Summary: This message introduces both the history and teachings of Calvinism and Arminianism. Followed by an explanation of exegesis and eisegesis - two opposing ways to study the scriptures!. Which method must we always use?
Predestination vs Freewill
Pt 1: Calvinism vs Arminianism
It's been a long-standing debate! The controversy rages over just what is meant in Scripture by the oft-repeated statement that the believer has been chosen by God. Although there have always been differing views, stretching back to the very beginning of the church age, it has only recently become a hot topic for debate due to the world-wide resurgence of Reformed Theology.
Let me begin by clarifying the terminology that forms part of this debate:
Strictly speaking, predestination and election, though essentially integral to the same act, are not the same thing. Read carefully Eph.1:4-5 (and I am translating literally from the Greek):
[Just] as he chose us [to be] in him before the foundation of the world, so that we might be holy and blameless before him; in love having predestined us for (unto) sonship through Jesus Christ unto himself according to the good pleasure of his will.
You can clearly see that predestination to sonship came first (having predestined us) and to accomplish this, God chose us (to be) in Christ!
So the Father firstly (logically - not chronologically) predestined us for full Sonship in His family and then, in order to fit us for this destiny, He chose to place us in Christ (popularly known as Election).
However, to avoid confusion, I intend to defer to popular usage and to designate God's calling (choosing) of the believer as simply: Predestination!
So now to the question at hand: did God choose me or did I choose God? Am I saved by an act of (my) free choice or because God (from eternity) decreed that I (personally) should be saved? Am I therefore responsible for my own salvation? Do I contribute to my salvation in any way or do I have no say whatsoever in the matter?
Depending on where you stand on this question, your view can most likely be categorised as hyper-Calvinistic (our salvation depends entirely on Divine election), moderately Calvinistic (Divine election and man's free will work together in a way we simply don't understand) or Arminian (our freewill choice alone determines our eternal destiny).
Let me state from the onset that such a blanket characterization will not always be an entirely fair representation of any one of the above views: there are many nuances of Calvinism as there are shades of Arminianism - not to mention the (essentially) middle ground of Molinism.
I therefore ask your forgiveness if I fail to state your position accurately in every detail. I can only hope that I have at least captured the essence of the differences between the two opposing views in what is a complex and often convoluted discussion.
Chosen by God
What everyone will agree on is that we, as believers, have been chosen by God. Consider the following verses (all italics mine):
Eph.1:4-5 'For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love having predestined us to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will.'
'In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.'
An equally striking verse is Acts 13:48
'When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed (ordained, assigned a place) for eternal life, believed.'
It certainly appears as if God has chosen certain people to be saved: these souls are referred to in Scripture as the elect (chosen ones). In 2 Tim.2:10, Paul says this: 'Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect' and in 2 Pet.1:10, the apostle urges: 'Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election'.
And the Scriptures don't end there! Romans 9 contains individual statements that, at first glance, seem to present a deterministic God who saves whomever He wishes - leaving the individual with no choice in the matter! (See also Romans 8:29-30; John 6:37, 44).
All seems quite straight-forward thus far, but we are then presented with a very real paradox! This is because, as the Arminian claims, the Scriptures equally appear to present man's free will as being the determining factor in our salvation:
Saved by free-will choice
'This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.'
Isa.55:1 'Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.'
John 3:16 'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.'