Predestination and Free Will

10 October 2007

One of the most heated theological debates taking place today, both among academics and laypersons, is the Calvinism vs. Arminianism issue. Essentially, this debate comes down to the relation between God’s sovereignty and human freedom. In Predestination and Free Will, 4 scholars trained in theology and philosophy consider this issue from distinct perspectives.

John Feinberg defends the Calvinist view of sovereignty. According to this view, God ordains all things. Humans don’t have libertarian free will. However, Feinberg contends that humans can still have compatibilistic freedom. According to this view, an agent has freedom as long as he or she is not unduly coerced by external factors. As long as a choice is made in accordance with one’s desires, the choice is free. Feinberg supports his view of sovereignty with Biblical arguments and also tried to show that there are philosophical difficulties with incompatibilist free will.

Norman Geisler defends a ‘moderate Calvinist’ view which is arguably an attempt to mesh Calvinism and Arminianism. This view is defended in more detail in his book Chosen But Free. His view is, in my opinion, difficult to actually understand. He declares that God’s predestination is neither based on nor done in spite of His foreknowledge, rather, God’s predestination is in accord with His foreknowledge. According to Geisler, we should think of God as “knowingly determining and determinately knowing from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts.” [70] Geisler also offers a detailed defense of libertarian free will, responding to several objections against the view.

Bruce Reichenbach defends a more classical Arminian position, according to which God voluntarily withholds His power so that humans can have libertarian free will. He also defends the view that God has perfect foreknowledge of the future. According to Reichenbach, this does not prohibit truly free actions, because it is human free choices that determine God’s foreknowledge of what will occur.

Clark Pinnock defends a controversial version of Arminianism according to which God does not have foreknowledge of future human free choices. Pinnock thinks that true free will is impossible on Reichenbach’s account. Despite God’s ignorance of future free choices, Pinnock maintains that God is omniscient. It is simply logically impossible to know what future free choices will be made. Just as God’s omnipotence does not imply that He can make square circles, God’s omniscience does not imply that He can know (with absolute certainty), future free actions. Pinnock’s view, commonly called open theism or free will theism, is strongly opposed by many orthodox Christians but has also garnered sympathy from a number of others, including John Sanders, William Hasker, and Richard Swinburne.

One problem with this book was that authors were not given the opportunity to respond to the criticisms raised against their essays. This problem aside, however, Predestination and Free Will is an admirable effort to present the major Christian views being seriously discussed today. It is recommended for anyone who is interested in the topic of divine sovereignty and human freedom.




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  1. SUMMARY OF CATHOLIC TEACHING

    1. God knows all things, including those who will be saved (THE ELECT). 2. God’s foreknowledge does not destroy, but includes, free will. 3. God desires all men to be saved. 4. Jesus died to redeem all men. 5. God provides sufficient grace for all men to be saved. 6. Man, in the exercise of his free will, can accept or reject grace. 7. Those who accept grace are saved, or born-again. 8. Those who are born-again can fall away or fall into sin. 9. Not everyone who is saved will persevere in grace. 10. Those who do persevere are God’s elect. 11. Those who do not persevere, or who never accepted grace, are the reprobate. 12. Since we can always reject God in this life, we have no absolute assurance that we will persevere. 13. We can have a moral assurance of salvation if we maintain faith and keep God’s commandments (1 John 2:1-6; 3:19-23; 5:1-3,13).

    IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS

    1. Predestination is not predetermination :

    “Predestination is nothing else than the foreknowledge and foreordaining of those gracious gifts which make certain the salvation of all who are saved.” (St. Augustine, Persever 14:35)

    Predestination is God’s decree of the happiness of the elect. God’s infallible foreknowledge (and thus predestination also) includes free will. God’s foreknowledge cannot force upon man unavoidable coercion, for the simple reason that it is at bottom nothing else than the eternal vision of the future historical actuality. God foresees the free activity of a man precisely as that individual is willing to shape it, predestination is not predetermination of the human will.

    2. Election is a consequence of God’s foreknowledge :

    By definition, the ELECT are those whom God infallibly foresees will be saved (Rom 8:28-30). By this definition, it is impossible for the elect to be lost, precisely because God foreknows who will not be lost. But since election depends on God’s infallible foreknowledge, we simply have no way of knowing whether or not we are in that category—God knows with certainty His elect, but we do not. The elect are predestined in the sense that God knows them, and enables them by grace, to be saved.

    3. Free will can resist and reject God’s grace :

    “You stiff-necked people…you always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). The angels possessed grace and perfectly intact intellect, and yet many of them freely sinned and rejected God. Adam and Eve possessed grace and a perfectly intact nature, and yet they freely sinned. How much more so is it possible for the born-again Christian, who possesses grace but also a wounded nature and a darkened intellect, to sin also. Paul mentions sins which keep a man from the Kingdom of God: fornication, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, and so on (1 Cor 6:9-10).

    When Jesus was expressly asked what one must do to gain eternal life, he answered, “keep the commandments,” and went on to list the moral commandments of the Decalogue (Matt 19:16-21). Revelation describes those whose lot is the burning pool of fire and sulfur, the second death: “cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste” and so on (Rev 21:8). Aren’t born-again Christians capable of these sins? And if they die in these sins, how can they possibly inherit heaven? If Adam and Eve could fall from grace, surely we can fall from grace as well. Surely we can harden our hearts and resist the Holy Spirit.

    4. We cannot confuse Election with being “Born Again” :

    The set of those who are “born again” (in Catholic and historic Christian understanding those who have been regenerated “of water and Spirit” in the Sacrament of Baptism—John 3:3,5; Acts 2:38) is not necessarily co-extensive with the set of those who will persevere and gain eternal life. Born-again Christians can and (sadly) do fall away. Otherwise free will and (mortal) sin are merely fictitious for a Christian during this life of testing and pilgrimage. Otherwise all the language in Scripture of persevering to the end in order to be saved (cf. Matt 10:22; 24:13; Phil 2:12-13) makes no sense.

    MICKY – http://micky-clontarf.blogspot.com/

    I, MICKY, AM A GIFT TO ALL PEOPLE.


    Micky    Jan 24, 07:29 PM    #
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