Calvinism and Arminianism represent two diverging views of God’s relationship with man. The two views are summarized at the graceonline.com website and charted at the jesusfollowme.com website. In a nut shell, Calvinism represents the view that people are predestined to believe or not believe; and Arminianism represents the view that people have free will to believe or not to believe. I am oversimplifying the positions, of course.
As an aside, I am no theologian. I was one thesis short of a religion major in college (finished with an English Literature major). I became a believer in college in the midst of prevailing liberal thinking and unbelief. I say this only to acknowledge that I am not an expert, but I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ. I have no doubt that I was drawn by God and that salvation comes by grace through faith, not by anything I have done or will ever do.
The countervailing views get to the heart of the Christian faith. Does God choose man? Or does man choose God? We, of course, would like to think it is the latter. On the hand, are we really nothing more than robots that do good or bad as God programmed or destined us?
The following scriptures suggest that we choose God:
John 7:17 – Jesus said: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking of my own authority.”
Rev. 22:17 – “Whoever wills, let him take the water of life freely.”
The following scriptures suggest God chooses us:
John 6:44 – Jesus said: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”
Rom. 8:29 – “And those who he predestined he also called …”
My take is this, and I suspect I will raise the ire of both camps: First of all, we always need to be reminded that now we “see through a glass darkly”, but when we are with God in heaven we will see face to face and know as we are fully known. (I Cor. 13:12) We are finite, and the boundaries of our finiteness leave us in a position in which we cannot fully know or understand an infinite, timeless God. One side may make more sense to me than the other side, but I do not have to choose a side. I can leave that to God.
That does not mean that I should be lazy about faith or be cavalier with the Word of God. I believe it is important that we “rightly divide the word of God.” (2 Tim. 2:15) At the same time, there are tensions in the Bible. Some people see them as contradictions, but I believe they are mistaken (and, frankly, lazy or simply ignorant). We are prone, however, to insist on coming down on one side or the other; we want it black or white, but God does not give us that convenience.
Many errors in doctrine come from over-emphasizing one aspect of the scripture. We focus too much attention on one verse, one book, one theme, one doctrine, etc. to our peril. God does not fit in our boxes. A professor in college laid out the “paradox” one day with the following illustration: a man dies and approaches the pearly gates (sorry for the cliché start). He sees a sign over the gates that reads: “All ye who will may enter here.” When he goes through the gates and looks back, the sign over the gates reads: “Chosen from before the foundation of the earth.”
Dare I say that sometimes we spend too much of our energy on doctrine? Doctrine is a shadow; the reality, the substance is in Christ (to paraphrase Col. 2:17) Now we see as through a glass darkly, as in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. The reality and the substance is God. Knowing God as He knows us is the end game. Doctrine does not save us; God saves us. Love God and love your neighbor is the greatest of the commandments. That is relationship, not doctrine.