Divine Determinism and Free Will are Incompatible

14 04 2011

Before we will examine Scripture on this topic, we will have to discuss the philosophical presuppositions of the views through which people interpret the Bible. Although God’s Word is our primary axiom of authoritative teaching, our primary axiom of identifying errors in interpretation is our God-given mental capacity to reason, i.e. to scrutinize. If there is a flaw in our reasoning, we can’t fully understand the authoritative teaching of the Bible. We argue from Scripture, yet in so doing, we have to use Reason accurately.

Two key important notions in this debate are predestination and free will. In philosophy these are known as Divine Determinism and Libertarianism. The traditional Reformed view of God’s providence includes the first and precludes the latter. I will make an attempt to put these two views in perspective just briefly.

Divine Determinism is the view that God, before the creation of the world, has predetermined exactly whatever comes to pass. Whether directly or through specific secondary conditions, God is causally involved in every event. From the smallest movement of atoms to the formation of entire galaxies, all must come to pass inevitably and necessarily because of God’s absolute will and divine decree. God wrote the story of your life, the beginning, the middle and the end. The most dreaded decision of your life has already been decided upon. Your destiny is entirely dependent on what God wills and decrees. Hence, everything you do is ultimately predetermined by God, long before you were born. Thus your actions are incidents part of a long chain of events much like dominoes and are reached by a necessary causal relationship between these events ultimately initiated by the good pleasure of God’s will.

This principle of universal causality, by the way, is a core tenet not only of the Reformed view of God’s providence, but also of Augustinian and Thomist Catholics, Muslims, ancient pagan religions and naturalistic atheists.

Thus, accordingly, most Calvinist’s understanding of God’s plan of salvation is entirely deterministic. God, by his absolute will, has decreed, fixed and selected before the foundation of the world who will be saved through Christ to eternal life and who will be damned to eternal death.

Historian, Philip Schaff explains how this view of predestination and election relates to divine determinism:

  • “Calvinism (…) starts from a double decree of predestination, which antedates creation, and is the divine program of human history. (..). History is only the execution of the original design. There can be no failure. The beginning and the end, God’s immutable plan and the issue of the world’s history, must correspond.”

– Philip Schaff (History of the Christian Chruch VIII, 1997: ch. 14, § 114)

John Calvin himself endorsed divine determinism. He wrote the following on this:

  • “God’s will is the highest and first cause of all things, because nothing happens except from his command or permission.”

– John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian religion, I.16.8)

  • “that his will may be for us the sole rule of righteousness, and the truly just cause of all things (…) Providence, that determinative principle of all things, from which flows nothing but right, although the reasons have been hidden from us.”

– John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian religion, I.17.2)

Libertarianism, however, is the view that people are self-conscious causal agents that have the ability to choose X or to refrain from choosing X. This ability or power to choose is called free will and the human soul is the seat of free will. By virtue of their creation in the image of God, human beings are free volitional agents. God freely chose to create this particular world out of nothing. Note that this freedom doesn’t mean that someone can do anything s/he likes, but simply that as a free causal agent, by his own choice, any human being could also have refrained from a decision. Free will is essentially the freedom to refrain, i.e. you could have chosen otherwise. This is, admittedly, by no means absolute. The range of your options may be partly outside your control, but you are not necessarily forced to choose something. You are the one in direct control over your decisions and are a direct initiator of an event yourself. Thus the ability to choose is part of who you are, it is ingrained in your soul, so to speak.

So it should also be noted that people make self-conscious choices, i.e. our decisions are not impersonal, irrational or morally neutral, but in accordance with our character. But it is not our character, our intentions or reasons that effectuate the choices we make. Reasons aren’t causal agents, they cannot make decisions between themselves: only a person with true causal agency can make such a decision. So, according to libertarianism, the person, the agent who decides is the direct efficient cause, that by means of which an effect is produced, and the reasons behind our decisions, whether for good or evil, are merely ultimate goals, i.e. final causes, which may concur with our decisions. So decisions are made for a reason but by a person.

Such libertarian freedom is certainly found in the Bible, f. ex. God permits Adam and Eve to eat from all the trees of the garden freely (Gen 2:16), yet he commands them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (v. 17). Similarly, God’s cheerful giver is allowed to give freely and not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7) and Paul writes to Philemon (v. 14) “but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord”. The Bible actually ends with a free invitation: “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17 KJV).

It is of course a matter of dispute to what extent our freedom is still ours in the fallen and corrupted state of this world. Yet whether by God’s antecedent grace or not, with respect to salvation, Libertarianism holds, accordingly, that, God desires all people to be saved and, therefore, calls all people to salvation, but every human, by his own free choice, has the ability to freely and personally respond to this call by accepting or rejecting God’s free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. This free acceptance or rejection, generally associated with Arminianism, is what a Calvinist rejects.

However, if you ever come to a philosophical level in a discussion with Calvinists, which you inevitably will, many will say that they do believe in a form of human free will, something known as Compatibilism. It is an attempt to reconcile the significance of human decisions with God’s predestination by redefining free will. To put it simply, Compatibilists don’t understand free will to be freedom of refrain, but freedom of inclination, i.e. someone is free to act in accordance with their desires. Our choices are brought about by our strongest inclinations and, necessarily, due to God’s concurrent causal involvement, only one choice is possible. Hence, all human activity is the result of choices by real human desires, which inevitably have their origin in God’s will and decree.

Note that this is essentially not a form of free will, but a soft form of determinism. For, if someone is only free to follow their desires, then they are not free to refrain after all, but compelled by these desires ultimately resulting from God’s decree. So, contrary to Libertarianism and like Divine Determinism, Compatibilism asserts that not the human agent him/herself, but that God’s will is the invisible primary efficient cause of every human decision and human desires secondary. God is still in primary causal control of human conduct in all aspects of their lives.

Four views of human freedom

Four views of human freedom

As you can see, both Divine Determinism and Libertarianism are contradictory to each other. Free human agency simply requires free will. However, the Bible has got something to say about both God’s sovereign providence and the free choices of mankind, for which they alone are accountable. Therefore, a biblical Christian must deal with some form of predestination and must deal with some form of free choice. Nobody can exclude either to make sense of the Bible, a Biblical Christian must say something about both.

As we will see, those who maintain Calvinism are often left with mystery to God’s will. Similarly, many Christians conclude that their failure to reconcile divine predestination and human free will must be due to their human fallibility.

Even Charles Spurgeon, a great and beloved preacher, in his Defence of Calvinism, admits this:

  • “I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. […] That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.”

– Charles H. Spurgeon (A Defense of Calvinism)

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but God is certainly not the author of confusion or contradiction, God is the author of wisdom, logic and reason. If God’s Word is the truth, then it shouldn’t contain logical contradictions. We reason from Scripture using human logic, human language and human thinking, so it is inevitable that our understanding of God and his Word will be incomplete and fallible. Nobody has perfect theology. But if your conclusion from Scripture is unreasonable, inconsistent and logically contradictory, then I’m afraid you’re simply wrong. Some things that the Lord reveals may be beyond reason, but absolutely nothing will go against reason. Fallibility or ignorance is no defence to resort to unacceptable views. Truth is necessarily reasonable and logically consistent.

Christians have to find a balance between two Scriptural truths, God’s sovereign control over his creation and humanity’s accountability for their free choices.

Calvinism is often weighed against Arminianism. Thus it is often claimed that Arminian theology is the only alternative to Calvinism, but this is certainly not the case. As a non-Calvinist, you certainly needn’t hold to all the distinctive doctrines of Arminianism. One position, for example, that coherently reconciles divine providence and human free will is Molinism, which I believe is the truth in light of Scripture. Molinism is providential enough to be accepted by Calvinists and libertarian enough to be accepted by Arminians, but it is certainly not a combination of the two. You should consider it a soft form of libertarianism. We’ll get back to this later, but in a nut-shell, Molinism is the view that God knows all possible circumstances with every possible person and their free choices in those circumstances, and so, accordingly, God sovereignly decrees a world, where his goals will be achieved perfectly and with precision, so that the maximum number of people will accept his free gift of salvation in their own God-given libertarian freedom of choice.

Thus, with respect to salvation, God, by the sovereign freedom of his loving will, has granted humanity’s freedom of choice, therefore, not determining man’s choice, but establishing man’s freedom of choice. He has so ordered the world that those he foreknew would freely accept his offer of salvation in whatever circumstances, will accept him in a freedom-giving circumstance and those he foreknew would reject him freely in whatever circumstances, will reject him in a freedom-giving circumstance. God’s perfect precise plan for the sovereign salvation of humanity is achieved through the free will of his creatures.

Follow my series and make your own judgement.

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COPYRIGHT © 2011 Life put in perspective by Harry a.k.a. Buckleherry. All rights reserved.
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A Fair Chance

8 04 2011

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In a preface to this series, I explained that our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour is what unifies all Christians and that every Christian has a shared goal to become more like him. For Christianity essentially is not a belief system. It is a Person we follow, not a system. It is Christ, we follow, not a religion. Christ is, quoting S. M. Lockridge: “the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest personality in philosophy. He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology.” Jesus is the truth, the way and the life (John 14:6); it is him we all love and therefore desire to put his commandments into practice. That’s what unites us.

On another level, however, which is also important, what divides us is our theological persuasion, i.e. our interpretation of the Bible and our view of God and his plan of salvation for humanity. As we reason from Scripture, we sometimes come to different conclusions about what the authors meant. Now in many areas this is trivial, insignificant and superficial, such as the type of hymns, the organization of service, worship and ministries in the church, but in some areas, such as who God is and how he relates to mankind, teachings and beliefs can radically diverge, to such an extent that people won’t consider each other brother and sister in Christ anymore. This is not theological niggling or nitpicking over some minor details, this is a clash of different worldviews. And none is without its implications. Your theological persuasion will not only radically influence your interpretation of the Bible, but also your view of God, his church and the world. As you know, these different views can’t all be true at the same time.

One extreme way of thinking about God’s providence that is upheld by a minority group of Christians is Calvinism. It is also commonly called Reformed Theology, although not all Reformers were associated with Calvinism. This religious philosophy is known for its distinctive doctrines of sovereign grace and God’s eternal predestination and pre-election of who will be saved. But its teachings are certainly not limited to the national Reformed churches. They’re upheld across denominations and generally taught by Presbyterians and Calvinist Baptists, but also (Evangelical) Lutherans, Dominican Catholics and the like.

There are Calvinists of all sorts and sizes. There are many different branches, even in the Reformed Church alone, ranging from the sectarian and conservative to the more moderate and liberal churches, but they all endorse the concept of sovereign grace and unconditional election. Some believe Calvinism is the only true gospel, others rightfully understand it as tradition.

Needless to say, accepting the gospel of Calvinism has also encouraged many Calvinists to come to genuine repentance and to put their faith in Christ as their Lord and Saviour. But we should not credit such fruits of the Spirit to the power of their theology. Frankly, in my experience, it is in spite of the distinctive doctrines of Calvinism that people have been saved. Sadly, many people in the Reformed Church do not know Christ intimately.

What I would like to explore with you in this series is a debate that has been going on for a long long while between Calvinists and non-Calvinists regarding the role of God’s providence and man’s decision-making in salvation. Unlike other Christians, Calvinists believe that there is a pre-elected number of people, called the Elect, that God has loved particularly before the foundation of the world and has predestined to sovereignly draw to faith in him. Keep in mind that it is this what I refer to as “Calvinism”, which roughly comes down to the doctrinal views held by John Calvin himself. Not all Calvinists endorse the full story, some have added to the story, but don’t accuse me of misrepresentation, if I am using the Calvinistic trademark for a particular product of Calvin that you don’t support.

For the goal of our series is not to misrepresent or destroy Calvinism or run its adherents down, but to show with love and respect that Calvinism is wrong in several respects and to offer the Calvinist a better, more Christian and more Biblical view that reveals the splendour of God’s providence, his unconditional love and his universal call to salvation. And I hope my Calvinist brothers and sisters who are watching now will hear me on this without prejudice.

Of course, nobody’s understanding is perfect, so I am not so bold as to proclaim that I have the full understanding of the truth and that everyone who disagrees with me is necessarily wrong. I am not wise in my own eyes (Proverbs 3:7; Romans 11:25, 12:16), lest my folly put me to shame (Jeremiah 8:9; ; 1 Cor 8:2). But this is no excuse for intellectual laziness, we are called to love God with our mind. Surely, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7) and although it is the glory of God to conceal things, it is the glory of kings to search things out (Proverbs 25:2). So let my modest research be an encouragement to revere God’s power and love and to continue to study his Word.

For the sad thing is that a Calvinist can’t say to a stranger, let alone their own children: “God loves you”, for they don’t know whether they belong to God’s elected few and it would certainly be unfair to them to say so if they don’t. What’s worse is when Calvinism is presented as the one true Gospel, someone who rejects these teachings is labelled reprobate. It is dreadful that this extreme way of thinking has led many people away from God.

Whereas people speak of a resurgence of Calvinism in North America, in the Netherlands, where Reformed Theology took definite shape as the state religion, the total number of registered members of the Dutch Reformed Church has decreased from 43% of the population in 1899 to 12% in 2003. In Dutch, the term ‘Calvinistic’ unfortunately has become a pejorative for extreme strictness, prudishness and conservatism. The Reformed church had been fragmented into various denominations and many are emptying, because the preachers don’t preach the Lord Jesus Christ and thus many of its members don’t even know Christ or believe in his resurrection.

Often you won’t be able to argue with Calvinists on a subject like free will. You’ll be labelled Arminian without even knowing what this means. You’ll be accused of believing in salvation by works, diminishing God’s glory and being influenced by “humanistic” thinking. If you don’t accept their doctrines, sometimes you’ll be told you’re not spiritually born again and don’t know God and his gospel.

Non-Calvinists aren’t as charming either. They have to deal with an image of being worldly, fickle and compliant. Often Calvinists won’t get a fair chance to discuss God’s providence either. As a Calvinist, you might be labelled a Gnostic without knowing what this means. You’ll be accused of sectarianism, reluctance in evangelism and turning God into a tyrant.

Of course, these accusations don’t apply to most adherents of either view. And we need to give each other a fair chance to discuss our view on divine providence and human free will respectfully and constructively, so that we may learn from each other’s view and grow in our faith.

But what’s the problem here? What’s at stake? In debating Calvinism, a good illustration of the problem that we are going to face is the following one, which I’ve got from David Pawson. With regard to God’s salvation of mankind there are three opposing views, of which only one can be correct:

  • Assisting Grace (Personal Merits): a man (representing humanity) is drowning and God, standing on the shore, encourages and instructs him to save himself and swim to the shore;
  • Sovereign Grace (Forced Faith): a man has already drown, dead on the bottom of the sea, and God has to jump in and pull him onto the shore in order to revive him;
  • Free Grace (Free Faith): a man is drowning and God throws him a rope; neither would the man say he saved himself or would God say I forced you to be saved.

Of course, this illustration isn’t perfect, but it will stimulate your thinking on this subject. Calvinists say or actually fear that some form of human involvement in saving faith means that God will not be given all the glory that he deserves. That there is some credit in the free faith of people that glorifies the human being and diminishes the glory of God. But is this fear legitimate? Have you ever met someone who willingly received the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ yet glorified themselves instead of God who graciously offered it them?

(We, from YouApolgetics, understand that this covers difficult material that may come across one-sided. It is not our intention to misrepresent Calvinism or to attack Calvinists personally. If you’re inclined to comment on our videos or want to have a decent discussion, we would like you to make a video response on YouTube.)

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COPYRIGHT © 2011 Life put in perspective by Harry a.k.a. Buckleherry. All rights reserved.




Follow Christ, not a tulip

7 02 2011


(Skip to the first post of this series)
Our loving God has inspired me to make a video series about Calvinism, predestination, God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. This is a preface.

This series will first of all be for the glory of God and for the edification of your faith. It is my desire to give a Biblical frame of mind for those Christians who seem to have difficulty with making sense of predestination, election and free will in the Bible.

Calvinism or Reformed theology, maybe you never thought about it, maybe you hate it, maybe you love it, but it’s about a minority group of Christians who adhere to the five doctrines of Calvinism. If you’ve never met one of them, all the better reason to watch this series and allow me to inform you about it in the coming videos. You might even ask, if it is only a minority group, why even bother?

Well, as Bible believing Christians, we are called to examine or test everything what is said and to hold fast to what is good, examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so: “test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21 NLT), “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11).

It is also out of love that I wish to show the truth to my Calvinist brothers and sisters. If you are a Calvinist and you love Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you should know that I love you as my brother or sister in Christ. But I do disagree with you and I encourage you to watch this through and listen carefully to what is said. Remember the good saying: (Proverbs 18:13) “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” and not mine.

Predestination and free will are usually linked to belief systems or –isms such as Calvinism, Arminianism and Molinism, theological traditions that were named after their founders John Calvin, James Arminius and Luis de Molina. Most of you have probably never heard of them before. And as you’ll watch this series, you’ll get to know more about them and their traditions.

As they’re said to be in direct conflict with each other, they seem to cause conflict among Christians who adhere to either view. And it is my experience that there is a lot of disagreement up to great tumult among Christians on predestination and free will. Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, whatever people call themselves, all suppose that they adhere to the true doctrine of salvation. But which view is correct? Who’s right and who’s wrong? What is the truth?

It has become an agonizing debate, honestly, a debate that’s going on for hundreds of years, even tearing Christian families apart. Of course, it has also spread to Youtube and has been going on for a while. When the emotions are running high, those who favour one view even go as far as to call the other a disease or poison, accusing each other of heresy and worshipping a false God.

  • “And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here.”

– C. H. Spurgeon (A Defense of Calvinism)

But heresy is a relative term. A teaching is heresy only if it is contrary to another teaching that is believed to be more authoritative. People who base their beliefs on councils, decrees and synods in the past should be reminded of the fact that the earliest Reformers themselves also taught doctrines that were in direct conflict with the established teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants are, in fact, Protesting Catholics and what they taught was again protested and proclaimed heresy by the Catholic Church. Similarly, Remonstrants or Arminians are Remonstrating Calvinists, protested and proclaimed heresy by the established Reformed Church.

But, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that tradition is all together useless, quite the contrary, I think we should stick as close as possible to what the earliest Christians taught in accordance with Scripture, but we shouldn’t just take tradition for gospel. To speak in Reformed terms: Sola scriptura. Scripture alone is our authoritative teaching. God’s Word is the eternal and unchangeable Truth. And Truth is always consistent and reasonable. Only our faith in the Truth is changeable and fallible. As we reason from Scripture, it is our task as the church of the living God, as the body of Christ, as the pillar and ground of the truth to remain in the truth and to sustain it.

In the meantime, it can be very confusing, even humiliating, when you see your brothers and sisters arguing over a topic like predestination and calling each other heretics or worshipers of false Gods. If you are as heartbroken as I am about this endless quarrel, you’ll agree with me that it’s not a good testimony toward seekers of Christ.

Is Calvinism a way to understand the Bible? Yes. Is Calvinism the correct and truthful way to understand the Bible? No. Should we therefore show that it is wrong? Yes, but with brotherly love and respect. Name calling or anything below that won’t do anybody good and isn’t a healthy way of discussing these matters with each other. For God says that we should not speak vile of one another (Eph 4:29-30).

I do not think it is an evil to discuss these matters with each other, no, we ought to point out the rights and wrongs in each other’s views, but it should be done in a peaceful and respectful way, lest we’d grieve the Holy Spirit.

So let’s agree that whatever convictions on this issue we might have, we will not call brothers in Christ heretics. Anyone who believes that Jesus is the risen Lord and Saviour and is born again in the Holy Spirit is not a heretic, but a precious child of God. Let those quarrelsome people who delight in theological conflicts, do whatever they like, but you and I, let’s hold onto the truth in peace, since we’re called to be peacemakers (Math 5:9).

Another thing is that we shouldn’t be confused, when talking about this subject. Both sides seem to be able to make a Biblical case for their theologies. Does this mean that the Bible, the Word of God causes confusion? No, it doesn’t: for God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).

The root of all confusion and disagreement among the body of Christ are fallible human beings, fallible theologians in the pursuit of their own interests instead of the truth. Let’s not give the devil the opportunity to disrupt and dislocate the members of the body.

We’ve got to face the challenge to keep a balance, fixing our eyes of faith on Christ and the whole Word of God and not be confused by people’s teachings. We should all be willing to seek and accept the truth with all its implications, striving for unity in the Spirit of truth.

Let’s not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph 4:14 NKJV). But let’s hold on to the truth in love. We shouldn‘t put our trust in what people say, but in Christ. Don’t trust me for what I say, but test it, examine it, scrutinize it, prayerfully read the Bible and make your own judgement.

Even in the earliest stage of the Church, such quarrels as these were going on in the congregation of Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 1:11-13). Personal doctrines entered the church causing quarrels and division. “I follow Calvin!”, “I follow Arminius!”. People appealed to superior knowledge of salvation, to the saving power of their theology. And how did the apostle Paul respond?

  • “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

(1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

What matters is: do I follow Christ? Do I know Him intimately? For whatever your convictions are regarding predestination and free will, the responsibility of every child of God is to follow Jesus Christ and their destiny to become more like Him, the head of the body, who keeps all members together. The Lord appeals to us through the writings of Paul that we are to agree with one another and be perfectly united in mind and thought. So, come, let’s reason together.

  • “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

(Eph 4:16 NLT)