I think what often gets lost in the Calvinist/Arminian discussion among many non-specialist thinkers (but specialist thinkers too!) is the idea of ‘causation’. As Western people, especially in North America (but elsewhere in the so called ‘developed’ world as well) we have simply inherited a very analytical and Newtonian mechanical understanding of how things work. We have lost all sense of dynamism in the way things relate, and we have overlaid our personal relationships, whether those take place at home, work, the church, etc., with philosophical baggage. And we attempt to squeeze our relationships into patterns that think of people and relationships more in terms of mathematical equations or logical syllogisms (just think of on-line dating for example; i.e. e-Harmony.com, Match.com, etc; or personality tests that corporations often require their potential or new employees to take; etc.) than in actual personal terms (which cannot be quantified). And so we take this kind of Newtonian or even Euclidian (geometric) understanding of human relationships, and apply that to the way we think about God. But this would be wrong. God, nor humans, created in the image of Christ (imago Christi), are susceptible to being reduced to a mathematical equation or logical syllogism; instead the way God relates, and thus people relate to others is dynamic and truly personal (meaning truly Trinitarian). We can’t measure God’s interaction with His creation/creatures by reducing that to a kind of mechanical matrix of a rigidly conception of cause and effect relationships. And the interesting thing about this, is that nature itself, created by a Triune relational God, bears witness to this dynamic reality; a reality that moves us beyond what we as Western Protestant Christians have inherited through the informing philosophy that guides the classical offerings of Calvinism and Arminianism. Thomas F. Torrance in his book Divine And Contingent Order develops this further, by describing the sea-change that occurred through Einstein’s work on the theory of relativity (don’t let this scare you away), and what this illustrates about the way the universe itself was created, and how this disrupts, or should, our conception of thinking about relationships with other humans, and God in particular, away from a rigid logical understanding of causation. Here is what Thomas Torrance has written:
… Thus Faraday and Maxwell opened the way for a new understanding of nature in terms of field theory which could be set against the Newtonian outlook and which, in spite of Maxwell’s acceptance of Newtonian dualism and mechanism, pointed to a non-mechanical view of the universe in which matter and field are unified.
The decisive step in this direction was taken by Einstein in his rejection of Newtonian dualism and mechanism. Following on clarification particularly by H. Hertz and H.A. Lorentz of difficult problems resulting from contradictions between Maxwellian and Newtonian mechanics, Einstein introduced a fundamental change into field theory, coordinating it with a startlingly new view of the universe and its unitary dynamic order, very different from the Newtonian world-view. He dethroned time and space from their absolute, unvarying, prescriptive role in the Newtonian system and brought them down to empirical reality, where he found them indissolubly integrated with its on-going processes. At the same time he set aside the idea of instantaneous action at a distance, but also set aside the existence of ether (still maintained by Lorentz) and all idea of the substantiality of the field (in Faraday’s sense). There now emerged the concept of the continuous field of space-time which interacts with the constituent matter/energy of the universe, integrating everything within it in accordance with its unitary yet variable objective rational order of non-causal connections. Thus instead of explaining the behaviour of the field and all events within it in terms of the motion of separated material substances characterize by unique unchanging patterns and defined by reference to the conditioning of an inertial system, and therefore in terms of quantifiable motion and strict mechanical causes, Einstein explained it in terms of the objective configuration of the indivisible field and the dynamic invariant relatedness inherent in it–that is to say, in terms of the principle of relativity. It was the radical break with Newtonian mechanics and the Newtonian world-view that made relativity so difficult to grasp, but it was in coherence with this new understanding of the universe and its intrinsic order that Einstein also sought to develop quantum theory, without a duality of particle and field, which, as he believed, calls for the determination of relativistic field-structures in a proper scientific description of empirical reality, rather than a merely statistical account of quantum-experimental events and conditions. If a statistical approach is required in quantum mechanics it cannot rest content with offering an account of how experiments operate, but must offer an account of reality itself. All this implied the unification of matter and field in a dynamic, unbroken continuum–i.e. without the contiguous yet discontinuous connection of particles as in the Cartesian ‘field’–which prompted Einstein to devote so much attention to developing a unified theory and thereby determining the general laws of the whole indivisible filed. Although Einstein himself was not able to achieve this specific aim, nevertheless he succeeded, particularly through general relativity, as the staggering unfolding of its implications and the verification of its predictions have since shown, in opening the way toward a unified view of the universe with a very different conception of order. –Thomas F. Torrance, Divine And Contingent Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 77-8.
Okay, much of that may have sounded like gibberish to you (but I assure you, it is not!), but either way, what it should illustrate for you is that the way we think about reality and the way it works should not be something that we superimpose artificially upon it, thus forcing it into the mold we would have it operate in; but instead, we ought to come and accept that the universe itself (contingent as it is directly upon the Word of God, Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:1-3) has its own given intelligibility, given to it by God, and allow the way it operates to inform the way we think about how God works, and relates to His creation, even in its very composition. In short, if the universe, at a fundamental level, does not operate in a mechanical logically syllogistic way, then it would be wrong for us to tell the universe that it needs to operate under the conditions that we want it to operate within (Newton, Euclid, et al.).
Bringing this home now: How does this relate to classical Calvinism and Arminianism (among other classical theisms)? Calvinism and Arminianism largely operate from a system of thought about reality (metaphysics), that holds that God relates to creation “mechanically” (like a Newtonian view of the universe); and that God then relates to creation through decrees and built into the creation there are secondary causes that determine how creation itself will operate based upon God’s arbitrary choice. In effect this de-personalizes the relation of creation to Creator, and undercuts the idea that God at His core is Triune and personal. But, as Torrance, through Einstein and others has highlighted, is that the universe at a sub-atomic level is not put together this way; as corollary then, it would be better to recognize that the metaphysics and theory of causation that informs Calvinist and Arminian theology is not adequate, and that we should look for a theological approach that aligns with what is actually revealed and given to us by God; instead of imposing our theories about how God acts toward his creation based upon worn out and out-dated conceptions of metaphysics.