Thursday, June 30, 2011

Effectual Calling

God, through Scripture, says he has called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).  The idea is very similar to that moment in the Matrix when Neo gets the package with the ringing phone and a series of amazing events unfold. The doctrine of effectual calling should be kept separate from the doctrines of Apologetics and Evangelism because it's personal, because it's about the election of particular people, those he predestined, he also called (Rom 8:30).  "Effectual calling" is also ultimately successful, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable (Rom 11:29).  It's not as though God makes someone an offer and they decide whether or not to buy Amway but God brings supernatural force to bear on their situation and the person begins a radical new direction in their life's journey.  The most useful aspect of this doctrine is the way it describes the pull God exerts and introduces into your life. For some it's as simple and dramatic as hearing someone else ask them to become a Christian, for others it's more of a series of small events, circumstances and comments that nudge you towards repentance and faith. Finally this doctrine is useful for Christians thinking about and describing how they became Christians.


ish said...

His gravitational pull. The wonder of it!

Marion said...

Luke that's the best essay you've written. Clear and resonant.

Alex Smith said...

Yes, I agree it's well written Luke :)

Alex Smith said...

Do you think His grace is irresistible?

Luke Isham said...

Thanks for the support everyone!

Yes, for those who are elect, God has mercy, those he predestined, he also called (Rom 8:30).

Donners said...

Yes, i think it's interesting how many people I know wish to be the 'chooser' of God and feel uncomfortable with God 'controlling' choice.
If as Ephesians says , we were 'dead in our transgressions and sins' and we were incapable of responding to God - then his call is essential to our transformation, salvation and regeneration.

First of all, I don't think our imaginations can really conceive of the complex way God works in us with our own wills. It is certainly not robotic and fleshless. I know many Christians, and none of them are automatons! Yet all of them have the SPirit of God, changing and influencing their minds and life.

Secondly - as the character of God becomes clearer to us and the nature of our helplessness in sin more evident, I become more and more pleased that is GOD who chooses and not me! Surely I would change my mind at any point without the anchor to my soul of Christ, gone through the Most Holy Place by the blood of His own sacrifice?

Alex Smith said...

Given we know that God's grace is irresistible for all whom God desires, we only need to look at 1 Tim 2:3-6 (ESV) to know what the end result will be :)

"This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time."

And in case we are in any about the scope of the all, we only have to look at 1 Tim 2:1-2 (ESV), "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way." i.e. as far as I know we are to pray for all, including those who persecute us.

I agree with you Donners, that we don't know exactly how God does this without violating free will, but I think "at the proper time" in verse 6 is a helpful indicator.

Andrew Bowles said...

I think this idea, while it has a measure of truth, flattens out the idea of call as it appears in the Scriptures, which seems to have many variants.

We have:

1) God's people who have heard his call but who may subsequently harden their hearts against his voice, and should avoid this because punishment will come - Psalm 95 & again in Hebrews 3

2) God's persistent calling out to people who ignore him - ""I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.' 2 All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations" (Isa 65:1-2)

3) Gentiles who had no idea of who God really was, then came to faith when they heard his call (Eph 2:1-10)

4) The disciples of Jesus, who take the place of the elect when Israel rejects him (Rom 8-9).

Which of these callings is 'effectual', and why?

Luke Isham said...


Who does the "all people" of verse one refer to? If it refers to 'every single person who has ever lived and will live' then the Apostle Paul has us praying for Winston Churchill and astronauts from the future! So clearly the "all" is limited in some sense, which is consistent with other themes in the Apostle Paul or even within 1 Timothy, the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.(1 Tim 4:10).

Luke Isham said...


I think John Murray (Redemption Accomplished and Applied) makes the helpful distinction between the universal call of Evangelism in places such as Matthew 22:14 many are called but few are chosen and the specific salvific call of individuals by God (Rom 8:30) which is ultimately effectual.

I'm not sure "calling" falls into those four categories you've described. Demarest in the The Cross and Salvation: The Doctrine of Salvation, surveys the Protestant understanding of calling in the following way: Pelagians have said "there is a natural ability to answer God's universal call" Lutherans hold that there is a "special ability provided to hearers of the gospel that may be resisted", Arminians say there is a "universally restored ability to obey God's general call", while the traditional Reformed say there is a "general call that may be resisted and a special call effectual for salvation."

Andrew Bowles said...

Imagine if someone accidentally responded to the universal evangelistic call when they hadn't received the special salvific call as well. How embarrassing when they turn up at the party with a grateful smile and a bottle of wine. :)

John Murray should back up a few verses. Matt 22:1-14 actually starts with the special call to the elect few and then when they REFUSE it the king opens the banquet up to any old sod. It's almost like he WANTS lots of people to come...

Alex Smith said...

There isn't any limit to the scope of who we should pray for, you can even pray for Winston Churchill and astronauts from the future. I don't see any Biblical support for not praying for people. This is a very strong argument (ask any Arminian) showing there isn't any limit to the scope of who God wishes to be saved.

I think the "elect" are the first-fruits of those who are saved i.e. 1 Tim 4:10's "especially of those who believe [now]" are the first-fruits, the Christians who come to believe in this age, as opposed to the next.

Luke Isham said...


(By that description, it sounds like the party is out of God's control, that God is floundering at the door with the invite list!)

Although I didn't see how each of your previous examples worked, I think I get what you're saying, that the concept of "call" is used in different ways in Scripture. But how does that invalidate the idea of an "effectual call" to salvation?

Luke Isham said...


I don't think there is any evidence either in 1 Timothy or in the wider work of the Apostle Paul that he wants us to pray for every single person, past, present and future. The "all" of chapter 2 is certainly wide but not that wide! Neither do I think we should use the concept/phrase of "first fruits", which is used specifically in the context of resurrection, as implied in 1 Timothy 4:10. I also think the concept of "all" has more flexibility than the precise meaning you've assigned it: "every single person, past, present and future." And while it may seem the Apostle Paul is casting a wide net in 1 Tim 2:3-6, Universal reconciliation isn't being considered in 1 Timothy, for example some of the angles are described as elect (1 Tim 5:21), as opposed to those that aren't.

Andrew Bowles said...

"(By that description, it sounds like the party is out of God's control, that God is floundering at the door with the invite list!)"

Well, if you have a problem with the parable, take it up with the author. :p

I know that this is a matter of fundamental theological intuition that we disagree on, but if every aspect of soteriology is going to be framed in terms of 'control', then the entire creation of the universe and the drama of salvation is pointless. It would be just as good if the whole thing remained as a virtual 'blueprint' in the mind of God rather than making him making it 'real' and then exercising exhaustive and determinative control. The outcome would be the same. Either our relationship with God is real, i.e. it involves two separate parties who are joined by love, or it is just some game he's playing with himself. If a friend invites me to a party, it's better overall if he doesn't in addition kidnap me and exert 'supernatural force' to get me to show up.

Andrew Bowles said...

In response to your second point, the purpose of looking at different 'calls' is to notice that some of them don't appear 'effectual', even if they are genuine. The difference seems to be in the response of the people addressed, not the sincerity of God's call.
Ironically, the idea that there is a special effectual calling has the effect of making God appear to be 'floundering'. He finds he can't get people to respond to him, so the only way that they'll come is if he exerts force on them. I'm not impressed with that vision of God as him being particularly 'in control' of events. Sounds like desperation.

Alex Smith said...

I don't think there is any evidence either in 1 Tim, or the Bible, that God wants us to exclude a single person, past, present and future from our prayers! Add that to the fact Paul used the word "all" multiple times, when he could've used "some", if he wanted to.

"All" means "all", unless there are qualifiers like e.g. "all the tall people in room ate cake" as opposed to "Jesus died for all tall people"

You are asserting Paul isn't considering universal reconciliation. To me it seems very clear that he is :-D

Sorry I'm not sure I understand your example that "some of the angles are described as elect (1 Tim 5:21), as opposed to those that aren't."? God has always chosen people to bring the Gospel to people. Angels, prophets, Israel, Jesus, Apostles, Christians, etc. Just because He does this, doesn't mean He doesn't love those not chosen to be the messengers. e.g. He loves the people the message is going to :)

Luke Isham said...

[Comment moderation kicks in after seven days.]

Luke Isham said...


In your previous comment you've put your finger on the nub of our disagreement although I disagree with the way you've framed it! As you know I think free-will can be a legitimate creaturely activity within God's sovereignty, the alternative is a God who makes mistakes, has to learn things as he goes along and that just doesn't ring true. I'm elated God is pulling me towards him supernaturally because if I had my way I'd remain in darkness, but I understand you'd feel differently about the relationship of free-will and God's sovereignty.

Luke Isham said...


I'm surprised you've adopted the idea that we should pray for people who have been long dead, but I think I can see why because you need the "all/everyone" of verse 1 to mean every 'single living person, past present and future', so that you can claim universal salvation in verse 6.

It's an argument from an absence of evidence to say that we should pray for the dead. Your argument so far is really only; prayer is a good thing, the Bible doesn't say we shouldn't, therefore we are meant to pray for the dead! There is a lot of teaching about prayer, so you'd think such an important aspect would get more, if any mention, furthermore prayer for the dead isn't part of the Protestant tradition, or the one you and I have grown up with, so I'm confused that you've taken it on?

If you're looking for qualifiers, there's one in the very next phrase for verse 1, "those in authority" and Paul qualifies the idea that salvation is for everyone in 1 Tim 4:10. (BTW Is there a reason why the resurrection specific phrase/concept of "first fruits" should be imported into 1 Tim 4:10?)

How is it an assertion if I provide an example? In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels (1 Tim 5:21). In this verse the Apostle Paul distinguishes between those angels that are elect and those that aren't (aka demons). If all demons will be reconciled with God one day why does he need to make this distinction, why couldn't he say 'all angels', why specify that some are elect or chosen? The fact that the Apostle Paul writes like this is evidence that Universal Reconciliation isn't on his agenda.

Andrew Bowles said...

I get the motivation, and I think in general people who talk about irresistible grace and effectual calling really mean to say that they are grateful that God loves them even though they are unworthy. So should we all be. It's interesting that in theory you talk about 'force', being 'pulled', but in practice it is about persuasion, hearing the word preached, 'nudges' towards repentance. It is more comforting for me to think that any rejection of God implies my own perversity, rather than that for some reason he may have chosen to leave me to my race, as Bunyan says in that diagram, my race towards hell. The shepherd left his 99 sheep to seek the lost one, he didn't let him go.

Luke Isham said...

That's true although I wouldn't want to reduce my position to simply freedom from perversity. I'm also happy with the idea of God's sovereignty, power to answer prayers and control situations that are way beyond me, I don't want to follow a God like myself who has to learn as he goes along. (I'm always struck in that parable by the way in which the other sheep are left either to robbers who climb the fence or wolves who get in among the remaining sheep. Now that doesn't prove anything by itself except that some parables can be used emotively in a number of directions.)

Andrew Bowles said...

'I'm also happy with the idea of God's sovereignty, power to answer prayers and control situations that are way beyond me, I don't want to follow a God like myself who has to learn as he goes along.'

Me too, because none of that implies determinism, since if it did there would be no 'me' or 'myself'. Glad we are agreed (though stop bringing up open theism as a rhetorical smoke-screen - I'm wise to your game) :)

Luke Isham said...

I didn't mean to insinuate that you were an open theist but was just trying to imagine what possible alternative to God's sovereignty there could possibly be!

Andrew Bowles said...

Don't worry, all's fair since I've been insinuating that you are a monstrous supralapsarian.

Sovereignty probably always works better eschatologically. What is the ultimate state of things? I'm pretty sure wherever we run we meet God in the end, and he's been there eternally. I like the bit in 'The Great Divorce' where Lewis asks George MacDonald if he is a universalist, and he replies that 'You can't know the future by a definition'. I think our concepts of control and sovereignty tend to be a bit static since we anthropomorphise and imagine that God is just a bigger and smarter person. But really he is the bounds and ground of reality - why would he need to exercise 'control' to stop anyone getting away from him? 'Where can I flee from your presence?' (Ps 139:7)

Alex Smith said...

I’m surprised you think that God doesn’t want us to pray for certain people. It’s not just because of v4 or v6 (although I thought you at least saw Christ’s ransom as sufficient for all, even if you deny it’s effective for all?), it’s because of passages like Matt 5:44 “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” or Rom 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them.” or Philippians 4:6 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (i.e. one of the major anxieties is the fate of non-Christians who we love.) Shouldn’t the fact that pray is a such big deal, make us assume the scope isn’t limited?

Maybe it’s something we’ve neglected. Also just because I don’t think we have any reason to think the scope is limited, doesn’t mean every night I pray for my dead great grandmother (if she wasn’t a Christian, then perhaps I should be).

I’m not sure why you’re saying I’m arguing from an absence of evidence here? I’m simply saying “all” means “all”, whereas you’re saying “all” means something else, shouldn’t the burden of proof be on you to prove that the common meaning of “all” isn’t the case here??

You say v2 is a qualifier to v1, however, I read it as an reinforcer, in case they were tempted to exclude them, i.e. even pray for those who rule over you, instead of cursing them.

Again “especially” isn’t a qualifier it’s an extender/highlighter. i.e. God is everyones Saviour in the end but there’s still a special benefit for those who believe now.

I realise that Jesus being the firstfruit e.g. in the Resurrection, is the common NT usage, but I don’t think the concept is limited to that. A quick Google showed me that it appears throughout the Bible and in places which don’t mention resurrection e.g. Deut 26:1-11, Leviticus 23:9-11, Proverbs 3:9-10, etc. I think James 1:18, supports what I’m trying to say, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Furthermore, “at the proper time” in v6 raises the idea of harvests for me, similar to 1 Cor 15:23’s “but each in his own order”.

Anyway, if you don’t like using the word “firstfruit”, that’s ok. But surely you see the concept that Jesus elects the Church to be the fishers of man, harvesters, etc. to bring even more people into the Kingdom? Similar to how He used Israel to bring Himself to the nations/Gentiles.

I wouldn’t be surprised if He chooses some particular angels for the task of being messengers to particular people and other angels for other special roles. i.e. just because some are elect for a purpose, doesn’t have to imply the rest are rejected by God. Here are some other interesting suggestions for what the phrase could mean.

I don’t think we need the word “elect” to tell us the angels in His presence aren’t demons :) Even if your proposition is correct, at the time of writing, and even today, all the demons haven’t yet been reconciled, so it could be helpful for Paul to make that distinction.

Your right that chapter 5 isn’t talking about Universal Reconciliation but I’d say that’s because he’s moved on to other agenda items, not that he wasn’t talking about it in chapter 2 & 4.

Luke Isham said...


We've deviated some distance from the original topic of "effectual calling" which I don't mind to much because I believe debate is a good thing. However I feel we're going to end up covering some of the same territory we have in previous discussions about Universalism. We should also move this discussion offline because there are some changes in your theology that I'm worried about. You're welcome to keep responding but we should talk offline again. I also want to make some remarks about the arguments you've raised because I don't want the theological arguments of Universalism to go unchallenged.

Clearly for those God has chosen his call is effectual: "And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom 8:30). You then said Universal Salvation is true because of 1 Tim 2:1-6. Your argument hinged on the concept of "all/everyone" having the precise definition of "every single person who has ever or will ever lived." This definition gets you into praying for the dead, a disturbing theological deviation from traditional Protestant theology (eg 1552 Prayer Book). Furthermore the theological focus of salvation has always been on this life with only judgement and glorification occurring beyond death (Heb 9:27).

Now I'll concede the scope of verse 6 is wide, but Universalism like traditional theology is built on an accumulation of verses a range of concepts put together. I don't understand why you've introduced the phrase "burden of proof" it doesn't sound like you, it feels as though someone else has said that's what I'm doing. But I'll respond, to be strictly logically there is no reason why you are exempt from defining and defending your definition of "all/everyone," why both must explain our use of the term. I'm happy for it be ambiguous and wide until the context narrows the definition which is true in the case of 1 Tim.

Then there is the redefinition of election. Election means chosen, this both the wider theme of the old Testament and the more precise idea used by the Apostle Paul. You've conflated the purpose of being chosen with God's act of electing some people or angles over other people or angles. When the Apostle Paul talks about elect angels he means those angels and not the demons. As for their purpose, you can see it from the rest of the verse, they are to act as witnesses. It's not that he's stopped talking about universal reconciliation, because as the qualifications from chapter two show it wasn't on his mind to begin with but it just isn't part of his thinking. Why would he say some angels are elect?

Now what's started to happen is that our wider theological systems are influencing our arguments about specific verses. That's not a bad thing, that's the point Andrew and I got to. But we can't go much further with whether or not Universal Salvation is proved by 1 Tim without appealing to other passages and our wider theological systems.