The Election of Grace:
A Riddle without a Resolution?

Stephen Williams


Few issues in Christian theology have sparked as much controversy over the centuries as the question of election. In this book—the inaugural volume of the Kantzer Lectures in Revealed Theology series—Stephen Williams offers a rich and nuanced account of the doctrine of election, arguing that we should diminish the role of “system” in Christian theology.

After expounding the Bible’s teaching on election, Williams turns to questions of theological method and substance. He maintains that the subject of predestination must be considered in a wider biblical context than it often is and that we cannot expect to understand election within a comprehensive systematic framework. What matters is the relation of particular truths to the particulars of life, he says, not the systematic relation of truths to each other. Williams draws on and applies the insights of remarkable nineteenth-century Anglican leader Charles Simeon throughout his study, concluding the book with a cogent discussion of Karl Barth on election.


Stephen Williams

Stephen N. Williams (PhD Yale University) is Honorary Professor of Theology at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Senior Research Fellow with the Creation Project. His recent publications include Revelation and Reconciliation: a Window on Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 1996), The Shadow of the Antichrist: Nietzsche’s Critique of Christianity (Baker Academic, 2006), and The Election of Grace: A Riddle without a Resolution? (Eerdmans, 2015).


"Stephen N. Williams here enters fearlessly (and wittily!) into the tangled scriptural and theological debates surrounding the doctrine of election. No matter where you stand, journeying with Williams will challenge your assumptions and provoke you to consider afresh the presuppositions that lie behind the usual approaches to this most controversial of doctrines."

Suzanne McDonald, Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Western Theological Seminary

"Williams is a first-rate theological thinker, as this work shows. He addresses the riddle of predestination with erudition and humility. . . . The fresh thinking in this volume repays careful reflection."

Graham A. Cole, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Book Reviews

There is no doubt that The Election of Grace contains much challenging insight into the doctrine of election and various related matters. The idea ‘that God’s predestination is a predestination to reign’ is worthy of further exposition and should prove fruitful to anyone daring enough to sidestep Williams’s warnings against conjecture. Also, I appreciated the recognition that election does mean a certain level of privilege as well as responsibility on the part of the elect, though I would like to have seen some fuller reflections on how privilege and responsibility are entwined.

Terry J. Wright

The Journal of Theological Studies 68, no 1 (2017): 474-477.

A stimulating and thought-provoking book which helps to break through centuries of debate. . . . All who are interested in a biblical and evangelical approach to the doctrine of election need to read this book.

A. T. B. McGowan

Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 34, no 1 (2016): 100-103.

I commend this book for offering a fresh and stimulating account of the doctrine of election when it seems that nothing new could be said about it. Although Williams neither provides an exhaustive treatment of every scriptural passage nor discusses every theological issue that pertains to the doctrine of election, he gives his readers much to ponder. This work will probably not solve the Calvinist-Arminian debate or assuage all the anxious fears that the doctrine of election seems to elicit; rather, it correctly re-emphasizes that sometimes humans, especially Christians, must live in tension with paradoxes that can only be grasped in the existential moment of faithful living. I am somewhat surprised that Williams’s view of election has more in common with the Lutheran tradition than it does with the Reformed; moreover, I am disappointed that, although Williams argues for a christocentric method when constructing the doctrine of election, he is much more theocentric, which is probably why he is not as appreciative of Barth’s understanding of election as he could be. These shortcomings aside, Williams offers the academy and the church a work of outstanding value that will be generative of much future discussion.

Bradley M. Penner

Adjunct Professor of Theology, Briercrest College and Seminary

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