Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom

What is the position of The Bridge Community Church on the relationship of divine sovereignty & human responsibility, especially with regard to the doctrine of salvation?

One of the great theological controversies in Christian history has centered on the interworking of divine sovereignty and human responsibility, especially concerning the issue of salvation. Does God “elect” (i.e., unilaterally decide) who will be saved? Or, given the death and resurrection of Christ, is salvation now simply a matter of human free will. In other words, is salvation God’s choice…or ours?

Throughout the centuries, great men of God have embraced opposing positions on this question. Those who believe that God “elects” or sovereignly chooses who will be saved are often called “Calvinists” (i.e. a reference to those who embrace the teachings of John Calvin, a leader of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century). Calvin commented on a wide range of theological issues, but today the term “Calvinism” is most often ascribed to the views of Calvin and his followers on the specific issue of how men come to be saved by God.

Calvin engaged in vigorous theological debates with Jacobus Arminius, a Bible scholar of the same era. In general terms, Arminius believed that God offers saving grace to all, provides all men with a “free will,” and individuals then exercise their free will in personally deciding whether to believe in Christ. This view has come to be known as “Arminianism.”  The early followers of Calvin rejected Arminianism because it conflicted with their belief in “predestination,” which generally holds that because God is sovereign (i.e., He orders and directs all things), He therefore pre-ordained before the foundation of the world whom would be saved.

Both Calvinism and Arminianism seek to answer some of humankind’s most vexing theological questions. Among them: If God is truly sovereign, how can humans truly be free?  Conversely, if people are actually free, how can God be sovereign? If God is omniscient (i.e. He knows all things, actual and possible), doesn’t that mean He knows who will be saved…and who will not? Does God extend grace only to those chosen for salvation—and withhold it from all others?  If God decreed in eternity past that only some are to be saved, doesn’t this mean He has predestined everyone else to be damned? 

In our view, the problem with us “trying to perfectly resolve this issue” is twofold: 

  1. God’s thoughts and ways are both higher (Isaiah 55:9) and deeper (Romans 11:33-36) than ours;
  2. Scripture presents a “both-and,” not an “either-or” solution to this theological puzzle.

The Bible is abundantly clear that God is completely sovereign in all things (see Exodus 33:19; Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 1 Samuel 2:6-7; Job 42:2; Psalm 103:19; Proverbs 16:4, 9, 33; 21:1; Isaiah 10:15; 14:24, 27; 43:13; 46:9-11; Jeremiah 24:7; Daniel 2:21; 4:35; Matthew 13:11; 15:13; John 3:27; 6:37, 44, 65; 15:16; 19:11; Acts 4:27-28; 10:40-41; 13:48; 16:14; 18:27; Romans 2:4; 4:17; 8:28-33; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10; Colossians 2:13; Hebrews 12:2) AND that all men are eligible and fully responsible to exercise faith in God’s provision of Jesus Christ alone to receive salvation from God (Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 11:28-30; 18:14; John 3:16; 4:42; 6:40, 51; Acts 13:39; Romans 1:16-17; 5:1-2; 9:30; 10:13 Ephesians 1:13; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; 1 Peter 1:1-2; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; Revelation 22:17). As cited, there are numerous passages that teach both perspectives, but we want to present a few of these in detail.

Two Passages Teaching Human Responsibility:

1 Timothy 2:3-6
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as the ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.

Romans 10:9-13
For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him.  For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Two Passages Teaching God’s Sovereignty:

Ephesians 1:3-5
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the richness of His grace.

Romans 9:14-20
What shall we say then?  Is there unrighteousness with God?  Certainly not!  For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”  So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.  For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show my power in you, and that my name may be declared in all the earth.”  Therefore, He has mercy on whom He wills and whom He wills He hardens.  You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault?  For who has resisted His will?”  But, indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?  Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”

This issue (and these passages) create what Bible scholar J.I. Packer refers to as an “apparent inconsistency.” Other theologians use the term “antinomy” (i.e. statements that seem mutually incompatible) to refer to any such theological claims that appear to contradict each other.

At The Bridge we humbly accept that our infinite God has chosen to leave certain realities an inscrutable mystery to our finite minds. Our position is that the interrelationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is one such example (among others are God’s Trinitarian nature, and the full deity/full humanity of Christ). Despite an “apparent inconsistency,” we believe divine sovereignty and human responsibility in salvation are BOTH true because God’s Word teaches both truths. We believe that God “chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3) and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). We cannot be saved unless and until God graciously regenerates us (Ephesians 2:1-9). And we cannot be saved unless and until we “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

We recognize the inherent tension this “both are true” position produces in that it does not fully and finally “resolve” all the perplexing theological questions that swirl in our minds. We further recognize there are believers who would prefer we would “pick” one position or the other, rather than accept the “ambiguity of antinomy.” However, our position ends not with absolute clarity but in a place of mystery. The Bridge will not align strongly with either of these two “camps,” however, because it is our belief that God’s revealed Word endorses major contentions of both.

What we can say is that all are welcome to worship with us at The Bridge Community Church regardless of one’s position on the issue of Calvinism vs. Arminianism (even if that means one doesn’t hold a position!).  If you aspire to leadership or if you aspire to teach on the issue of salvation, we ask that you hold to the “both are true” position.  Our sincere desire is that this issue not be a stumbling block for anyone, and certainly not a source of division.

If you are a believer for whom either full adoption of Calvinism or the complete rejection of Calvinism is an absolute, then in all honesty The Bridge will probably never be able to fully satisfy your desire for certainty in this area.  We genuinely hope, however, that you will see what God is doing here and that you will want to be a part of it, because that is the reason this church was founded.  We also ask that you let us know how we can help you further with this issue as we strive to be a church that is solidly grounded in the Word of God, while at the same time seeking to exemplify the Christian values of love, grace and tolerance.