As you know, any title I come up with that lists three things always has to reference The Wizard of Oz‘s “Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!” It just comes with the territory. But why did I chose to do that? Did I have the ability to do otherwise? Did I act according to a sufficient reason of my highest desire? Or was it determined before the foundation of the world, and my choice ultimately meaningless? Those are the three major views with regard to human freedom. Understanding these different viewpoints will help any believer decide on other positions theology (e.g. inspiration), better understand the nature of God, and better grasp biblical texts.
There are two major forms of incompatibilism on opposite ends of the spectrum: determinism and libertarianism. These views hold that freedom and responsibility are logically inconsistent and have to be reconciled. Therefore, if our actions are determined, we simply are not free nor responsible for our actions. Determinism answers the dilemma by saying human freedom and responsibility are illusions. Libertariansim, on the other hand, answers the dilemma by saying human choices are free from universal cause and effect.
The dilemma of incompatabalism can be stated formally as follows (from For the Love of Wisdom by Cowan and Spiegel, pg. 228):
- If determinism is true, then our actions are the consequences of the laws of nature and events of the remote past.
- It is not in our power to change the laws of nature.
- It is not in our power to change the events in the remote past.
- If our actions are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past, and it is not in our power to change these things, then we cannot do otherwise than what we do.
- If we cannot do otherwise than what we do, then we are not free.
- Therefore if determinism is true, then we are not free.
And, as it follows, if people are not free, they cannot be held accountable for their actions. The determinist would not argue, however, that the justice system and the like should be done away with. They would argue that the punishments can be served as deterrents or rehabilitation, rather than mere retribution (criminals get what they deserve).
This perspective would fly in the face of scripture. The Bible teaches that God holds people accountable for their actions, and in judgement they receive what they earn. For instance “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Notice: this passage is retribution language. Death is not a deterrent or used to rehabilitate (e.g. purgatory); rather, death is retribution. So, the conclusion would follow, if God determined people’s sin, how would they incur judgement but not God? Determinism cannot answer this.
In summation, who chooses? God chooses (in theistic determinism). Why does God choose? Because he chose. (This sounds circular purposefully, these set questions will be answered for each position).
When people say, “I believe man has free will” this is often what they are referring to: the ability to do otherwise. Philosophers appeal to the idea of introspection to defend this view. People engage in self-deliberation in order to make decisions, in other words, people have control over their actions. This control would therefore imply the ability to make alternate decisions. This can be defended by the numerous texts in scripture of God imploring people to turn and believe in him, “Come let us reason together, though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Is. 1:18). Or ” how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37). Do not these verses imply human’s freedom to choose otherwise? Or are God’s invitations merely arbitrary?
The major philosophical dilemma of libertarianism, as brought out by David Hume, is the seemingly arbitrarity of human choice. This can be stated formally as follows (FTLoW, 234):
- If a person’s actions are determined, then her actions are not under her control (because she lacks the ability to do otherwise).
- If a person’s actions are undetermined, then her actions are not under her control (because they happen by chance).
- Hence, whether a persons’s actions are determined or undetermined, they are not under her control.
So given options between A and B, a libertarian could choose both equally. Even if choice B had every reason in the world to be chosen, when asked why a human agent chose between the two, the libertarian is forced to say there is no current state in a human’s life at any particular point that would cause him to chose B over A. An individual would choose one option for no reason at all.
In summation, who chooses? Individuals choose. Why do individuals choose? Because they choose (only free with ability to choose otherwise, cannot be linked to causation).
This view suggests freedom and responsibility are compatible. Because an individual’s actions are determined in some way does not pose a threat to their freedom or responsibility. Freedom in this sense is that an individuals actions accord with their desires. “A person acts freely when she is 1. not coerced by external forces against her will and 2. there are no constraints that prevent her from acting as she desires” (FTLoW, 237).
In summation, who chooses? Individuals choose. Why do individuals choose? For a sufficient cause. In a more theistic outlook, different levels of causation are added. God is often the prime object of causation, for he works all things according to the counsel of his will, but this does not make man’s decisions void of responsibility because they still willingly chose their highest desire.
|Theistic Determinism||God||We cannot presume to know|
|Libertarianism||Individual||Ability to choose otherwise (ultimately arbitrary)|
|Compatibilism||Individual and God||Sufficient reason|
These views can be best illustrated in the Christian doctrine of inspiration. Inspiration is the doctrine in regard to how scripture was written. “Inspired” comes from 2 Tim 3:16 θεοπνευστος (theopneustos) which means “God breathed.” There are a few views in regard to how God inspired the Bible.
The dictation theory holds to God dictating the books of the Bible as if they were just dictation machines. Obviously, this view would see inspiration as a deterministic. The Bible is 100% God’s words and 0% man’s words.
Another view is Dynamic Inspiration: the thoughts contained in the Bible are inspired, but the words used were left to the individual writers. This comes from more of a libertarian view point. At first this view sounds quite convincing until another view comes along to examine it (Proverbs 18:17). In this view the Bible is 100% man’s words but not 100% God’s words. They would not argue the Bible is 0% God’s words, but it cannot be 100%. This would be completely logical. Given libertarian freedom, God could not guarantee 100% what the Bible would be. Or to state it in a question, how can God 100% guarantee his word without imposing on his creatures’ libertarian freedom?
The dynamic inspiration view was the center of debate in the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention. If you compare the BFM 2000 and BFM 1963 there’s one important distinction in the section on scripture. In the 1963 (more liberal) confession it reads, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of Gods revelation of Himself to man.” On the other hand the updated version reads, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man.” The point of contention is that the Bible is not merely a record up to modern interpretation, but there was indeed original and authorial intent.
This brings us to the final view of inspiration: the verbal plenary view. This view holds that every word was intended both by the original human and divine author. God intended the individual words chosen, not just the original authors. This would mean the Bible was written 100% by man and 100% by God. This view implies a compatibilist view of human freedom.
The question always turns (often heatedly) to salvation. How is man saved? Is it determined by God against the human’s will? Does God limit Himself in order to grant human libertarian choice in salvation? Or is God sovereign over the choice and the human still chose God our of his greatest desire?
The determinist would view salvation like inspiration: salvation is 100% God and 0% man. The individual has no say in the matter whether he is saved or not. This fleshes itself out in a view known as hyper-Calvinism. God determines the ends and the means are arbitrary because God always accomplishes his will. Therefore, missions and evangelism are meaningless. This view is obviously condemned by scripture.
Next the libertarian view would say salvation is accomplished 100% by man and non-100% by God. Libertarians argue that God limit’s the extent of his sovereignty to grant those creatures in his image the freedom to chose otherwise. In this view, God may aid salvation by granting missionaries, evangelists, prevenient grace, et. al. but ultimately the decision is up to the individual. So God is not 0% active in salvation, but also cannot be 100% active in the salvation of the individual because that would impose on the individual’s libertarian freedom.
Finally the compatibilist argues that salvation is accomplished 100% by the individual and 100% by God. In other words, to apply the above categories: when an individual is saved he is not coerced by external forces outside his will and there are no constraints that prevent him to act as he desires. This is where regeneration preceding faith often comes in, but is not necessarily necessary. Some compatabalists argue for the ordo salutis (order of salvation) to be 1. effectual call, 2. faith of individual, 3. regeneration. Again these orderings are often logically, and are even more difficult to speak of temporally. Either way, God reveals himself to an individual in such a way that the individuals highest desire at that point is to turn from his sin and place his faith in Christ. He does not decide “with freedom to do otherwise,” but in accordance to a sufficient reason.
This was not written to provide a defense for either libertarianism or compatibilism. Obviously, I am biased towards compatibilism, but I still believe that both of these views on human freedom are biblically viable. I mainly write to show distinction between compatibilism and determinism. Determinism is not biblically viable, and should be considered heterodox. But determinism should not be conflated with compatabilism in order to prove Calvinism false. Both views (i.e. libertarianism and compatibilism; not determinism) are bibilically viable, it is now up to your analysis of the biblical data to determine which one is more convincing.