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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Free Will II

Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists share a definition of free will I previously called libertarian freedom. This freedom, simply defined, would be: the freedom to do, in any given situation, any action or lack of action. That is, one can choose to do something or not to do that something in any situation. For example, if a person is asking me to tell them some information about troop locations, I can choose to tell them or not. No matter what the pressures, tortures, etc may be that are thrust upon me, I am free to tell or not to tell as I will. This is libertarian free will – a free will the Arminian claims we have, and a free will the hyper-Calvinist claims we do not have.

Yet I also would claim we do not have this “free will”, because I hold it does not exist and has never existed – not because it is intentionally not present in creation, but because it ignores something we all agree we have – inclination. This free will would demand not only that I can do anything in any situation, but that I might actually do anything. It holds that I, as I sit with a man next to me on the bus, could decide to pull out my .38 and shoot him dead on the spot. With this freedom to do anything, I am just as likely to do this as not, actually. For if I am free to do it, and not restricted, why wouldn’t I? “Libertarian Free Will” s actually what I will hereafter call “freedom of indifference”. Because it holds that we can do anything at any time, it is indifferent to the situation and inclination.

What is it that prevents me from putting a fist through my monitor right now? It is simple – I don’t want to. In fact, in almost every situation in life, I am neither going to want to shoot a man on the bus next to me, nor put my fist through my computer. And thus, I will not. So, this freedom cannot be – I must not be free to do this act, because I don’t want to.

You who read are free, right now, to dump a glass of water on your keyboard as you read. But you won’t, right? So how can you be free to do it, if you won’t? You see, your inclination in the situation drives your decision completely. Thus you are not free to do anything, but you are certainly free to do what you want to do, which while it may vary from ceasing to read this post to continuing, will not include pouring water on the keyboard. Of course, you may decide to “prove me wrong” and pour water on your keyboard, but at that point, hasn’t your inclination changed? Isn’t what you most want to do to prove me wrong?

You have discovered the freedom I claim we have – not freedom of indifference, a random, who-knows-what-I-might-do-next freedom, but a freedom of inclination. You are free to do exactly what you most want to do. Here’s another example: You are strongly opposed to stealing. In most situations, you will not steal. Yet your mother is kidnapped by some criminals who tell you that you must participate in a robbery or she will die, so you do. In both cases, you do exactly what you most want to do – in the first you refuse to steal, in the second your inclination to preserve your mother’s life is greater than your inclination against stealing, and you most want her to live, so you steal.

This is compatibilist freedom, a freedom that recognizes that you do in every instance exactly what you most want to do. Right now I have no chance of willfully chopping off my hand – none. Thus, I am actually not free to chop it off! Yet a freedom of indifference would demand that I am as likely to chop off my hand as not.

The Arminian is committed to freedom of indifference, and because of his desire that it exist, he denies that God wills us to commit any act. Freedom of indifference is something the hyper-Calvinist thinks free will is, and (rightfully) denies it exists. He recognizes that God is sovereign, and thus we cannot have as likely a chance of doing something as not doing it. Thus, he concludes, that we are not free at all. The consequences of this are completely logical. If I am not free, whatever I do must be what I am supposed to do, and I am not responsible for my actions. If God is sovereign in his election, I don’t need to obey Christ’s commands to go and tell – and in fact, when I don’t, it is because God wills I don’t, and thus I am not accountable.

It is completely logical – yet it misses something. The hyper-Calvinist does not want to obey. He does not want to evangelize. So in both cases, he is not merely doing what God wills – he is doing what he himself wills – and we can certainly agree that my will and desires are not conformed to be exactly what God’s are!

Think about it – Jesus condemns us not for committing adultery, but for lusting in our hearts. We are condemned for our inclinations that lead to our actions, not our actions. We are condemned for our unbelief, not our failure to say the right words. We are condemned for our failure to love God and our neighbor, not because we didn’t do something for God or our neighbor. Of course, when we commit those sins of action and inaction, we commit them because they are exactly what we most want to do.

It may sound odd, but I believe it makes perfect sense. Furthermore, I hold that it is entirely Scriptural. With the next post I will demonstrate its Scriptural basis – so I ask commenters to try to hold back on demanding that until then.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Free Will

“God wants you to love him, and you can’t be forced to love someone, so you are free to choose to love God or not.”

If you’ve been around people who claim to be Christians and discussed the relationship between God and man, you’ve heard that idea. There is truth and falsehood in that proposition. I would agree that it is true that God wants all to come to Him and is willing that none should perish. I would also agree that you can’t “force” someone to love you. I would even agree that we are, technically, free to choose to love God or not. Yet, despite my concurrence with each of those propositions, I would hold that you, while being free, are completely unable to love God without His action, and once He has taken action, there is no possibility of you doing anything but loving Him.

By agreeing that we are free to choose to love God are not, I side with Arminians, who essentially believe that our salvation is of our own choice, not God’s action. Yet, by holding that we cannot love God unless he supernaturally and specifically moves us in His direction as individuals, I side with the hyper-Calvinists. How can this be? In a nutshell, I stand against both the hyper-Calvinists and the Arminians in their shared definition of freedom.

I described Arminianism here, so I won’t do so in detail again. Simply put, if you believe that you can, of your own volition with or without a prompting by God – a prompting which can be refused – choose salvation in Christ, you are an Arminian in general. Hyper-Calvinism, which many confuse with historical Calvinism, needs more explanation.

Since I also defined historical Calvinism (also known as historical Christianity!) here, I’ll point out what the fundamental differences are between it and hyper-Calvinism. Hyper Calvinism agrees with Calvinism in the sovereignty of God and the five Solas of the reformation. The two areas it differs most significantly are:

1) Its stand against evangelism and missions. As a hyper-Calvinist once told Andrew Fuller, “If God is going to save the heathen, he can do it without any help from you or me!” Hyper-Calvinists not only do not believe in focused evangelism in general, but if they are intellectually honest (which many are) they do not even believe in evangelization of their loved ones. Committed to the Scriptural picture of God as the author and finisher of our faith, the hyper-Calvinist trusts God to do the work He will do, and considers himself completely abdicated of responsibility to go and disciple.

2) The logical progression of this idea results in an abdication of personal responsibility, followed by an almost inexorable slide to antinomianism (a rejection of any moral law). It isn’t that the hyper-Calvinist is not a moral person with ethical stands, but because they rightly believe in the sovereignty of God in all things, they also believe that whatever they do is scripted by God and therefore they need not feel any responsibility to obey God’s precepts if for some reason they conflict with something else important in their lives. After all, if God is in control, if He would have wanted me to obey his command in this instance, I would have done it. After all, who can resist His will?

These stands may seem bizarre, but in many ways, they are completely intellectually honest – because of the hyper-Calvinist’s belief in libertarian freedom. The Arminian and the hyper-Calvinist bold hold to the definition of free will as libertarian freedom: the Arminian contends we possess it, and the hyper-Calvinist contends we do not. The historical Calvinist instead defines free will as compatibilist free will, or freedom of inclination. In the next post I will define both of these ideas and describe why they lead to the results they do. In the third and last post I will demonstrate the support for compatibilist freedom as well as propose a mechanism for God’s sovereignty in it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Next Things

When you take a course in Systematic Theology, and you come to the subjects that involve heaven, hell, the second coming and the final judgment, it is summarized as “Last Things”. This obviously isn’t about that – it’s just a quick preview of the plan for what’s coming next here at Team Hammer.

I’ve been on vacation and completing final exams for this semester, hence my lack of posting and comments, but while some of my time previously allocated toward school will be used for sermon preparation as I preach through Isaiah this summer, I will have some more time to blog.

The next series will address the freedom of the will. Based upon the writings of Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Bruce Ware, and others, it will be simultaneously a case against hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism – because they share the concept of freedom of the will that I believe is erroneous.

Following that will be a two or three post series presenting what I think are the most compelling cases for and against theistic evolution. I have done some reading for both sides recently, and find both cases worthy of serious consideration.

Third will be a short series on the Trinity. Recognizing that it is truly a concept beyond our understanding, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t understand it to the limits that we have. I think it is the doctrine that most separates Christianity from every other religion, more even than other unique aspects of Christianity.

Finally (at least as finally as this plan goes) will be what I think will be the most thorough series yet, one that surpasses my series on Biblical Inerrancy in scope, research and level of detail. The subject is one worthy of such a work – the atonement. I hope that UK John will be constructing his at the same time, to provide a contrast for our dozen readers!