Christianity's Prime Theologians on Free Will and its relation to God

Philosophers talk about and discuss free will. Christian theology tries to cast light on the subject. Christians wonder if God being fully responsible for anything that exists means that God is the one choosing sin when you choose to sin. They wonder if the doctrine free will implies there is no God and respects God and if the faculty of free will is real and if it is, is it a gift from God?
We will look at some quotes from them (bolded) for this discussion.

This book asks if God causing all things means God causes our decisions. If he does not then we are able to create and God can do nothing about it. Remember that those who say everything being caused or determined is compatible with free will are redefining free will. To them it's a feeling and as long as you are not forced by an outside force to act the act is yours. But that ignores the fact that inside forces could be stronger and making you think you are free when you are not. They could be forcing you to fail to see or feel that you are not free. If we are not free then we are not responsible for what we do. There is no sin. The criminal is just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Calvinist Christianity holds that God causes all your decisions and ordains your sins. This is hard to fit with personal responsibility so Calvinists settle for saying its a paradox.

The author of the book is writing in the context of how Calvinist thinker John Feinberg asserted that God makes and devises and fixes all causes 100% and how that cannot fit us being really free to cause things ourselves.

In like manner, if God causally determines in the way that Feinberg suggests, the agent is not really free and cannot really be morally accountable for what he was causally determined by God to do. A sufficient condition that “decisively inclines the will” is a condition that forces the agent to do what the agent does. Some Calvinists, such as Feinberg, believe they can get around this problem by saying that the agent is only doing what the agent desires and is therefore morally responsible for what he does. In the Calvinist scheme of things, this only pushes the problem back one level. Why does the agent desire to do what the agent does? Feinberg says that the agent’s desire is causally determined and his will is “decisively” inclined. If such is the case, there is no rational way to deny that the agent’s will and desire are under a divine and irresistible “constraining force.” Feinberg, as well as many hypo-Calvinists, wants what Calvinism cannot give him. The Biblicist faces no such problem. God’s absolute sovereignty does not deny human freedom but is in fact the basis for real and meaningful human freedom. If we should admit an apparent problem, it is certainly solved by the very implications of the meaning of divine sovereignty. Admittedly, there are some things even God cannot do. For example, God cannot lie because He is by nature true. He cannot cease to exist because He is by nature eternal. As Hank Hanegraaff points out:

God is limited in His activities only in this way—He accomplishes what He wants (or wills) to accomplish. In other words, because God always acts in accord with His nature, He does not (and indeed cannot) desire to lie or deny Himself. While it is agreed that God is completely sovereign over His creation, He performs only what sovereign power can actually accomplish. To make a nonsense statement and add the words “God can …” in front of them does not change the fact that the statement is nonsense. … Simply because God is unable to create a hypothetical absurdity, such as a square circle, does not mean that He is not omnipotent. Instead it means that there is no such thing [and cannot be] as a square circle. The same can be said with the “heavy rock” question often asked of Christians [e.g., can God create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it?]. God can lift any rock He actually creates. But there is no such thing as [and cannot be] a rock so big that an all-powerful and sovereign Being could not lift it. So the probability of God creating one is naturally zero.

Such an admission says nothing that diminishes the concepts of absolute sovereignty and omnipotence. By definition, nothing could diminish the absoluteness of God’s sovereignty and omnipotence. Either He is or He is not absolutely sovereign. Period! Of course, men can and do deny that God is absolutely sovereign and all-powerful, but the idea of a reduced level of absolute sovereignty or omnipotence is itself absurd. It would be like saying that a man has all the money in the world in his safe, but others have some in their safes as well.

While questions such as “Can God create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it?” may sound clever to the people asking them, they say nothing at all about what God can or cannot really do. In no way should they lead to an admission that God may not be sovereign or omnipotent after all. Questions like these merely reflect the inability of some men to seriously think through the questions they sometimes ask, or to see how intellectually silly questions like these really are.

Unless we say that God sovereignly determines that men will deny His sovereignty (which in some sense Calvinism does), it is evident that divine sovereignty does not cancel out human freedom. There is no definitional, logical, or scriptural reason to suggest that divine sovereignty makes it impossible for an unregenerate man, while in an unregenerate state, to make a real choice between either of two eternal destinies. The fall of Adam and the resultant depravity of man imply nothing that could possibly limit the options open to a sovereign God.

God is just as sovereign over the unregenerate as He is over the regenerate. All this is to say that an acknowledgment of divine sovereignty, consistent with what is affirmed in Scripture, overcomes any problems that might otherwise be posed by the limitations imposed by the many and serious consequences of the fall, such as spiritual death. To say otherwise is not to protect the doctrine of sovereignty, as is often claimed, but to undermine it. Thus, one should not appeal to the facts of either divine sovereignty or human depravity as proof that an unregenerate man can have no say in where he spends eternity. Neither divine sovereignty nor human depravity should be used as a basis for denying that a man can have a say in where he spends eternity. Sovereign power is the solution to the problems faced by the unregenerate and not a problem itself, as Calvinism has made it out to be.

The Calvinist agrees that sovereign power is the solution in that God regenerates the unregenerate. Man is spiritually dead. That is the problem. God gives life to the spiritually dead. That is the solution. There is nothing about the concept of sovereignty or the unregenerate nature of man that prevents God from enabling a spiritually dead man, while spiritually dead, to make a choice between heaven and hell. Everything about the scriptural concept of divine sovereignty says that God can make it possible for a spiritually dead man to turn in faith to Jesus Christ if that man so chooses. The question is not what can God do, but what has He done or what will He do?
Comment: What a clockwork scheme but believers in a creator God are saying these things without realising it. They are saying the kind of free will we want, the one where we are the important cause of our actions and thus have to answer for them to ourselves and perhaps to others is not real. The human person has no free will to be truly good. There is no room for loving sinners and hating sins for there is no good part of the person to highlight. Free will believers do not believe in a real sovereign God. So what do they have then? They have a god! A God who is not sovereign is not a God. He is an idol.

Note: Determinism holds that your choices are not really choices for many factors cause them. They are the effect of causes and not something created by the agent out of nowhere.
If free will is based on determinism as some say - they always say it is a mystery for it makes no sense to our puny brains - then it follows outcomes from such free will can be as clockwork as determinism which means worrying about it is splitting hairs.

Super-theologian Norman Geisler defines free will as follows: "Free will is simply the power through which the agent performs the free act." He denies it is about will. It is about the agent. That shows that a religion that says you must treat the sin as nothing to do with the sinner and love the sinner does not believe in free will and does not truly believe in sin and does not understand or care about evil at all.

Here is an argument that Christianity teaches moral self-determinism:

The view I hold and that I believe is the biblical view is called “moral self-determinism.” The Christian philosopher and Evangelical theologian Norman Geisler has stated this view as well as I think anyone could. Because Geisler has done such a great job in this regard, I will not reinvent this same theological and philosophical wheel. First, it must be understood, as explained by Geisler, that “moral self-determinism” holds:

Moral acts are not uncaused or caused by someone else. Rather, they are caused by oneself. In agreement with Geisler I believe: This view best fits both the biblical and rational criteria.

As Geisler says:

There are several philosophical objections [to moral self-determinism]. The first has to do with the principle of causality—that every event has an adequate cause. If this is so, then it would seem that even one’s free will has a prior cause. If one’s free will has a prior cause, then it cannot be caused by oneself. Thus self-determinism would be contrary to the principle of causality which it embraces.

In defense of moral self-determinism, Geisler explains:

There is a basic confusion in this objection. This confusion results in part from an infelicitous expression of the self-determinism view. Representatives of moral self-determinism sometimes speak of free will as though it were the efficient cause of moral actions. This would lead one naturally to ask: what is the cause of one’s free will? But a more precise description of the process of a free act would avoid this problem.

Geisler goes on to explain:

Technically, free will is not the efficient cause of a free act; free will is simply the power through which the agent performs the free act. The efficient cause of the free act is really the free agent, not the free will. Free will is simply the power by which the free agent acts. We do not say that humans are free will but only that they have free will. Likewise, we do not say that humans are thought but only that they have the power of thought. So it is not the power of free choice which causes a free act, but the person who has this power.

Geisler then reasons:

If the real cause of a free act is not an act but an actor, then it makes no sense to ask for the cause of the actor as though the actor were another act. The cause of the performance is the performer. It is meaningless to ask what performance caused the performance. Likewise, the cause of a free act is not another free act. Rather, it is a free agent. And once we have arrived at the free agent, it is meaningless to ask what caused its free acts. For if something else caused its actions, then the agent is not the cause of them and thus is not responsible for them. The free moral agent is responsible for the free moral actions. And it is as senseless to ask what caused the free agent to act as it is to ask who made God? The answer is the same in both instances: nothing can cause the first cause because it is the first. There is nothing before the first. Likewise, humans are the first cause of their own moral actions. If humans were not the cause of their own free actions, then the actions would not be their actions.

Geisler anticipates and answers critics of this view as follows:

If it is argued that it is impossible to claim that humans can be the first cause of their moral actions, then it is also impossible for God to be the first cause of his moral actions. Tracing the first cause back to God does not solve the problem of finding a cause for every action. It simply pushes the problem back farther. Sooner or later theists will have to admit that a free act is a self-determined act, which is not caused by another. Eventually it must be acknowledged that all acts come from actors, but that actors (free agents) are the first cause of their actions, which therefore have no prior cause. The real question, then, is not whether there are agents who cause their own actions but whether God is the only true agent (that is, person) in the universe.

Divine sovereignty is really the doctrine that God is the only true agent in the universe. That is called monovolitionism. If a person is a free agent then God alone, according to devotees, is a person. So they have to find a way to call people persons.

Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom (David Basinger and Randall Basinger, eds., InterVarsity Press, 1986 is highly recommended.

Bryson writes, "The fact that you may not be able to articulate your convictions in precise theological or philosophical terms makes little or no difference in your day-to-day living. Most Christians simply do not have trouble reconciling sovereignty and free will because they see no natural conflict between them. What matters most, for most of us, is that we take God’s sovereignty seriously and use our God-given freedom to submit to His sovereignty so that we do the right thing. You may not understand how it is that God can be absolutely sovereign while you are truly free and morally responsible. That, however, does not necessarily constitute a paradox or even rate as a mystery. It may just be that you have been misled into believing the two concepts cannot be reconciled this side of glory. The very fact that a sovereign God says He is going to hold us accountable for how we use our freedom should settle the matter for all practical purposes for the believer. Both concepts are true and are of the greatest practical importance to our life, both temporally and eternally."

In God And Power: Counter-Apocalyptic Journeys by Catherine Keller, we read,

As the process theologian David Griffin has demonstrated, it is Calvin who most forcefully spells out the implications of traditional theism. Calvin confronts head-on the difficult logic of a power that controls all things. He rejects the easy out, common in his day as well as our own, to say that the omnipotent God only permits, rather than actually causes, evil things to happen. "God does not permit," Calvin thunders back, "but governs by his power."

Continuing, he says that "they babble and talk absurdly who, in place of God's Providence, substitute bare permission — as if God sat in a watchtower awaiting chance events, and his judgment thus depended upon human Will." Calvin's God, being omnipotent, does not wait for things to happen and then respond.
What are we to make of this? God's loving goodness and God's omnipotence might seem, in every event of unjust suffering, to contradict each other. By definition, however, God's power and love are one. This traditional unity of attributes becomes a "mystery" — a euphemism for contradiction — only if the divine power is, with Calvin, understood to be all-controlling. He recognizes the ethical consequences: "When we are unjustly wounded by men, let us overlook their wickedness (which would but worsen our pain and sharpen our minds to revenge)."

Is this a pastoral counsel to love the enemy? Not quite. We are to "learn to believe for certain that whatever our enemy has wickedly committed against us was permitted and sent by God's just dispensation." In other words, wickedness is just. Of course, few Calvinists (beyond Jerry Falwell) used this logic to legitimate the attack on the Twin Towers.


Perhaps if we say people do not have free will but are free will we can explain that odd expression by saying we mean they are free agents. A person is a free agent and a free agent is a person. That refutes the notion of treating the sin different from the sinner who commits it. In fact talking about free will as a faculty is misleading. It is what you are and use but faculty gives the wrong impression totally. Attempts to make out you are not your sins and are pure good but never evil in yourself no matter what you do are in fact dehumanising.

It depends on what the truth is. If we are not free agents then it is dehumanising to say we are.

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