“In the freest manner, and on no mercenary grounds, does God bestow upon us his love and favour, just as, when we were not yet born, and when he was prompted by nothing but his own will, he fixed upon us his choice.”-Calvin
When I’m speaking with my Reformationally challenged friends, a point of contention that comes up often is one of choice. I don’t mean “pro-choice”, although their position could be loosely described as such. The idea that people “have to make a choice” to either trust God or not to trust him is often a point of contention, at least in their eyes.
This of course, is because I am a Calvinist.
After a few questions about my view, this claim, the one of choice, almost always comes up. Many times my friends hear the term predestination or election and automatically presuppose that I don’t believe that to become a Christian a person has to make a choice.
To be honest, and I don’t want to sound condescending, but I almost chuckle now when I hear them state, “but people have to make a choice”. One reason I find this slightly humorous is that I can almost see it coming in a conversation. We begin to talk about God’s sovereign choice and man’s inability and boom, they say it! “But people have to make a choice.”
It’s almost as if they think I’ve never thought about that or after 400 years of Calvinism and 1400 years of Augustinianism and some of the greatest minds of Christianity, no one else has either. In one initial thought it seems to them, that they have defeated a theology that has existed for centuries.
But what contributes more to my affections of amusement is probably the fact that I used to do the same thing.
I didn’t used to be a Calvinist. I wasn’t raised in a Calvinist tradition. I became a Calvinist after being born again for 30 years, listening to someone teach on it, 6 or so months of struggle with God and his Word, and causing my wife to suggest I get some help. I made the same mistakes when I thought about predestination. In fact, it wasn’t usually when I was face to face with a Calvinist that I would consider this rejoinder.
I’m not sure if I even knew any Calvinists in my first 30 years as an Independent Fundamental Baptist. Usually, when I’d read those confusing passages like Ephesians 1 or I’d hear John 6 or 10 preached, I’d wonder about how all this fit together. Then, I’d just chalk it up to my lack of understanding and move on. I, like my friends now, just assumed that those “predestination people” needed to read their Bible.
I totally understand why the question comes up. I am not laughing at my friends. I’m laughing at my self.
All of that being said, the people that usually posit this ‘rejoinder’ to Calvinism may not have thought deeply about these doctrine of grace as described by Calvin, and many others, but they are usually passionate about their rejoinder. It is as if they are questioning your view of God and your passion for the lost. Usually there’s a lot of heat involved in this so-called defeater.
Now, at the risk of being accused of becoming obnoxious, I’d like to offer a quick response to move the conversation to a more substantive place. It’s simple and could come off as a little mean hearted, but it may help if you’re stuck here with one of your unreformed Christian friends.
The next time one of them sends the choice salvo your way by saying, “but they have to make a choice”, simply reply with the following question.
Is there anything about the choice itself that requires God to save you? In other words, does the fact that you made a choice coerce or force God to save you?
It is a dangerous proposition. If God is required to save anyone then it is not of grace. If we can say that our choice coerces God to save us then it is not unmerited favor but mere necessity from a God who is not sovereign but just pretty powerful. If our choice is the determining factor in our salvation then God is left as a helpless proprietor, selling mercy to choosers backed by the heavenly better business bureau, making sure God does his part.
On the other hand, if it is God’s choice that is the determining factor in our salvation (including our own choice), then he remains the God described in Ephesians 1. He is the God who predestines according to the council of his will, not strong-armed by our free will.
This is not an end all by any means to the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. It is not meant to even approach that. It is meant as a quick and hopefully effective way to move someone’s mind from a place of “Calvinists need to read their Bible” to “huh, I better back up a second and think about this”.
They’ll come up with something, but in the mean time, you can enjoy the squirm. While they’re thinking just say to them, “By the way, I do believe we make a choice.”
“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,” (Ephesians 1:4–7, ESV)
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (p. 201). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.