Once I was an Arminian that could not ignore the strong predestination portions of Scripture. Then I was a Calvinist that could not ignore those portions where the reality of human choice is self-evident. Now I want to say “yes” we are pre-destined and “yes” we must accept or deny the gospel; “yes” God initiates salvation and salvation is a work of God alone and “yes” humans are not forced to worship God or love God but to freely reject God. I like both-and scenarios better than either-or when discussing this subject.
There are many Arminians who see their doctrinal system in the mirror of Scripture; there are many Calvinist who do the same. Everyone wants to claim that Jesus was on their side or that the Apostle Paul taught what they teach. As W.W. Birch recently wrote criticizing Calvinist who think the great Apostle was one of their own so I echo: “The apostle Paul was no more a Calvinist than he was an Arminian or a Lutheran or an Episcopalian or a Methodist or a Pentecostal. He did not establish our systems; we establish our systems on his and other New Testament authors’ writings out of God’s inerrant word.” (see here)
I don’t want to be a Calvinist or an Arminian! I don’t see one side as providing a better explanation than the other. In fact, I am tempted to say that if one asked the Apostle Paul “Did God elect his beloved before the beginning of time?” he would say “yes”. If this was followed with the question, “Did God make salvation available for all people everywhere through Christ and do people have the right to accept or deny the truth of the gospel according to their own free will?” I think would again say “yes”.
When I think about the saving work of God I think it goes something like this:
(A) God foreknows what all people, in all places, at all times would choose in all possible circumstances if faced with the truth of the gospel.
(B) God has provided salvation through the work of his Son by the power of the Spirit that was sufficient for all people, in all places, at all times.
(C) God determines to place those people who will accept the gospel (or prior to Calvary the “gospel” of Israel) in a time and place where they will have the opportunity to hear and accept the gospel.
(D) Since humans are corrupted by sin the Spirit works in the lives of those who will hear the gospel prior to the event in preparation for the event in order to move them toward faith (some see this as God’s work of predestination; some speak of this as prevenient grace).
(E) That being said, the Spirit works on those who will accept the gospel based on foreknowledge. While God is sovereign God is not arbitrary. This is why I can’t accept “strong” Calvinism. I don’t think God plays “duck, duck, goose” with the eternal destiny of humans.
(F) Some of those who God knew would deny the gospel are put in times and places where the gospel would not reach them. Why is this? In part God does not force himself on those who do not want him. In part it may be that their judgment is “less” because they didn’t deny the gospel (I know this brings up another long list of questions). We may even speculate that God will save some based on their willingness to accept the truth they knew and for whatever reasoned deemed it unnecessary for the gospel to reach them (though I don’t think this is plausible).
(G) Some who will not hear the gospel are blessed/cursed with the “opportunity” to hear and reject the gospel. It may be that God let’s them hear the gospel in order to provide a greater indictment upon those whom God knew deserved such an indictment for reasons beyond our knowledge or because God knew that these people would do things like blaspheme the gospel, or preach a corrupted gospel, or mock the gospel in such a way that the true gospel still spreads via their disobedience in order to reach those God knew would accept it if they heard it.
This is how I have rationalized it. It seems to me that this model would preserve both the sovereign, electing, predestinating work of God while not deny the will and choice of humans. Both seem evidence in Scripture to me and I don’t want to move too far in favor of either view. I don’t know if this makes me some form of Calvinist, some form of Arminian, or some form of adherent to “Middle Knowledge”.