This post will begin to flesh out the excesses that frequently appear in the teachings of those promoting predestination (think Calvinists). As I wrote previously, I heartily endorse that God foreknows, chooses and predestines men and women to be saved. I also believe that the bible teaches that we have free will.
So, while I have a lot sympathy for predestinationists, I have some beefs with what they sometimes say.
#1 presenting God’s sovereignty as overruling free will
The bible presupposes that men and women are decision-makers who are morally responsible for their choices. Consider the record of creation in the first chapters of Genesis. God creates man in his own image (a phrase used elsewhere of fathering a child), he gives man authority over creation, then he commands him concerning what he may and may not do. It is immediately obvious from this account that humans are creatures with the power to choose their own actions.
This is something that each of us knows intuitively. Everything about our experience bears it out. We feel desires, we consider our options, we make our choices and we experience the consequences. We do this over and over. It is the entire character of our lives. Indeed, it is our nature.
Reading a little further in Genesis we find that man disobeys God. From our vantage point as members of a long-since fallen humanity, it may be no great surprise. But consider who we disobeyed; he who rearranges the earth, the sea and the stars with a spoken word; he who says “Let there be light!” It is the creator God who speaks and it is so. This is the one whom our ancestors chose to ignore.
Throughout the bible God commands, pleads with, questions, reasons with, judges, approves, condemns, disciplines, punishes and rewards men and women. All of this would be silly if man did not have free will.
Truly, I don’t know that any Christians deny it. But at times, some of them get carried away talking about the sovereignty of God and make it sound as if God overrides man’s free will. I don’t know why they do it except an overabundance of zeal for the sovereignty of God. It certainly isn’t required by any scripture or logical argument that I can see.
When we talk about God’s authority and his ability to make everything as he sees fit, we need to affirm that he has done what says he has done, which includes creating man with a mind of his own. There’s no sense exalting God’s sovereignty over his revealed word. “God’s so great, he couldn’t really have done what he claims to have done!” Nonsense.
And isn’t the part of the greatness of God that he can accomplish his will in spite of all the disobedience and seeming unpredictability of man? God knows what we will choose before we begin choosing. But we do choose, and he does know. The bible clearly testifies to both truths.
#2 presenting men as incapable of responding to the gospel held forth
Part of the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity is the idea that man can not, will not seek God. God must move first. The word “total” there means that the whole person is corrupted. There isn’t some part of man deep inside that is really good. No, it’s all corrupt, heart, soul and mind.
Since man is so thoroughly compromised, he can not redeem himself. Instead his only hope is to be redeemed by God through faith in Christ. He can not build a bridge to God, he can not invent some purifying religion, discipline himself to holiness, do some great deed to redeem himself. In fact, man will not even truly make a move toward God, unless God first draws the man to himself. Oh, he may make a show of it, like Cain did when God rejected his sacrifice. But man will not truly repent and submit to God unless God acts first.
All this fits well with scripture. These are important truths and foundational to the gospel. The problem comes when Calvinists speak as if man is not able to respond to the gospel. They talk like there is a secret action that God must undertake before man can believe.
But this goes too far. Even assuming all said before is true, that God must move first, that God must draw the man, what is the proclamation of the gospel if not a mighty move of God to offer forgiveness? If we say God must act, he has acted! If we say God must draw men, what else is the sincere preaching of Christ but God beckoning to the unsaved?
Some hold that salvation is something that God does to men and women without their will being consulted either to refuse or consent. I agree that it seems (in a sense) as though it should be that way. When God speaks, things happen. He didn’t ask the Red Sea if it wanted to part. But isn’t that the difference (and what a difference!) he made between man and nature? If we believe that God allows us free choice in anything, it would be no stretch to think he allows to choose what to believe, even though that means some of us choose to disbelieve him.