Does God really control everything? How about if we were to throw dice? Would God control that?
The Bible is pretty clear. Indeed, in the random events that hit us from day to day, even the throw of the dice, there is divine providence. See what the Bible teaches us.
Proverbs 16:33 (New Living Translation)
We may throw the dice,
but the Lord determines how they fall.
But, now take the next step. If God is controlling the dice that I throw, is he also controlling the thrower? Perhaps, everything that I do is controlled by God. Perhaps, the same as the dice, I have no free will to choose. This really hits the road when you are asked "does a person have the free will to choose to be saved?"
Probably more than any area inside of Christianity, application of free will is debated.
Now, you may have heard that the debate is "over predestination." Predestination is believing that God, before you are born, picks you to be saved or not be saved. You cannot read the Bible, and not believe in predestination. Orthodox Christians always believe this. The question is how this is decided.
In short order, two schools of thought have surfaced over the years:
1. Some are elected to be in God's Kingdom. Man has no choice in the matter. This branch of Christianity is Calvinist. The term that is used is that God unconditionally elects you. There is nothing that you can do about it. You are not free to chose. This is called unconditional election because there are no conditions around it. (Many Calvinist will say that in every other way, other than this choice, man has free will. It is only in salvation that only God can choose man, and man cannot choose God.)
2 Since God knows everything, before time began, he knew those that--if given the choice--would accept Christ. Thus, he predestines those that will love him to get the chance to be saved. However, you have the right to reject him. This ability to man to have some input into the process makes God's election as conditional election. This branch of Christianity is Arminianism.
Now, if you are witnessing, and you are talking to a non-Christian as a Calvinist, and you were asked, "Does God simply send people to hell?" You would need to answer as the following:
Yes, actually God does. He does this by his own desire, and he does it without any input from you. See, we are all sinful people, and none of us deserved to be saved, but God saves some of us nonetheless. But, here is the good news, you don't know if you are damn and going to hell. To make sure that you are chosen by God, all you need to do is accept Christ, and this confirms that you are saved.
[Now, some will argue that God doesn't actually "damn people" to hell. We do that ourselves. Therefore, while God saves certain people, he doesn't actually send anybody to hell. If you are going to make that argument here, get off my blog. Your brain is cottage cheese, and your breath smells like elderberry wine. This is playing with semantics. At least if you are going to be a Calvinist, have the fortitude to step up to the plate and take it like a (reformed) man or woman.)
Now, if you are witnessing, and you are talking to a non-Christian as a Arminianist, and you were asked, "Does God simply send people to hell?" You would need to answer as the following:
No, you pick if you want to go to hell or not. Now, God has known since the beginning of time the decision that you will make, but it is your decision to make right here and right now, and he has given you an undeserved second chance. Accept Christ and live or reject him and die.
I don't know of a single person that doesn't believe that the second answer is easier for the non-Christian to deal with. It seems much more fair. It place the burden on the person to accept or reject Christ. Jesus wants you to accept him. All you need to do is return home.
So, with unconditional election seemingly making no common sense, how did this doctrine ever come about?
By reading the Bible and coming up with a theology that supports this idea.
Calvinist believe that the Bible says that there is no free will in the salvation process. While Arminianist will say that it is God that causes salvation and without God's grace there is no ability to even choose, they do say that after God has extended an unmerited second chance and softens the heart of the sinner to the extent that they can make a choice. The crux of salvation is when the sinner actually makes the decision to follow Jesus of his or her own free will or free agency.
This to the Calvinist says "man, in a small way, get to contribute to his salvation? This removes God from the salvation process and makes man the master of his salvation."
It is this small freedom that man can make a choice that causes the two schools of Christianity to split. It is a split over free will.
Now, the consequence of defending something that is so counterintuitive results in Calvinists who are great Bible scholars. They almost always see heresy better than the conditional election people. I think that the Reformed movement (the name given to Calvinists) are forced to think through everything carefully, and in some sense this gives them a leg up. Sometimes, it is easier for Arminianists to lose sight of the theology.
As an example of Arminianism's problems, the Methodist church was founded by Charles and John Wesley, who believed in conditional election. This Church movement went out and fed the poor. They brought the good news to those that were perishing. They lived the life. As time went on, they turned from the Gospels to a social Gospel framework. While they did good deeds, they left their first love.
This to me is sheer sadness and regret.
The problem with the unconditional election people is that they never get off their backside as a general whole. While there are brilliance from time to time, those in the unconditional election camp simply never invested as much in actually feeding the poor. They don't have the same heart for missions. They are the ones that uphold the law. They are the ones that have kept the best vision of a regard for scripture as the inerrant word of God. Because of this, these churches are normally intellectually stimulating and yet many times spiritually and emotionally dead. You normally see a Calvinist (Reformed Church) only on fire when they are arguing against Arminianism. They lean toward being dead.
This to me is sheer sadness and regret.
The best example of these two movements can be found by comparing the differences better the two men that best represented each movement.
John Wesley, for conditional election, and John Calvin, for unconditional election. If you read Calvin's institutes, you will find a systematic theology that is overwhelming in scope. You will find a brilliant mind that seemingly graphs all the technical merits of the Bible. You will also find a mind that doesn't care about having his spirit broken by those that are in poverty.
John Wesley scoured the Bible. He was smart but not as smart as Calvin. However, the man's heart was beautiful. He made some mistakes, his marriage was horrible (mainly because his brother kept him from marrying the right girl), but the outcome of his life changed the well being of the world.
I personally think that the Lord grieves when he sees us arguing over what to believe in. If you read the scriptures, you are going to see that the Bible clearly represents both conditional and unconditional election. It is simply both, or unclear. Either way, there is more than one answer.
From my viewpoint, we are told in the Bible that "by their fruits you shall know them." I would suggest that you don't hold to either camp. Call yourself a free thinker that treasures the writing of Calvin, but leans toward the understanding of Wesley.
For myself, I find that the more that I do careful exegesis on a small subset of verses, the more I lean toward Calvin. However, every time that I read the Bible cover to cover (which I am doing for my tenth time this year) the more that I am convinced that Arminianism is correct.
I personally think that you need to decide for yourself. However, I think that you could do no worse than follow John Wesley who said that he was "hair's breadth" from Calvinism.
Let us respect each other, and thus fulfill the Law Of Christ Jesus.