Chosen in Christ: A Response to Wagner and Flowers


It’s kinda got a ring to it doesn’t it?

The word, eklegomai in the Greek, can also be rendered selected, or elected. The apostle Paul uses the term often in his New Testament epistolary writings. Usually, he uses the term in reference to God choosing a particular people for Himself. However, the nature of this selection or election is rather convoluted in today’s church. The Reformed have historically held that this term refers to God’s choosing of a people for Himself before the foundation of the world. This entails the predestinating of all those who have been saved, are saved, and will be saved… before the foundation of the world.

Arminians and Baptist traditionalists want to see God’s choosing as almost wholly eschatological, or “forward looking,” having only to do with the post-regenerate life of those who chose Christ according to their free will.

Recently, an article appeared on Leighton Flowers’ Soteriology 101 website presenting a, well… interesting view on God’s choosing, specifically as it’s revealed in Ephesians 1. Granted the fact that I have basically broken Facebook with a post publicly asking Flowers the question, “is it the act of the sinner’s prayer which causes God to save a person?” I thought it might be good to move things to the blogosphere. The article appearing on his website was not penned by Flowers himself, but by Brian Wagner who often contributes there.

The Text

Included in Wagner’s article is an embedded video of Flowers critiquing J.D. Greear, who, if you remember, almost became the President of the Southern Baptist Convention (so close, but yet so far!). I’m not a huge fan of Greear (and I’m a Calvinist), nor am I really interested in whether or not Flowers was right over against Greear (because Greear could have been a bit more responsible with the text). I am most interested in Wagner’s response to it all and the fact that Flowers apparently agrees with such a response. So, first, as Flowers pointed out, we should begin with the beginning of the text. Who was Paul addressing in Ephesians, and about what was he addressing them? The passage in question begins as such:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ Spiritual Blessings in Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved (Eph. 1:1-7).

If I could embolden the entire passage, I would. It’s a glorious section of text with which we now deal. Greear was preaching, in the sermon Flowers was critiquing, the traditional Calvinistic understanding of Ephesians 1. To grasp what that understanding is, we should turn now to one of the Reformed confessions. The London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689, says:

Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or cause moving him thereunto (LBCF, 1689, 3.5).

According to my position (and the WCF as well), God chose those who would be saved before the foundation of the world. In fact, Ephesians 1:4 was the first proof text the framers of my confession used to justify their wording in this paragraph. Wagner, on the other hand, argues that this choosing in Ephesians 1 is merely applicable to the life of the Christian after they are already in Christ. He writes:

The context is a description of spiritual blessings for those in Christ, who Himself is already seated in the heavenlies. The emphasis is therefore forward looking, not backward concerning God’s purpose. Other terms in this context (1:3-14, “inheritance”, “fullness of times”) confirm this future emphasis. The future blessing itemized in 1:4 is to be holy and without blame before God in the heavenlies with Christ in the future.

Is what Wagner says here accurate? Well, yes and no. Is it true that our salvation in Christ has eschatological import? Of course! In fact, that chiefly contributes to the spiritual sustenance of the present-day Christian. We have hope that we will be made like Christ, and that He will finally return to glorify His people. But is this what Paul is really getting at in this instance?

First, Flowers and Wagner are right, this Pauline letter is written to believers. No one is denying that, and I’m not even sure it makes much difference in this instance. Paul’s words throughout Ephesians presuppose that he is addressing believers. “Chose us in Him,” is an example of this type of language, post-introduction. In fact, all  of Paul’s letters are addressed to believers.

Second, Wagner seems to think Eph. 1:1-4 is predominantly forward looking, or eschatological. But the etymology doesn’t seem to allow for such emphasis. For example, when Paul says, “who has blessed us in Christ,” he uses eulogesas which is a verb in the aorist tense. That means that God blessed His people in the past, and this past action has an indefinite duration. Again, with respect to God choosing, Paul uses exelexato (root: eklegomai). The reduplication (cf. middle voice) and ending suggests an aorist tense once more. This is a past action without respect to duration. Wagner, therefore, is incorrect to say that this choosing is predominantly forward looking. The significance of God’s choosing rests in eternity (past action, before the foundation of the world), and that choosing has continual effects for His people (namely, union in Christ). To go on, predestined is also an active verb in the aorist tense, referring to a past action with indefinite duration.

Third, the relationship between God’s choosing His people and the concept of adoption needs to be properly understood. The problem with Wagner’s view, that God’s choosing predominantly correlates to the post-regeneration Christian life, is that it doesn’t have a robust understanding of adoption. Moreover, is it not true that if God would have never chosen the Ephesians (or all true believers for that matter), then they would have never been adopted in Christ? What is adoption? Wagner doesn’t seem to provide a definition, so I will provide one:

All those that are justified, God vouchsafed, in and for the sake of his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have his name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a Father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises as heirs of everlasting salvation (LBCF, 1689, 12.1).

I do not think this is too controversial of a definition. I’m almost certain Flowers and Wagner would agree with it (Rom. 8:15). It appears as if Paul, in Ephesians, is telling his readers that they have been predestined, or foreordained, to be adopted as sons and daughters. There is a past action (aor., verb, predestination), and a status (nou., accusative, adoption). The former logically and chronological precedes the latter. It’s a very rational sentence Paul gives us in the first chapter of Ephesians, one significant concept leading to the next.

Fourth, Wagner appears to believe that phrases like fullness of time (v. 10), alludes to an exclusively future point. But the fulness of time, for Paul, came at the advent of Jesus Christ. Remember the words of our Lord, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mk. 1:15).” “Set forth,” in Ephesians 1:9, leading up to “fullness of time,” in v. 10, is also a verb in the aorist tense, again indicating a past action with indefinite duration (proetheto). Wagner wants to atomize God’s redemptive plan by pointing to an exclusively future significance. However, I think Paul is emphasizing God’s purpose (e.g. adoption in Christ) in His eternal plan (e.g. before the foundation of the world).

Other Claims

Some other things Wagner says are quite astonishing.

For starters, Wagner’s compartmentalization of concepts such as adoption, being chosen, personal holiness, etc., lacks helpfulness. Salvation, as a unit, does not exist without any one of those things. So, while Wagner wants to make the context of the passage about spiritual blessings (which is true), those spiritual blessings are to be seen in the context of who God is and what His purpose has been revealed to be. Blessings should not be seen as mere posterior gifts, given to Christians once they are Christians. Rather, they need to be seen a-chronologically. We ought to see these blessings as predominantly logically preceding or proceeding one another, without respect to duration. Adoption does not occur without God’s choosing. So too, salvation, as a whole, does not happen apart from God’s choosing and determination to adopt a people to Himself.

Wagner then goes on to say:

The grammar of the complementary infinitive – εἶναι – “to be” must not be disconnected in thought from the main verb – ἐξελέξατο – “were chosen”. The blessing is not being chosen to be in Christ before the foundation of the world, but the blessing to be chosen in Christ to be holy and without blame in the future.

What he does here is interpret meaning in light of typical English understanding. A phrase like, “to be,” in English often sounds like it references the future. However, the original Greek reads differently. Wagner renders it “to be,” but it can also be rendered, “that we should be.” Einai is an active present verb. It’s not in the future tense as Wagner claims. It has significance for the here and now, not some future point in time. Thus, when Wagner says, “The blessing is not being chosen to be in Christ before the foundation of the world, but the blessing to be chosen in Christ to be holy and without blame in the future,” he is mistaken.

The trouble Wagner has run into is confusing the “blessed us,” in v. 3, with exclusively future events when it is actually the case that Christians are already blessed in Christ having been chosen in Him to now be holy and blameless before God; not according to our own merits, but according to the merits of Christ (Eph. 1:7; Rom. 8:15, 16).

The blessings in v. 3 include the being chosen before the foundation of the world. In other words, the blessings in v. 3 are not a result of being chosen in Christ before all time began. Rather, being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world is one of the spiritual blessings God’s people have. This is seen in the term kathos which Wagner really didn’t discuss. Paul says, “even as (kathos) he chose us in him.” Kathos is a causal conjunction that is adverbial. What causal relationship is this word getting at? It is none other than the relationship between God’s choosing His people and His people’s justification (e.g. holy and blameless before him). This passage in Ephesians is a larger exposition of the Golden Chain of Redemption as seen in Romans 8:29, 30:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Wagner then steps out of the text and begins talking about subjunctive/conditional statements, relating them to God’s apparently mutable knowledge. He writes:

The Scripture, with all its subjunctive/conditional statements, all its universal invitations and warnings, and all its verses clearly declaring that God is still making choices and determinations contextually supports the second option. The first option can only be true if all of God’s self-revelation in Scripture is viewed as truly analogical (a comparison with no true connection to reality), whereas the second option views Scripture as truly univocal (giving true meaning in connection to reality).

This is a massive problem. Statements like this place God in a relationship with time which makes Him subject to chronological progression. This is an issue from a biblical-theological perspective. One of the strongest statements in Scripture is, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind (Num. 23:19).” Wagner might say that the context dictates a less black and white interpretation of this passage. But the author grounds this statement in the fact that God is not like man, fundamentally. That statement stands on its own. Moreover, Yahweh is the great I AM (Ex. 3:14). He is divinely a se, independent of creation. James wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Biblical data, such as the above, has forced the historical church (developed in detail by the Reformers) to make distinctions between Creator/creature, ontology/economy, archetypal/ectypal, etc.

Moreover, if God’s knowledge remains unsettled, in the present, open theism obtains. I hope this is not Wagner’s official position, but it seems to me that if a person thinks God’s knowledge is not immutable, and God acts with respects to His changing knowledge, open theism is the forced logical conclusion. The last thing I will mention is Wagner’s requirement of the Reformed:

If they do affirm that God no longer expresses His freedom of will in making choices and that God’s self-revelation in Scripture is mostly anthropomorphic/analogical, they will need to explain why God did not state this more clearly in the Scripture but needed future scholars to reveal this truth about Him after Scriptures were completed.

First, we do not think God no longer expresses His freedom of will. But this is an economic continuation of God’s actions; if it were ontological, God would be mutable. This is why we affirm the biblical doctrine of providence. Providence, according to the Reformed, is described as such:

God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy (LBCF, 1689, 5.1).

Second, of course we affirm that Scripture is analogical. There is simply no way God’s creatures could know like God knows. This is why Scripture is analogical. If we were to say a creature could know even one fact exactly like God knows that fact, we would be God. We do not know 2+2=4 like God knows 2+2=4. Our knowledge of propositional truths is analogical. Wagner wants biblical proof of this. Here it is:

  • “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law (Deut. 29:29).”
  • “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? (Job 11:7)”
  • “Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice (Deut. 4:12).”
  • “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel: “I AM has sent me to you (Ex. 3:14).””

The requirement that Wagner imposes on the Reformed is a similar requirement that Jehovah’s Witnesses impose on the orthodox with respect to the doctrine of the Trinity. Anyone can reject someone’s proof texting and say, “That’s simply not good enough!” and then impose stricter requirements, unjustifiably I might add. What systematicians have done is deduce conclusions from the whole of Scripture. Premise (A) taken with premise (B) adds up to conclusion (C). This is how systematic theology works. Thus, if Wagner wants to impose those types of requirements on the Reformed, he needs to hold himself to the same standard. What is more, if he wants to operate according to some form of Biblicism, saying that everything must be explicitly stated in Scripture, he needs to justify that particular hermeneutical tenet with Scripture only.