How is Calvinism’s election different from Christian Gnosticism’s special knowledge?

Monday Musings for June 17, 2019

Good morning, Musers,

What does it mean for a Christian to be among the elect? I ask because we non-Reformed Christians run around trying to fulfill the Great Commission. But, if there is a body of people elected by God to be saved, then that effort seems like it would be redundant. Yet — and at the same time — the Bible tells us to spread the word. So, what’s an Evangelical to do?

Christian Gnostics believe that God gives special “knowledge” (gnosis) to some people and not to others… and today’s seeker wants to know how that’s different from Calvinism’s view of election — and I see his point. This is very much like the Calvinism/Evangelicalism divide.

For example, if you take a typical Calvinist’s position on things like election, predestination and the total depravity of humankind, then you believe that we are not even able to respond to God’s grace on our own… and that is why God preemptively elects some people to be saved. Under that scenario, God chooses who will be saved — period… and the parallel between Calvinism and Christian Gnosticism runs very close here.

But that’s not the end of the Calvinism’s assault on human free will. They also say that God gives the elect irresistible grace… whereas Evangelicals generally affirm that the nature of free will — and especially as it relates to salvation — demands that God’s grace be resistible! God woos (John 6:44; 12:32) … but he does not choose (John 1:12; Acts 16:31).

This is a very big deal… and this is why I am not a Calvinist. Instead, I’m a Molinist — and you can be one, too! … but there’s good news and bad news.

The bad news is many of you will have to reimagine God’s sovereignty so that it is no longer absolute in a flinty kind of way. This is because, if human free will exists — and I mean true human free will —  then even God cannot countermand it — but don’t freak out here. God can’t make a square circle either… and it’s just like that. Free will cannot exist where an outcome is predetermined.

The good news is that Molinism allows us to steer through the biblical labyrinth that is God’s-sovereignty-vs-human-free-will… although, to do this, we have to expand our understanding of God’s omniscience — which is no big problem. We do this by thinking more deeply about how God handles the counterfactuals in our lives.

William Lane Craig calls this area of God’s omniscience his “middle knowledge,” and once you “own” this concept, you will be free to go and make disciples — but knowing that you’re not wasting your time by doing so.

In my view, God elects the people who — and get this — already chose him (… and to see how I defend this, click here). So, if you’ll indulge me today’s Q & A, maybe you’ll be closer to resting in God’s election… but in a whole new way.

However, in the process, let’s not lose sight of who is in the fold and who is not… because a surprising number of people (and perhaps a majority) do not believe the same things you do on a ton of secondary issues. We just happen to be discussing Calvinism today… and I part with them on more than a few.

But note this well: The best part of Calvinism is its people... because Calvinists make great Christians! They are particularly faithful to God’s word… and although I disagree with them on God’s sovereignty, free will and pedobaptism, I refuse to throw their babies out with the bathwater.

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)