Chosen by choice?

May 24, 2006

  As I have said in my first blog, I am neither a theologian, nor a writer.  As a result, this may lack some of the professional luster that some might be expecting.  I hope, however that it may interest some enough to read. 

   Ah, how I want to skip the prep and get right to the juicy stuff.  I cannot, however, ignore the fact that there was a process to getting to where I am now and that it is relevant and should at least be touched on if not told.  Try to forget I said that as you yawn and wonder when I will get to the point.  Several years ago, I had a discussion with the man who bought the business I was working for and it came up that he believed that God had already chosen who would go to heaven and who wouldn’t and we had absolutely no control over who goes and who sizzles.  I was naiive.  I thought he must belong to some weird cult or something.  I had never heard that before.  Sure, I had heard people talk about “once saved always saved” and had given it as much thought as it took to forget it.  I had never actually thought it through to realize that the only way someone could be “once saved always saved” was for God to insure their salvation and that if some were assured of salvation, then others weren’t, nor could they ever be. 

   For those who have ever jumped aboard the speeding locomotive of this debate before, please continue reading.  Don’t think I will bother you with just the usual ” but it says in Romans that . . .” or “if that were so, why didn’t he just say that?” kind of arguments.  Scholars, ministers, televangelists and their dogs have all been down those tracks before.  I hope to bring new insight that can only come from ignorance and the struggle to turn ignorance into salvation or election, whichever one comes first. 

   Back to the story.  A couple of years passed and nothing more was said about it and I didn’t think too much of it until one night I was in an inter-denominational small group Bible study and I foolishly said something like, “my boss actually believes that God has already chosen who will go to heaven and who won’t and that nothing we can do can change that.”  I’m sure my reaction was just as big as anyone could have hoped for when one of the guys in the group said, “well, I believe that too.  That’s what the Bible says.”  Rudolph’s nose had nothing on my face.  I think I may have actually said the best thing I could have at that moment, “huh.”  That is when I realized my boss wasn’t a freak.  He didn’t belong to some conservative off-the-wall medieval cult after all.  So, I decided to approach him again and talk to him about it.  He was more than happy to talk and we had a couple of good discussions.  Unfortunately, our schedules left little time for us to just sit around debating God’s choices, so he gave me a book to read called “Easy Chairs, Hard Words” by Douglas Wilson. 

    I decided that I needed to really enter into this journey with an open heart and an open mind and really seek the truth.  So, I read the book.  I have never felt so helpless before in my life.  I wanted to talk to this person.  I wanted to ask this conveyer-of-nothing questions that were quite neglected in his book.  I wanted to . . . I didn’t know what, but his book left me more frustrated than anything else.  He spent the first few pages of his book establishing premise A. Dealt with a couple of the common disputes over it and then declared it so.  Premise A is fact.  Therefore, since premise A is true, then premise A sub 1 is true.  Every point he made in his book simply pointed back to Premise A and did not stand on it’s own.  I, however, was not convinced of premise A and as a result, the rest of the book was pointless.  I could have stopped at page six and learned just as much.  Not only that, but he came across as very arrogant and condescending toward people who don’t share his view.  I felt like a little school boy being pitied by the school teacher for not being able to learn long division. 

     I made an attempt to discuss some of these points with my boss but between my inability to properly communicate my questions and his time constraints, little was accomplished.   Much to my surprise, Mr. Wilson wasn’t the only expert on the subject and my boss had another book for me to read.  This one turned out a little differently.  It was “Chosen by God” by RC Sproul.

    Speaking of books, I guess I’d better end this now.  Again, bear with me.  The good stuff is coming. 



  1. Grappling with the issue of predestination and free-will is a great exercise in discovering not only how limited human understanding is (even the logically steroided guys like Douglas Wilson), but also how very BIG God is.

    Keep up the thinking on the matter. Frustration is rooted in artificial human categories, not reality itself.

  2. Never too late to reply I suppose. Yes a huge debate; and predictably volatile responses from both sides whenever I’ve raised it. God would that none should perish; and no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them. It will remain a mistery.
    If we were born in sin with our hearts set as enemies of God, who apart from the Holy Spirit could turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh? Yet we are urged to choose this day whom we will serve.
    Calvin became unbelievably arrogant and had thousands of “non-predestination” Christians put to death. The modern “we choose” camp has many who arrogantly champion all power to us, and more from God besides.
    Whenever you take either view to extreme, you’re theologically in deep water without a paddle(to mix my metaphors). Hold warmly and lightly to both (and the bible allows for that) and you have assurance of salvation, without the arrogance of doing what you like with impunity…lest you fall. A theological term is to hold both views in “creative tension”; whatever that means??!!. God bless you.

  3. franksub,
    Thank you for your comment. I think it is important to remember that God is what is important here, not our self-created theologies and egoes. It is not up to us to decide what God’s nature and plan is, but God who has the plan and all we can do is be open to Him and what He has to say to us. We can claim one theology over another, but I think it would be presumptuous for us to know the heart or mind of God. Arrogance can be debilitating not only in our ministry, but also in our own walk with God.

  4. Having spent most of my 63 years in the “free will” church I am having real difficulty dealing with the reformed view. Grudem’s Systematic Theology is obviously of the reform position but some of his reasoning (especially in the chapter on Providence)is apples & oranges and not convincing enough to overcome the Armenian view – in my opinion.

    It seems to me that we can support both views with scripture so the struggle I have is why are both conflicting positions in scripture?

  5. jdug
    That has been a question I have thought quite a bit about myself. I was going to write a post, and may do so yet, about this very question. To sum up my thinking, I believe that there are two different ways to view the Bible. One way is to read the Bible as a whole and take the scripture in context of the whole Bible and its’ message. The other way is to take a theme gleaned from a few passages and read the rest of the Bible in context of that theme. I realize that both views will claim the first, but it really seems to me that the Arminian view takes the whole of the Bible’s message and puts individual passages in context of that message where the Reformed view takes a few passages and makes the rest of the Bible fit those passages. This is quite easy to do because the Reformed view does make sense when you read the Bible with that slant, I just think that they are conforming the Bible to match their view. If I had been brought up Reformed, I would probably never question it. The fact is, I have been brought up Arminian, but I feel I have searched my soul and done enough praying to feel like I have given the Reformed view an honest chance. As I said, I may write a post which goes into this in more detail and why I think what I do, but for now, this will have to do.

    Thank you for your comments.

  6. I too am commenting way late on this, and with the subsequent post in mind as well. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your attitude on this; it is SO rare in the blogosphere.

    Although I am a fairly convinced “Reformed Arminian” to use Robert Picirilli’s terminology (and to slightly clarify, I am with Arminius when it comes to “perseverance”–according to Picirilli Arminius believed in perseverance but had doubts about it because some scriptures suggest otherwise), I do not place my faith in theology, but rather in God. Theology is man’s way of trying to better understand God, which is a Good Thing, but at the same time, well, it has its pitfalls!

    I have studied this matter myself to some extent, off and on over several years, and have come to a fuller understanding of my own beliefs, fuller in the sense that I understand how Scripture has shaped this line of thinking. At the same time, I have gained a greater understanding of how Scripture has shaped Calvinist thought. At the end of the day, whichever you side you fall on you will be left with a subset of scriptures that you have to say mean something other than what they seem to say. You know what I mean, Calvinists have to explain how “all” doesn’t really mean “all” and “the world” doesn’t really mean “the world,” and “be careful not to fall away” doesn’t actually mean you can fall away, “choose whom you will serve” doesn’t really mean we get to choose, etc. Arminians have to explain how God didn’t really hate Esau before he was born, how “you did not choose Me, I chose you” doesn’t really mean we had no say in the matter, etc., etc,. etc.

    So…what do we do with that? Argue about it ’til we’re blue in the face? Try desperately to correct our poor, misguided “brother” so weak in the faith that he does not properly understand God’s plan of salvation? There is so much arrogance and vitriol and pomposity and patronizing out there that sometimes it honestly sickens me. I love theology and the blogoshpere is a neat way to learn about others’ views…but sometimes I wish I’d never seen that stuff because it so disappoints me to see fellow Christians (?) displaying such un-Christlike attitudes.

    In my (limited) experience, Arminians are often more willing to co-exist with Calvinist believers than vice versa, because Calvinists believe Arminians do not believe in a sovereign God. As a more-or-less Arminian (I actually don’t like to label myself anything but “Christian”), I think that’s ridiculous, and it’s probably the thing that offends me the most amidst all the mean-spirited diatribes out there. I would say the difference lies not in the sovereignty of God, but in the extent to which God chooses to exercise His sovereignty. Is He less sovereign if he allows me to choose? Is He less sovereign if he does not personally direct every lightning bolt, as Philip Yancey was recently critizied on a Calvinist blog for writing? No! He could make every decision Himself if He chose to–He’s God! His sovereignty lies in His ability to act exactly as He chooses, not in His exercising that sovereignty. Note that recognizing this is not in the slightest an argument against Calvinism. I lay this out only because I’ve personally arrived at this as the fundamental difference between the two sides: the extent to which God chooses to exercise his sovereignty. And to go further, as I understand from Calvinist thought and certainly within Arminian thought, there is actually a pretty large spectrum of belief on this issue spanning the two views. This helps me to understand the “extreme” views as well: extreme Arminianism (God never exercises His sovereinty) leads to a kind of Deist view of an uninvolved God, while extreme Calvinism (God exercises His sovereinty in every detail of every moment) leads to a kind of fatalism and lack of human responsibility. Clearly neither of those views is supported in Scripture.

    I have begun to wander from the main point of my comment, which is just to say that I long for more Christian brothers and sisters who can recognize (without patronizing) fellow believers who disagree with them on this issue as in fact fellow believers, not lesser, not weak in the faith, but just believers who have looked at the same Scripture, believe every word of it to be the Word of God, and come to a different conclusion. Can the two co-exist in the same local church? Probably not very well. But that doesn’t mean we can’t fellowship together and cooperate as fellow Christians.

    And again, praise God that we are saved by grace through faith, and not by grace through a perfect understanding of theology. And to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if I get to heaven and find out neither “Arminianism” or “Calvinism” was correct. Why should we expect that we can package God up so nicely and neatly?

    And as for your reaction to your boss, very funny! I think here is another difference–“Arminians” are not explicitly taught about “Arminianism” (quotes because so many different things can be meant by the term), while Calvinists usually are taught explicitly about Calvinism. So “Calvinism” often comes as quite a shock to those of us who grew up in Arminian-leaning churches! A good friend of mine in collge was a Presbyterian and Calvinist, she explained what that was to me once, and I was like…”so you believe God created some people for the express purpose of sending them to Hell to suffer for eternity?” I was incredulous, it seemed horrific. I still can’t quite wrap my head around that today, but I know where the idea comes from now. Incidentally, that was the first time in my life I heard the word “Arminian,” when my friend told me I was one. (“Really? I had no idea!”) =) I thought it must have something to do with a theologian from the country of Armenia.

    Another good friend, who’s actually a Calvinist now but was raised with an Arminian outlook (and like you she is a pastor’s kid), told me she used to think Calvinists were a bunch of heretics!

    All this stuff is quite funny. It’s just a shame our early, immature understanding of things so often morphs into later…immature understanding.

    And one final thing, thank you for being brave enough to post on this topic, with a gentle spirit — I would also love to explore it in a blog…but my skin is not quite thick enough to deal with fellow so-called Christians telling me I’m ignorant or believe in a weak God or am an Open Theist or am weak in faith or haven’t read my Bible or am doomed to hell, etc. (–should anyone other than the couple of friends who read it now ever come across it!) Bravo to you.

    Sorry for writing a never-ending comment… =)

  7. Oops oops oops–forgot a crucial word–SOME Calvinists think Armianians do not believe in a sovereign God. Did not at all mean to say or imply that ALL Calvinists think that. I know for certainty that that is not the case. Apologies!

  8. Jennifer,

    Wow! For a while, I couldn’t tell if you wrote that or if I had written it. Your thought process and conclussions are almost exactly the way mine have become. I say,”have become” because when I started this blog, that was not my belief. I still wanted to be open and non-condemning, but I definitely felt that the Arminian view was right and Calvinists were wrong. Since then, I have grown to a much broader understanding of our relationship with God and . . . well, you can just read your response if you want to know what I would say.

    Anyway, probably the biggest thing that influenced my thinking on this was this:

    I believe in absolute truth and that the only way to salvation is through that absolute truth. I believe that there are Arminians who are saved and I believe that there are Calvinists who are saved. As a result, there is no way that I can view either view as being the absolute truth and accept that there are those of the opposing view who are saved if I believe in absolute truth. God’s message is absolute truth, not our theologies. I am just glad that I have had people willing to talk and discuss things with me so that I could have that revelation.

    As to my thick skin, well, not really. I had never heard the word Arminian before talking to my boss either. So I figured that if I ever came up against a roadblock, I could just claim ignorance and default out of it.

    Thank you for your encouragement! It actually gives me great encouragement to know that there are others who share my thoughts.

  9. javaguy,

    I apologize if this seems unrelated to the discussion thread, but here is a good article on prevenient grace that I wanted to share with you. It which reconciles the total depravity of man with man’s responsibility to choose.


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