Recent comments on my blog have caused me to realize that a misunderstanding of how predestination and free will work together can be an impediment to belief. I hesitated to attempt to address this in my blog. It’s a complicated subject, and Christians have been arguing (sometimes not very nicely) about it for centuries.
In fact, this post was getting long because of that complexity, and I just made some pretty drastic cuts. But I’ve decided to give it a try by dividing this subject up into several posts. Stay with me or not as you have interest.
But First, A Shameless Plug
Several chapters in my book, Solid Ground, addressed the complexity and the tension between two main branches of theological interpretation: Reformed Theology, also called Calvanism (named for 16th Century French theologian John Calvin), and Armenian Theology, also called Armenianism (named for Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch Protestant theologian who lived shortly after Calvin.) Those chapters are: “The Theological Fight of the Centuries,” “Predestination and Free Will,” and “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People” I eventually combined these chapters, and others, with new material in the shorter book titled UnReformed to address some things that happened in my church after I wrote Solid Ground.
But I’m going to give the Reader’s Digest version of my chapters and books for free on this blog. Think of the money you’ll save!
To be brief, I’m going to boil down the main terms here. Please understand, I’m going to be forced to sacrifice a certain amount of precision to do so. There are some aspects of Reformed and Armenian theology I am not going to address in these posts. But then you can always read UnReformed to get that precision! (Another shameless plug!)
“Reformed” theology (or “Calvanism”) is a theology that stresses the sovereignty of God. For our purposes in this series of posts, this means that God chooses who will be saved based upon his desire to receive glory from those who believe. Reformed Christians believe in “predestination” — God has predestined the actions of every man and woman, particularly whether or not they will be saved.
“Arminian” means that man chooses God. Arminians also believe that a man (or woman, of course) can lose that salvation. Arminian Christians believe in Free Will. They believe that God predestines those who believe to glory, but God does not choose each man and woman. Each man or woman chooses God out of an exercise of free will.
Some Personal History
When I was invited by neighbors to attend their church and became a Christian at the tender age of twelve (a blog post in itself!), I went home, bubbling with joy, and told my mother what happened. She was — how do I put this? — less than enthusiastic. As a child, I didn’t recognize the expression on her face, but I do now: it was fear. My mother removed me from this dangerous, fanatical church and she put me in a nice, safe, Methodist church with a strong music program, where conversion experiences simply did not occur.
And she was right. In fact, although I attended church faithfully for the next five years, I was pretty well untaught in anything scriptural. We had Sunday School lessons which used the Bible as a springboard for discussion, but little else.
Five years later, I had another experience with God while reading a book on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (given to me by another friend) that was even stronger than the first. And, at graduation, my church gave all seniors a Bible as a gift.
I began reading the Bible, starting with the New Testament. My first thought was: “I had been attending church for five years. Why had no one told me about these things?” I began devouring entire books of the Bible at seventeen years of age. I have been reading the Bible from cover to cover ever since.
But back to the Main Topic
My initial readings of the Bible, especially Romans chapter 9, made me Reformed — or at least partially Reformed — in my theology.
What does that mean?
It means I understood that God determines who will be saved. And if someone isn’t saved, it’s because God didn’t want to save him. (Or her, of course, but constantly saying “him and her” is just plain awkward.) Reformed people often put it like this: our will is free, but we are only free to do evil things. Or they might say, there’s nothing good in us, and we can’t choose God on our own, so God does the choosing for us. Or, they might say, we are dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead people can’t make any choice at all. So God makes the choice.
As I said, this used to be my theological position, but further reading of the Bible and (I believe) the Spirit of God convinced me that I was wrong. In the next few posts, I intend to discuss why I came to change my mind and provide what I believe to be a more thorough scriptural position that encompasses our freedom of will within God’s sovereignty. From my point of view, God is indeed sovereign, but there is both predestination and free will, and they work together in ways that are both complicated and wonderful.
Before I end this post, let me say this: I attend a church that is Reformed in its theology. When I joined, I was no longer theologically Reformed. I was up front about that, but they made me welcome. Having seen the people of this local church up front and personal, I have nothing but respect for them. Nothing I say about Reformed theology should be construed to suggest otherwise. They are — quite simply — better Christians than I am.
But, I am going to do my best to put predestination and free will together in ways that many in my church (and certainly the elders) would think is incorrect.
Come join me if you are interested.