In the last issue of the JOTGES we ran a review of Ron Merryman’s book Understanding Biblical Election. We wrongly indicated that the price of the book is $17.95. Actually, Merryman Ministries has the policy that “All materials are distributed without charge on a grace basis.” They add that, “At the request of a number of constituents, we have included a suggested gift which includes mailing only in the contiguous U.S.” Under the listing of the book they put, “Cost basis: $17.95, which includes postage.” We apologize for erroneously indicating that the book sells for $17.95.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
God has Chosen: The Doctrine of Election through Christian History. By Mark R. Lindsay. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020. 235 pp. Softcover, $22.49.
Mark Lindsay is professor of historical theology at Trinity College Theological School at the University of Divinity in Melbourne, Australia. He is an historical theologian, professor, and Anglican priest with research interests and expertise in the historical development and intersection of ecclesiology and election, eschatology, the Holocaust, and the theology of Karl Barth. This Barthian scholar has written several books and articles and in this new book offers a unique approach to election history that diverges from the often-bifurcated discussions on the subject in conservative circles. Lindsay does not have a dog in that fight.
The author admits right away that this book is not in any way a comprehensive treatment or a genealogy of the doctrine, but instead he offers a few “snapshots-in-time” of ways in which notable theologians framed election from Scripture, tradition, and their own unique context. He shows points of similarity and sometimes a radical departure from the norm. Lindsay starts by briefly surveying a handful of key OT and NT texts which have shaped election thought. Chapter 2 begins with election in the patristic period from the apostolic fathers to Augustine, stopping along the way to give snapshots from Irenaeus, Origen, and Cyprian. The focus is on the relationship of election to the developing ecclesiology of these early Christians.
Chapter 3 covers the Middle Ages and concerns two men with two very different ideas of election: Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. The Dark Ages, aptly named, sees a complete blurring of the distinction between church and state. Election finds its home in the visible established church/state, with Jews and Muslims playing the role of the reprobates. In chap. 4, the violent rending of the established church wrought by the Reformation and post-Reformation feuds is surveyed through the agitators of the period: Luther, Calvin, Arminius, and their theological offspring. Election and the nature of justification come into laser focus. Chapter 5 jumps to the nineteenth century with the radically divergent election doctrine of Friedrich Schleiermacher and his refusal to accept the established order of decrees framework. Next, Lindsay moves interestingly to John Nelson Darby, who usually comes up in arguments over Dispensational and Covenant theologies but rarely when discussing election; his sharp distinction between the election of Israel and the election of the Church is highlighted. Chapter 6 consists entirely of Karl Barth’s reconsideration of election. Barth sees Christ as the electing God and the elected man. Barth brings a Christocentric and corporate view of election back to the forefront of election thought. Barth sees all men as elected in Christ, and men need only to realize their election. Many contend that this view leads to universalist sympathies, which Barth seems neither to deny nor affirm clearly.
Though unintentional perhaps, Barth’s theology flew in the face of Nazism which leads to the interesting last chapter of the book. Chapter 7 turns to another interest of Lindsay, namely the idea of the “chosenness” of the Jewish people in view of the Holocaust. Christian views of the role of Israel as the chosen of God take many forms throughout history, and most are unfavorable. He turns the discussion to show how Jewish scholars understood their election over time. He then shifts the focus back on Christianity, showing the Catholic Church’s official change of heart regarding the Jewish people that had long been a schizophrenic message of love for the world while harboring a robust anti-Semitism. The regathering of Israel and the shock of the Holocaust forces the world to reassess the role of the Jewish people in God’s economy. Lindsay concludes the book by encouraging readers to resist their urge to form tribal groups and refuse to see election as a bifurcation of who is in and who is out, elect and reprobate. Instead, Christians should humbly recognize that they cannot fully know the mind of God regarding the vexing concept of election. They have come to the edge of that knowability.
There is value in Lindsay’s brief survey of election. First, he offers a perspective from outside conservative, Evangelical circles. His views stem from a true Barthian vision of election that is foreign to most conservatives. While the Neo-orthodox Barth is sometimes vilified, often deservedly so, he brings a Christ-centered and corporate view of election back to the forefront of modern theology, despite the strange directions he takes the doctrine. Lindsay steers the discussion of the history of election through the lane of his views of Barth. Hence, he is concerned with how those of the past viewed election Christologically and ecclesiologically. It is in some ways a refreshing approach as the author avoids the usual vitriol that comes from discussions of election.
While there is benefit in the book for those interested in election, some criticisms are worthy of note. First, while Lindsay offers a fresh perspective, his approach is restrictive and myopic. He only approaches issues of election through his lenses of pre-understanding, which he admits. This is done to the neglect of some of the major issues in the history of theology. He speaks of Augustine’s elective views as they relate to the visible church, while avoiding the monumental paradigm shift from the views of the patristics to a deterministic individual election launched by Augustine. This shift abruptly changed the course of Christian theology, as did many Augustinian concoctions. Second, Lindsay continues through the Reformation, giving less space to Calvin, Luther, and Arminius than he did later to Barth, who has his own chapter. The book is saturated with Barth, whom the author references in almost every chapter. He ends the book by challenging readers to shake off traditional dogma and view election as only positive and (actually, not potentially) inclusive of all people, following Barth’s view that all people are elect and only need to realize it. This view of election lends itself to inclusivism and universalism and will be unpalatable to conservative readers. Finally, the chapter on the Holocaust seems somewhat out of place in a historical theology book.
Mark Lindsay offers fresh perspectives on the doctrine of election in Christian history through the eyes of a Neo-orthodox, Barthian theologian and Anglican priest. Notwithstanding, those who are interested in historical theology, or in gaining insight into how the past informs the present conflict on election and adjacent issues among conservative Evangelicals, are encouraged to look elsewhere.
Dean of Academic Affairs
Louisiana Baptist University and Seminary