Instead of a long, complicated blog post about these different perspectives on predestination and free will, I’ll boil it all down pretty simply so you can try to find out what you identify with the best. Here are some questions and answers on different issues from each view. You can judge for yourself which statements seem most like what you believe, and which system holds most of your agreement.
- What is election? Does God choose me, or do I choose God?
Calvinist: Election is the unconditional decision of God from before time to save certain individuals, despite their fallen state. This decision has nothing to do with any foreknown faith, works, or other merit. People who believe in Jesus do so because of this election. Summary: God chooses you specifically, and because of that you choose Him in return.
Arminian: Election is the decision of God to bring salvation to everyone who will have faith in Jesus Christ, the elect Savior. God foreknew that certain people would come to faith in Christ by free will, and so elected to save them based on that foreknowledge. Summary: God chooses whoever believes in Jesus, so when you choose Him you are already chosen.
Molinist: God always knew every possible future, and knew who would reject Jesus by their free will in whatever future He chose to create. Election is God’s choice to save the people who do not reject Jesus in the possible future that He is best to create. So, it is up to you if you want to reject Jesus in the world you find yourself in, but you do not have a choice about what timeline God has created. Summary: God chooses to create a certain future in which He knows you will freely choose God.
- What is the state of man’s will?
Calvinist: Man’s is totally depraved because of his sinful nature. This does not mean that man is as bad as possible, but that every part of him (mind, heart, soul, body) is affected by sin to the point that the natural man is too hardened to ever choose God. Man’s will, whether considered a “free will” or not, is a slave to sin and cannot escape to believe in Jesus. Summary: Man is too hurt by sin to have a truly free will, or to choose God.
Arminian: Man’s will is depraved, just as the Calvinist says, but God has given everyone “prevenient grace,” which restores his capacity to freely choose between God and unbelief. The strong tendency towards sin remains, but can be overcome by free will. Summary: Man’s will is naturally enslaved to sin, but God gives everyone enough grace to have free will again.
Molinist: Man’s will is depraved, must like the Calvinist says, but he retains the ability to say “NO” to his sinful nature. He cannot choose God without a special work of grace, and this grace is generally received when hearing the Gospel. Summary: Man’s will is enslaved to sin and cannot choose God, but retains some freedom to refuse sin and can go along with God’s grace or resist.
- How does man come to salvation?
Calvinist: Because man cannot choose God or even believe in his sinful state, God must cause faith. The Holy Spirit regenerates those who have been elected, thus causing them to believe in Jesus and repent of their sins. This is called monergism and irresistible grace. First God’s grace changes the heart with no human cooperation necessary, and then the human response comes. Summary: Salvation comes completely through God’s work to change the will. You do not come to God against your will, but God transforms your will to accept Him.
Arminian: Because prevenient grace has restored all men’s free will to choose or reject God, one must freely believe in Jesus and repent of his sins, though the Spirit will often work to press this issue. Then the Holy Spirit will respond to faith by giving the person new birth. They are regenerated and saved. This is called synergism. God and man work together (though man is quite obviously in an inferior role) in regeneration. Summary: Man can freely choose to believe and then be saved because of prevenient grace.
Molinist: Man’s will is depraved much as the Calvinist says, and because of this the Holy Spirit must work to create faith. The Spirit will give this grace, which is enough to regenerate someone and bring them to faith, to anyone when they hear the Gospel, but it can be resisted by free will. The work of the Spirit to save is like a river current: it would sweep you away (to salvation) if you let it, but if you try you can resist and stay where you are (in sin). Summary: God’s grace through the Holy Spirit can bring you to believe and save you on its own, but you can freely resist it.
- What is the purpose of evangelism?
Calvinist: God has elected certain people to salvation through faith, and He has chosen the preaching of the Gospel as the means by which the elect are to believe and be converted. Because we do not know who the elect are, we are to preach the Gospel to all people in all nations, armed with God’s promise that the Holy Spirit will work to bring His elect to salvation when we preach. Summary: We spread the Gospel because we know that God is using this to bring His elect into salvation.
Arminian: Because people are saved by faith in Jesus, they need to know about Jesus to believe in Him and be saved. The only way this can happen is if we tell them. The more people we tell, the more people have a chance to use their free will to accept Jesus. If no one evangelized, then very few people could ever have a chance to be saved. Summary: We evangelize so people have a chance to accept Jesus freely.
Molinist: We know that there are people in this world who will believe the Gospel when it is presented, and so we evangelize so that they have the opportunity to do so. When they hear the Gospel, the Spirit works, and if they do not resist they will be saved. Summary: Evangelizing gives everyone the chance to freely be saved.
- Why are some people lost?
Calvinist: Everyone in their fallen state deserves condemnation, but by grace God has chosen a few to be saved. The rest of them, who cling willfully to sin, will be judged for their sin as they deserve. Summary: People are lost because they are sinful and deserve condemnation. It is pure grace that God chooses anyone.
Arminian: Everyone deserves condemnation for their sin, and moreover everyone is provided with the grace of free will to choose God if they want. So for rejecting Jesus by their free will and sinning, many people are lost. Summary: People are condemned for their sin, especially their free will rejection of Jesus.
Molinist: As everyone deserves condemnation for sin, those who remain in their sin will be condemned. People are lost when they resist God’s saving grace, which would otherwise be enough to regenerate them and bring them to faith, and remain in their sins. People freely resist and are so freely lost. Summary: People are lost because they freely resist God’s grace in the circumstances in which they find themselves.
- How does God relate to sin, and other things that people do or that happen?
Calvinist: Everything that happens can only happen because God has said so. He does not directly cause all things, but He chooses everything that will happen and establishes this through secondary causes and various means (read: normal cause-and-effect). Some things God might just permit. When people choose to sin, they do so because they want to; however, they do not necessarily have the ability to control what it is that they want. Man can be said to have “free will” in that he does what he wants to do, but God wrote the story first. Summary: God decides everything that will happen, but does so in a way that allows natural cause-and-effect and people’s desires to play out.
Arminian: God simply knows the future, and by freely giving man free will He has relinquished His right/ability to choose who people will do. So people choose by their own free will to sin, though God wishes that they wouldn’t. All other actions are by free will, as well. Natural disasters are usually the natural result of sin in the world, not necessarily God’s will, though sometimes they may be divine judgment. Summary: God permits people to sin by their own free will, but has no role in their sin whatsoever. Some events may be caused by God, but many are simply natural consequences of sin in the world.
Molinist: God always knew everything than every person would freely do in any given set of circumstances, and He knew every possible resulting future. So God choose to create the world that leads to the best future, in the process making all the people who will freely choose to do what they do. Everything people do, they do freely, but God chooses what “set” of choices will happen by choosing what future to make real. Summary: God chooses the circumstances, knowing how you will freely respond, and so maps out the entire future.
- Does God want everyone to be saved? Does God love everyone?
Calvinist: While God does want all people to be saved on some level, God’s plan for the entire world would not be completed properly if everyone were to be saved, so He does not choose everyone. Some are left in their sins as we all deserve. God also loves everyone, but His love for the lost is expressed as the common grace of this world, blessings and pleasures, while His love for the elect leads to salvation. In the words of Paul, “what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory?” (Rom. 9:22-23) Summary: Although God would enjoy the salvation of all, to execute His final story of redemption requires judgment on some who are lost side-by-side with the redemption of others.
Arminian: God love everyone and wants everyone to be saved, but will not violate their gift of free will to make them believe. Without free will, their salvation and love would be a farce. Summary: God loves and desires the salvation of all, but permits free will instead.
Molinist: God does indeed love everyone and wants everyone to be saved, but permits man free will, so instead He chooses the best possible future in which the most possible people freely believe. Either there is no possible future in which everyone freely comes to Jesus, or perhaps that world has something else really wrong with it (e.g. only has a dozen people in total).
So which line of thought seems to ring true best to you? Maybe you find yourself conflicted on some of these, or don’t agree on many points with any of them. In that case, feel free to comment and discuss your views.