Article by Michael Goforth II:
One of the greatest truths about salvation is the fact that God “…hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:” Ephesians 1:4. This is known as the doctrine of election, and it is one of the most hotly debated topics in all of Scripture. However, the primary debate is not over God’s election of individuals. Rather, the debate is over the basis of His election. The two most prominent views for this basis are known as unconditional and conditional election.
Conditional election argues that God looked ahead and saw those who would place their faith in Jesus, and elected them for salvation based on His foreknowledge. (1 Pet. 1:2, Rom. 8:29) In this view, God’s election is conditioned upon man’s acceptance of God’s gracious offer of salvation. One key text used to argue this view is 1 Peter 1:2 which says, “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” One problem with this view is that it goes beyond what the verse actually says and attempts to define exactly what the foreknowledge of God is by assuming He foresaw faith in the individual. Another problem is that this view seems to contradict passages that state God’s will as the basis of election. (Eph. 1:5,11; Rom. 9:10-12) In summary, this view tries to emphasize man’s free will in salvation, but it unfortunately seems to remove God’s will altogether in the decision to elect.
Unconditional election argues that election is based solely on the good pleasure of God’s will with no conditions attached. Ephesians 1:5 seems to support this view by saying, "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” Further down in this passage, Ephesians 1:11-12 takes this a step further, “being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” According to these verses, the basis of God’s election was the counsel of His will to the praise of His glory. There are also numerous other passages that seem to support this view. (Acts 13:48; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:10-24, 11:1-6) This view can also be easily reconciled with the conditional election proof texts stated earlier. In both 1 Peter 1:2 and Romans 8:29, it can be argued that God’s foreknowledge refers to His pre-existing intimate knowing of individuals before they were born. There are verses that can be used to support this. (Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2; Rom. 11:2; ) However, the most obvious definition of foreknowledge is simply to know beforehand. Even with that definition, it can still be said that God actively used His foreknowledge in determining what would please and bring glory to Him. It does not go further than the text and attempt to define what God knew beforehand.
There are other views on the doctrine of election including corporate election, election to service, and more. However, the view that seems to have the most Scriptural support is unconditional election. Sadly, because of current theological trends, if we were to leave the subject at this point, most individuals will label this view as “Calvinistic” or “reformed,” but that is not the case. Not only do many non-Calvinists hold to this view, this view is simply an attempt to uphold both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. There are serious dangers in overemphasizing one truth in exchange for the other. William MacDonald wisely commented on the issue this way, "The scriptural approach is to believe in God’s sovereign election and to believe with equal force in human responsibility. Only in this way can a person hold these doctrines in their proper biblical balance."
Wherever one lands on this issue, it is important not to take the doctrine of God’s election further than Scripture does. The offer of salvation is still for all of mankind. (John 3:16, Rev. 22:17) God does not predestine or elect anyone to hell, and desires that all would repent and be saved. (2 Pet. 3:9) Christians are commanded to share the gospel with all. (Mark 16:15) And man is still responsible to repent and believe. (Mark 1:15).
At first glance, this view may seem contradictory, but it is not. It would be better to call it an epistemic paradox resulting from insufficient information. Christians would do well to stay silent where God has stayed silent. (Deut. 29:29) The twin truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility are captured well in Jesus’ statement in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”