“So Augustine is right when he so often repeats the memorable saying that ‘those who defend free will wreck it, instead of making it secure.”
-John Calvin quoting St. Augustine in the 1541 edition of The Institutes
There is an on going debate throughout the history of philosophy about free will and determinism. Do we have the ability to choose or is choice merely an illusion? There’s even much debate within each philosophical movement, for instance there are atheists that believe each of our choices follow necessarily from our previous ones and there are atheists that believe our choices are casually undetermined, allowing for human free will. Christian Theology and Philosophy has not been exempt from this debate.
When it comes to free will and Christianity there are several schools of thought. For the sake of brevity I’ll describe the big four: Pelagianism, Arminianism, Calvinism, and HyperCalvinism. There are also those who say, “I’m neither a calvinist nor an arminian, I just read the Bible”. To those people I always say, “Oh, then you’re a Calvinist!” You can see I’m showing my colors quickly in this post. I’m a Calvinist but give me a break, I can’t help it, I’ve been predestined to affirm Calvinism. I’m going to try and give the Arminians a fair shake then point out an inconsistency I’ve noticed. But first let’s look at the two extremes, and then I’ll finish with Calvinism.
Pelagianism comes from views espoused by Pelagius (circa 360-418 A.D.), who was ruled a heretic. Pelagius gave no account of the noetic effects of sin in his view of free will, which means he believed man is born free of sin and can choose good or evil without God’s help. This view has been ruled inconsistent with the Bible by the Church throughout history thanks to the help of Church Fathers like Augustine. Pelagianism represents an extreme view of libertarian free will.
The exact opposite of Pelagianism is hypercalvinism. Hypercalvinsim is representative of what philosophers call “Hard determinism” and is a bastardization of Calvinism, which is named after John Calvin. Hard determinism is the belief that all events are casually determined. On this view, free will and determinism are incompatible with each other and thus human free will is an illusion. Hypercalvinists hold a view of God’s sovereignty that eliminates human responsibility and choice. Because of this belief they don’t try to evangelize unbelievers. I think this view, along with Pelagianism, is ridiculous and unbiblical.
So now that we’ve discounted the extremes, what’s left? Well, let’s take a look at Arminianism. Arminianism gets its name from Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) a man who rejected the Calvinism of his day. Arminianism proposes the belief that humans have been given a libertarian free will from their Creator God. Libertarian free will is different from the Libertarian political movement so don’t get those confused. Libertarian freedom, along with hard determinism, says that free will and determinism are incompatible with each other. Libertarian free will can be summed up in the belief that “humans can always choose contrary to any prior influences that might direct their choices. Given exactly the same set of circumstances, no particular choice or outcome is guaranteed” (Scott Christensen, What About Free Will?, 27).
Arminians believe humans do experience the negative effects of sin on their minds and that without God drawing them, no one can choose His salvation. But while they acknowledge God’s work in salvation, ultimately the choice is on the moral free agent whether they choose God or not. Man’s will is undetermined and free to make the final decision on choices. This view arouse from the desire to defend God from “the problem of evil” (If God’s good why is there bad?) and the desire to hold mankind morally responsible for their actions. However, I believe, with Augustine and Calvin, that those who seek to defend free will wreck it on accident.
On the Arminian view, there are those who wouldn’t choose God no matter what God does. They believe that God will respect the choices of the individual and will not impose His own will on them, especially concerning the final destination of their soul. An Arminian believes that God made man to love Him and love requires libertarian free choice or else we’d be automatons. Or worse still, If love is some how coerced by God, then He is guilty of divinely raping our wills. God has done all He can do or will do and it’s up to us to make the final choice in salvation.
At this point you might be thinking, “Park, that sounds pretty solid, what’s your beef?”. Well, I’m glad you asked. My beef is that while Arminians try to defend against determinism they accidentally become determinists. Why is it that there are some supposed free agents that would never ever choose God? You’re telling me that no matter what anyone does to try and persuade them and no matter what the all powerful God who made them does, they are destined not to choose Him? It’s almost as if those people are predetermined to deny God’s grace… Isn’t that the definition of determinism of the hard variety? This view sets man’s choice above God’s authority and power, but even then it’s not really man’s choice because they are predestined not to choose him. They’re not predetermined by God to reject Him on this view, but something else. What else is there though? Why is it that these folks, who would never choose God, are so set in their ways despite His best efforts? Isn’t it God who made them and their will? Didn’t God knit them together and make their unique personality? Isn’t it He who put them in the exact place in history where they reside. If human volition is free in the libertarian sense then God’s plans couldn’t be sure, how could He have planned for Judas to betray Christ or the Romans to crucify him? If human actions are free in the libertarian sense then God couldn’t have known if anyone would have chosen salvation in the future. His son possibly could have died and saved absolutely no one.
Did Christ die on the cross to make salvation possible or to actually save individuals? An Arminian would pick the former and a Calvinist would choose the latter. There are lots of other reasons why i’m not an Arminian but I’ve always found this argument to be pretty philosophically devastating.Then there’s molinism, which is a more philosophically laden, shell game version of Arminianism but I think it falls prey to the same critique of hard determinism so I wont get into it. So instead of securing human free will, the arminians have wrecked it, along with God’s sovereignty.
We’ve briefly talked about the extremes of Pelagianism and Hypercalvinism and the more moderate view of Arminianism, so let’s get to the truth of the matter, the view that you’ve been predestined to read about here on my blog post 😉 . Calvinism, named after French Theologian John Calvin, actually traces its roots back to St. Augustine (who got it from the Apostle Paul and the rest of our precious, precious Scriptures). Calvinism is more than just the doctrines of predestination and free will, just as Arminianism is associated with more than just their views on salvation and free will, but for this post we’ll be sticking with those doctrines. Calvinists are compatibilists. Compatibilists believe that free will and determinism are compatible with each other. More specifically, calvinistic compatibilists believe that God’s complete sovereignty is compatible with human free agency and moral responsibility.
Rather than the libertarian “contrary choice” principle, calvinists believe that man is free not when he can make make any choice contrary to prior influences, but rather he is free when he can choose that which he desires. A calvinistic compatibilist believes that there are moral and spiritual effects on the will, the will is subject to the heart’s desires. Since the unconverted person hates God, according what the Bible says, they cannot choose God because they do not desire to choose God. They can’t choose Him because they wont choose Him. They’re not gonna cuz they don’t wanna.
In order for anyone to choose God, God must first give them new desires, they must be born again, spiritually speaking. For anyone to choose God’s salvation He must make them a new creation, He must take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh that wants to love Him with all their mind, body and soul. Prior to God’s work in a persons life, their desire is for their own autonomy. When God regenerates a person, their thoughts, emotions and volition are changed and bent towards His will. So rather than “raping” your will, God removes the enmity from the unregenerate heart and that person is now free to choose what he desires, which is God. He now can and will choose salvation.
More importantly, Calvinists emphasis the Trinity in salvation. God didn’t just save us for our own sake, but He saves His lost sheep to make up the Church which is the Bride of Christ. We are a gift from the Father to The Son through the power of The Holy Spirit. Jesus affirms this when he says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up o the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37, 39-40). And again “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44) and once more “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65). Believing in Jesus is the work of God (John 6:29). God the Father “Chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world… In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5). Christ Jesus bore our punishment and earned the salvation that the Father planned for us, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8). And the Holy Spirit regenerates us, “it is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63). You’ll find God’s electing predestination all throughout the Bible, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whose he predestined he also called and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). This Golden Chain of salvation holds firm because salvation isn’t just about us, it’s about God’s Trinitarian love shown from The Father to The Son through His gift of the Church by the power of The Holy Spirit.
Every human choice has two explanations, man’s will and God’s will. God purposes good while man’s purposes are usually self serving. This is why Joseph, in Genesis ch. 50 verse 10a, can say to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” His brothers sold him into slavery, they meant evil by this choice but God had a good purpose in allowing their sinful actions, “to bring it about that many people should be kept alive”. Because he was sold into slavery, Joseph ended up as the second in control over all of Egypt. He had a dream about the famine that was coming and God used him to save Egyptians as well as the Jewish people.
God has planned out all of human history before creation, everything has “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Even so-called “chance” is dependent on God, for “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD”. That means even when you’re playing Monopoly, every roll of the dice is predetermined by God, though you are rolling them out of your own desires.
God directs the smallest instances of chance, as well as the greatest acts of kings and nations, “A king’s heart is like streams of water in the LORD’s hand: he directs it wherever He chooses.” (Proverbs 21:1). He doesn’t some how override human volition, rather He uses it for His own purposes, like when He turned the Assyrians against the Jews to punish the Jews for their sins, then He punishes the Assyrians for their murderous hearts. It’s not that he forced them to attack the Jews against their will, they loved every minute of it. God is perfectly just in punishing their sinfulness even though He used it for His good purposes.
If you’re anything like I used to be, you might be thinking this is, in fact, injustice on God’s part. But, “By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Romans 9:14-16). Everyone is guilty of sin. God chooses to have mercy on whomever He wants to have mercy on and there is nothing we can do to compel his grace nor can we force his hand.
But still, you might be thinking “Why does he still find fault in us then? For who can resist God’s will, Park?” Well, “who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:19-22). God is the Divine Potter, we are the sinful clay. Imagine the human race as that black/brown color Playdough turns when you mix all the colors together. If God wants to take off a lump and make it white as snow and turn it into a chalice and take another lump and blow dry it into a hard cracked black wad, can He not do that? Is it not His right to have mercy on whomever He chooses and choose to hold others accountable to the sins they’ve committed? What right do we have to question God’s judgements?
It’s my contention that the calvinistic/compatibilistic view of free will is the only one that really allows for free agency. Humans choose that which they desire. Our wills are slaves to our hearts. So the believer and the unbeliever equally have free agency, however the unbeliever wont choose God because they don’t desire to choose God. The will and the heart are not so disconnected that we must be able to choose the very opposite of what we desire like the libertarian contrary choice doctrine would purport. Our intellect, volition and heart are inextricably intertwined such that our sinful nature has infected them all. Thus it takes a miracle like being spiritually reborn to regenerate our heart so that we can use our will and intellect to chase our new desires, God’s desires.