Election to a purpose, not to privilegeOne of the areas in which I have found Newbigin to be most helpful is around the doctrine of election. I had always struggled, to say the least, with the idea that God chooses some for salvation and by implication others for eternal damnation. Newbigin argues that this is a false view of election which is unacceptable to many Christians as well as to others. We are chosen, as Israel was chosen, to be the bearers of his salvation for the world.
'It is the universality of God's saving love which is the ground of his choosing and calling a community to be the messengers of his truth and bearers of his love for all peoples.' p85
'God's electing grace, his choosing of some to be the bearers of his salvation for all, is a matter for awe and wonder and thankfulness: it can never become the ground for making claims against God which exclude others. God does no choose to save some and to destroy others. ( He has consigned all to disobedience in order that he may have mercy upon all.) His grace is free and sovereign, and there is no place for an exclusive claim on his grace, a claim by which others are excluded. This obviously has a great importance when we come to consider the relation of the gospel to the world religions.' p85f
'To be chosen, to be elect, therefore does not mean that the elect are the saved and the rest are lost. To be elect in Christ Jesus, and there is no other election, means to be incorporated into his mission to the world, to be the bearer of God's saving purpose for his whole world, to be the sign and the agent and the firstfruit of his blessed kingdom which is for all. It means therefore, as the New Testament makes abundantly clear, to take our share in his suffering, to bear the scars of the passion...It means that this particular body of people who bear the name of Jesus through history, this strange and often absurd company of people so feeble, so foolish, so often fatally compromised with the world, this body with all its contingency and particularity, is the body which has the responsibility of bearing the secret of God's reign through world history.' p86f
Relating to this tension between particularity and universalism he argues
'It seems to me that the whole nature of the gospel requires us to maintain this tension and not to try to resolve it either by a rationalistic universalism which denies the possibility of finally missing the mark, or by increasingly fruitless arguments about who will and who will not be saved.' p88