Election in Ephesians 1

Ed. note: This post was originally intended to be much more accessible than it turned out to be. My hope was to write something that accurately reflected a good conversation that I had with my wife about Ephesians 1, but I indulged myself a bit too much, and it became more than I expected. I felt it was still worth publishing, and hopefully it will be fruitful for those who decide to read it. I will try, with my wife’s help, to write something a bit more down-to-earth on this subject in the near future.


Biblical election is a much-studied and oft-debated topic. Does God choose certain individuals for salvation? And if so, does that imply that he chooses the rest to be condemned? There are a few key Scriptures that deal with the issue of election, and one of the most important is Ephesians 1. Verses 4 and 5 are central to this discussion, and in them Paul writes: “For he [God the Father] chose us in him [Jesus Christ] before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (NIV) On the surface, this seems pretty straightforward: God chose believers before they were even born, predestining them for salvation.


Biblical election is headship election not individual election, it is rooted in Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, and is the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes for humanity.

I contend, however, that there are many factors in play that cause the apparently plain reading of the text to be false, and that this false interpretation has led to doctrines which teach falsehoods about God, particularly regarding both his character and nature. God does not arbitrarily choose some individuals for salvation, while leaving the rest to eternal condemnation with no opportunity of escape. This is, frankly, contrary to both the character and nature of God as revealed in Scripture, and more importantly, in his Son Jesus, whom Paul describes elsewhere as “the exact representation of [God’s] being.” But it’s not simply a contradiction of God’s revealed character that leads me to interpret Ephesians 1 in the way I will describe below. I am convinced that we haven’t dug deep enough into this text, choosing instead to rely upon the assumption that we understand perfectly well what Paul means when he uses words like choose and predestine. But if we question our assumptions and look more carefully at the text, we will see that biblical election is headship election not individual election, that it is rooted in Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, and that it is the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes for humanity.

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Our oldest son, Cyrus, turns 13 this year. This is a significant time in his life, to say the least. He is transitioning from boyhood to manhood, a process that will no doubt take years to complete. But 13 is right around the age when it all begins. It’s both an exciting and challenging time, and I think a lot of parents are intimidated by their child’s adolescence and coming-of-age. Count me among that group. I’ve never done this before; Cyrus is our first child. But he’s never done this before, either. I’ve been where he is. I’ve gone through adolescence. (Some might say that I’ve never left it!) Part of my job, as his father, is to lovingly walk with him through a confusing, but crucial, period of his life. My job is to walk him through rites-of-passage, to help my son become a man.

How does a father help his son become a man in a consumeristic, suburban culture like the one in which I live? There are no rites-of-passage in our culture. There is no hunt, no warrior training, no vision quest designed for 13 year old suburban American boys to become men. Quite the opposite, actually. It seems as though our culture would prefer for its men to stay in a perpetual state of adolescence, an eternal arrested development. American rites-of-passage are most often passive events, more likely to be a matter of vice (first experience with porn, first drink of alcohol, first sexual encounter) than virtue. Boys who are initiated through pornography, sex, and alcohol become the sort of men who elicit #metoo stories, who become abusive, or who withdraw into distraction and entertainment. But that’s not the kind of man that I want my son to become.

I want my son to become a man who respects and honors others, especially women. I want him to be a man who uses his strength to protect the ones he loves by fighting for them, not with them. I want him to be wise, courageous, and just. I want him to be self-controlled, faithful, hopeful, and loving. That’s the kind of man the world needs. We have enough small men – insecure narcissists who think strength is expressed through rage and courage is found at the bottom of a bottle. We have enough disengaged, disinterested, and distracted men. We have enough blustering, arrogant bombasts. We need men of character and integrity, not perfect men, mind you, but good men. I want my son to become a good man.

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I have been reading a lot of Augusto Del Noce lately. He was an Italian, Catholic philosopher of the mid-twentieth century best known for his critique of modernity, secularization, and Marxism. He is a master of the history of philosophy, particularly in the revolutionary developments since the Enlightenment. His specialty seems to be in Marxism, and one of the dominant themes of the two books I have had the pleasure to read is the sublation of Marxism into the “affluent society” or the “technological civilization.” His writing is incisive and prescient of our own age, as he saw, with great clarity, the inevitable march of Western society toward material affluence and spiritual despair.

In this post I’m going to quote a substantial passage from his profound essay, Technological Civilization and Christianity, found in his book The Age of Secularization. This essay attempts to answer the question of how the Church ought to approach the rapidly developing technological civilization of the mid to late twentieth century. Of course, in our own day, the growth of technology has only accelerated, so that now we have unthinkable computing power at our fingertips. Our civilization, therefore, is only become more technological, even as we are, as I argued anecdotally here, becoming less human.

The essay’s argument begins with the section titled “The Primacy of Doing,” in which Del Noce states, “the technological civilization can only be defined in terms of the suppression of…the religious dimension.” By religious dimension he does not mean Christianity in particular, but rather “an eternal and unchangeable order of truths and values, which we can come in contact with through intellectual intuition.” Del Noce argues that there is a fundamental discord between the technological civilization and the religious civilization because the former denies (or suppresses) the foundation of the latter. There is no place for transcendent truth or supreme values in the technological civilization. Everything is plastic, subject to the will of mankind, bending the universe to fit his desires.

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Wisdom as Authoritative Tradition

Nick is 13. His parents were divorced when he was eight, and it was not cordial. He lives with his mom, and his dad doesn’t seem interested in spending time with him. Nick’s dad cancels most of the planned weekend visits, sometimes with advanced warning, but most of the time he simply doesn’t show up to the agreed-upon meeting place. Nick’s mom is, at best, distracted. She works a full time job, but her typical week night is spent drinking a bottle of wine, staring at her phone.

Everything about Nick – his body, his mind, his heart, and his environment – is in a constant state of change. Eighth grade is hard enough for kids from stable families; it’s eating Nick alive. The pressure to do, to achieve, is overwhelming. He wants to go to college, but admissions standards have gone through the roof. Even the state school is turning away kids with 4.0 grade averages. He is afraid that a single bad grade on a test or a project could derail his entire life. Nick feels immense pressure to achieve, and exceed, perfection in his academic performance, and he hasn’t even entered high school yet.

Not only is he crushed by the weight of academic standards and their bearing on his future career, Nick also lives with the burden of self-determination. He feels tremendous peer (and cultural) pressure to decide for himself who he truly is, particularly sexually. Everything sexual is new for him, and he has no internal foundation upon which to build his identity. He thinks he’s probably straight, but occasionally he hears a voice in his head that tells him he’s gay. But he also wonders about being trans. A lot of kids in his school have come out as gay or trans, and they seem so confident about it. But if Nick is honest with himself, he has no idea who he is or who he is supposed to be. The burden to be, like the burden to do, is crushing him.

Both his internal and external worlds are in a constant state of flux, and because of his parents’ distraction and indifference, he must navigate this chaos on his own. Like so many kids, Nick is alone, confused, and angry. Almost everything in his life causes him anxiety. He is adrift at sea, with no north star to guide him. What does Nick need? (At this point I’d like to say that Nick is an entirely fictionalized character, although I suspect many teenagers – both boys and girls – can relate to some of Nick’s anxieties. His experience may not be typical, but I imagine that it is more common than we might think.)

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It’s been about a year since I deleted my Twitter and Facebook accounts. They had become a far more significant part of my life than I ever intended, and I needed to be free of them. Expressing my thoughts and opinions in the public marketplace had come at a high cost, and not simply because I missed out on career opportunities as a direct result of tweeting. I found that my brain was being shaped by social media, and that I was becoming increasingly incapable of performing basic intellectual functions. In short, I couldn’t think, really think, like I used to, and that scared me. If social media was stealing my brain, why was I on it?

The latest brain science is clear: social media is changing us. But I didn’t need in-depth studies to know that; I was living it. My attention span deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t even finish reading a tweet – and this was back when they were just 140 characters! When I scrolled through Facebook, I literally scrolled through my news feed. I wouldn’t stop to read anybody’s updates or look at any pictures. Not only was I not thinking about what I was looking at, but I wasn’t even looking at what I was looking at. I wouldn’t slow down enough to let my eyes focus on those words or images. My social media experience was rewiring my brain to spend less than one second processing any given input. I was literally training myself to live an unfocused, unthoughtful life. In other words, social media was making me dumber.


I was training myself to live an unfocused, unthoughtful life.

In early January, 2018, I asked myself, “Is it worth it? Is social media worth losing your mind over?” That made me evaluate just what, exactly, I was getting from social media. From 2012-2014, my wife and I got a lot out of social media. Those were the years that we were going through the hell of losing Zekey, and we connected with many wonderful people through Twitter, Instagram, and especially Facebook. The encouragement, support, and prayer that we got from folks all over the world was incredible, and that experience brought a ton of redemption into a horrible period of our lives.

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