How Do the Arminian and Calvinist Views of Election Differ?

The Basis of Election

We can distinguish the Arminian view of election from the Calvinist view of election by answering this question: What is the basis of God’s election? In other words, on what basis did God choose to save some individuals? Both Arminians and Calvinists agree that the answer is God’s foreknowledge.

Romans 8 says, “Those whom he foreknew he also predestined.” 1 Peter 1 says that “those who are elect exiles . . . according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” So foreknowledge is the basis of election. That’s not controversial. Both sides agree. What’s controversial is how to define God’s foreknowledge. And there are two basic ways to explain how God’s foreknowledge is the basis of God’s election. Conditional election is the Arminian view, and unconditional election is the Calvinist view.


Andrew David Naselli

In this addition to the Short Studies in Systematic Theology series, Andrew David Naselli carefully examines the doctrine of predestination and encourages believers to respond in worship.

Here’s how they differ. For the conditional election view, foreknowing is foreseeing. So God’s foreknowledge is his knowledge of what humans would freely choose. And for the unconditional election view, foreknowing is foreloving. God’s foreknowledge is his personal, loving commitment to specific individuals.

For the conditional election view, God foresaw that specific individuals would first freely choose to believe in him, and then afterwards he chose to save those individuals. For the unconditional election view, God intimately knew and loved specific individuals beforehand. That is, he personally committed himself to certain individuals before they even existed, and those are the individuals God chose.

For the conditional election view, election is conditional in that it depends on whether a human freely chooses Christ. For the unconditional election view, election is unconditional in that it does not depend on any human condition but solely on God’s sovereign good pleasure.

So for the conditional election view, God chose to save specific individuals because he foresaw that they would choose to trust him. For the unconditional view, specific individuals choose to trust God because God chose to save them. I think the conditional election view entails that the decisive factor in election is what a human freely chooses. For the unconditional election view, the decisive factor in election is what God freely chooses.

Andrew David Naselli is the author of Predestination: An Introduction.

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