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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.


  • Hammer, before I add my two cents (which I will do momentarily), I’ll recommend a must-read article on compatibilism at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; it’s a well-balanced and objective treatment of the topic.

    The crux of the issue—which is unavoidable, really—is the so-called “free will problem”, which I could attempt to characterize, but won’t…because it’s already been done, by trained professionals (although the emphasis is mine):

    quote If we are to understand compatibilism as a solution to the free will problem, it would be useful to have some sense of the problem itself. Unfortunately, just as there is no single notion of free will that unifies all of the work philosophers have devoted to it, there is no single specification of the free will problem. In fact, it might be more helpful to think in terms of a range of problems. Regardless, any formulation of the problem can be understood as arising from a troubling sort of entanglement of our concepts, an entanglement that seems to lead to contradictions, and thus that cries out for a sort of disentangling. In this regard, the free will problem is a classic philosophical problem; we are, it seems, committed in our thought and talk to a set of concepts which, under scrutiny, appear to comprise a mutually inconsistent set. Formally, to settle the problem—to disentangle the set—we must either reject some concepts, or instead, we must demonstrate that the set is indeed consistent despite its appearance to the contrary. Just to illustrate, consider this set of propositions as an historically very well known means of formulating the free will problem. Call it the Classical Formulation:

    1. Some person (qua agent), at some time, could have acted otherwise than she did.
    2. Actions are events.
    3. Every event has a cause.
    4. If an event is caused, then it is causally determined.
    5. If an event is an act that is causally determined, then the agent of the act could not have acted otherwise than in the way that she did. end quote

    It seems to me, as a “Hyper-Calvinist” (if 'hyper’—in this context—is meant to denote a higher regard for God’s sovereignty, and a corresponding lower regard for human freedom, than, say, mere Calvinists), that compatibilsm is more convincing when viewed through the lens of atheism, or even agnosticism. However, compatibilsm is much harder—if not impossible—to defend when put against the panoply of Scripture.

    There are, as I see it, two main aspects of God’s sovereignty mentioned in the Bible: (i) whether or not one is among “the elect”, and (ii) whether or not the history of mankind is “scripted”…so to speak.

    Now, (i) has been much-discussed on this blog; and, between you and me at least, there’s little disagreement. Conversely, (ii) seems to be a minority view…even in the face of clear Biblical supportive evidence. For instance:

    (Gen. 45:8) Joseph, speaking to his remorseful, though not culpable brothers, said: So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh…

    (Exodus 11:9) God, speaking to Moses about the up-coming exodus, said: Pharaoh will not heed you, so that My wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.

    (Judges 14:1-4) Sampson’s parents were understandably ambivalent about his desire to marry an “uncircumcised Philistine”…But his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord - that He was seeking an occasion to move against the Philistines. And move He (God, using Sampson) certainly did…(Judges 15:1-6 and 15:15 and 15:28-31).

    I could go on, but this comment is long enough; and I think I’ve made my point. However, if you counter, as you have in the past, that the events I’ve highlighted (and many others like it) are ‘major events’, whereas most of life’s ordinary, mundane happenings are just ‘minor events’, then I’ll gladly debate that; but for now, I’m content to let stand that which I’ve argued thus far.

    By Blogger Robert, at 5/25/2007 09:53:00 PM  

  • A quick qualification to my previous comment: it should be self-evident that each excerpt of Scripture that I quoted is not without its attendant context; they ought not to be taken as proof texts; rather, they ought to be understood in the context in which they were intended (i.e. read the whole story).

    That was probably unnecessary, but you never know who might stumble upon this post…just sayin’.

    By Blogger Robert, at 5/25/2007 10:11:00 PM  

  • Robert,
    Some of these concepts we’ll flesh out in the next post, such as what the problem may be, which I think is as important a concept as the answer. I think Stanford misses part of the problem, or at least an aspect of it.

    Naturally, I would disagree that hyper-Calvinists hold the sovereignty of God any higher than mere Calvinists. Honesty, I am reasonably certain that both of us would dispense with those labels because of the connotations many put with them, but for simplification of the discussion, we’re stuck with them. Hyper-Calvinists do hold to a perhaps lower regard for human freedom, but only when the freedom is thought of in the terms we are considering. What hyper-Calvinists actually hold in regard is human responsibility, which is evidenced by “Joseph’s remorseful, but not culpable, brothers”. Because hyper Calvinists think of freedom as libertarian or perhaps incompatiblist freedom, they regard humans as not culpable or not responsible. The crux of our disagreement will be the freedom – for if my view of freedom is correct, we are culpable, and if yours is, we would not be.

    As far as compatibilist freedom conflicting with Scripture, you may find it interesting that the very verses you describe are also the verses I would cite! If the panoply of Scripture says anything, it certainly says that we are responsible – “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Jude 14-15.

    I look forward to our discussion on this. You have been absent for a while, so I wondered if you had given up the blog world entirely. I’m glad to see that you haven’t, but like me, other priorities keep you away.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 5/27/2007 04:23:00 PM  

  • Fair enough…I’ll wait for the next installment; but you’re going to have to put some meat on those bones. ;-)

    One quick point on your Jude reference, though: it not only must be understood in its own ‘local’ context, but also in light of other passages (i.e. Roman 9:21-22 Does not the potter have power over the clay […] What if God, wanting to show His wrath…)

    While I appreciate what you, Calvin, Edwards, and Spurgeon sincerely believe about personal responsibility (i.e. genuine culpability), with respect to eternal judgment, I think that you (plural) have misunderstood the nature of the accountability that non-believers (and believers) actually have.

    God’s judgments—both temporal and eternal—not only predate human existence, but more importantly, His judgments are rendered for His purposes and for His eternal glory. Human action (and inaction) is merely a vehicle that facilitates His plan, which sprang from His will…not ours.

    By Blogger Robert, at 5/27/2007 06:48:00 PM  

  • Our moral freedom, like other mental powers, is strengthened by exercise. The practice of yielding to impulse results in enfeebling self-control. The faculty of inhibiting pressing desires, of concentrating attention on more remote goods, of reinforcing the higher but less urgent motives, undergoes a kind of atrophy by disuse. In proportion as a man habitually yields to intemperance or some other vice, his freedom diminishes and he does in a true sense sink into slavery.

    By Blogger MICKY, at 8/11/2007 03:44:00 PM  

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