Thinking on predestination inevitably leads to thinking about the atonement: what was it, who was it for, who is it effective for, etc, etc. It should come as no surprise that I affirm to a universal atonement in the style of Torrance and Barth, who in turn were in line with a fair amount of patristic thought in their thinking.
The basic idea is this: Jesus died for everyone. Pretty simple. Everyone can be saved, though as the Scriptures make clear not everyone will be. This is one of the bigger questions in the world of theology, and there’s no shortage of answers and speculation. Biblically, we are left with a bit of a paradox – we aren’t given a very clear schema of the mechanics of the atonement. Why are some people not saved, if Jesus died for everyone? I tend to take this line: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the opening bell of new creation (N.T. Wright). The new reality is ushered in. God’s universal love and grace is working through the Holy Spirit in everyone to draw them to Him – but those who resist are damned not by God but by themselves. The atonement, however, isn’t limited to only the salvation of people, but it’s an objective act that involves all of creation, from the depths of man to the farthest corner of the cosmos. This outpouring of love and grace for all is an objective fact accomplished in Christ – whether or not one chooses to resist the grace of God has nothing to do with the fact that Jesus died for them in an objective way. It is finished.
So do people simply ‘free-will’ their way into hell? Well, yes and no – there’s a lot more to free will than simple volition. The Holy Spirit is constantly working to draw all men to God – we can resist or cooperate with the Spirit. So, with an asterisk or two, I am a synergist. The asterisk is this: it is only through grace worked through the Holy Spirit that we can choose to cooperate. Any ‘choice’ on our part towards God is ultimately wrought in God – here Wesley’s prevenient grace comes to mind. The more we cooperate with the Holy Spirit the more grace we are given – and then again and again as we continue to work with the Spirit. This is, obviously, not Pelgianism – without the workings of the Spirit there is no choice at all on our part towards God.