As I said last time, I’ve been reading Scott Christensen’s What About Free Will? which revolves around the two main sides of the free will debate:
- Libertarianism (think “liberty”) is generally held by Arminians.
- Compatibilism is generally held by Calvinists.
I will take a brief look at what libertarianism is and at the biblical support for it.
To Be Free, or Not to Be?
“In the libertarian scheme, to be free is to be unhinged from any power, any force, and any thought that might dictate what you should do. You must have the power to exercise indifference to all alternative possibilities. In order to love, you must have the equal and neutrally disposed capacity to hate. In order to give, you must also be able to take away. In order to tell the truth, you must also be able to tell a lie. Without this [fairness] of choices and the unhindered power to pursue either path with equal ease, freedom is sacrificed. To have such libertarian freedom is one of the greatest virtues contained in the volumes of the Arminian library.” (224)
In the libertarian thinking, you have the ability to make alternative choices. Tomorrow morning, assuming you have these items in your cabinet, you can choose between Peanut Butter Crunch cereal and Cherry-flavored pop-tarts. Your choice(s) are not determined by anything or anyone else but yourself.
“Free will” is the fact that you can choose. To quote the above, “In order to love [God], you must have the equal and neutrally disposed capacity to hate [him]. In order to give [to the poor], you must also be able to take [something] away [from them]. In order to tell the truth, you must also be able to tell a lie.” In order to have free will, you must have the opportunity and ability to choose between at least two options without any hinderances.”
“Free will means that we always have alternative choices at our disposal and that we exercise complete control over which alternative we choose. …God endows his creatures with this freedom and… he steadfastly refuses to interfere with it except in rare cases” (17).
Christiensen points out that, “Libertarianism is far less concerned… about the specific reasons why [we make] one choice over another. [It] prefers to focus on the rainbow of options in the pantry of human choices” (18). Basically, my will is free from all restraints. Others opinions do not matter. The influence of the culture of my country, my state, and my hometown does not matter. The influences of my friends do not affect me. My will is free from even God himself. “God never forces anyone to conform to his desires. They must come freely, and this means that God risks their rejection” (26).
My Will is Free
I do not like spiders. I despise spiders. The bigger and hairier they are, the farther I stay away. Yet libertarianism says that my will is free. It is so free that it can move beyond my fear hatred of spiders. So despite my absolute loathing disgust for the little anarchists, I could actually pick up a tarantula and enjoy it. I could choose to overcome my fears because the human will is that strong. I am not a sporty person, but given how free my will is, libertarianism says that I could wake up one morning and choose to become a sporty person. Nothing can constrain the will. This makes sense given that even God himself does not constrain our will (according to the libertarian approach).
Even positively compelling influences constrain the will if they cannot be overcome. Benjamin asks, “Should I marry Joanna or not?” What liberates Benjamin is the power of the will to choose either option—to marry or not to marry. If Benjamin decides to marry Joanna, he must be free to determine that choice unhindered by prior factors. Of course, he may choose to marry her because her beauty and intelligence overcome him. But freedom is enhanced if he marries her ultimately because he could have resisted the compelling power of her desirable qualities. If only one option presents itself as the compelling choice, then it is not a choice at all. There must be equal alternative possibilities for a choice to be free and meaningful. (23-24)
- Joshua calls for Israel to, “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24.15).
- In encouraging the Corinthian to lend support to the poor believers in Jerusalem, Paul states, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9.7).
Christensen says, “This statement suggests that options exist with our choices, and that the capacity to choose alternatives rests within our own self-determining power to will one choice or another. Furthermore, it suggests that if something other than our own power to will determined our choices, then we would be choosing under compulsion and not freely.” (24)
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).
- “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3.20)
- Stephen cries, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7.51; Isa 63.10).
- “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Jesus in Matthew 23.37).
Why would God make his creatures this way? C. S. Lewis once said, “Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like little machines—would hardly be worth creating” (26).
Christensen asks, “More importantly, why would God put forth these open invitations if he had already determined the outcome of all human actions? libertarianism is unequivocal—God would not issue commands and conditional promises if he had already set the future in stone.” (25)
This is only a taste of the libertarian position. As one can see, there are many calls to repentance throughout the Bible, along with calls of warnings and rebukes to those who have refused to heed God’s commands. But is there more to this story?
Next time I will summarize the compatibilist position and provide the biblical support for it.
- What’s the Point?
- Free Will and Liberty (Libertarianism)
- Compatible Free Will (Compatibilism)
- Discerning God’s Will
- Four Ways of Sanctification
- Evangelizing Under a Sovereign God