Wright on Election in Ephesians 1

"Yes, I really did write that."

“Yes, I really did write that.”

N.T. Wright makes two points about election in Ephesians 1. The first is that it’s real:

Verses 4–6 celebrate the fact that God’s people in the Messiah are chosen by grace. This is, perhaps, the most mysterious thing of all. God, the creator, ‘chose us in him’, that is, in the king, ‘before the world was made’; and he ‘foreordained us for himself’.

Many people, including many devout Christians, have found this shocking, or even unbelievable. How can God choose some and not others? How can being a follower of Jesus Christ be a matter of God’s prior decision, overriding any decision or freedom of our own?

Various answers can be given to this. We have to be careful here. Paul emphasizes throughout this paragraph that everything we have in Christ is a gift of God’s grace; and in the next chapter he will declare that before this grace reached down to us we were ‘dead’, and needing to be ‘made alive’ (2:5). We couldn’t lift a finger to help ourselves; the rescue we needed had to come from God’s side. That’s one of the things this opening section is celebrating.

Contrary to what some might think (even myself initially!), Wright affirms in a very careful, tentative, but apparently open way that God’s election of some and not others really is a thing. Now, very quickly he moves on to make a second point that many who affirm the first can tend to forget if they’re not careful:

The second thing, which is often missed in discussions of this point, is that our salvation in Christ is a vital stage, but only a stage, on the way to the much larger purpose of God. God’s plan is for the whole cosmos, the entire universe; his choosing and calling of us, and his shaping and directing of us in the Messiah, are somehow connected with that larger intention. How this works out we shall see a little later. But the point is that we aren’t chosen for our own sake, but for the sake of what God wants to accomplish through us. –N.T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon (8–9)

God has plans for his elect beyond their election. They are chosen for a purpose–various purposes really, such as mission, worship, and so forth, all culminating in the glorification and enjoyment of God. An awareness of God’s saving grace in election, then, ought not be an invitation to sit on your stump, but to get on the move and fulfill God’s proposed purposes through us in the Church (Eph. 2:8-10; 3:9-11). Yes, that grace outrages and amazes, and it should also enliven us to worshipful service in the world.

Soli Deo Gloria

P.S. If someone wants to post clear evidence to the contrary about Wright’s views on election, feel free to correct me here. I know he typically pushes a number of election passages in a corporate direction saying they’re not really what former dogmatics has said. Still, I’ve never seen him out and out deny individual election, and have seen him make statements like this that seem like affirmations of it.

P.S.S. Here’s the sort of thing I’m referring to in the P.S.: Wright on Election in Romans 9. (HT: Michael Bird and Matt Armstrong.)