The OPT-OUT Theory

I believe that we all should be in a lifelong process of working out our theology. A recent tweak in my theology has intrigued me. Real theologians have likely covered this ground and have established doctrines and terminology for the things that I am about to describe.

In my terms, I refer to it as the OPT-OUT theory. Doctrinally, it is similar to the idea of election, except without limitation or selectivity. You might think of it as extreme election.

The basic idea is that everything necessary for our eternal life and fellowship in Christ has already been provided. Our inclusion is an already-accomplished fact not dependent upon our response. We experience the fullness and blessing of life in Christ as we turn our hearts to God. Of course, we also have the choice to not take part in the relationship available to us.

I bounced this idea off of a couple of people, but so far, the reactions seem skeptical – raised eyebrows and a hesitant, “well that is interesting.” So I decided I better keep this to myself.

I was pleasantly surprised when I recently heard this quote in a sermon by Greg Boyd:

“Now people still have the free will to choose against that if they want – to OPT OUT if they want – and they do so to their own destruction. But the default setting now is that people are in Christ.”

So there you go. Maybe it’s not so extreme.

What do you think?


48 thoughts on “The OPT-OUT Theory

  1. I too have thought about this idea — having first heard it from Spencer Burke (I think). The only modification I think should be made to the idea of opt-out grace is that, unlike most examples of opt-out, a vast majority of people who do opt-out of a relationship with God do so without understanding that they are doing so.

    You cannot consciously opt-out of something that you don’t know or understand. For many, a loving God who wants an eternal relationship – a God that will always be waiting for you to reconcile that relationship, is so far from their understand of who God is.

    I think most folks will only realize that they have opted-out of this relationship that they were made for when they understand what that relationship is supposed to be, and who their Creator really is.


    1. I used to wonder why my daughter ran from our love sometimes until I realized that she didn’t really understand love. What she saw as overpowering authority was simply our keeping her out of danger – because we love her. As she grows older, she understands more. So do I.

      Some people however understand and defy. Why? Arrogance. The one sin that dethrones God. Did Satan not say to Eve, “You will be like God!”
      Belligerence is blinding.

  2. That’s a great point Jason. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would choose to opt out if they truly understood and knew God. It saddens me that we, the church, have not only failed to communicate His love, but often have distorted the truth about His nature and character.

  3. Sounds a little bit like what theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has written.

    Basically, his version of it is that God is the only source of life and being and identity. Our life and being and identity can only be truly derived from him. However, because we don’t see reality fully, from our earliest age we engage in countless attempts to derive our identity from other things. And we defend our fragile identities by trying to dominate others. This is our ego.

    God has reached out to us, in his work in the Old Testament revelation, in Christ, and in the Holy Spirit–offering to us the ability to participate with him, finding our self in full in his self, finding true freedom to be who we really are in openness, and trust, because we don’t have to defend falsely established identity anymore. If we find our being in God, nothing else can define us other than God, and God celebrates with us who we have been made to be.

    However, as open as God is, our egos still battle and war, even and especially in religious circles. We have the choice to participate with the fullness of God, and so find our true identity. But we don’t. Because we don’t trust. We want to dominate. We choose to seek like in some other source.

    This is judgment. Not that God is angry at us, but if we try to find our being in something else, there is no future in that, and so we are left to our non-identity.

    Finding our identity in God opens us up to him, to ourselves, and to others in increasing fullness–this fullness is the true definition of holiness. It’s about open fellowship, and choosing to find our identity in God’s identity.

  4. Are we not told that Christ died for our sins, and just ours, but the whole world? This was set in motion from the very beginning, before time began, you were saved. “Before Abraham was, I am.”

    Yet, God doesn’t “want” you unless you want Him. What I mean is, He wants you to be a part of the process. Forced love is not real love. He may know who will choose Him or not and therefore call us the “elect,” but even if we are the ones to “elect” our own salvation, does that mean we can do that apart from God? As many have pointed out, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Spurgeon once put it this way: Our love for Him is the result of His love for us. We have none apart from Him. Is our ability to choose any different? It is our choice. But only because of His grace. His love, His Son, and, yes, our salvation stand apart from us. Jesus would have continued His ministry had Peter and John opted to keep fishing.

    Yes, theologians have tried to tackle this from the beginning of Christianity (and before).

    My usual quick reply to those who venture along these lines,
    “If you question, then you must hear His call. When the God of the Universe calls, it’s wise to turn and listen. What does He say? The Kingdom of God is at hand. Come, follow me. I choose to follow.”

  5. I approach this idea from a slightly different angle, and for years I’ve referred to it as the “principle of appropriation.”

    Consider if you had won a contest, and someone handed you the keys to a new car. That car was yours before you even knew about it. But unless you reach out and take the keys, get in the car, turn the key in the ignition, and drive it…you will never know what it is to own that car. You must appropriate what you have been freely given.

    By the same token, what Christ has provided for all of mankind is ours for the receiving. But if we do not receive it, we cannot know the great benefits of this salvation. This is why the good news must be told.

    Whether you call it opt-out, or appropriation or whatever…I think this element is crucial to our faith.

  6. “I believe that we all should be in a lifelong process of working out our theology.” I agree

    Alister McGrath in Dawkins’ God reminds us, to this day Orthodox Jews take the view that every word of the Torah the first five books of the Old Testament) is holy, but that it is a “person’s duty ” to interpret the text ….. to turn it and turn it again, to examine nuances, to reflect on various shades of meaning.

  7. Agree with the way this discussion is heading.Quantum theology a specialised form of process theology seems to suggest that God is by His nature already within us all.The idea of awakening to this realisation is what earthly conversions are all about.I personally believe that after death those who didn’t see it now for whatever reason will get a direct experience of God’s mercy – ultimate reconcilliation seems the best end time theology that tries to reflect the inclusive nature of Jesus ministry.

  8. we opt-out when we believe a lie about who He is and what He wants from us. But something wonderful about Him is that – if I make my bed in hell – He is there. My whole life He is there calling – beckoning – pleading – “I’m not like that at all – not like you have judged Me”. If I am faithless – He remains faithful – He cannot deny Himself. He is always there looking – hoping – longing – that you’ll opt-in.

    Like one of my boys pointed out so graciously to me – “Dad – you can hide – but you can’t run”.

  9. So what does opting out look like?

    “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[f] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” -John 3:18

    1. Bob,
      As long as we remain opted-out, we continue to live in the alienation and destruction of our blind condition, condemned to the hopelessness of that darkened understanding.

      Sadly, I think most people opt-out based on misinformation, and I am hopeful that God continues His pursuit of them to the point of a true encounter with His Light and Love.

      “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” – John 3:16-18 – The Message

    2. like this:
      “Let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” Rev. 22:17

      Spurgeon once wrote concerning this passage: “The invitation is to “take . . . without price.” Jesus wants no payment or preparation. He seeks no recommendation from our virtuous emotions. If you have no good feelings, but if you are willing, you are invited; therefore come! If you have no belief and no repentance, come to Him, and He will give them to you. Come just as you are, and take without money and without price.”

      Where do you get your belief and repentance, your love and faith, but from God? However if one thinks they can do it on their own, apart from Him, then they do not desire. They opt out.

  10. Wow,
    this is probably too deep for me, but I like what James said.
    I believe it is clear that God puts the desire in us and we can’t even come to Him ( or desire to) apart from Him. I’m not sure where I stand exactly on the opt- out or the election theory, But it does make more sense to me now than when I was completely indoctrinated.
    To me, the more that I experience who God is; the more I can see that it would not go against His nature to cause ultimate reconciliation. The scripture does pretty clearly say He will make all things new and everything will be put back the way it was always supposed to be.
    I’m still not sure what that would look like since I am really just a misinformed, deluded but forgiven seeker.
    Thanks to everyone for opening my mind a little more on this.

    1. That’s sort of what I am wondering too Bob, I think I will choose to just not know. After all, there are plenty of things I “Knew” that God has already shattered for me.

    2. Bob,
      I’m still trying to clarify it in my own head too. I probably shouldn’t post about stuff like this until I have it all figured out, but I’m not sure I will arrive at that point.

      If we set aside the transactional grid of understanding in/out, saved/not saved, it becomes more difficult to describe and perhaps to distinguish “the decision.”

      We are saved (rescued) by realizing the reconciliation already extended toward us. We make effectual the grace available to us when we choose for relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

      Ephesians 2:5-6

      Anyway, back to Paul Fitzgerald’s comment, what if The Really Good News is that all men are reconciled and we ought to be telling them that rather than telling them how to “get saved.”

      1. Maybe it is similar to something folks call the “age of accountability”.. folks generally agree that babies/infants/toddlers/kids are “in” until such an age when they have the understanding to “opt out”.. not sure that tracks though?

  11. I personally believe that everyone has been reconciled to Abba God by the action of Christ in some amazing way.Those who believe on this side of death are to be the firstfruits of an ultimately glorious outcome at the end of the ages.In one way Good has opted everyone in but free will has it’s way now.

  12. I think the Spirit will continue to attempt to reveal the Father to everyone as long as there is opportunity. A “deadline” for that would be anyone’s guess and a silly gamble if one is waiting for the deadline. Ideally, He wants us to begin to enjoy His life and fellowship during our life on the earth, not just get our ticket punched for a future in heaven.

  13. And what good is opted-in if one doesn’t enter into the life of the Spirit available to us? Yes, it’s great news that we are already reconciled, but what will that mean in one’s life?

    1. That is a good question. My life after salvation was radically different from before Jesus was in my life. It seems that maybe one can be born in then opt-out then opt-in again.. if we are initially in.. I think I confused myself :)

      I guess the opt-in/out doesn’t seem too different than what is generally accepted orthodoxy..

  14. “Repentance” is not a transaction to change God’s mind about us but a deep-shift in our mind about God’s unconditional love for me (and all humanity) and about myself – accepting the acceptance of God.

    Imagine the Prodigal son waking every morning worrying if there was still something he better do to please Father and make sure His mind would not change.What would we do if there was nothing else to do except love the people in front of us; no ways to measure or compare how well we are doing? Could such a religion survive? Can any religion survive without fearing God?

  15. i think we are to take what God gives us without question, to enter heaven ‘like little children.’

    @Paul, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.
    we find out we have nothing without God and then fear. we become spiritual beggars. shouldn’t we go to God as He came to us; with outstretched hands?

  16. @James; “fear of the Lord” = respect vs. “fear of condemnation” = basis of religion’s shame management system and contrary to Paul’s declaration of “no condemnation” as well as the perfect love that casts out fear.

    1. I was quoting Psalms 111:10, Proverbs 9:10, and Job 28:28

      Timor Dei Initium Sapientiae is not just Jung. But I know what you mean, yes.

  17. As I read Grace’s ponderings, and the comments on this string, it is my conclusion that the outcome of this particular point of theology is not so much about my own spiritual condition, rather it is about how I present the ‘good news’ to others.

    Opt in: “You are a sinner, and unless you accept Jesus as you Lord and Savior, you will eternally condemned to torment.”

    Opt out: “God loves you and has redeemed you through the shed blood of Christ. He has also created you with a free will, so you may choose whether you want to live in His provision or not.”

    Both are rather cerebral ‘master plan’ statements, void a critical element of the gospel:
    An organic relationship with God and with His church. Both have to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. As Bob posted up the string, Jesus states very clearly that one MUST be ‘born again’. Evreryone on earth has been born into God’s grace, but not all have (yet) been born again into God’s Kingdom. Somewhere in life there must be one more option. We (His church) have the opportunity to offer that choice, but it is imperative that we offer the choice in the character and power of the Head, the Lord Jesus Christ. He didn’t commission us to make converts, He commissioned us to make disciples. The first is cerebral, with a focus on correct information. The second is organic, focused on transformation. Jesus more or less said, “If you want to opt in … follow me.”

    That was good news for the blind, the lame, the demon possessed, the tax collector, the prostitute, even a condemned crimnal dying on a cross. It should have been good news for a rich young ruler too – but it seems he opted out.

  18. Great discussion guys – keep it going. Paul am right with you on what conversion is.The Father was the same before Christ’s death as He was after it.We change or wake up ( solely due to God’s gift of seeing or grace) not God.Was God changing in His journey from El ( Canaanite god) to Yahweh to The Father.There is one to discuss!!

  19. Ugh. my last comment was a bit messy. Let me try to clarify a bit:

    “Many* will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we preach in your name? Didn’t we drive out demons and do many miracles in your name?’” *cerebral followers -Matthew 7: 22

    Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew* you. Depart from my presence you who acted with personal ulterior motives (evil doers).’ *had a relationship with you -Matthew 7: 23

    Is this Jesus’ only reference to the critical state of being immersed (baptized) into His selfless character and power through intimate relationship? No, but one of the clearest. Apparently there will be MANY who believe they opted in simply because they had the right information. Jesus continually refutes this idea throughout His teachings. Some of many other references: Matthew 25:41, Luke 6:46, Luke 13: 24-27.

    Perhaps there are times when our theology complicates the simplicity of the gospel. Perhaps theologians would do well to ponder the question: “What did Jesus mean when He said ‘Follow me’ ?”

  20. Ken,
    I think that we’re on the same page. I would say that it is all about the relationship, knowing the Father, following Jesus, living by the Spirit. It is only through this relationship that our transformation and rebirth into a new nature can occur.

  21. It seems to me that when the Good News was presented/proclaimed/announced in the NT, some kind of response was demanded–either by the announcer or by the conscience of the hearer…”What shall we do?” or “Save yourselves…” (Acts 2, for instance).

    Do we give ourselves too much credit by thinking of this in terms of “opt-out/opt-in” ?? Also, how many Mulligans are we allowed?


    1. Tom,
      I agree that the Good News results in a response on our part. I’m just saying that the response is not what produces our inclusion in Christ. The response results in the transformation of our lives.

      We get no credit for the fact that we’ve been included. That is simply the extravagance of God’s grace. Honestly, I don’t know the mechanics of opting opt as far as what it would mean to completely and intentionally turn away from God’s love. However, it seems that with love, the option to choose is essential.

      1. Grace,

        If all I had was those two paragraphs I’d observe that what you wrote is near essentially a summation of TULIP. ;o)

        However, going back and including your original post, where you diverge from historic Calvinism is that you assume all people begin life being in right relationship with God. Given that assumption, you now have a ULIP ;o)

        Just as you are, I’m still engaged in the process of working out my theology…and it’s been an interesting journey thus far. As hard as I’ve tried I’ve yet to systematize God well enough that I can keep Him in the properly labeled box…


      2. Interesting thought. I would clarify that to be reconciled to God does not equate to being in right relationship with Him. I’m pretty sure that I’m still not a card-carrying Calvinist.

  22. “Now people still have the free will to choose against that if they want – to OPT OUT if they want – and they do so to their own destruction. But the default setting now is that people are in Christ.”


    That quote from Boyd leaves me unsatisfied. What is the context of that statement? Is he speaking about all people in general, or is he addressing the possibility of Christians having the freedom to OPT OUT? Who does the “default setting” apply to according to Boyd?



    1. Tom,
      After hearing that, I wrote down the quote, but I’ve forgotten what sermon it was from. (Although I remember that it was around 40 minutes in.) It is a sermon of Greg’s between 2004 and 2009. I spent several hours this evening trying to find it without luck. Sorry.

      Honestly, the statement seemed like a bit of an aside from what he was actually preaching about. He didn’t expound on this.

      1. Good morning Tom,
        No worries. I planned to give the link to a friend of mine also, and I’m disappointed that I “lost” it. If I run across it again, I’ll send you an email.

  23. i don’t believe in opting out. i am a self-proclaimed Hopeful Reconciliationist, hopeful that all of mankind, the good, the bad, the ugly and the resistant and the hostile and the disbelieving and unbelieving and misbelieving and so on and so on will will one day all be reconciled to their Father in heaven, if not on this side of the veil then eventually on the other side.

    I believe in divine punishment as being redemptive an ultimately bringing the wayward son or daughter all the way home. If there is a hell, and I really am not sure, I cannot imagine that our Father in heaven nor any of his creation could live in joy while the deep sorrow of absence of those we love are still missing. God’s grace extends beyond the grave, I believe.

    And that is why I do not believe in opting out and am a self-proclaimed hopeful reconciliationist.

    (good to see ya grace!)

  24. By some not-simple twist of fate (or was it “Sovereignty”? ;o) ) I ended up looking at this discussion. Over 5 years later. And how my perspective has changed.

    At his point in my understanding according to the light I’ve been given I agree with Robert Capon;

    Calvin was right–half the time.

    The best I can now say about TULIP is that it was for me a pedagogue to lead me to Grace.


  25. I just came up with this thought myself. If living has been nothing but, torture I really don’t want to see what eternity looks like. I believe in God and Jesus and love them dearly I just choose not to exist after this. I remember somewhere in the Bible it said fear God who can destroy both body and soul. That is what I want. I want to pass out of existence. I know it doesn’t make sense to try to live sin free if all I want is to pass out of existence but, I love God and Jesus. If at all possible I want to make them happy as I would anyone I love. There is a part of me that died threw tragedy. I’m sure God can repair it but, I’d rather just not be at all.

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