“As a Calvinist, I can’t help but cringe whenever fellow Calvinists declare that humans do not have free will.”

"By God’s grace, my prayer is that my current attempt at taking on the topic of free will is characterized by far more humility than it has been in the past. Similarly, my objective with this article isn’t to win a debate nor to provide anyone with talking points to help them win debates. My main objective is to help us see ourselves in light of God’s Holiness and Glory while being thankful for His great mercy offered in salvation through grace by faith in Christ." - John Ellis

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Wayne Wilson's picture

Thank you for writing that John. It makes many good points. Personally, I do not like the term "free will" because it is so confusing and easily misunderstood. People today do use it in the Erasmian sense. I prefer "real will."  We have a real will. We do choose, and we choose according to our desires. And as the dystopian community leader says in the movie The Giver, "But we always choose wrong." 

G. N. Barkman's picture

It's a tricky subject, and you've certainly covered all the bases.  Spurgeon's famous sermon on human will was titled, "Man's will, bound, yet free."  (Or something close to that wording.)  It's free in one sense, but bound in another.  You are right that man's free will is not an asset, given our sinful nature.  We will to choose what our sinful heart desires.  Are we free to choose Christ and righteousness?  Yes, except we don't want to.  Ever.  And that's the problem.  God must change the heart, and then our free will chooses what is right.

G. N. Barkman

Don Johnson's picture

I read John's article a couple of days ago, when he posted a link on FB. I think he does a good job with his article, it is helpful in explaining his view. The question, however, is this: Is the will bound by the affections? Can you prove that?

As far as I can tell, the only citation in proof of that is Jonathan Edwards. Is there any Bible proof? I'm not sure there is.

I can think of choices people make that are contrary to their desires. I suppose the Calvinist would argue that they desire something else more, but that seems like sophistry to me. People really do choose to do things they don't want to do.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

John E.'s picture

Wayne, G.N., and Don, thank you for your kind words about the article. Although I enjoyed thinking about it and writing it, I must confess that there were several times throughout the process that I wished I hadn't pitched it to Servants of Grace.

Don, that's a good question. My speed limit example was my attempt to deal with it. 

If asked, I'll vehemently declare, "Oh, yes! I love driving fast!" So, in a sense, I do choose to violate my affections on a daily basis. Yet, drilling down reveals that over the years variables have been introduced that have actually changed my affections at the moment of decision.

Is there Biblical proof? I'm not a fan of the word proof (unless you're using it in reference to a syllogism, which I don't think you are). It cedes too much ground to the scientific method when we're talking about disciplines that are rooted in epistemologies other than empiricism. I believe that Edward's views on affections align with the Bible's anthropology and soteriology. That's what I attempted to demonstrate with the article. Maybe I didn't make my case as strongly as I thought I did, which is a distinct possibility. I understood/stand that these are very deep waters that I may have unknowingly drowned in Smile

Larry's picture

Moderator

Is the will bound by the affections? Can you prove that?

The Bible seems pretty clear to me in John 8, Rom 8, Eph 2. What do you think those passages mean?

"You cannot hear my word ... You want to do the desires of your father."

"Cannot please God ... Are not able to do so." 

"... lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

I am not sure what else to make of those without destroying the very possibility of communicating anything at all.

I agree with John that it is also tied up in the doctrines of anthropology and soteriology.

I can think of choices people make that are contrary to their desires. I suppose the Calvinist would argue that they desire something else more, but that seems like sophistry to me. 

Can you give an example of what you are thinking of here? I am convinced that we always do what we ultimately want to do (which is not to be confused with what we might desire, given some other circumstance). I am not sure how it is sophistry. But perhaps an example would clarify.

 

M. Osborne's picture

I haven't yet read the original article. (Sorry, John. I'll get there. Smile )

For Don: 

 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45 (ESV)

"Affections" would be Edwards's construct, but I would appeal to the biblical concept of the "heart" and that people act consistently with who they are. And I think when the Scripture looks "who people are," it's not bringing our modern compartmentalizations of subconscious / conscious; or intellect / emotions; or even affections / will. The Bible doesn't seem to be interested in some kind of analytical parsing of different facets of human personality. And yet it does say that people act consistently with who / what they are.

You'd written

I suppose the Calvinist would argue that they desire something else more, but that seems like sophistry to me.

I get it; it seems tautological. But we all do have a surface-level familiarity with a hierarchy of desires, right? Examples: I don't want to swallow that horse pill, but I know it's a cure for my ailment, so I gulp it down; I don't want to get up in the morning, but I need to work / study. Those are low-hanging-fruit examples, but why couldn't the principle be extended to decisions that are murkier?

Second, if we are going to try to construct an anthropology to parse how human decisions are made, the burden of proof would seem to fall on anyone who tries to elaborate on it. You (Don) would want it proved that the "will" is bound by the "affections"; but what's the alternative, and can that be proved? First, what's the concept of "will" that you're advancing? Is it a will that is somehow detached from the rest of the person? If so, how much? If the will is completely unbound from human personality, would that mean that its decisions are purely random, and if they are purely random (chance?), does that obviate moral responsibility altogether? If we don't like where the detachment leads us, and we start tying the will back into human personality, we may find ourselves an a position that's substantially like Edwards's, even if we're differing verbally.

I would argue that the biblical emphasis of personal consistency and the heart, and the difficulty of carving out a distinct "will" leads us to something like Edwards, and maybe even what some of us call "will" would turn out to be what Edwards calls "affections." Disclaimer: I started reading Religious Affections 12+ years ago and didn't finish. Smile

 

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Mark_Smith's picture

I realize that free will is a popular topic, and people have been writing about it since before Luther and Erasmus. The problem is, in the end, it doesn't matter. People do what they do. There are only two things that can be ruled out:

1- God preordained and preselected by His desire and will the outcome of every single event from creation to the end. If this is true then life is pointless. We are robots carrying out a script. It also means God is the author of sin, which we know is not the case from Scripture

2- Creation, including man, is free to act on its own. This is not the case since God sets the times and seasons, raises up kings and makes others fall, and sets the boundaries for nations (Dan 2:21; Ps 75:7; Acts 17:26). Much other support could be shown why this is not the case.

So, the answer is in between. The best answer that can be found is in Proverbs 16:9. "The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps." This is the best that happens. If we seek God He directs our steps to be what He is ultimately desiring for us.

At the same time, Jesus told us in Mark 7:21 that "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries..." So, we know that men choose to sin. The source is in them. Sometimes it is Satan who has influenced us. For example, Jesus tells us in John 8:44 that unsaved people have Satan as their father, and that Satan is the father, or creator, or lies. Other times it is our own wicked heart at fault. So, people from time to time do things that are in opposition to God's desire and nature. They sin. They murder. They fornicate. They steal.

The question then, are people "free" to sin or "free" to follow God. The answer is qualified for both. In the latter, no man can come to God unless He draws them (John 6:44). So you cannot believe unless God draws you in. Neither can you call Jesus Lord unless by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). You cannot even believe God without His help! In the former, God never commissions sin, and can ultimately stop it at any time by our death.

So, what can we say in summary. Of course I should say a lot more, but time is running out. Are we free to do things? "We" here is mankind in general. In a certain sense, yes. It seems to me that God tells us what He wants us to do and leaves us to do it. We can follow His desires, or we may not. In another sense, no we are not free. He places boundaries on how wicked we can be. He gives us life and can take it away. Salvation is clearly controlled by Him alone. So, not everything is open to us.

To a certain extent, it is a pointless question because there is no definitive answer we can discern, and I don't think it matters anyway. What we are given are boundaries to this question (God is the Creator. God did not cause sin. He is sovereign yet asks us to do things and holds us responsible. Yet salvation is by Him alone.), and are not told how it can be true that God knows the end from the beginning, yet each person is to live their life, making decisions as they go, hopefully seeking the Lord as they do so, and when they sin the fault is all theirs.

 

 

TylerR's picture

Editor

Jesus' statement here has it all:

  1. God ordained something to happen
  2. Man is still personally responsible for his actions

Compatibalism is the answer. Paul Helm's book on providence deals with this well. So does Watson's Body of Divinity on providence.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Don Johnson's picture

so far the passages raised don't definitively tie the will to the affections in every circumstance. Mk 14.21 certainly doesn't, it refers to a specific event in salvation history, not to the general state of man. It is irrelevant to this discussion.

Romans 8 is a passage talking about sanctification and holy living, I don't see how it is giving a universal about anthropology. Jn 8 also includes this: As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. (30) Some did not, and were mastered (enslaved) by their sin. In Eph 2, they were formerly indulging the flesh, but no longer. Their former state was not their present state, the argument is about how they got there.

luke 6:45 is an "of course" statement. It doesn't prove a man cannot respond in faith when he hears the truth. The truth makes us free. Faith comes by hearing (though not for all, some hear and won't believe).

anyway, I somewhat regret jumping into this because I really don't have time for it. I intended to point out, in response to John that his thinking is good, but to me the flaw is that the key question is answered by the authority of Jonathan Edwards, not by the Bible. I am not sure the Bible actually defines the answer either way, so we are likely left with our presuppositions. That's why the debate is centuries old and may very well never be settled. To me, it means we need to be far less dogmatic about our systems than we are. Systems are useful tools, but they aren't the Bible.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

John E.'s picture

Thank you for your comment and your willingness to push back a little. Like you, I believe that we should exercise humility when discussing or utilizing our systems. While I believe that my view of free will comports with the Bible, it's not required (in the least) for salvation nor even for fellowship. While presenting my view in the article, I also wanted to communicate that the most important thing is confronting ourselves and our loved ones with the question of whether we are submitting to God or not. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

Romans 8 is a passage talking about sanctification and holy living

Um, are you sure about that? Those who "cannot please God" and "are unable to do so" are those in the flesh. They are unsaved. They do not have the Spirit of God. They are headed toward "death." That is salvation, not sanctification. In that passage, you can be in the flesh (under condemnation, unable to subject itself to the law of God, cannot please God, not belonging to him, etc.) or in the Spirit (free from condemnation, mind set on the Spirit, life and peace, belonging to Christ, alive because of righteousness, etc.).

Jn 8 also includes this: As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. (30) Some did not, and were mastered (enslaved) by their sin.

Having just recently preached John 8, I think that many of the "many who came to believe in him" did not actually believe based on the following conversation. But whatever the case, Jesus is clear that they cannot hear his words because of their father the devil and they are doing the desires of their father.

In Eph 2, they were formerly indulging the flesh, but no longer. Their former state was not their present state, the argument is about how they got there.

Sure, but the point here is that the will is tied to their spiritual state: They are dead, which elsewhere indicates inability, and they are doing what they desires, indulging the lusts of their flesh. So it seems to be making the point that the will is bound by their nature and the things they desire.

I have not been able to come to a different way of interpreting these passages, though I understand some have.

Don Johnson's picture

John E. wrote:

Thank you for your comment and your willingness to push back a little. Like you, I believe that we should exercise humility when discussing or utilizing our systems. While I believe that my view of free will comports with the Bible, it's not required (in the least) for salvation nor even for fellowship. While presenting my view in the article, I also wanted to communicate that the most important thing is confronting ourselves and our loved ones with the question of whether we are submitting to God or not. 

yes, I agree. The essential is salvation by faith in Christ relying only on his work, not ours. We argue about details, but the core is unassailable (unless you deny the Bible completely)

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3