For much of my life, I believed what is called by theologians the 'Prescience' or 'Prescient' view of salvation. It was explained to me as a youth (around age 14, if I recall), and I just accepted it without much thought.
Funny how things change when we learn that for every doctrine we accept, we learn there is a set of assumptions that go along with the doctrine. We buy the assumptions when we buy the doctrine. (Sort of a metaphysical buy-one-get-one-free deal.) Often, upon hearing these assumptions and their implications, people will just dismiss them out-of-hand so as to not have to deal with them. I've heard this said directly to me in my adult Sunday School class ("I think its both", referring in this case to particular redemption versus universal redemption). When this happens, the implications of the dismissed assumptions are not considered (they can't be considered, or the logical inconsistencies will drive one away from the held doctrine, or drive one crazy trying to synthesize them).
So what is this thing I believed that I no longer believe? First, what its not- it isn't a rejection of the biblical doctrine of election (as some have tried to make it out to be). What it does though is change how 'election' is defined. The prescience view of salvation basically says that, yes, there is an elect, and God pre-destined the elect to salvation by looking down the corridors of time and seeing who would freely choose Him, then as a result of that choice, electing that person to eternal life. Seems simple. Makes sense, on the surface, and preserves our cherished 'free will'.
But there is a serious problem with the view, and with what it implies. (Those nasty assumptions we buy with the doctrine again...).
Here's the problem- scripture teaches very clearly that no one, unless God regenerates their hearts and allows them, can 'choose Christ' on their own. Start with John 6:65. Throw in John 6:44, John 3, Romans 9, especially Romans 9:15-16, John 15:16, Ephesians 1:3-12, and so on (I could cite a bunch more, but I'd have to drag out some references as these are the ones I can remember right now). Fallen man has not lost his ability to make choices (liberium arbitrium), but he has indeed lost his liberty (libertas). We choose what we want, and outside of Christ, God is the last thing we want. So in effect, if God looked down the corridors of time, what He would see would be that no one would choose him of their own free will. Thus Romans 3:10-11. This would throw a serious wooden shoe (sabot) into the whole idea of election, wouldn't it? After all, if there was no one to elect, what is a non-sovereign God to do? (Yes, that's where we get the word sabotage, from the old expression about throwing a shoe into the machine.) I've heard this idea expressed this way in the past- 'God's sovereignty ends at our free will.' Proponents of this view say that God would never interfere in the free will of a creature He loves and force that creature to change its mind. Do you see the problem with this idea?
The bottom line assumption that comes with the prescience view is that in the end, if God looks at man's choice to determine what His will would be, then ultimately man, and not God, is sovereign. I can't live in that world, and I hope any thinking Christian will come quickly to the same conclusion about God's sovereignty. (And by the way, why would anyone who holds the stated view above ever bother to pray for a lost friend or family member? After all, if God won't intervene and change the lost person's heart, why bother? It is only knowing that God remains sovereign over salvation that we can pray for the lost with the faith to know that God does indeed intervene in the human heart to bring fallen people to him...see John 6:44.)
What do I believe now? I believe in the sovereign view of election. As Romans 9:10-16 says, election is God's choice, not based on anything we do, but based solely on His good pleasure. The best picture of this in the New Testament is the story of the raising of Lazarus, but I'll save that for another article.