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A Calvinist’s Understanding of “Free-Will”

There are many words and concepts in theology that suffer from misunderstanding, mis-characterization, and misinformation. “Predestination,” “Calvinism,” “Total Depravity,” “Inerrancy,” and “Complementarianism”, just to name a few that I personally have to deal with. Proponents are more often than not on the defensive, having to explain again and again why it is they don’t mean what people think they mean.

The concept of “free will” suffers no less with regard to this misunderstanding. Does a person have free will? Well, what do you mean by “free will”? This must always be asked.

Do you mean:

  1. That a person is not forced from the outside to make a choice?
  2. That a person is responsible for his or her choices?
  3. That a person is the active agent in a choice made?
  4. That a person is free to do whatever they desire?
  5. That a person has the ability to choose contrary to their nature (who they are)?

Calvinists, such as myself, do believe in free will and we don’t believe in free will. It just depends on what you mean.

When it comes to the first three options, most Calvinist would agree that a person is not forced to make a choice, is responsible for their choices, and is the active agent behind those choices. They would reject the forth believing that a person is not free to do whatever they desire (for example, no matter how much one desires, he or she cannot read the thoughts of another person, fly without wings, or transport from one location to another just by thinking about the desired location).

It is important to note at this point, there is no conflict. No matter what theological persuasion you adhere to, most of historic Christianity has agreed that the first three are true, while the fourth is false.

It is with the fifth option there is disagreement.

Does a person have the ability to choose against their nature?

This question gets to the heart of the issue. Here we introduce a new and more defined term (hang with me here): “Libertarian Free-will” or “Libertarian Freedom.” Libertarian freedom can be defined briefly thus:

Libertarian Freedom: “The power of contrary choice.”

If you ask whether a person can choose against their nature (i.e. libertarian freedom) the answer, I believe, must be “no.” A person’s nature makes up who they are. Who they are determines their choice. If there choice is determined, then the freedom is self-limited. Therefore, there is no “power” of contrary choice for we cannot identify what or who this “power” might be. I know, I know . . . slow down. Let me explain.

First, it is important to get this out of the way. To associate this denial of libertarian freedom exclusively with Calvinism would be misleading. St. Augustine was the first to deal with this issue in a comprehensive manner. Until the forth century, it was simply assumed that people were free and responsible, but they had yet to flesh out what this meant. Augustine further elaborated on the Christian understanding of freedom. He argued that people choose according to who they are. If they are good, they make good choices. If they are bad, they make bad choices. These choices are free, they just lack liberty. In other words, a person does not become a sinner because they sin, they sin because they are a sinner. It is an issue of nature first. If people are identified with the fallen nature of Adam, then they will make choices similar to that of Adam because it is who they are. Yes, they are making a free choice, but this choice does not include the liberty or freedom of contrary choice.

What you have to ask is this: If “free will” means that we can choose against our nature (i.e. the power of contrary choice), if “free will” means that we can choose against who we are, what does this mean? What does this look like? How does a free person make a choice that is contrary to who they are? Who is actually making the choice? What is “free will” in this paradigm?

If one can choose according to who they are not, then they are not making the choice and this is not really freedom at all, no? Therefore, there is, at the very least, a self-determinism at work here. This is a limit on free will and, therefore, a necessary denial of true libertarian freedom.

Think about all that goes into making “who you are.” We are born in the fallen line of Adam. Spiritually speaking we have an inbred inclination toward sin. All of our being is infected with sin. This is called “total depravity.” Every aspect of our being is infected with sin, even if we don’t act it out to a maximal degree.

But even if this were not the case,—even if total depravity were a false doctrine—libertarian freedom would still be untenable. Not only are you who you are because of your identification with a fallen human race, but notice all these factors that you did not choose that go into the set up for any given “free will” decision made:

  • You did not choose when you were to be born.
  • You did not choose where you were to be born.
  • You did not choose your parents.
  • You did not choose your influences early in your life.
  • You did not choose whether you were to be male or female.
  • You did not choose your genetics.
  • You did not choose your temperament.
  • You did not choose your looks.
  • You did not choose your body type.
  • You did not choose your physical abilities.

All of these factors play an influencing role in who you are at the time of any given decision. Yes, your choice is free, but it has you behind them. Therefore, you are free to choose according to you from whom you are not able to free yourself!

Now, I must reveal something here once again that might surprise many of you. This view is held by both Calvinists and Arminians alike. Neither position believes that a person can choose against their nature. Arminians, however, differ from Calvinists in that they believe in the doctrine of prevenient grace, which essentially neutralizes the will so that the inclination toward sin—the antagonism toward Gog—is relieved so that the person can make a true “free will” decision.

However, we still have some massive difficulties. Here are a couple:

A neutralized will amounts to your absence from the choice itself.

Changing the nature of a person so that their predispositions are neutral does not really help. We are back to the question What does a neutralized will look like? Does it erase all of the you behind the choice? If you are neutralized and liberated from you, then who is making the choice? How can you be held responsible for a choice that you did not really make, whether good or bad?

A neutralized will amounts to perpetual indecision. Think about this, if a person had true libertarian freedom, where there were no coercive forces, personal or divine, that influenced the decision, would a choice ever be made? If you have no reason to choose A or B, then neither would ever be chosen. Ronald Nash illustrates this by presenting a dog who has true libertarian freedom trying to decide between two bowls of dog food. He says that the dog would end up dying of starvation. Why? Because he would never have any reason to choose one over the other. It is like a balanced scale, it will never tilt to the right or the left unless the weights (influence) on one side is greater than the other. Then, no matter how little weight (influence) is added to a balanced scale, it will always choose accordingly.

A neutralized will amounts to arbitrary decisions, which one cannot be held responsible for.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that libertarian choice could be made. Let’s say that the dog did choose one food bowl over the other. In a truly libertarian sense, this decision cannot have influences of any kind. Any decision without influences is arbitrary. It would be like flipping a coin. I chose A rather than B, not because of who I am, but for no reason at all. It just turned out that way. But this option is clearly outside a biblical worldview of responsibility and judgment. Therefore, in my opinion, the outcome for the fight for true libertarian free-will comes at the expense of true responsibility!

In conclusion: while I believe in free will, I don’t believe in libertarian free will. We make the choices we make because of who we are. We are responsible for these choices. God will judge each person accordingly with a righteous judgment.

Is there tension? Absolutely. We hold in tension our belief in God’s sovereignty, determining who we are, when we live, where we will live, who our parents will be, our DNA, etc. and human responsibility. While this might seem uncomfortable, I believe that it is not only the best biblical option, but the only philosophical option outside outside of fatalism, and we don’t want to go there.

Acts 17:26-28
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’”

Thoughts? Do you believe in free will?

391 Responses to “A Calvinist’s Understanding of “Free-Will””

  1. Got tired of not getting enough comments on your blog posts? LoL, just kidding. I just have a feeling you’re going to hit 200+ comments some time tomorrow.

    Oh and there’s a good article here about this.

  2. I like what Luther had to say about “free will” in the work that he thought his best, ‘The Bondge of the Will’.

    He stated that when it comes to the things of God, and faith in God, that our wills are bound in sin, and to reject Him. But God, in His grace and mercy, saves some, anyway.

    ” No one seeks for God” (St. Paul)

  3. Michael,
    I am glade to find your blog.
    I come from very different view; yes I believe that man has “total” free well. The free will is not in his mind but in his heart. God speaks to the heart of man not his mind. The mind is the “low pass” filter which prevents man from “seeing” God.
    The mind is our prison; and so are Calvinist and most Western Christian Theology.
    The God that Christ reveals to humanity is the God of love. This God is much higher and bigger than the mind. In fact the mind of men never can comprehend the mind of God let alone the heart of God.
    One of the modern Saints in the Orthodox Church once said: “theology without practice (life of holiness) is the work of demons.

    Please forgive if I sound very off from your topic.
    In Christ
    Salah

  4. For the longest time now, I’ve been trying to figure out what on earth the difference is between Wesleyan Arminianism and Calvinism. I’m not a theologian by any stretch of the imagination, but I wonder if the idea of prevenient grace is perhaps more complicated than a “neutralization of the will”. I’ve always heard prevenient grace described as an enabling of the heart to receive justifying grace. I suppose this amounts to “neutralization”, but the weight and attraction of the Spirit when presented to a heart prepared by grace hardly amounts to a coin flip. If I am correct in my understanding, then it seems that the only difference between Arminianism and Calvinism is how compelling the Spirit is in the presentation of justifying grace to the unbeliever whose heart has been prepared for its reception. Calvinism, so far as I can gather, believes this compelling pull to be absolute, whereas Arminianism, so far as I can tell, believes this attraction can in some circumstances be rejectable. Perhaps I am mistaken?

  5. Fatalism is a philosophical doctrine emphasizing the subjugation of all events or actions to fate or inevitable predetermination. (from Wikipedia).

    Getting outside of everything else Calvinism says that some are predestined to heaven and some are predestined to hell and that such a determination was made long before the individual was made and nothing can change said determination. In addition most Calvinists I know will state that because of God’s Sovereignty over all events everything that happens is the will of God. How is this not fatalism??

    Also I can’t help but feel I am reading a materialistic view of the world here. I find very little with regards to your illustrations about DNA, parents, culture, etc. in determining behavior that an atheist would disagree with. Newtonian cause and effect is basically what your arguing determines our behavior and actions. This would in turn reduce humanity to a bunch of mindless computer programs simply carrying out cause and effect going back to the beginning of the universe. How can God be justly angry at our actions since He is in fact the ultimate cause of the causality string stretching back to the beginning of time?

  6. Interesting, I have been thinking about this as I’m reading through Predestination and Free-Will: 4 Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom. I think in trying to resolve the issue of reconciling sovereignty with human choice begs the question of how much determinationism is involved with each entity. Reichenbach and Pinnock would say that determinationism on God’s part eliminates freedom on ours, and therefore for us to clearly choose amongst all possible options has to be absent of determinationism. But that presumes we have the same level of freedom as God does of his sovereignty, and have the full range of choosing apart from external influence. That’s comparing apples and oranges. Our freedom is not so free, whereas God’s sovereignty absolutely is. Does that make sense? Dunno, still thinking through this.

  7. Michael, the problems you are addressing truly hit the nail on the head with regard to the baggage that Calvinists have to pick up. Well done.

    In answer to your statements, I don’t really know. That is where the tension comes in.

    However, I would say that “fatalism” is normally reserved for a system without transcendence, therefore does not work for Calvinism. “Divine determinalism” would be better. However, there is still the compatibalistic understanding that there is the “self” involved and, therefore, responsible.

    Either way, I do think that the problems with “libertarianism” are not only biblically problematic, but present a philosophically absurd situation. As I outlined above, there is no such thing as the “power of contrary choice” in my opinion since it would either leave the choices without a bearer of responsibility or completely arbitrary.

    Which bullet do you bite?

  8. Also here’s another quick objection that bothered me lately. We can talk all day about God’s justice vs. God’s goodness and His righteousness vs. His love and mercy. Yet what is it that logically here prevents God (assuming He is good and loving) from allowing Jesus’ death to atone for all and then extending that atonement in the form of irresistible grace to everyone? Jesus’ death satiates the demands of God’s righteousness for the elect. Why not provide universal salvation? The only answer I have seen for this that makes any logical sense is that “Wrath” is in fact a divine attribute and God needs to take his wrath out on “objects of wrath” and thus he creates beings so deserving. Of course this view negates talking about God as “good” in any sense that the word is commonly used modern or ancient (or at least so I’ve been told). In fact it would seem to call such a God “good” would be such a violent attack on language as to render language meaningless.

  9. Michael,

    You did it again. Although this is much too broad for this current blog post and I don’t want the discussion to go this direction (at least yet!), you have articulated my biggest problem with my own system. I often tell people that that is the biggest question that I will have for God concerning election: Why didn’t you elect everyone? The answers that Calvinists often give are not very good in my opinion.

    However, as I often say, if this is the way things are, this is the way things are. We don’t get a vote in how God does things. He will prevail when he is judged. No matter whether we can put the peices of the puzzle together perfectly, he can. He is righteous, he loves all people, we are responsible, and he has only chosen some. I don’t get it, but I believe it is true.

    (As well, there are not any logical absurdities to this system, while, I believe, other systems attempt to solve this problem and, in doing so, create problems that are much bigger.)

  10. “Either way, I do think that the problems with “libertarianism” are not only biblically problematic, but present a philosophically absurd situation. As I outlined above, there is no such thing as the “power of contrary choice” in my opinion since it would either leave the choices without a bearer of responsibility or completely arbitrary.”

    First off I think William Lane Craig and other Christian philosophers would disagree with this statement. However, I will answer it from my perspective. I don’t think any advocate of libertarian free will would say that we are blank slates. We certainly approach every situation with our prejudices and experiences which will effect our decisions and behavior in those situations. This is not a controversial statement. What is controversial is to extrapolate from this pure determinism where all decisions are a result of a X causes Y causes Z causality chain. I would, and I think most Christians would, hold that there is a metaphysical aspects to the human being which transcend a merely material causality chain. Thus while there are influences on a human being they don’t necessarily prove to be the deciding factor in any single decision.

    In your view I don’t think you can escape that God is the ultimate cause of the causal chain of events leading to every decision you and I make. Since God knew full well what His actions would result in there is no way to escape the charge that God is the author of sin. (You know I should really try this in court sometime – blame God for my client falling asleep at the wheel and causing an accident)

  11. Michael,

    Previenient grace is necessary to neutralize the will, not create a blank slat. The problem is that if you have a will that is not predisposed to anything, then no choice will be made. There is no “you” who is making the choice and therefore the person cannot be held responsible.

    With Calvinism, there is a “tension” that exists here between human responsibility and divine sovereignty. Concession is made that it is a mystery, but there is no logical absurdity that is necessarily introduced. As well, I believe, it is much more biblically defensible since it can account for all relevant biblical data without having a system bend what the passage says to fit the system.

    A couple of examples where God bends the will of a person (which evidences that it is not fatalistic at all—God intervenes often) and the person is held responsible is with Nebuchadnezzar and Pharaoh

  12. Having said that I do understand that there are some Calvinists of the Hyper variety that do deny human freedom and some even attribute the ultimate cause of evil to God in order to keep the system consistant. They believe in “meticulous sovereignty”. But this is not normative Calvinism at all and is often used as as straw man representative of the “logical outcome of the Calvinistic system” in the same way that Open Theism is used (unfairly) as the logical outcome of Arminianism.

  13. 1. God is fully capable of saving all people.
    2. God chooses of His own free will to instead eternally and mercilessly torture the vast majority of said people who have absolutely no ability to do what is necessary to avoid being tortured.

    3. What conclusion would you suggest I draw?? I don’t see how given these two premises you could speak of anything regarding God being loving or good.

    ____________

    1. God has predetermined through causality and His Sovereign plan all events from the beginning of time.
    2. Human beings have absolutely no choice in what comes to pass or what actions they will and will not take. They are ultimately machines controlled by God’s Sovereign plan.
    3. How am I supposed to conclude from these premises that humans are responsible for their actions? No one gets made at a computer virus for destroying computers, rather we hunt down the viruses maker and put him behind bars.

  14. Michael,

    All systems (other than open theism) have these problems. All believe that God loves everyone. All believe that God could save everyone.

    However, how you have nuanced God’s “torturing” people for eternity puts a spin on it that does not do credit to both positions views on hell. He is a punishment for sin and is eternal because people eternally reject God and don’t want to follow him (due to their own responsibility, not God’s active predestination).

  15. CMP,

    You say, “With Calvinism, there is a “tension” that exists here between human responsibility and divine sovereignty.”

    Like Michael T, I really struggle with this idea. It doesn’t seem to me that “tension” is the proper word here. How can any human responsiblity begin to balance out, for lack of a better term, the sovereignty of God? When all things are under His control and He determines ever thing, how can there be any real human responsiblity at all? His sovereignty certainly overcomes anything we puny humans can do does it not? I just truly do not see how he can determine it all and truly hold people responsible for what they do at the same time.

    Somehow that seems like having a child and creating a set of circumstances for them that they can only respond one possible way to and then punishing them when they do that very thing .

  16. Cheryl,

    “I just truly do not see how he can determine it all and truly hold people responsible for what they do at the same time.”

    I don’t either.

  17. “Previenient grace is necessary to neutralize the will, not create a blank slat. The problem is that if you have a will that is not predisposed to anything, then no choice will be made. There is no “you” who is making the choice and therefore the person cannot be held responsible.”

    It seems that you are saying that the human will must be such that it will always choose God or never choose God. I just don’t see how this must logically be so. Furthermore I think there is a misunderstanding of previenient grace (PG – I hate typing this out). It doesn’t “neutralize the will”. Rather it removes the taint of the fall allowing humans to choose God. We are still filled with the same personality traits etc. we have in the absence of PG which will effect how receptive we are the Gospel. It’s just not God who is the sole determining factor in whether or not one accepts the Gospel as is the case in Calvinism and in the absence of PG. I think another converse way to look at it is this. I think the fundamental question in this is whether or not we are free to reject grace. It’s almost the reverse of Calvinism where grace is offered to a few who can’t reject it even if they wanted. In Arminianism grace is offered to all, but rejected by many because of their personality, upbringing, metaphysical qualities, and other factors.

    Again I also think you take a very materialistic view of the human being as if everything is cause and effect and “neutralizing the will” turns a human being into kind of a blob of nothingness. I just don’t believe this to be true.

    ______________

    He is a punishment for sin and is eternal because people eternally reject God and don’t want to follow him (due to their own responsibility, not God’s active predestination).

    How is this so if God is the cause of the causal chain leading people to reject Him? And how is this their responsibility? They never had a choice in the matter.

  18. “Hell is a punishment for sin and is eternal because people eternally reject God and don’t want to follow him (due to their own responsibility, not God’s active predestination).”

    However, your whole argument is that people can’t make any choice other than what their nature is. And we do not have any choice in what that nature is do we? We have the sin nature inherited from Adam and can make no choice outside of this nature according to what you have said? So how can we be held reponsible for something we have absolutely no choice over, specially when we can not chose anything else? Is not that fatalism or whatever the alternate term you used for it above?

  19. One other thing to keep in mind that very much supports the Calvinistic understanding of freedom and militates against the Arminian understanding, in my estimation, is the fact of observable experience and history.

    It would be impossible to deny that people who grow up in Christian countries have a greater much likelihood of being Christian and those who grow up in countries of another religion will almost always adhere to the religion of their culture. How does one explain this? The simple fact is that you will have an enormously greater chance of being a Christian if you have a Christian culture and family, both of while are completely out of your ability to choose. God determines the times and places where people are born.

  20. Cheryl, you said

    “And we do not have any choice in what that nature is do we? We have the sin nature inherited from Adam and can make no choice outside of this nature according to what you have said?”

    But yet Romans 8:7 and Ephesians 2:1-3 indicate that we are bound to follow that nature. It does not negate our ability to choose but that choices are always tainted and subject to that influence.

  21. Cheryl,

    “So how can we be held reponsible for something we have absolutely no choice over, specially when we can not chose anything else?”

    We do have a choice, but we go with the choice of our nature. If we are in the Adamic nature and unregenerate, we follow Adam. If we are regenerated, we follow God. Simply put, it is an absolute mystery why he did not choose everyone. But, the fact is that he was under no obligation to save any of us even though both sides agree that we are born cursed. Here, both sides share equal tension. Pelagius was the only one who escaped this charge, but his remedy was completely unbiblical, though emotionally satisfying.

  22. Pelagius was the only one who escaped this charge, but his remedy was completely unbiblical, though emotionally satisfying.

    Some might argue that Augustine’s answer was equally unbiblical. EO’s for one take this stand.

  23. I guess maybe all I can say at this point is that if the Calvinist understanding of things is correct, there has to be a whole different concept of the words “love” and “justice” then any we know of in the English language because they just simply do not fit this scenario at all.

    And they certainly do not fit at all the picture and understanding of God that I have had since I was a small child.

  24. While EOs disagree with some of the Augustinian view, they certianly would not agree with Pelagianism. At the very least, they believe that our nature and will are born corrupted, even if we are not born with imputed guilt.

  25. Speaking of Peligius and free will, check out this video

    http://truthonly.com/movies (click on 412 anno domini)

    Just to lighten the mood a bit ;)

  26. Truth Unites... and Divides March 2, 2010 at 12:29 am

    CMP,

    I believe you had the free will (and exercised your free will) to write the blog post titled: “A Calvinist’s Understanding of “Free-Will””

    ;-)

  27. Well, I know how these conversations go! I’ve been involved with several of them on this blog and elsewhere and we can go back and forth with Scripture verses, etc, supporting both sides of this discussion pretty much indefinitely. At the moment it is late, I’m tired, and I’m going to bed! Good night to all.

  28. Cheryl, you said

    “I guess maybe all I can say at this point is that if the Calvinist understanding of things is correct, there has to be a whole different concept of the words “love” and “justice” then any we know of in the English language because they just simply do not fit this scenario at all.”

    But that’s just it, isn’t it? We impose our own sense of “love” and “justice” upon God and then find it irreconcilable when they don’t match up. I side with Michael on this there is a tension that we have to live with.

  29. Oh I agree that Pelagius was wayyy unbiblical. I just think Augustin may have been equally wrong. My point in raising the EO’s is simply that it’s not an either you agree with Augustin or you agree with Pelagius issue. The EO’s don’t agree with either as far as I can tell (I’m not EO btw).

  30. Michael,

    A well articulated explanation of your position. However, three big problems I see with this paradigm, that our nature determines our choices, are why did Adam and Eve and the Devil seemingly chose against their natures, and since we are totally depraved, why do we not always choose evil?

    In this post, you have presented a few problems I would also like to address.

    You said If one can choose according to who they are not, then they are not making the choice and this is not really freedom at all, no?

    Libertarian free will isn’t about choosing against your nature, it’s about choosing things that we could actually choose. It is part of our nature to be able to do this. For instance, I obviously couldn’t choose to speak French right now, because I can’t speak French. But if I could speak French, if it were actually a possible choice, I could actually do it instead of English. Likewise, there are things that we don’t have the ability to choose. One choice we don’t have prior to God’s intervention is to place our faith in Him.

    Therefore, there is, at the very least, a self-determinism at work here. This is a limit on free will and, therefore, a necessary denial of true libertarian freedom.

    This is an incorrect understanding of libertarian freedom. As I stated, it’s not about choosing whatever you want, it’s about choosing or choosing otherwise in any freedom permitting situation. You brought up the term “self-determinism” and seemed to think it goes against libertarianism, but that is the definition of LFW, that the will itself determines what it does, not an outside agent. In all of the situations you listed, it was not possible that we had a choice in those things, but that is not a problem for LFW, since we affirm that we are only able to choose what is possible to choose. It’s not possible for us to make choices prior to becoming aware of our rationality.

    Thanks for hearing me out

  31. “But that’s just it, isn’t it? We impose our own sense of “love” and “justice” upon God and then find it irreconcilable when they don’t match up. I side with Michael on this there is a tension that we have to live with.”

    I agree with this statement and disagree with this statement. I agree that God’s justice and love does not in most cases equate to human justice and love because God is perfect justice and perfect love and we are imperfect. However, (in my mind) the violence the God of Calvinism does to these words is so extreme as to render the words meaningless and in fact language itself meaningless as it relates to God’s self revelation. I have often told people that in order for me to be a Calvinist I would have to be a complete post-modernist. God’s justice, mercy, love, goodness, must in some way resemble the human reflection of these, otherwise they are meaningless descriptors. I don’t think God can call Himself “good” and then behave worse then Hitler and still be “good”. Otherwise the Bible is just meaningless words which have no relation to reality.

  32. Lisa,

    Well, I didn’t quite make it away from here yet.

    Michael T said in one of his first comments,”In fact it would seem to call such a God “good” would be such a violent attack on language as to render language meaningless.”

    That is how I feel about the words “love” and “justice” here. Our words for them just don’t seem to work in this scenario at all–they are different concepts altogether. I think our language is utterly meaningless to convey these concepts about God too if the picture of God as understood by Calvinists is the correct one.

  33. Michael T,

    We seem to be echoing each other here!

  34. Boss,

    I see what you are saying, but this post is not necessarily about previenient grace, but what the definition of “Free-will” is according to the various options out there. In the Arminian scheme free-will must include the power of contrary choice. Calvinists would see this as chosing against one’s nature whereas the Arminian would see it as an aid to determining ones nature. However, the problem is that this “aid” has no owner when the will not determined by the agents current disposition.

  35. My current understanding of the Calvinist definition of “free will”…

    Being free to make a choice that has already been made for you by your nature, circumstances, etc. and thus ultimately made by God as He is in ultimate control of all of these things.

  36. My two cents worth.

    God calls, we hear, we choose.

    The call of God is generally transmitted by his preachers. Some do not choose to follow Christ because no one has preached to them. Others do hear and choose to reject the call, there our free will is exercised. Others hear and choose to obey.

    In what way is God’s grace revealed? First in the cross, second in the call, third in the acceptance of our choice to obey.

    Even a deist like Anthony Flew regards Jesus as being a person of incredible personal attractiveness, yet he has not obeyed the call.

    I think I would subscribe to Michael T’s understanding of the interaction between free will and grace.

  37. CMP,

    However, the problem is that this “aid” has no owner when the will not determined by the agents current disposition.

    If you could clarify what you mean by this, I’m not 100% sure I’m understanding what you mean here, so correct me if this post is totally missing the point.

    As far as prevenient grace goes, yes that is one necessary condition of being able to choose God or not, but on the question of free will in general I still think that true libertarian free will is not the ability to choose anything, but the ability to choose actual options freely.

    As far as ones disposition is concerned, I think that it may influence a decision, but I’m not sure we can conclude that our decisions are determined, or made necessary, by our dispositions. For instance, I have a friend whose friend has a disposition to be attracted to people of the same gender. This person, however, has chosen not to follow what he seems to be drawn to, but has chosen to get married to a woman and to battle his attraction to other men. Now I would say this person willed to do this out of a genuine contingent choice, but on your model it seems you would have to say that his true disposition was to not act on his homosexual urges, and that determined his decision. But that doesn’t seem to be the case, and, from what I’ve been told, this person is certain about his struggle and his true desires. To me, the alternate position seems less warranted than the libertarian’s position.

  38. For those of you who do disagree with the Calvinistic/Augustinian understanding of freedom, I would like to know how you handle the problem I outlined above.

    How do you account for the fact that someone who is born in Turkey to a Muslim family does not have as much a chance to become a Christian as a person who lives in America in a Evangelical family?

    Do you deny that they do have a less of a chance?
    Do you say that God did not determine where they live (a quazi-diestic approach)?
    Do you say that God determined where they live and although they have less of a chance at becoming Christian, God still does not determine it either way?

    If the last (which I think is the only viable option you could choose), you are saying that God has determined some to have a greater chance to become a Christian and others less of a chance. Same principles as divine sovereignty the the Calvinist offers, just in a watered down form. However, if you do choose this, you will see that all of the charges and accusations brought against the calvinistic understanding can now be applied to the Arminian understand, even if they are not to the same degree.

  39. “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”

    I think your right that this is the only viable option, however I’m not sure that it is necessary to conclude what you have from this.

  40. Hi Michael,

    I think your presentation of the Calvinist understanding is generally good– but I’m not sure that one of the examples you use, that states it is more likely that one becomes a Christian living in a Christian nation, makes good corroboration for the position.

    Our will is free to choose from among various options; however since the will is deeply impaired by the sin that marks all of us, it is hindered from making choices among the available options that are not also tainted by sin. In regard to the choice of whether or not to come to Jesus and be saved, the Calvinist understanding specifically states that in his sinfulness man is not free to choose the gospel or to come to Jesus. He is not seeking God and is in fact bent towards rebelling against God and following his own fleshly desires and being ruled by Satan, though mostly unconscious of this, since sin blinds him to this slavery.

    Paul pointed out that the nation of Israel should have been well disposed to receiving Christ, having been given by God all these advantages, “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ m who is God over all” Romans 9: 4-5

    And yet, most in Israel did not choose Christ, but rather rejected His message.

    Paul then explained how God’s word to His chosen people Israel had not failed, despite the fact that most of Israel rejected the Messiah He sent to them:

    11 I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” 4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

    7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” Romans 11: 1-7

    His explanation is that those who believed were the ones God had chosen, God’s remnant, chosen by grace. And the ones not chosen were hardened. I just point this out to say that the principle expressed here contradicts the assumption in your example. People do not come to Christ/believe in Him because they are born in a Christian nation. They come to faith in Christ because God chooses them. Jesus also taught this clearly, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” and “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and d who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6: 37; 44; 63-65).

    An interesting thing in this — neither Jesus nor Paul seems that concerned as to whether the will of man is kept free. Both are stating that were it not for God acting so as to make unwilling hearts wiling to come to him, no one would be willing or able to do so.

  41. I agree with those who are objecting. As an Arminian, I think of myself as being “free to choose from those options that are not logically impossible.” The boundaries imposed by genetics, geography, etc, influence our choices but don’t equate to a discernable set of shackles that we could call a “nature”. To claim that the essential quality of free will is the “power to choose something contrary to your nature” is to load the conversation so heavily with Calvinism that you commit the very error that you decry in the second sentence of your initial post.

    I will confess my ignorance and say that I have no idea what the idea of an essential “nature” means. Is there a consistent Biblical definition of our “nature”?

    It seems to me — again, pending clarification on what exactly constitutes our “nature” — that you are using our “nature” as an escape hatch to exonerate God: it wasn’t God who caused us to sin, it is our “nature”. But who gave us our “nature” in the first place?

    I think it’s more coherent to see our “nature” as the aggregate of the decisions we make, rather than the root cause of the decisions we make. It’s the destination you arrive at after an extended series of decisions, not the turn-by-turn navigation device that tells us where you must go. If it were like the latter, I just don’t see how we can bear culpability, and I don’t see how there can be judgment without culpability.

  42. Lisa Robinson March 2, 2010 at 7:05 am

    “As far as prevenient grace goes, yes that is one necessary condition of being able to choose God or not, but on the question of free will in general I still think that true libertarian free will is not the ability to choose anything, but the ability to choose actual options freely.”

    From our perspective, we are choosing freely. If we think that given a choice of options, the selection of what we choose is not motivated by factors external to us, well I’d say that is a little dishonest. That would deny the movement of Spirit and the impact of the flesh.

  43. “From our perspective, we are choosing freely.”

    Exactly Lisa. This is very important. The Calvinist understanding of freedom does say that we choose freely. Those who reject God do so of their own free will. In other words, they are not coerced by some outside agent. The same is the case with those who accept God. They do so freely, God simply opens their eyes to his beauty and they come to him, no matter what. But it is still free.

    We just don’t believe in the innate power of contrary choice. People always choose freely according to who they are. The fallen will always reject God; the regenerate will always accept God.

  44. So maybe this is a dumb question, but did Adam (and Eve) have libertarian free will? I am guessing so.

    They, of course, didn’t choose where or when they were “born” — and they had no parents or flawed genetics. From all accounts, their influences in their early life were as ideal as possible, yet when confronted with their first temptation (albeit a strong one by the great tempter himself), they failed.

    It seems to me that even prevenient grace would not place us in the same state as Adam was at the time, because we have much more negative influence and much less positive influence. Or is it that even what prevenient grace is supposed to do?

  45. I believe the Lutheran understanding.

    Jesus died for all (yes all – that what the Bible actually says)

    None of us wants Him, but he calls and chooses some of His own volition (we are born not of blood,nor of the will of man, but of God).

    He chooses us, we don’t choose Him (that’s also in the Bible).

    God’s gets all the credit for saving us…and we get all the blame for being lost.

    I do believe that is the way it is.

  46. “People always choose freely according to who they are.”

    Although I’m still very eager to hear clarification on what “who they are” means in your view (maybe a future blog post?), for the purposes of clarification, could you provide an example of someone’s nature precluding them from making a certain choice, in a non-salvatory context?

    One example that comes to mind is the idea of someone who comes from a long line of alcoholics, whose family and friends drink to excess, and who himself has drank to excess for many years. Genetically, culturally, and behaviorally, we would say that this person is an alcoholic — that it is “who he is.” It seems that by your argument, this person should be unable to choose not to drink to excess, since drinking to excess is (or has become) part of his “nature”. Yet alcoholics CAN choose not to be alcoholics any longer.

    So it seems that you either put decisions that pertain to salvation in a different category than other decisions, or that you in some way distinguish between immutable and mutable aspects of our “nature”. Or maybe there’s a third option I’m not seeing. In any case, I think you need to flesh out what exactly you have in view as comprising “who a person is” or a person’s “nature”, since your argument leans so heavily upon this concept.

  47. Wow! Interesting that you would post this immediately following Paul Copan’s thread. Wouldn’t it be fun if he were to jump in and represent the other perspective! If only he didn’t have a day job…..

  48. Lisa Robinson March 2, 2010 at 8:54 am

    Jake, “who they are” is the ungenerated person apart from Christ who cannot choose God except for intervention on God’s part. See Romans 8:7 and Ephesians 2:1-3.

    I also think there is a contradiction for those that say prevenient grace is needed to motivate the person to choose God but allows that person to choose freely but denies that regeneration preceding conversion does not allow the person to choose freely. Either way, the person is unable to choose God and therefore unable to respond to him without God’s intervention. If we are unable to choose him, that by definition is limiting our ability to choose.

  49. Lisa and CMP,

    ““From our perspective, we are choosing freely.”

    So, if I understand what you are saying correctly, we only THINK we have free choice? But what we THINK we are freely choosing has already been determined by our nature and by all of our surrounding circumstances?

    If that is the case, what we call “free will”, and what you are arguing for here from a Calvinist perspective is really nothing more than a figment of our imagination for lack of a better term. And everything we do is still untimately determined by God. Then we are left again, with the only logical line of reasoning saying God made us to do exactly what we did, then somehow held us accountable for it, and punished us eternally for it. Or the alternate that Michael T brought up in the first couple of comments here that God actually does have to have some people so show his wrath on and punish forever so predestines some from all eternity for this position. And I believe you would say the latter is hypercalvinism and you don’t believe it.

    But it seems to me that given the position you argue, those are the only two choices availabe. And either way, you end up with God being ultimately responsible for a person choosing to reject Him and then still casting that person into hell eternally for it.

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