What has God decreed? Does God decree many things, or has God decreed absolutely everything that comes to pass, as per Calvinism? The belief that God has decreed whatsoever comes to pass is what is termed, “exhaustive divine determinism.”
Westminster Confession of Faith: “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”98
Calvinists insist that exhaustive divine determinism is the essential ingredient for divine omniscience. In other words, Calvinists believe that God knows everything because He has decreed everything, and if He hadn’t exhaustively decreed everything then He couldn’t infallibly know what will happen next, and if God didn’t infallibly know what will happen next, then He couldn’t have an exhaustive plan and purpose for everything that happens in the future. So for Calvinists, there is a critical, over-arching necessity for exhaustive divine determinism.
Non-Calvinists do not believe that God must decree the future in order to know it. God created time and space, and therefore it is illogical to suggest that God is somehow limited by what He created. Perhaps God exists in another dimension, in which God can know everything that happens in our dimension, without necessarily having to cause it all. Therefore, God can have a plan and purpose for the future without deciding what every creature will choose to do. God can intervene whenever and however He sees it.
What do Calvinists believe?
Tell mankind that he has the freedom to do whatever he wills and no one bats an eyelash. Tell mankind that God has the freedom to do whatever He wills and everyone loses their minds.
The dispute is not over God’s freedom. The dispute is over what Calvinists allege that God has done with His freedom. Did God use His freedom to be the Author of Sin? Did God decree all human sin? The Bible shows that God disavows being behind many acts of human sin. NonCalvinists do not believe that God has made everyone’s choices for them, but rather has determined that everyone will be free to make their own choices, within the scope of autonomy and independence that God has granted mankind, that is, either to follow God or to walk away from God. God intervenes how and when He deems fit, according to His own plans and purposes, and ultimately judges all sin on Judgment Day.
Whenever Calvinists and non-Calvinists read the Bible, we carry with us whatever we presuppose to be true about our world and then we mentally situate a given verse within our already established worldview. If one believes that everything has been decreed and predetermined by God from eternity-past, then we will read the Bible from within a somewhat fatalistic mindset, and our various mindsets shape our behavior. Life follows doctrine. We live according to what we believe.
Calvinists believe that if God has permitted someone to do a certain thing, then it’s the same as if He had decreed it, because He would have to have consciously chosen to allow it, versus not allowing other things, and therefore divine permission is the same as divine determinism. Therefore, God allows only what He has determined to allow. However, just because God allows something, doesn’t necessarily mean that He likes what He has allowed. He might hate it! But, He might love the fact that we are free to make our own choices, and what that might mean for His own kingdom. When people freely choose God over the world, then God inherits a kingdom of people who chose to love Him and chose to want to be with Him. Choices are important to God. The angels made choices. Adam and Eve made their choice in the Garden of Eden. As their offspring, we too make our own choices. The Christian Church consists of those who have made their own choice to ultimately reject the world, and to instead seek to be with God for all eternity. God doesn’t decree our choices but only that we would be free to make them.
98 Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter III – Of God’s Eternal Decree.