As an Arminian Christian, I stand with my Calvinist brothers and sisters on just about every consequential issue. There is, however, a key theological issue that causes us, at times, to arrive at the same positions by a slightly different path.
My Calvinist friend posted a Facebook status this week that I understand to be a quote from John Piper:
“Do we belong to God because we come to Jesus or do we come to Jesus because we belong to God?”
In a clever way, this highlights the dilemma ardent Calvinism faces. The fact is that we all belong to God by right; we are His creation and the sheep of His pasture, as the Psalmist so beautifully wrote. Here is the rub: Will we surrender the rights of ownership back to the God who first bequeathed them to us? Or will we obsessively cling to our individuality, diminishing ourselves in the process from what we could be if we allowed our lives to be suffused with the radiance of the One who bestows upon us our very life and breath?
The true Calvinist contends that our relationship with God is completely dependent on His choice, not ours. I almost agree. St. Augustine used the analogy of a child who is offered a tantalizing morsel of candy; do we incessantly praise the power of choice the little crumbcruncher uses when he opts for the candy? (Augustine, I’m quite sure, did not employ the term “crumb cruncher”, but you get the gist.) Of course not. Nonetheless, the child does have to reach out his hand and accept the candy. In the same way, but on an infinitely grander scale, we would be fools not to accept Christ’s offer of salvation if we truly understood it. But although God may do most of the work, in the end, the power of choice is ours.
Simply put, I have no choice but to believe, after observing the grand scheme of life for nearly 35 years, that free will is real and not an artificial construct. Jonathan Edwards, great evangelist that He was, nonetheless essentially denied free will and opted for a mechanistic outlook 250 years ago. Today’s Calvinists, joyfully but inexplicably, seem eager to follow in the footsteps of their forebear.
There certainly are many factors that come into play in my life that preceded my very existence and that ultimately, God and God alone controls. Indeed, I do not question the ultimate sovereignty of God or that He governs in the affairs of men, as Benjamin Franklin so aptly put it. But clearly, God chose to cede some sovereignty to humanity in the very process of creation. Man could not be justly held liable for sin if He were predestined or intended to sin from the beginning. The nature of God is holy and holiness not only prefers righteousness to sin, but is antithetical to sin.
This is not to say, of course, that God does not constantly amaze His followers by bringing beauty from ashes. The mystery of grace, from the time of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph to the present is that God can take what is intended for evil and transform its results into long-term good. But that does not negate the superiority of a grace-filled world to a sinful, fallen one and a righteous God is not neutral between the two, let alone casting a lot on the side of the former.