported by Scripture, does not supercede the biblical mandate for evangelism, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention said Aug. 27.
“Whatever your doctrine of election is, if it intentionally or unintentionally slows you down in the task of confrontational evangelism, you’ve yet to discover what the Bible teaches about election,” Paige Patterson told a near-capacity Binkley Chapel audience on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
Preaching from 1 Peter 1:1-2 where the Apostle Peter addresses his letter to the “elect according the foreknowledge of God the Father,” Patterson said the doctrine of election cannot be ignored.
However, the Southeastern Seminary president warned to construct one’s doctrine of salvation or theology around the doctrine of election is to mishandle the Word of God. He said when attempting to reconcile seemingly divergent texts in the Bible, they should be interpreted in light of the “entire witness of Scripture.”
“The soteriology and even the theology of the New Testament is constructed around the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ — his atoning sacrifice and his Great Commission to take the gospel to the end of the earth,” Patterson declared.
Patterson took aim at what he described as the “ardent Calvinist argument,” named after the belief of 16th-century theologian John Calvin, that only the elect are included in Christ’s invitation that “whosoever believeth in him shall be saved.”
Anytime the doctrine of election is interpreted whereby it eliminates some people from the possibility of salvation and automatically condemns them to hell, Patterson said Jesus’ warning about the unpardonable sin is reduced “to little more than spiritual terrorism or worse, deliberate deceit since by definition every sin of the non-elect is unforgivable.”
Patterson said while it is undeniable that the doctrine of election or predestination is “bound up in the foreknowledge of God,” the question of how it works seems more productive than the question of why it is there.
“As long as the doctrine of election is in the Bible, salvation is God’s act from beginning to end,” Patterson said while citing Romans 8:30. “It is not what man does. It is what God does. Man never thought of it. Man never planned it. Man can’t produce it, and man can’t sustain it.”
Furthermore, Patterson said, the doctrine of election “guarantees that once you are saved, you are always saved.”
“When you come to God in Jesus Christ and are regenerated and born again, you can never forfeit that salvation. How on earth would it be possible for God to lose somebody he had elected to salvation?”
Patterson said the doctrine of election works itself out in Romans 8 as “God’s providential oversight of his children” guaranteed by a “designed climax of the age.”
“You don’t have to worry ultimately about who has the missiles,” he said. “You know that God is guiding it inevitably toward the designed climax that he has for it and election guarantees it.”
While it may be a healthy exercise to wrestle with the doctrines of election, sovereignty and free will, Patterson said, theological debate must not distract Christians from fulfilling the Great Commission.
“If you’re a more ardent advocate of Calvinism than you are of Jesus as an answer to men’s souls — and the way you tell that is by what you talk about most — then you are out of step with the clear teachings of the Word of God,” Patterson said.
“Two thousand years we’ve been talking about this,” he said. “It’s the only reason you build cafeterias and coffeehouses on seminary campuses, and nobody has come up with an explanation that will satisfy anybody else.
“Under such conditions, is it not better to say, ‘God, in your greatness, you have done and thought and acted in ways too transcendent for me to embrace.'”

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  • Lee Weeks