If you ask just about anyone who grew up in the Church whether God chooses people or if people choose God, they will most likely answer, “both.” Almost everyone I have talked with recognizes that there is a paradoxical relationship between God’s sovereignty and human will.
This recognition is also true outside of the Church. Volumes of literature, both Christian and non-Christian, wrestle with the tension between fate and human will. This is a basic and common theme in literature and philosophy and psychology. True, there are skeptics who have come to believe that human choice is simply an illusion, and there are also romantics who seem to turn a blind eye to the problem of fate, but most will readily admit that reality consists of some sort of paradoxical relationship between fate and free will that we don’t understand from our perspective. No one actually believes that human choices are insignificant, yet no honest thinker will fail to recognize the power of fate to shape and govern our choices.
Perhaps a perfect showcase of this sentiment is expressed in Rob Bell’s “Everything Is Spiritual Talk” (take a moment to watch the two minute video). What Rob Bell does not realize is that he is articulating nothing less than classic calvinism. The calvinist term for the relationship between predestination and human choice is compatibilism; it is the belief that God’s eternal decree can simultaneously exist with the reality of human volition. One of the reasons I am still a calvinist in spite of all the baggage that goes along with the label is that it is the only Christian perspective which recognizes the beauty of this paradox, and affirms the simultaneous biblical realities of the overarching story that God is sovereignly writing and the reality of human choices within the story.
Arminianism suggests that God’s sovereignty must give space for human free will, so that there is a kind of a bubble of human will that is not determined by the sovereign decree of God, although God will use the human choices to carry out his purposes. This is, of course, not irrational. But it completely removes any kind of mystery or paradox regarding the relationship of God’s sovereignty and human will. To say God is sovereign but he leaves it up to us to choose is not a paradox. To affirm that God decrees our actions and yet we legitimately choose is to maintain the paradox.
Molinism suggests that God foresees all the possible potential choices of human beings (middle knowledge), and then he orchestrates reality for the best possible outcome considering those potential choices. Again, there is nothing inherently irrational about this position, and indeed it is sophisticated and intellectually robust, but there is also nothing paradoxical about this position. It, like arminianism, entirely removes the mystery and paradox of the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human will.
Calvinism is the only Christian perspective that affirms that God decrees all things – even human choices – and yet human choices/wills are real things. That is one of the reasons that calvinism is compelling to me. It recognizes the legitimacy of human choice yet affirms God’s sovereign orchestration of all things, and thus maintains the basic paradox that indeed the Scripture itself seeks to maintain: “… You designed/intended to do evil to me but God designed/intended to do good” (Gen 50:20).
This post leaves some very obvious questions to be determined, probably most notably, does the Bible truly affirm the simultaneous realities of God’s exhaustive sovereignty and human free-will? That is not the scope of this post. The main point I am trying to make is that Rob Bell and dozens who sympathize with his “eraser trick” have been articulating calvinist compatibilism.