A Case for Soft-Libertarian Freedom in Human Beings After the Fall | Conclusion

January 26, 2016

Dr. Braxton Hunter | President
Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh, IN

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Braxton Hunter on his website www.braxtonhunter.com and is used by permission.

Dr. Hunter is: former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), professor of apologetics at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana

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Click HERE for Part One
Click HERE for Part Two
Click HERE for Part Three
Click HERE for Part Four

An Argument for Soft-Libertarian Free Will Assessing Competing Mysteries

Compatibilist mysteries
Man will always reach a point in pondering the nature of reality at which he should confess the presence of mysteries. This is certainly the case when it comes to the very nature of God. It is simply true that certain archetypal knowledge exists that is beyond what human free agents can access. This is something that libertarians and determinists can agree upon. Compatibilists, to their credit, are often transparently honest about the mysteries that exist in their systems. Those I consider to be inconsistent Calvinists wish to affirm on the one hand libertarian freedom full-tilt, and on the other hand, determinism. These two things are explicitly contradictory. Yet, the inconsistent Calvinist will merely assert that there is a solution to this quandary, and that it is a mystery. Consistent Calvinists (compatibilists) avoid this problem by simply rejecting any sort of libertarian freedom. Instead, they define (or redefine) the term “free” to mean something else altogether. Yet, even the compatibilist appeals to mystery when it comes to man’s responsibility for sin. How is it that God can be the determiner of all things, and yet a man be responsible for doing the very things that God determined he would do? Moreover, how is it that God is not responsible for all evil, sin and suffering in a deterministic world?

Clearly, mysteries are handy things. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that the appeal to mystery is often misused. Instead of meaning the end of man’s ability to know, mystery has often been used as mask to hide the ugly face of a flat contradiction. Take the above example of responsibility in the compatibilist’s understanding. On the one hand God is the determiner of all things, and though man will do what he “wants” he cannot help but want what God has determined he will want. Without the jargon, God determines all things. Yet, man is held responsible for the sin that God determined. Finally, God is meant to be considered good and in no wicked sense the author of evil. Now this is a logical improvement over the beliefs of the inconsistent Calvinist. At least the compatibilist avoids the explicit contradiction. Yet, the advantage quickly fades when one realizes that he still faces an implicit contradiction. The idea that God is a good and just God and yet holds man responsible for that which God himself determined man would do is incoherent. It amounts to saying God is good and just and works evil and injustice. Thus, that which is called a “mystery” by the compatibilist is actually an implicit contradiction.

Libertarian mystery
Libertarians may have a mystery as well. Most, however, will deny the claim and they may be right. Personally, though I have offered two arguments in favor of libertarian freedom, I also think it may be intellectually satisfying to simply say, “God gave man a supernatural ability to make choices determined only by the agent himself.” Yet, for the purposes of this essay, imagine that all arguments in favor of libertarian freedom fail. In such a case, libertarians would be forced to admit that how man is able to make a free choice in the libertarian sense is a mystery. The question would then be, “Which perspective has the more reasonable mystery – the compatibilist or the libertarian?” For obvious reasons, I contend that given these two perspectives, one should choose to be a libertarian based on the comparison of the implications of the competing mysteries.

I have already articulated why I think that the compatibilist mystery does not actually qualify as a mystery, but instead a contradiction. This fact alone makes the libertarian mystery a better choice. Yet, even if compatibilists had a genuine mystery, that did not involve a contradiction, one should still choose the libertarian mystery. On the compatibilist understanding, one is asked to understand God to desire and determine all evil in the world. Furthermore, it must be accepted that God’s anger and punishment for men as they carry out that which he wanted and determined is perfectly just and logical. Moreover, one must deny his perfectly livable inclination to believe that he possess libertarian freedom. In addition to this, there are a number of other philosophically uncomfortable items that could be mentioned, but these are enough to make the point.

The libertarian mystery (if there is one) would not involve an explicit or implicit contradiction. It would merely be an admission that there is a limit to how much man can know about the nature of a free choice. This, by the way, is why it could rightly be called a mystery. The libertarian mystery would not require agents to live in contradiction to what it claims. Instead they could be confident that the reason they think they are genuinely free is because they are genuinely free. It does not require an understanding of God that is at odds (at least prima facie) with what the Bible says about who God is and how he acts. It fits perfectly well with the notion that man is responsible for his own action. This is so because it, and only it, presents a state of affairs wherein man was actually in control of his choices. The mystery would merely be a humble admission that the libertarian is unsure of all that is involved in such a choice. Therefore, even if it turns out that libertarian freedom relies on a mystery, the conclusion that seems most appropriate is to reject the problematic contradictions of Compatibilism and embrace libertarian freedom.

 

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Jim P

Dr. Hunter,

Maybe you could interact with this thought:

God came to Cain prior to his crime against his brother and said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

What is the conclusion? Cain chose sin? Cain did not want to do well?

Thought: Cain was incapable to rule over sin. Cain’s relationship to sin was the OT history of all mankind until Christ.

I

    Lydia

    “God came to Cain prior to his crime against his brother and said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

    What is the conclusion? Cain chose sin? Cain did not want to do well?

    Thought: Cain was incapable to rule over sin. Cain’s relationship to sin was the OT history of all mankind until Christ.”

    So basically, your thought boils down to: God lied to Cain. Got it.

      Scott Shaver

      Lydia:

      You have a keen sense for upholding the consistency of God’s nature and character as disclosed, despite popular theological pablum.

      No wonder folks don’t like you :)

        Lydia

        Scott, I know I won’t win Miss Congeniality but seriously, our teens are being taught this stuff in SBC churches all over the place. It is one of the reasons I have pulled mine out of the steeped determinism. It is chaos. So, It is written that God says Cain “should do” and they are told Cain was incapable of “should do” ……which paints God …as what? A trickster? It boggles. one day there is going to be massive fall out from this. All this cognitive dissonance breeds future indifference. I want teens to believe the “should do”. Not that God is a trickster and that is OK because He is God and we don’t dare question.

    Andrew Barker

    Jim P: The way you phrase your question suggests you have made up your mind beforehand. But you have no evidence to support this assumption.

    Noah was a few generations on and the Bible describes him as a righteous man and blameless in his generation. Was Noah created differently, or did God intervene and make him blameles? Or is he evidence of somebody who went against the flow and chose to follow God’s way? Choices may be difficult granted, but this is part and parcel of how God has made this world tick. We are and always have been free to choose.

      Scott Shaver

      Bingo Andrew.

      Key phrase being “made up your mind before-hand”.

      Refusing to work, as a starting point, from the theological presuppositions taken for granted, is the key to unraveling and discounting the whole “Calvinist” mystery from a biblically-sound perspective. Kudos.

    Robert

    Jim P,

    I’m sorry but your comments here appear to be out in left field!

    You start by saying:

    [[“Maybe you could interact with this thought:

    God came to Cain prior to his crime against his brother and said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.””]]

    Note in the very words that YOU quote, God says to him “but you SHOULD rule over it”.

    Now I don’t know about you, and how you use English, but most of us when we say to someone that “they SHOULD do something”, we assume (and rightly so) that they can in fact do what they should do. I don’t speak to inanimate objects and say that it SHOULD do something. No, the usage of the word SHOULD is always reserved for persons capable of doing what they SHOULD do. It makes no sense at all tell someone they SHOULD do something if they cannot do it. Conversely, when you tell someone that they SHOULD do something, that also carries with it the possibility that they will choose not to do it (ask parents about this usage of should and the response of choosing not to do it!)

    You then wrote:

    “What is the conclusion? Cain chose sin? Cain did not want to do well?”

    The conclusion, if English language means anything, and if God is truthful when He says what He says to Cain: is that Cain had a genuine choice, he could choose to sin or he could choose to do well and not let sin rule over his choice.

    You then conclude with:

    “Thought: Cain was incapable to rule over sin. Cain’s relationship to sin was the OT history of all mankind until Christ.”

    No, that completely contradicts the meaning and usage of the word SHOULD present in the very words you quoted. If Cain was incapable of ruling over sin in this instance then God was less than truthful with him and God never should have said he should not let sin rule over him in this instance.

    A big, big mistake that you are making Jim P. is that you are reading in your concept of depravity into the scripture.

    Depravity does not mean that the unbeliever is absolutely always going to sin, can never choose to do the right thing in any instance ever.
    There are lots of examples of unbelievers choosing to do the right thing. Unbelieving policemen and firemen do the right thing all the time when they rescue people, defend people, arrest people for crimes, etc. etc. Unbelieving teachers who are good teachers genuinely teach and care for their students. Unbelieving fathers and mothers often do the right thing with their children.

    Depravity means that apart from the preconversion work of the Holy Spirit none of us can have a faith response to the gospel. But THIS does not mean that the nonbeliever under no circumstance can ever do the right thing. Nonbelievers live a lifestyle of sin and rebellion, and yet at times they do make the right choices, do the right thing.

    Even Calvinists admit to this reality, they call it “common grace”.

    I don’t care what you call it or how you try to explain it, but the fact is that the nonbeliever can at times do the right thing. When a Christian manager at a job tells a nonbeliever that they SHOULD do something, both the Christian manager and the employee recognize that that SHOULD means that they have the ability to do the right thing at least in that instance.

    Jim P

    Andrew,

    If you are wrong you are under-estimating the real threat Cain was facing. If you are wrong you have fallen into the same error Cain fell into.

    Underestimating the true-threat de-values the solution God provided when Christ came into the world. Christ both exposed and defeated that threat and Has become God’s Way of it..

    By underestimating the real threat it becomes very convenient to substitutes inferior threats like ,Rome, Communism, Calvinism, non-Calvinism, Republicans, Democrats and on and on.

    This is exactly what the Jewish nation did. They substituted Rome for their real threat. Eventually they crucified God’s solution, their Messiah, for what their real threat was.

    Think of the ramification if Church is wrong on this point.

      Andrew Barker

      Jim P: Sorry, but you’ve completely lost me. You’ll have to explain what you mean by “If you are wrong you are under-estimating the real threat Cain was facing. If you are wrong you have fallen into the same error Cain fell into.”

      What is this error into which Cain has supposedly fallen?

      JIm P

      Here’s the Apostle Paul:

      Rom. 7:10 – 13, And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.

      This was Paul, AFTER, He understood the real Threat. And it wasn’t Calvinism. It was Sin. He was deceived by the true nature of Sin his entire pharisaical life prior to his meeting Jesus. Even Paul, prior to his confrontation with Christ, even Christ was his enemy, “…Persecute Me.” If Christ was his enemy that means he was fighting God. By choice? Yes in a way, but he was deceived.

      If this is ignored, the point Paul is making about Sin, I don’t see that being much different than Cain ignoring God.

      If that is any believer’s or any Church’s mentality, than like Paul prior to his confrontation, is ‘kicking against the goad.’ Kicking against what God’s purposes for being in Christ are all about.

      In Dr. Hunter’s article he brings in the word ‘mystery’. I find it revealing scripture uses the word describing two ends of the spectrum of living: One is ‘the mystery of godliness’ in 1 Tim. 3:6 and this mystery is described as ‘Great.’ The other is ‘the mystery of Lawlessness,’ 1 Thess. 2:7 This mystery and threat is one only Christ alone will destroy. He did at Calvary and one day will ultimately.

      It is an arrogance not be respectful of this problem, like Cain.

        Andrew Barker

        Jim P: Sorry, you’ve lost me on this one. I can’t see how your recent comment explains in any way your previous post ….. “If you are wrong you are under-estimating the real threat Cain was facing. If you are wrong you have fallen into the same error Cain fell into.”

        If you are saying that Cain’s error was ignoring God as in “I don’t see that being much different than Cain ignoring God.” is that not simply Cain making a choice? Did Cain not willingly choose to disobey God’s instructions and instead took it out on his brother?

        Jim P

        Andrew,

        Was the Apostle Paul making a choice before he met Jesus?

        If you ignore or you are deceived by the true threat that choice is made for you. That choice is made for you and everyone of us daily.

        1John 1:10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him (God) a liar, and His word is not in us.

        No one, Cain included, could have fathomed the true nature of the threat. The true depth its character was only to be revealed by Jesus. Sadly, many of God’s people still today still don’t understand that threat either. They end up coming off not much different than Cain.

          Andrew Barker

          Jim P: Again, your comment “If you ignore or you are deceived by the true threat that choice is made for you. That choice is made for you and everyone of us daily.” makes no sense to me. It would appear that you believe we do not have a choice, in which case, just say so! It will save much time. We can agree to differ.

          Jim P

          Andrew,
          My take is that you are ignoring what is very clear. That is different than disagreeing.

            Andrew Barker

            Jim P: It may be clear to you …..”No one, Cain included, could have fathomed the true nature of the threat.” I’m with Cain. I haven’t got a clue what you’re on about and you haven’t explained what you mean by the “true nature of the threat” either.

            I said it would ‘save’ time if you just stated what you believed rather than beating about the bush all the time. Waste of time is your take on it, not mine. :)

            Jim P

            Andrew,

            Your comment about saving time does nothing but cuts right across respectful discussion.

            My thoughts are clear. If you want to disagree you say so, then you can opt of discussing. But suggesting saving time is simply a backhanded way of doing it.

              Andrew Barker

              Jim P: When I refer to saving time I have in mind your quote ”No one, Cain included, could have fathomed the true nature of the threat.” I have no idea what you mean by this. I not asking for a long protracted explanation. Just a straightforward indication as to what you mean by the “true nature of the threat”.

                Scott Shaver

                Still have no idea what he means by “the threat” myself Andrew.

                So you’re not the only one obtuse on this issue. :0

              Andy

              Jim,

              For most of us, it is definitly NOT CLEAR. When you say Cain “couldn’t fathom the true nature of the threat.” What is the true threat. Until you answer that question clearly, we cannot either agree or disagree with you.

              One of your posts said the real threat was sin. Is that all? If so, I have no doubt andrew and robert and I would all agree.

              Or are you saying the real threat is the idea that we have a choice? A little clarity here would help move the conversation forward.

          Jim P

          One more thing Andrew,

          If you feel it is a waste of time, Then save yourself the trouble of responding?

Scott Shaver

Yes, Cain CHOSE the lower path.

God was reaching out to show his love for Cain even in the midst of his rebellion by reminding him of the consequences of his CHOICES.

That’s part of God’s nature as I understand it.

If Cain’s history is the history of all mankind until Christ, How did Abel make the right decision (along with many other OT saints) who subsequently found themselves accounted as “righteous” in the Book of Hewbrews?

Thought: Cain exercised, against the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, his WILL to reject the counsel and subsequently the spiritual blessing God made available to him by FAITH and the exercise of FREE WILL.

Consequently…..he went out (by choice) from God’s presence and guidance, escaping to the land of Nod (literally translated “a place of aimless wandering”).

Robert

Braxton,

Enjoyed your latest article on libertarian free will. I have only one disagreement that you might want to consider.

At one point you wrote:

“I also think it may be intellectually satisfying to simply say, “God gave man a supernatural ability to make choices determined only by the agent himself.”

My problem is with the word **supernatural** here.

If you are saying that God supernaturally gave man an ability to make choices determined only by the agent himself: that is fine.

If you mean that LFW is a supernatural ability that God gave to man, that is not accurate.

I view LFW as I do our using our minds. God created us, as part of His design plan, to be able to use our minds to reason about things. But this use of our minds is not a supernatural ability, it is a natural ability that people have when their minds are functioning properly and as God intended. Similarly LFW is a natural ability that people have when functioning properly.

Later in your essay you wrote:

“The libertarian mystery (if there is one) would not involve an explicit or implicit contradiction. It would merely be an admission that there is a limit to how much man can know about the nature of a free choice.”

I agree with you here, if LFW is part of God’s design plan for human persons then there is nothing contradictory about it. At the same time there are some mysteries.

For example as a substance dualist, I believe a mystery that is real and we experience every day and that is closely connected with LFW is how the immaterial mind/spirit of man interacts with the physical part of man. Or how does an immaterial mind interact with our physical brain (cf. I don’t have a problem accepting this reality as I experience it every day, I also liken it to the fact that God who is a Spirit interacts with His physical creation, another reality that I do not fully understand and yet know to be real). Physicalists believe we are **just our brains**, so everything is physical. As a substance dualist I believe that we are part immaterial reality and part material reality and that the two as created by God interact seamlessly. And yet how does the mind interact with the brain, that is a mystery! It is not a supernatural thing because God created us to be that way, it is nevertheless a mystery that I do not believe we will ever understand at least on this side of the grave.

Lydia

“For example as a substance dualist, I believe a mystery that is real and we experience every day and that is closely connected with LFW is how the immaterial mind/spirit of man interacts with the physical part of man. ”

I read something years ago by Russ Moore that we should not be cremated and I cannot remember his argument but just that it seemed strange because of people who had died that way by burning at the stake for disagreeing with the state church or even 9/11. Your comment made me think of that because of the mystery of the mind and how that will play out with our redeemed bodies.

    Scott Shaver

    Lydia:

    Almost thought you were pulling our legs with the cremation-non-Christian attribution to Moore. Low and behold, found the article along with more weird do’s and don’ts as signs of one’s “Christianity”. Noticed today’s call is not to “Keep Christianity Weird”….but to “Keep Christianity Christian”.

    Should we begin with political elections or proper burial rites by preferred geographic location in order to more “Christian”?

    At any rate, here’s the link to the article for any interested.

    “Grave Signs” Russell Moore

    http://touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=20-01-024-v

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