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

January 13, 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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NOTE & DISCLAIMER: This is the first time I have posted a strictly academic essay on my blog. If you are not already familiar with these issues, I recommend checking out simpler resources on the same subject HERE. I am only publishing this here so that it can be easily referenced in my other work. 

Purpose of the Study
In the 21st century the debate regarding the nature or existence of human freedom rages on. Whether laymen are aware of it or not, this question is central to philosophical debates within and without the religious-philosophical realm. Secular philosophers have for centuries struggled to determine whether and how what is known as libertarian freedom is philosophically possible. For the naturalist, this question should seem to have been a moot discussion. Religious philosophers of varying backgrounds have argued relentlessly that in the absence of God, freedom of the sort that libertarians imagine man to have is strictly speaking not possible. Yet, among theists, and particularly among monotheists, there is a much more interesting dialogue. For them, no longer is the universe necessarily or decidedly a closed system of cause and effect. At least in these created waters there exists an open conversation on the possibility of genuine libertarian freedom. For Christian theists the reasons for this are both biblical and philosophical.

Regarding the biblical data, libertarians maintain that there are a plethora of texts which seem to implicate or even explicitly describe genuine soft-libertarian freedom.[1] The debate is as hot as ever as to the validity of libertarian free will on the basis of such passages, but for libertarians the type of divine action and speech represented in Scripture would be meaningless at best and deceptive at worst if compatibilism/determinism were true. As for philosophical considerations, libertarian freedom has faced more daunting scrutiny. The question becomes, “How is it that man is even capable of making a libertarian decision?” Or more bluntly, “From whence does a libertarian choice come?”

In this essay my goal is to lay out one philosophical argument in favor of libertarian freedom that I think serves as a philosophical defeater[2] to the claim that libertarian freedom for humans in a fallen world is incoherent. This will be followed with one argument that the belief in freedom is properly basic. Finally, I will lay out a defense of the belief in and of itself in libertarian freedom from an appeal to libertarian mystery as opposed to compatibilist mystery. Ultimately, it is my goal that the production of a defeater, an argument for the proper-basicality of soft-libertarian freedom and an appeal to preferred libertarian mystery will push the ball forward with regard to discussions between libertarians and compatibilists/divine-determinists.

For the purposes of this essay, I am assuming the existence of the Christian theistic God. Moreover, the doctrinal positions of this study will be decidedly Southern Baptist. The truth of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 will be assumed. That is not to say that the case for libertarian or soft-libertarian human freedom in a general sense could not be employed by thinkers of other theistic persuasions. Nevertheless, it is not my goal to argue for the truth of any other world religion.

I am assuming the reliability and inerrancy of the Word of God as contained in the Bible. For clearer understanding of my view on inerrancy one may reference the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Simply put, I believe that the Bible is trustworthy, reliable and inerrant in all that it intends to teach.

It is also my assumption that the God of Christian Scripture does not work things that are contradictory in nature. That is to say, God does not create married bachelors, or square circles. With God all things are possible, but contradictory things are not “things” in any meaningful sense. Thus, if a worldview contains a conclusion that is contradictory, we are free to judge that conclusion false.

I am assuming that God is not the author, source, or ordainer of sin. When some translations of the Bible speak of God working, intending or bringing evil, it is referring to calamity or something akin to calamity. It is my view that divine sin would be a violation of God’s good nature.

It is not my goal to argue for or against libertarian free will as it relates to God’s freedom. Whether or not God has libertarian free will is an important discussion and will undoubtedly be my focus in some later work. However, because it is my belief that Scripture most specifically speaks of human freedom after the fall, that is the focus of my essay.

I am also refraining from arguing for the libertarian free will of beings existing in heaven before the fall. It is not necessarily the case that what I will be arguing is not relevant or related to that time, and those beings, but it is not central to my case here.

The nature of freedom in heaven after the glorification of believers is also not in view. Many compatibilists argue that even if free will were possible for humans in the current state of the world, it would certainly not be so in heaven. As interesting and important as that discussion is, it has little relevance for the case being made for libertarian freedom among humans on earth as it is.

Part Two Coming Soon!


[1] Just to name a few – Genesis 6:5,6; Deuteronomy 30:19; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 36:3; Acts 17:30; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; – determinists would certainly argue that these passages can be explained via compatibilism, but these are not listed as a “slam dunk” in favor of biblical libertarianism, but merely to establish the reasons that libertarians think that their view arises from Scripture itself. The story of the Bible seems to be one of choice.
[2] By “philosophical defeater” I mean possibilities or theories that may or may not be true. So long as it is even remotely possible that a theory is true, then it makes the claim that the issue in question is incoherent false.

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Paul Wright

Well its been a few years since Van Til threw a piece of chalk at me one day in jest at Westminster. I loved him, but today I am intriqued by the forgotten Protestant Reformer, whom Calvin himself published his work, namely Phillip Melanchton who thought all this bondage of the will philosophy was a Stoic or Manichean imposition on Holy Scripture. Why did no early father recognize it before Augustine around 400 AD. Is it not damaging to those denominations who otherwise seem to be the most Biblical. Ask the high predestinarians how they personally came to Christ, you might find a humble recieving all contrary to their system – prehaps someone can do a poll on this.

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