“What biblical texts speak directly to this issue?” This is the first question to ask when working through a theological question. However, sometimes we find that different passages seem to indicate different, and even contradictory answers. Such is the case with predestination and free will. So how can we decide between the two?
Similar problems arise in science. Sometimes some data supports one hypothesis, and other data supports another, even contradictory hypothesis. What is a person seeking scientific truth, or theological truth, to do in such cases?
Last week I suggested that at this point we need to ask a second question: Are there internal conceptual problems that help tip the scales in favor of one view or the other? I believe there are.
Internal Conceptual Problems Applied
It seems to me that Calvinism faces two significant internal conceptual problems. In other words, other truths taught in Scripture seem to count against the Calvinist understanding of the nature of our salvation–unconditional election and soft determinist freedom. These tip the scales in favor of the Arminian understanding of our salvation.
Adam’s Libertarian Free Will
The biblical text seems to assume Adam and Eve were created with Libertarian Free Will. If so, this is an internal conceptual problem for Calvinism, which holds the nature of our freedom is of the Soft Determinist sort. (See Post #3 in this series for a description of these two, mutually exclusive views of free will.)
All indications are that Adam and Eve had the ability to choose between “live” options in the garden—the very definition of Libertarian Free Will. For instance, they had this type of freedom in choosing what to eat:
You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die. (Genesis 2:16-17).
Adam is then given the responsibility to name the animals, based on what he freely chose: “God…brought [the animals] to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” (Genesis 2:19)
Satan seems to assume Eve has Libertarian Free Will, enabling her to choose to eat or not eat the forbidden fruit. Notice his line of argument, which assumes she has a libertarian choice in the matter: “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened…” (Genesis 3:4-5)
After Eve eats the fruit, and shares some with Adam, God confronts him. Adam’s response, in his defense, is, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12) He does not argue that God determined his choice. If anything, he argues that Eve made him eat it. But she merely offered it to him. It was his Libertarian free choice to partake or not partake.
These passages seem to clearly indicate Adam and Eve were created with Libertarian Free Will. If so, it follows that this is essential to what it is to be human. Before the Fall, in their most “natural” state, the first couple had the ability to make choices between two live options, including options that determine whether or not they maintained an intimate relationship with God.
We Share Adam’s Essential Nature
Furthermore, we share Adam’s nature as humans, in the deepest sense possible (we have the very same nature as Adam–see here for more on shared properties such as humanness). Though defaced through the Fall, it is still the same nature, now redeemed through Christ’s work on the cross.
To make the point via negativa, if we do not share the very same nature as Adam, serious problems arise for the doctrine of the incarnation (Christ becoming human—the hypostatic union). This is an essential doctrine, explicitly taught in Scripture. Jesus, fully God, also took on a human nature and also became fully human. As Paul puts it in Philippians 2:7, Jesus took on “…the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness….” It can only be claimed that Jesus is fully human if he took on the very same human nature as Adam.
Furthermore, and related, if we do not share the very same nature as Adam, serious problems also arise for the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. Scripture is clear that Jesus’ death was in our place (Romans 5:8), as an equal and adequate payment for our sin. But this is true only because Jesus, as the “Second Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45-48), was truly and fully sharing the very same nature with Adam and all other humans. As a result, his death was an equal (human) death in our place. If he was not truly human, his would not be an equal sacrifice, and thus of no value to us as a substitute.
Therefore, We Possess Libertarian Free Will
It follows, therefore, that since Adam was created with Libertarian Free Will, and we share his nature, we, too, have Libertarian Free Will. This is an internal conceptual problem for Calvinism, which denies we have Libertarian Free Will (and argues our freedom is of the Soft Determinist sort).
An Objection and Response
It may be objected that this doesn’t account for the fact that the Fall severely affected our ability to express this capacity (Libertarian freedom), as it does all our other capacities. Though we may have been created with Libertarian Free Will, we are no longer able to make choices in this way, as we are now limited by the effects of the Fall.
In response, it is certainly true that the Fall has affected all our abilities, including our volitional capacities. However, this does not mean we no longer possess this capacity. It only means that we are no longer able to express this as a first-order capacity. In other words, this ability is still part of who we are. Yet we are prevented from being able to express this ability due to a “lower-order” blockage.
To illustrate, consider the fact that all children are born with the highest-order capacity to speak. However, some are born with physical deformities that make it impossible to say a word. They still have the capacity to speak at the highest-order level. Yet due to physical blockages they are unable to express these capacities day-to-day (as first-order capacities). For more on higher-order and lower-order capacities, see here.
Therefore, our Libertarian Free Will still exists (in our nature). But our ability to express it is blocked by the Fall. Yet all would agree that in God’s omnipotence he could certainly restore our ability to express this capacity, which we still possess. Calvinists argue that God uses efficacious grace to move the will of the elect, so certainly God would be able to move the will in this lesser way of restoring its natural ability to make Libertarian choices. The question is whether he chooses to do so.
There is nothing in Scripture that indicates God would not want to do so. Furthermore, there is much to suggest he would. He created us with Libertarian Free Will as an essential part of being human. And fully expressing our nature, as He created us, is what it means to flourish, which he desires of his creation. Therefore, it is reasonable that He would, in his grace, desire to restore to us the first-order capacity to express Libertarian Free Will, including and especially in our decision related to salvation through Christ.
As theologian Henry Thiessen summarizes:
Since mankind is hopelessly dead in trespasses and sins and can do nothing to obtain salvation, God graciously restores to all men sufficient ability to make a choice in the matter of submission to Him. This is the salvation-bringing grace of God that has appeared to all men. (Henry Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949] pp. 344-45).
This is precisely the Arminian doctrine of Prevenient Grace. It offers a biblically and ontologically satisfying response to the Calvinist objection. Therefore, the burden of proof seems to be on the Calvinist. He must show why God would not be able to, and/or desire to restore our first-order capacity to express the Libertarian freedom that is part of our nature. Only then can the Soft Determinist understanding of our freedom remain plausible. I don’t believe this burden of proof has been met by Calvinists.
In summary, that we have Libertarian Free Will seems to be assumed in Scripture. This is an internal conceptual problem for Calvinism, which denies Libertarian Free Will in favor of a Soft Determinist view of freedom.
Next week I’ll explore what seems to be a second significant internal conceptual problem for the Calvinist understanding of our salvation. Until then, grace and peace.