I’m hardly a trained theologian, but I grew up attending a nondenominational Bible church in South Jersey that was riven by a theological issue that might seem to non-Christians insanely obscure.
At the risk of oversimplifying: Do human beings initiate the process of salvation, or “regeneration,” by asking for forgiveness and embracing the Christian faith, or do we need God to call on us first? When the pastors of my childhood church began preaching the latter—the Reformed theology taught by John Calvin—many people left in protest.
I don’t call myself a Calvinist today, but suffice it to say I’m attuned to this kind of thing. My ears perked up, therefore, when Mitt Romney said the following in his commencement speech at Liberty University (h/t Andrew Sullivan):
What we have, what we wish we had—ambitions fulfilled, ambitions disappointed … investments won, investments lost … elections won, elections lost—these things may occupy our attention, but they do not define us. And each of them is subject to the vagaries and serendipities of life. Our relationship with our Maker, however, depends on none of this. It is entirely in our control, for He is always at the door, and knocks for us. Our worldly successes cannot be guaranteed, but our ability to achieve spiritual success is entirely up to us, thanks to the grace of God.
This is not pabulum. There is a substantive theological claim here. Contemporary Calvinists believe something like the opposite: “Our relationship with our Maker” is entirely out of our control; “spiritual success” — whatever that is — is entirely up to God.
Liberty University’s founder, the late Jerry Falwell, was apparently closer to Romney’s view on this than to Calvinists. Here is Falwell in 2007, describing the idea that Jesus died only for “the elect”—that is, those whom God chooses to save by his grace—as “heresy.”
Is this an issue that’s going to swing the presidential election one way or the other? Of course not. What do Mormons believe about this? I honestly have no idea. But I know and respect a lot of people who care deeply about these issues. At the very least, it’s worth noting. I’d love to hear what folks like Joe Carter over at First Things has to say about it.