Monday, March 15, 2021

Predestination: What is Salvation? Faith in Christ or the Decree of God?

The classic debate of arminianism and calvinism began long ago, with John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. Today we often experience the same debate within modern evangelical Christian circles. The key issue seems to develop around predestination.  The Calvinist doctrine concerned Arminius because of the issue of salvation.  Is salvation based on faith in Christ, or on the decree of God?

Arminius denied the Calvinist doctrines of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism which both indicate that God decrees salvation or judgment on all believers, either prior to creating humans or after creating humans. Arminius viewed salvation as through Jesus Christ, not through a decree of God. Arminius views salvation as being about the work of Jesus Christ, and what he did on the cross. God may foreknow the future, but God hasn't forced the outcome. To Arminius faith is the key to salvation in Christ. God honors the decision of the person, the decision that God has divine foreknowledge of.

For the famed preacher John Wesley, he also rejected the concept of God forcing people to heaven or hell. He viewed free will as an important factor in the equation. He reasoned that faith was conditional, not irresistible. Belief was required to believe in Christ (what a concept).  But he developed an important concept, he referred to the concept as prevenient grace, the grace that goes before salvation. This is the idea that God is constantly sovereignly drawing us to Christ. So man is totally depraved, and God makes the first reach toward the person, to bring about salvation. Though free will, choice did play a role in embracing or rejecting Christ. 

I find the responses of Arminius and Wesley to predestination to be thoroughly compelling. Predestination is a bizarre idea to me, at least taken to the extremes that Calvinists take it to. But even for the moderate Calvinist, when you draw the lines to the logical conclusion of predestination you to get this unbiblical idea that God decrees that some go to hell and some go to heaven, before they are even born.  And free will plays no role in it.  

So I think Arminius and Wesley properly balance this difficult issue between free will and election.  I don't think they balance it perfectly.  There is still something missing I think, but I'm not sure what it is. Because there is the reality of election, and predestination discussed in the scriptures. We can't discount the reality of God foreordaining some to salvation. Is it only a select few? It's hard to say. Maybe we will never know. Often times the Bible simply leaves two points of tension that outline an interior area that we can't quite grasp. And we wrestle with the tension, and eventually just leave it there as a permanent unresolved tension in the scriptures.