Answering Tom Hicks on the Free Will of Man / Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.

March 29, 2014

by Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President
Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary
Evangelist with Trinity Crusades for Christ
Visiting Professor of Philosophy & Apologetics at Trinity
Former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists

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by Braxton Hunter, Ph.D.
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I want to begin by expressing my appreciation to Tom Hicks for the time and thought he put into interacting with my article on the free will of man. I greatly admire and share his dedication to proper soteriology and his enthusiastic investigation into the relationship between divine providence and human freedom. What follows are my thoughts regarding his post, “A Brief Response to Braxton Hunter’s Article on Libertarian Free Will.”[1]

1. On soft-libertarian freedom
Hicks begins by familiarizing the reader with the terrain of the discussion, as I did in the original article. There is not much with which to quibble contained in these opening paragraphs with one glaring exception. His first point closes with a definition of Libertarian free will that contains the statement, “The man is free to choose against all influences and causes such that there is no determining or governing reason for his particular choice.” This betrays a serious misunderstanding on Hicks’ part concerning the nature of freedom as I explained it in my article. This fact became more obvious as he built his case against libertarian freedom with this definitional comment in mind. He seems to believe that when I and other Traditionalists say “undetermined” that we mean “determined by no one, including the free agent himself.” This creates no small misunderstanding for Hicks. As a result he finds himself imagining that, for libertarians, free will is some whimsical external agent that flies in unannounced and forces the individual to do arbitrary and random things. That this is his understanding of the position could not be more clear than in his fourth point wherein he describes how libertarians might act on the day of judgment. He says, “When they meet God on judgment day, they may object, ‘But God, I often wanted to choose Christ but this libertarian free will that you gave me chose against me. It changed my wants without any sufficient or determining reason and caused me to choose to reject Christ. I am not guilty or responsible.’”

Yet, how Tom Hicks arrived at this understanding is hard to imagine since that would make free will an external force that coerces the agent (something that I clearly reject in my article as quoted by Tom Hicks himself). Instead, “undetermined” as I use the word means undetermined by anything outside of the agent. Furthermore, as a soft-libertarian (and again, as his quote from my article firmly establishes), I maintain that we are influenced by outside factors.

With this in mind, I see nothing in his first or fourth point that remains problematic for the soft-libertarian. Moreover, the conclusions he makes in his third point regarding God’s freedom are based upon this same misunderstanding. Hicks argues, “We might expect that at any moment, without any determining reason, God may sin.” Again, choices are not determined by anything outside of the individual. Hicks describes free will as an arbitrary outside force. He then builds on this problematic definition of freedom by pointing out that Jesus, “ . . . is the image of the invisible God.”[2] Thus, for Hicks, what he has said of the Father attains for the Son. However, what he has argued for the Father is problematic, and so the case for a compatibilist Jesus is problematic as well. Making the same misstep twice does not improve the point.

2. On biblical data
For his second heading, Tom Hicks takes issue with my use of 1 Corinthians 10:13 as a supporting piece of biblical data for libertarian freedom. One would wonder why Hicks is concerned that I offer no personal exegesis of this one text when he swiftly follows with at least fourteen passages under eleven bullet points for which he offers no exegesis. Nevertheless, my intention was not to thoroughly exegete 1 Corinthians 10:13, but merely to use it illustratively to show that, if there is indeed a “way of escape,” then there is a genuine freedom to take advantage of it. Because compatibilists ultimately do maintain that man’s decisions are determined because his desires are determined,[3] the way of escape is merely illusory. To parody Hicks’ assertion that libertarians import their views into the text, I submit that the greatest problem facing compatibilism is that it isn’t easily established from the text of Scripture, but seems to be a philosophical presupposition and imposition on the Bible.[4]

Regarding the biblical data that Hicks gives us from Bruce Ware, the presupposition of compatibilism is underscored. Many compatibilists seem to have the impression that because God determines to do something or act in a given way that this amounts to determinism qua determinism in a philosophical sense. I view this as a common Calvinist hermeneutical error, and it strikes me as simple eisegesis. How God brings about that which he determines to do is central to the issue at hand. God brings about favor, the hardening of hearts, a military invasion, the execution of Jesus, etc., by using means other than removing the genuine freedom of the individual. In other words, these passages that Hicks seems to view as the basis for, “. . .the best biblical arguments for compatibilism,” beg the question of how God brings these things about.

3. On evil and human responsibility
Finally, it is worth mentioning that, while I appreciate the attention given to much of my article, Tom Hicks neglected to deal with the most difficult issues implied by compatibilism. Aside from the fact that the assertion, “God’s determination of what people do is compatible with their carrying out those determined actions with genuine human freedom and responsibility” would be an explicit contradiction were it not for the redefinition of the term “freedom” in compatibilist terms, there are further problems. He did not deal directly with my argument against compatibilism from the impossibility of human responsibility in a determinist system. Nor did he respond to my case against compatibilism from the problem of evil. He did however confess that, “The biblical compatibilist doesn’t claim to have a tidy philosophical system to support his views.” Respectfully, it may be that the items I just referenced are some such “untidy” issues that compatibilists have yet to iron out.  Still, I invite compatibilists to embrace a soft-libertarian view of human freedom because I believe that it is both biblically and philosophically sound.

In closing, I want to reiterate my humble appreciation for Tom Hicks and his contribution here. He is clearly a man who loves the Word of God and is passionate about the truth. For more information, I would encourage readers to listen to my debate with Joe Mira here. It is my hope that this exchange has been fruitful for readers.

Braxton Hunter, PhD

Executive Vice President
Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary