“These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful” (Rev. 17:14, NKJV, emphasis supplied).
In a couple of days people will be flocking to Louisville, Kentucky, for this year’s Generation. Youth. Christ. (GYC) convention. I remember my excitement and fervor as I left the corridors of this same city five years ago at the end of GYC 2010, with the theme Unashamed.
GYC is driven by a sense of calling for mission as God’s chosen people and challenges participants to be faithful to their calling. It is no wonder that this year’s theme is Called, Chosen, Faithful. Different speakers and facilitators will explore the contours of this theme as they seek its relevance for living faithfully for the Lord and embracing our sense of mission. This introductory article seeks to articulate some of the theological dimensions of this theme.
The idea of being called, chosen, and faithful is a thread that runs throughout Scripture. It lends itself to some crucial questions. For example:
- Who has called/chosen, and who has been called/chosen?
- What is the nature of the relationship between the caller/chooser and the called/chosen? Is the relationship synergistic (cooperative) or monergistic (one-sided, with God doing everything)?
- What is the purpose of the calling? Called for mission or to salvation?
- Who is faithful? How does one become faithful? To what or whom is one faithful?
Can these ideas be brought together coherently and consistently?
Searching for a Theological Paradigm
At the heart of this theme is our understanding of salvation. Writing in The Nature of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn explores how scientific ideas and practices are understood and carried out within given paradigms. In the same way, words like faith, grace, and all other words in Scripture assume different meanings depending on a given theological paradigm. Different theological systems/models attempt to present a coherent and consistent understanding of Scripture. Exegesis is often carried out to fit a given model.
We can explore the idea of the called, chosen, and faithful through two theological frameworks: Calvinism and Arminianism. These are the most dominant and influential soteriological (salvation) models in evangelicalism, though they are by no means the only ones, and there are some variants within each paradigm.
In the Reformed understanding, calling and election (choosing) are tied to the doctrine of God. The best expression of this model is the TULIP or five points of Calvinism:
- Total depravity of man
- Unconditional election of the redeemed
- Limited atonement of Christ only for the redeemed
- Irresistible grace of God toward the redeemed
- Perseverance of the saints
In the updated and expanded edition of The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Documented, Steele, Thomas, and Quinn define unconditional election as follows:
The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save.… His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will.
This doctrine of unconditional election makes human response to salvation irrelevant. Thus the called, chosen, and faithful are those who are the beneficiaries of a unilateral divine action that transpired in eternity past. Human response plays no role in this model because “God in eternity past, apart from anything foreseen in them, chose the specific individuals who were to be saved” (emphasis mine).
Jacob Arminius opposed Calvin’s soteriological model on the grounds that it misrepresented both the character of God and the nature of man. He increasingly argued for a certain freedom of the human will. In doing so, Arminius rejected both predestination and the total depravity of man as understood and stated by Reformed theologians and the confessions of the church.
This doctrine is repugnant to the Nature of God, but particularly to those Attributes of his nature by which he performs and manages all things, his wisdom, justice, and goodness….
Such a doctrine of Predestination is contrary to the nature of man, in regard to his having been created after the Divine image in the knowledge of God and in righteousness, in regard to his having been created with freedom of will, and in regard to his having been created with a disposition and aptitude for the enjoyment of life eternal.
After the death of Arminius, his followers set forth the following tenets, which have become the core of the Arminian soteriological model:
- God’s election (choice) of people is conditional to their response.
- Christ died for all sinners.
- Human free will is restored by the Holy Spirit.
- Grace can be resisted.
- Believers may persevere in the faith or fall from grace.
Are Seventh-day Adventists Arminian?
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been called to proclaim the everlasting gospel to the world. The goodness of the news hinges on the fact that “God provides salvation for all human beings, He invites them to accept Christ as Savior, those who accept His invitation are saved.” Thus, the “chosen ones” are those who respond by faith as Abraham did to God’s promises (Matt. 24:22, 24, 31; cf. Eph. 4:1; Phil. 2:12-13; and Rev. 17:14, “those who are with Him are called, chosen [eklektoi], and faithful [pistoi]”). In this sense, we share a common ground with Arminius.
Even more significantly, the urgency of the three angels’ messages depends on a theological model that acknowledges the importance of the human response to God’s offer of salvation. Furthermore, “the Adventist theme of the great controversy between good and evil provides a theological framework that is dependent on an Arminian understanding of God’s relationship with sinners and the sinner’s need to respond to the gospel invitation.”
It would be mistaken, though, to assume that Adventism stands with Arminius on his entire theology and soteriology. The intersection between Adventism and Arminianism hinges on the fact that human response to God’s offer of salvation counts in salvation (though it is not meritorious). That common ground ends here and goes no further. Why?
Arminius’ theology was still entrenched in hard-cased classical metaphysics. In searching for consistency and coherence, his system as a whole is highly at odds with the Adventist understanding of salvation that involves a historical understanding of the doctrine of the sanctuary. Contrast the Adventist historical understanding of God with the following atemporal God of Arminius:
Eternity is a pre-eminent mode of the Essence of God, by which it is devoid of time with regard to the term or limits of beginning and end, because it is of infinite being; it is also devoid of time with regard to the succession of former and later, of past and future, because it is a simple being, which is never in [potential] capability, but always in act.
In searching for a soteriological model, we share a common thought with Arminius, not his metaphysics. And that thought is, human response matters.
A Theological Paradox
This issue of how we are saved belongs in the hall of fame of theological paradoxes in Scripture, like the human/divine nature of Christ and the doctrine of the trinity. In this paradox, our salvation is entirely dependent on God and entirely dependent on our response (enabled and empowered, though, by God’s grace, which always precedes our human response).
This year’s theme for GYC, Called, Chosen, Faithful, drawn from Revelation 17:14, sums up the plan of redemption in a synergistic trilogy:
- Called—God’s initiation, which elicits human response;
- Chosen—God’s action in Christ, which elicits human response;
- Faithful—God’s empowerment, which elicits human cooperation.
It would be incomplete to end this article without underlining the fact that both the divine initiative and the human response are underwritten by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Thus the called, chosen, and faithful can proclaim in unison, Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)!
Read the rest of the GYC Theme Series:
- Introduction: Searching for a Model of Salvation
- Part 1: The Call of God
- Part 2: Chosen for Mission
- Part 3: Faithful Among the Faithless
 David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, S. Lance Quinn, The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Documented (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1963, 2004), 27.
 William VanDoodewaard, “Remonstrants, Contra-Remonstrants, and the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619): The Religious History of the Early Dutch Republic,” Puritan Reformed Journal 04:1 (Jan 2012).
 Denis Fortin, Historical and Theological Perspectives on the Rise of Arminianism and the Place of Seventh-day Adventism in the Calvinist-Arminian Debate, p. 7. A paper presented at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Symposium on Adventism and Arminianism—Oct. 14-16, 2010.
 Hans K. LaRondelle, Divine Election and Predestination: A Biblical Perspective, p. 7. A paper presented at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Symposium on Adventism and Arminianism—Oct. 14-16, 2010.
 Ibid., 10.
 The Writings of James Arminius, vol. 1, translated by James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977), p. 439.