Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Free Will

It has been an extremely long and in many ways unfruitful debate between free will and determinism. I believe there have been geniuses on both sides, like Alvin Plantinga and Peter Kreeft on the side of Free will, and Spurgeon and J.I. Packer on the side of Sovereign Grace. In many -but not all- ways, a main theme in my denominational journey of death, has been this issue of Free will. It exists within Protestantism as Calvinism vs. Arminianism, but has been around for alot longer than that. Erasmus says:

"I admit that many different views about free choice have been handed down from the ancients about which I have, as yet, no fixed conviction, except that I think there to be a certain power of free choice"

Calvinist friends keep telling me that they believe in free will, but I have to be honest and risk offending them, that no statement of Edwards or Calvin, have I ever read that it in any way affirms what I would begin to call 'free will'. This is possibly (if not probably) because I have read so little of them. But to me the very idea of Total Depravity illiminates what I would call 'free will'.

Nietzsche calls Free Will the Fourth and final great error of man, and said (rightly so) that the whole of Christianity rests on this idea. He of course concludes that it is a lie made to impute guilt upon the whole world - but I don't quite agree with him there.

I feel that unless free will exists there can be no Christianity - as I have been traditionally taught it. There is either a kind of Fatalistic malevalent God playing "duck, duck, damn" with humanity as Mark Driscoll so eloquently put it. I think that it is strange that so many protestants hold to free will when I believe that almost every single 1st generation of protestants nearly rejected this idea (again someone will get offended and write me a response about how Calvin really did believe in it, but right now I am going on what I know - which I admit is limited).

Roman Catholic & Wesleyan Theology makes sense to me in that Free Will plays such an integral role. If you do not abide with God, he does not abide with you. As St. James said in Chapter 4, verse 8, "draw near to God and he will draw near to you" (ESV). This idea for the most part makes sense when explained to an unbeliever. You willfully sinned and as such need Jesus.

What is a much harder sell is the Monergistic opening premises of 'a long time ago in a galaxy far far away existed adam and eve, who had free will, and they chose wrong, and that was the last day anyone ever had free will." Of course I'm not trying to say that because Original Sin is a hard sell, it's not true. That would be ridiculous. I'm simply saying that while I affirm Original sin, I don't think it is the first thing we should talk about really, and I don't think it entirely negates free will. To me original sin is more like growing up with a crappy family, or living in a bad neighbourhood. It influences you poorly, but you can still choose to rise against it. This sounds like alot of Liberal Theology and modernism at work, so I'll move on.

Another theory I thought was interesting was a more Eastern Orthodox approach. St. Gregory of Nyssa describes Christ's death and redemption as redeeming human freewill, and that it has now freed us to be able to choose him. Again Augustine is probably ripping his hair out to this. But it makes sense in that as the Christian life is described in the 'catholic' epistles, we are brought into God's family and then as 1st John says we stop sinning, or at least progress significantly as we choose to follow him. And just for the sake of clarification, I believe Christian perfection is either a heresy or a pipe dream.

I think it would be easier for theology's sake to claim everyone has free will, because then everyone stands guilty before God in a way which would satisfy most intelligent philosophers (all ten of them). However the way I have been taught my whole life in my Particular Baptist home, clashes with these Mennonite sympathies which I was also raised with. I have always been taught that life is best described by St. Paul in Romans 6 where each man is either a slave to sin, or a slave to righteousness... call me a Free Methodist or a Wilberforce, but I don't like slavery. I like Rousseau's 'Man is born free but everywhere is in chains' - it helps me sleep at night, even though in my heart of hearts I hold the convictions of Hobbes and Luther which say just the opposite. I am a man utterly torn in two. We have free will, it is our responsibility for most of the problems and the reason this world is a terrible place is because of people like me. But am I so awful that I am depraved beyond hope... I don't think so, and I don't think teaching anyone that will help anything. So I have these convictions that I am free, but that I am also corrupted, but not utterly depraved. Calvin once said "we do not affirm that man cannot even do right, but not even think it" - I disagree with that statement, because if it's 'true' then my mind won't want to believe it, and if it's true, Calvin couldn't have formulated it because he can't think right. It is self-refuting, as so many appealing philosophies are. I definately think we can think right, in that we know what is right, but that we also can sin in our minds, but I don't think it is as sharp as Calvin says. I think there is a certain line between what the natural inclinations of man are and what is sin. I don't think it's wrong to think about sex, as men to it some 300 times a day, but to willfully 'try' to lust, I think is sin. But again the line is blurry, only God knows.

It is a nightmarish debate, constantly back and forth, so influenced by personal experience that it is hard to grasp. All I know is that I believe in free will, and that if everything is predestined, today I was predestined to believe in it.

1 comment:

  1. If I’m not being too persistent, I will try just one more explanation, then leave you alone on this:

    I think we have to define free will in order to affirm or deny it. Here’s how I affirm free will: Free will is the power to choose what we want. I wholeheartly affirm that, and we are free to choose what we want. The problem then is:
    “no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Rom 3:10-11)

    We are free to choose God, but no one chooses God (not one? No not one.) The problem is not whether we have the ABILITY to choose God, it is if we have the DESIRE to choose God. No one has the desire naturally to choose God. Our desires are fallen, we desire lesser things rather than higher. We are blind as we do not desire our greatest good (God). How is it that anyone has good thoughts? How is it that anyone has a desire for God? According to Augustine:

    "Who has it in his power to have such a motive present to his mind that his will shall be influenced to believe?...If those things delight us which serve our advancement towards God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows."

    The question is not our natural ability, it is our desire for Christ. Consider Augustine’s Commentary on Joh 6:44-45 that reads “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, 'And they will all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

    Augustine: "How can I believe with the will if I am drawn?" I say it is not enough to be drawn by the will; thou art drawn even by delight. …-not [compulsion], but pleasure; not obligation, but delight, Thou holdest out a green twig to a sheep, and thou drawest it. Nuts are shown to a child, and he is attracted; he is drawn by what he runs to, drawn by loving it, drawn without hurt to the body, drawn by a cord of the heart. If, then, these things, which among earthly delights and pleasures are shown to them that love them, draw them, since it is true that "every man is drawn by his own pleasure," does not Christ, revealed by the Father, draw? For what does the soul more strongly desire than the truth?”

    This explains why John 6:45 says, “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” It does not say everyone may come, it does not say everyone might come, it says everyone who learns comes. We choose Christ, because He first chose us, redeemed our desires and revealed His beauty to us.

    One last recommendation for Edward's Freedom of the Will. One has not addressed the Reformed notion of Free Will until one has addressed Edwards.