One of Weber’s key theological mistakes concerns the doctrine of election. I know this point has been made before, but it is worth repeating – not least since I keep coming across it in other works as though it were a self-evident truth. Weber suggests that the elect are never certain of their own salvation. God may have elected them to salvation, but they are never quite sure. So they keep looking for signs of election within themselves. Good works become the key, since they are the outward manifestations so desperately sought. The source of this mistake is obvious, since he was trying to account –as an outsider – for the tendency in Reformed traditions to focus on works, despite the strong emphasis on grace. (I have written about that paradox elsewhere, in my book on Calvin.) However, Weber is profoundly mistaken concerning the doctrine of election, specifically in relation to the individual. A person knows, with distinct certainly, that he or she is elected. There are no doubts here, and one can never become an apostate forever.

But you can never be entirely certain concerning the election of others. One should not abrogate God’s role in the process of election and begin making decisions concerning others. The point of this part of the doctrine is to ensure humility rather than arrogance on the part of the elect. Often, the elect turn out to be unexpected, so no one should be written off. On this matter, Weber is partly correct. This uncertainty concerning others can lead to a search for outward signs – in others – of election. But his mistake was to extrapolate that humility to an uncertainty in the individual believer’s own sense of election. Of course, the reason for such a mistake is that he was thinking of Arminianism rather than Calvinism, but that is another story.

Advertisements