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Do we choose God, or has He chosen us?

Last week, we attended an Assemblies of God church called Trinity Life here in North Baltimore. I took a moment to read a bit about the Assemblies of God, with a specific emphasis on church doctrine. More specifically, I wanted to know if the church was Reformed in its theology, or if not, how much of the Reformed doctrine they reject.

When I say that I am concerned about Reformed theology, I am not necessarily talking about things like the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and I am not necessarily talking about conforming to those things taught by The Gospel Coalition or Desiring God. While much of my own life has been greatly influenced by the books and sermons published by pastors who are members of these groups, there are several teachings they articulate to which I do not subscribe. However, I generally agree with them when it comes to the basic doctrines of Reformed theology: TULIP-

Total Depravity [addressing the nature of man]

Unconditional Election [addressing the Sovereign action of God in salvation]

Limited Atonement [addressing the efficacy of the death and atonement of Christ]

Irresistible Grace [addressing the conviction of the Holy Spirit]

Perseverance of the Saints [addressing eternal security of those who are in Christ]

The only reason I qualify my agreement with the term “generally” is because I do believe that the Bible presents all of these essential truths as antinomies. For example, it is clear that the nature of man is totally depraved–meaning that man rejects the nature, personality, and law of God. Nonetheless, it is clear from what we can observe and what we know about man being formed in the image of God that man can do some things that are good, from our perspective. Therefore, we see that while man does not seek for God, the life we experience is not completely negative in every aspect. Nonetheless, because men fundamentally reject God, we have not only the potential for immense good, but immense evil.

The antinomies that become more important for sorting through the different varieties of Christian theology are the antinomies in which the free will of man is set in contradiction to the sovereign will of God. This antinomy bears most on the doctrines of unconditional election, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. Some Christians believe that election is not unconditional; that is, the Holy Spirit enables the sinner to become aware that there is a choice between God and their ways, but that the sinner can continue in their ways after this awareness. Because election depends, then, on the sinner responding positively to God’s invitation, grace is, by definition, not irresistible and perseverance is not guaranteed. At the same time, the atonement is unlimited because it is applied to all but effective only for those who do not reject it. From an outward, practical perspective, the lives that both types of Christians live might look identical, but what is affirmed as truth about God is quite different.

While the Reformed theology states that man does not have unconditional free will, because man cannot choose God in his sinful nature, there are Christian theologies who believe that man can choose God as an exercise of will as described above. These branches are sometimes called Arminian, and the Assemblies of God denomination happens to be an Arminian branch. While I believe that the Scripture more strongly affirms the Reformed positions, there are very clearly Scripture passages that affirm both–hence the antinomy.

While I enjoyed my visit, I am a bit nervous about attending a church that would find affirmation of these Reformed positions to be anti-Scriptural. This is besides the other Pentecostal positions some Assemblies affirm. Among these, the most uncomfortable being that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of authentic conversion. But, I’m interested in waiting and watching to see how things shake out. As you’ll notice, I haven’t listed all of the Scriptures and passages used on both sides. I’m not sure that I wanted to do more than think through some of the concerns I have.

What do you think? Can man choose God, or does God move first?

Published in Christianity church theology