Udo Schnelle on Paul’s doctrine of election

I am reading Udo Schnelle’s massive Theology of the New Testament published by Baker and translated into English by M. Eugene Boring. In chapter 6 Schnelle is addressing Paul as theologian and  he has a section titled, “The God who acts in election and rejection” (212-14). He is addressing how Paul’s thinking on election finds its culmination in Romans 9-11 when he writes,

The Pauline statements about predestination are by no means exhausted, however, by this interpretation centered on the believing life of individuals. They are primarily theological affirmations that communicate a reality revealed by God in Scripture.  God the creator owns the ineluctable freedom to choose and reject. Free will is thus for Paul predicated exclusively of God. The infinite distinction between creator and creature is the basis for the specific perspective from which Paul thinks of human beings. God meets human beings as the one who calls; “to be human is to be called and addressed by God.” Christian existence is grounded in the call of God. It is thus something not at the individual human being’s own disposal but rather can be appropriated only by hearing. Ὁ καλέσας ἡμᾶς (the one who called us) becomes in Paul a central predicate of God (cf.  1 Thess. 2:12; 5:24; Gal. 1:6; 5:8). God encounters the individual human being as the calling “I,” whose will is made known in Scripture.  Regarding salvation, individual human beings can understand themselves only as the ones who receive, who are given a gift. As creatures, they are fundamentally incapable of devising
and executing salvation and meaning. If human beings want to understand and assess their own situation appropriately and realistically, they must acknowledge and take seriously their creatureliness, which means knowing their limits. It is not the creature, but only the Creator, who makes decisions about salvation and damnation (213).

Schnelle has read Paul quite correctly. He goes on to state,

Paul’s aim is to preserve the freedom of God; this is why he specifically emphasizes a fundamental theological insight: God’s act is independent of human deeds or presuppositions, and God’s will always precedes our own decision. God’s electing grace is the same as God’s justifying grace. Both the exclusive doctrine of justification and the statements about predestination are in the service of preserving God’s freedom and the character of salvation as a gift not at human disposal (214).

Categories: Election, Sovereignty, Theology

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