Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others and Others to God

By Chandler, William T. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others and Others to God


Chandler, William T., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others and Others to God. By Suzanne McDonald. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010, xx + 233 pp., $26.00 paper.

The doctrine of election for centuries seems to have taken center stage in theological discourse pertaining to Reformed thought. While the historic Reformed approach to election affirms, for the most part, the concept of "double predestination" established primarily in the Canons of Dordt, there are significant revisions to the doctrine in the works of such "Reformed" thinkers as John Macleod Campbell, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Karl Barth. In a book that serves as a Reformed revisitation to the subject of election, Suzanne McDonald offers a different perspective by examining the scriptural contours of the doctrine and its relationship to the imago Dei. The thesis of the book, first proposed by the author in her doctoral dissertation at the University of St. Andrews, is that the imago Dei can serve as the foundation for a theological formulation for understanding the purpose of election as that of "representation"-representing God to others and others to God (p. xiv). The author sees the concept of election as God choosing to carry out his universal purpose through a single, particular calling of a chosen covenant people. McDonald argues that the elect can be conceived as those set apart to hold the alienated and seemingly rejected "other" before God and, thus, keep the alienated still within the sphere of God's promised covenant blessings (p. xvi).

McDonald, furthermore, desires to give greater balance to both the Christological and pneumatological dimensions found in the election act whereby election can be acknowledged genuinely as being "in Christ" and "by the Spirit." She chooses for dialogue partners in constructing her proposal the election theology of John Owen, representing the earlier Reformed tradition, and that of Karl Barth, who reinterpreted the traditional Reformed doctrine significantly. Not desiring to scuttle the primary tenets found in Barth's Christology concerning the nature of God's election of all humanity (and, thus, rejection of individual double predestination), McDonald seeks to adopt the rich pneumatology she finds guiding Owen's election doctrine and its particular relationship to the imago Dei. Having established the election theology of the two aforementioned Reformed thinkers as the perimeter for her proposal, McDonald begins her task.

Chapter one is a concise look at the election doctrine of John Owen, whom McDonald, quoting Carl Trueman, describes as the "forgotten man" of English theology. Owen, whose works do not include a specific treatise of the image of God, nevertheless weaves important aspects of the doctrine into his detailed writings on Christology and the work of the Holy Spirit. His strong affirmation the filioque in the inner-Trinitarian order of being is expressed in his presentation of the Holy Spirit's role in bringing to fulfillment the economy of salvation that is eternally decreed for the elect by the Father and the Son. This economy entails the Spirit uniting the elect to the risen Son and his benefits ("in Christ by the Spirit") and has important implications for Owen's election pneumatology. Because he denies that there is any innate feature of God's image in humanity following the fall, it is Christ who is the prototype of the new humanity. The Spirit's task, therefore, is restoring the lost image through the union of the elect to Christ in order that they experience redemption and reestablish right relationship to God. The restoration of the image in the elect is for Owen "representation" of God's overarching purpose for humanity; indeed, for Owen, "the image of God consists in being those creatures specifically called to represent the holiness, righteousness, and love of God in the world and represent Christ to all other humans" (p. 24).

Chapter two presents McDonald's insightful interpretation of Barth's "other" doctrine of election. …

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