(ABP) — Do our lives have a purpose, or are we products of random chance? If everything is predestined, is there anything we can do to improve our fate? If not, are we without hope?
These questions are discussed daily in seminary classrooms — but add special effects, a lot of suspense, a love interest and reconciliation with an estranged parent and sibling, and you have the story line of Knowing, a new, big-budget Hollwood thriller starring Nicolas Cage.
The sci-fi film topped box-office receipts in its opening weekend March 20-22, taking in nearly $25 million in a period generally slow for movies due to audience competition from the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments.
Cage's character, John Koestler, is the son of a fundamentalist preacher who believes in the gift of prophecy as described in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. John, who is an MIT professor and a single parent since the tragic death of his young wife, is not so sure there is a divine plan.
When a time capsule at his son's elementary school is opened after 50 years, he finds strong evidence of foreknowledge of major catastrophic events, including the end of the world.
Baptists have been arguing about predestination versus free will for nearly 400 years. One of the first controversies dividing Baptists was between Particular Baptists, who believed God has pre-ordained who is saved and lost, and General Baptists, who believed every soul is free to determine whether to accept or reject Jesus Christ.
That debate pitted the theology of John Calvin, the Swiss reformer whose doctrines of divine providence pointed toward predestination, and Jacob Arminius, the Dutch reformed theologian who emphasized humans' free will.
Those theories divided many Protestants into Calvinist and Arminian denominations, but in some, like Baptists, both Calvinist and Arminian strains have existed side by side. Southern Baptists traditionally have embraced some points of Calvin's doctrines — like eternal security of the believer — while rejecting others to affirm that "whosoever will" can come to faith in Jesus.
Still, that hasn't stopped occasional skirmishes between Calvinist Southern Baptist groups (such as Founders Ministries) committed to historic Baptist interpretations of the so-called "Doctrines of Grace" and anti-Calvinist Southern Baptist groups and leaders. For instance, last year Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt's church hosted a "John 3:16" conference that took a critical look at Calvinism.
These are ambitious questions, and Knowing takes them on in ways that may not be fully theologically (or emotionally) satisfying. But the movie — rated PG-13 for disaster sequences and some strong language — is overall faith-affirming, and for Bible fans there's an understated but pretty cool allusion to and depiction of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel's "wheel in a wheel" prophecy.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.
See the movie's website.