Is Libertarian Free Will Eternal?

September 13, 2013

by Ronnie Rogers, pastor
Trinity Baptist Church
Norman, Okla.

Ed’s. note: Per his usual practice, Pastor Rogers will be observing comments from time-to-time, but may or may not reply immediately. He likely will, however, reply to the most salient comments at a later time.

Humans are created in the image of God with soft-libertarian (incompatible) free will. This means that humans can choose, within the range of choices, to act or refrain, and whatever they do in fact choose they could have chosen otherwise. Many have argued that it is impossible to create such a being and guarantee that he will never use his freedom to do wrong—sin; thus, God could not be in sovereign control, nor could He guarantee that created man would never sin either in the Garden of Eden or eternity. It is obvious to all that man did choose to sin, and that all subsequent humans inherit a sin nature, with the exception of the God-Man our Lord Jesus Christ. However, many have asked me how can it be possible to guarantee those in heaven will never sin if Adam had libertarian free will and chose to sin? Stated a little differently, is it possible for God to create a truly otherwise choice human being who will never choose to sin, and if it is possible, then why did He not so create Adam and Eve, which would have avoided sin and its consequences.

This dilemma is seen as an argument against man having libertarian free will and an argument for man having a compatibilist free will. Compatibilism (the view that seeks to argue that freedom and determinism are compatible) argues that while there are determinative antecedents (nature, states, and conditions within the being), the choice is free so long as it is what one desires and there are no external constraints.

I would suggest that it may be impossible to guarantee that a created libertarian free human being with otherwise choice, who does not have experiential knowledge (either through personal experience or observation) of sin, will never use his freedom to sin provided that such choices are within his range of choices as was clearly the case with Adam. This is precisely where Satan tempted Adam because while he had faith knowledge of sin and otherwise choice, he lacked experiential knowledge of sin (Genesis 3:5). Even if the previously mentioned impossibility is the case (and I believe that it is), God’s coextensive creation/redemption plan assures that the redeemed in heaven will not be susceptible to the temptation to which Adam succumbed.

The redeemed in heaven will have experiential knowledge of sin and the consequences of sin, but they will have been redeemed from that and transformed by glorification. Thus, it appears that the redeemed and glorified man will have what is necessary to live forever and only use his freedom to choose righteousness.

Of course, much could be said also about God’s other protective promises and power (John 10:29, 11:25-26; Ephesians 4:30), which I believe are sufficient in and of themselves, but they also, in a certain sense, apply to Calvinism’s compatibilism. Here I am simply addressing the consonance of libertarian otherwise choice and eternal righteousness. The angels demonstrated libertarian choice in that some chose to sin and some chose to not sin, and each could have done otherwise (unless one believes that God created some who would inevitably choose to sin, i.e. compatibilism).

Consequently, it does not seem that redemption is essential in order to guarantee a created libertarian free being will always choose not to sin (although it may be essential for humans), which I assume is true of the holy angels, but experiential knowledge of sin does seem to be essential. The holy angels did not personally sin, but they did and have continued to experience sin both consequently and observationally. This particular distinction between man and angels may be further illumined by the difference between the nature of the creation of angels—all at one time—and humans through procreation, which infects all subsequent humans with personal consequences of the fall.

That is to say, a human’s first experience of sin after Adam and Eve comes from inheritance, i.e. procreation, which is not true of angels. Therefore, God solved the dilemma for humans through the plan to coextensively create and redeem man.

Although human illustrations do not fully capture spiritual realities, they can and do serve to simply and legitimately demonstrate various spiritual aspects, e.g. Jesus’ use of parables. For example, a mother may tell her little boy not to touch the hot stove. Each time she perceives his interest in touching, she warns him of the horrible pain, hospitals, surgery, and the loss of freedom to play, something of which he is so fond. Tragically, despite mom’s best warnings and pleadings, one day, the little lad touches the fiery electric grill, and everything comes to pass just as his mother had warned.

From that moment on, the little boy still has the freedom to touch the fiery hot stove, but he freely chooses to refrain for the rest of his life. He has no interest in touching it, and every inclination is to guard against even touching it by accident. The difference is not the loss of otherwise choice, but rather prior to his burn he had only faith knowledge. His understanding was based on only believing his mother’s words. Now, he has experiential knowledge coupled with even a greater faith in his mother’s words.

Additionally, God is not only the giver of otherwise choice; He is also the giver of the range of choices. Libertarian free will simply argues that within the range of choices God grants an individual, the individual can choose between the various options. Whether God gives the range in heaven that He gave in the garden is entirely up to Him. Even now, libertarian free will does not mean that a person can do anything he wants, but rather that he can act or refrain within the range of choices he has; a person may choose to  jump off a high cliff or choose not to jump, but once he has jumped, his range of choices is fatally curtailed. Man may choose to commit suicide or not (God has given that option within the range of human choices), but man cannot choose to cease to exist because that is not within his range of choices.

God has libertarian free choice, but this does not mean that God can or will sin. First, as God, sin is not within His range of choices. God is omnipotent, but He cannot be tempted with sin (James 1:13) or cease to exist since He is eternal and immutable (Psalm 102:27). For the sake of argument, if God did sin or cease to exist, that would prove that He was not ever really God—the eternally holy self-existing one.

Second, the inherent lack of knowledge and therefore initial susceptibility to sin in created beings with libertarian free will does not entail God having the same need or susceptibility because He has eternal, unchanging, infinite, exhaustive knowledge of every potentiality and actuality within Himself. Therefore, He possesses libertarian free will, but He has never sinned; nor is there the remotest possibility that He ever will.

Finally, in my estimation, and to the best that I understand the relevant panoply of Scriptures, this is a far more biblical way to look at this matter than the compatibilist approach (unless one is hopelessly surrendered to Calvinism’s esotericism). The following are but a few reasons why I think such; first, this view provides an explanation that maintains God’s sovereignty (He acts without any internal or external need or necessity in accomplishing His perfect holy and loving will) without resorting to Calvinism’s extreme causally-based sovereignty; second, it maintains a ubiquitous balance of all of God’s attributes such as holiness, love, justice, mercy, etc; third, it reflects the simple story of Scripture that man sometimes actually chooses against God’s perfect will for Him (Adam and Eve, when they could have and should have done otherwise), and that man should and can accept, by God’s grace enablement, His gracious offer of salvation that extends to everyone. All of which is comprehended in God’s perfect, sovereign, and infinitively loving plan; fourth, the way that I propose seems to both reflect and be consonant with the teaching of both the complex and simple passages of Scripture better than Calvinism’s reinventions of the simplest of Scriptures.

These Calvinistic reinventions mean that the obvious meaning of such verses and passages do not mean what they so palpably say and seem to mean—this from Adam and Eve freely choosing to sin against God’s warning and true desire for them to countless straightforward God-given pleas to repent and be saved, which clearly imply that He desires that end, they should choose such and that they can in fact choose (Matthew 4:17, 6:13, 11:20-24; Mark 1:14-15, 10:17-30; John 1:7-9, 6:28-29; Revelation 22:17); fifth, it seems to explain soteriological perplexities better than resorting to strapping both God and man with a compatible will as Calvinism does, which entails a host of biblically unwarranted disquieting realities that are usually and quite unsatisfactorily dismissed by swathing them in “it’s a mystery”; sixth, regardless how fancy the theology, Calvinism’s insistence upon compatibilism means that both God and man ultimately choose (as defined by Calvinism), but do not choose among choices.

I find such to not only be biblically unwarranted but a woefully dishonoring view of both God and man, particularly God. Because when one stands at the end of the causal chain of determinative antecedents of compatibilism, it seems more accurate to describe the moment of choosing or acting by both God and man as merely a moment of awareness since the decision of what a compatibilist being will ultimately and unalterably make is determined prior to any conscious involvement of the individual; hence, the so-called “decision” is not really a decision at all, but merely an awareness of what the determinative antecedents have already established that the individual is about to unalterably choose to do.

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rhutchin

Pastor Rogers writes of, “Calvinism’s insistence upon compatibilism.” I am not sure Calvinism insists on compatiblilism. Some people, including some Cavlinists, have coined that term to describe the co-existence of God’s sovereignty with the free will of man. I think many people tend to understand that the sovereignty of God is not compatible with the “libertarian free will” of man. Even in the garden, where Adam had libertarian free will, the influence of Satan on the decision to sin seems to have destroyed the “libertarian” aspect of Adam’s free will. Adam had free will, and choose to eat the fruit, but seems to have acted in deference to Eve, if not to Satan, so that those influences contributed to his action. If “libertarian” free will is to allow such influences in the “ability to choose otherwise,” then why call it “libertarian” free will as opposed to that “free will” acknowledged by Calvinists? By Pastor Rogers definition, Calvinism adheres to “soft-libertarian (incompatible) free will” he described at the beginning of his article. Man’s range of choices is limited by his sin nature such that the person is depraved and that depravity if total per the “T” in TULIP.

Regarding sin, two points can be noted. There was no opportunity for sin in the garden until God said, “Thou shalt not.” Had God not said, “Thou shalt not eat,” could Adam have sinned? Well, not as described in Genesis. In the new heavens and new earth, it seems reasonable to assume that the elect will never be outside God’s presence and influence. Thus, we will not sin. Of course, this extends the Calvinist view that sin is a matter of influence and not simple choice.

    Norm Miller

    Hey Hutch:
    Where ya’ been?
    Per Ronnie’s take on any aspect of Calvinism, I tend to believe that, since he was one for 20 years or so, then what he says about the matter has cred with me. I agree with you, however, in principle, that Ronnie’s take on one aspect or another of Calvinism may not be universal among Calvinists primarily because, like Baptists, Calvinists are not agreed on everything. When Ronnie had that week-long posting here a few months back, he was assailed as not being a Calvinist *at all* because he was but a 4-pointer. — Norm

      rhutchin

      I read Pastor Rogers book about not being a Calvinist anymore. I got the impression that he never really grasped what Calvinism was all about. I am now reading Dave Hunt’s diatribe against Calvinism and, at least, he understands that a Calvinist is, by definition, a five-pointer. To be less is not to be a Calvinist as one grasps from RC Sproul’s book, “What is Reformed Theology.” Certainly those who call themselves Calvinists are not uniform in describing that which Calvinism is and I think that results from a lot of people having Calvinist tendencies but not really understanding Calvinism – like the four pointers. I think the five pointers pretty much explain the five points consistently but they can disagree on technical details – like the understanding of verses that suggest God’s desire to save all that Pastor Rogers calls, “These Calvinistic reinventions.” I’d like to see someone take Calvinism head on and really address that which Calvinism says. I though Dave Hunt’s book would do so, but I am halfway through and it has been a big disappointment.

        Norm Miller

        I appreciate your response, Hutch, but, as you might expect, I disagree because I believe Pastor Rogers has an excellent grasp of Calvinism — at least as good or better than many Calvinists who visit this and other sites. Some Cals have posited here that Calvin was not a double-predestinarian, but I have given excerpts from the Institutes stating otherwise. And, the reverse is true as well. Many Calvinists hold to a limited atonement based on the doctrine of election. So, the atonement is not for the non-elect, per Calvinists. But I have cited Calvin on several significant verses where he states the atonement was for all.
        You wrote: ” I’d like to see someone take Calvinism head on and really address that which Calvinism says.”
        Me too, especially Calvinists, so discussion like these could be on similar or approximate pages, if not on the same one.
        Per Dave Hunt’s “What Love is This?,” I read it. And I must confess that if even half of it is true (and I have no reason to doubt any of its content), then I would not want to be known by the ‘C’ word. What the magisterial reformers did to their siblings in Christ for the sake of “doctrine” is as tragically evil as the Holocaust. And if Calvin approved, even tacitly … well, I am at a loss for words.

        Ronnie W Rogers

        rhutchin said, “I read Pastor Rogers book about not being a Calvinist anymore. I got the impression that he never really grasped what Calvinism was all about.”
        My wife often says that I do not understand…but she is very good at telling me specifically what I am so obtuse about. Would you be so kind as to tell me just what it is that you are certain that I do not “grasp” or understand about Calvinism?

          Johnathan Pritchett

          I have found it easier for many in the “Calvinist” crowd to just say former Calvinists, or any Calvinism critic, either never was a “real” Calvinist, or that they do not understand Calvinism, than it is to write any response with actual substance.

          Though, in fairness to rhutchin, when I was a Calvinist, I found it quite difficult to be one in a SBC church. I do not know how my former pastor Steve Lawson is still a “Calvinist” even though he is now a pastor of a SBC church (he wasn’t when he was my pastor at The Bible Church of Little Rock all those years ago).

          In any case, there are very, very, very few actual Calvinists in the SBC (I only know 2 personally). Even fewer “Reformed” folks (I know of only one personally, and won’t out him or he’d be fired). Neither of which groups actually belong given the SBC distinctive positions across the spectrum of doctrines.

          I can hear the “1527, 1611. 1644. etc. were all Reformed Confessions” chant as I type this, but they weren’t really along the lines of Reformed theology in total. Most of those, at least from 1644 on, are, like all the modern “Reformed” and “Calvinism” stuff in the SBC, basically T.U.L.I.P.-ism, not “Reformed” or “Calvinist”. If those are “Reformed”, then we ought to do away with such labels like “Radical Reformers”, “Remonstrants”, etc. and just call any kind of Protestantism “Reformed”.

          So, rhutchin can fine tune what it means to be a “real” Calvinist until the cows come home, but if that is the case, then there are a whole lot of “Reformed” or “Calvinist” folks in the SBC that need to find a different label. They are basically just T.U.L.I.P.-ists, or even T.U.I.P.-ists.

          But, if all these SBC T.U.L.I.P.-ists, or even T.U.I.P.-ists, want to call themselves Calvinists, or Reformed, then whoever wants to say they were former “X amounts of points” is fair game as well. But anyone who reduces “Reformed” theology or “Calvinism” to just a soteriology understands neither Calvinism or “Reformed” theology.

          There were, technically, lots of Reformed theologies. But this is unhelpful, and of course, and unwelcome notion to the T.U.L.I.P.-ists who want to hog the handle “Reformed” even if they have very little theology in common with the Magisterial Reformers.

          Technically, most conservative Wesleyan Methodists are more “Reformed” on more doctrines than any T.U.L.I.P.-ist in the SBC will ever be.

          In any case, the path of “who is a real Calvinist/former Calvinist” usually leads to a ditch, so isn’t worth the haggle.

          rhutchin

          Pastor Rogers asked, “Would you be so kind as to tell me just what it is that you are certain that I do not “grasp” or understand about Calvinism?

          You were a four-pointer, rejecting Limited Atonement. The staring point for Calvinism is God’s knowledge before He created the world of those who were to be saved (the elect) and those who were not be saved (the non-elect/reprobate). Non-Calvinists usually ignore this point, so I was confused as to how you could accept it and still reject Calvinism.

          John Owen wrote “The Death of Death…” in which he argued that God had purpose and intent to save the elect when He created the world and that the Bible explains that God accomplished His purpose in the death of Christ. He presents a case arguing that God send Christ to die on the cross as an atonement for the sins of the elect and then to reconcile them to God, justify, sanctify, adopt , and preserve them. I think Owen argues persuasively for God’s action toward the elect and don’t see that as the issue with Owen.

          Regarding the non-elect, Owen argues that God had no purpose or intent for them other than their destruction, and this got people excited.

          So, I saw a failure to grasp Calvinism in your denial of L (and thereby, Owen’s argument) and advocating that God actually had both purpose and intent for the salvation of non-elect which argues against TULIP in whole.

          At the same time, you continue to affirm that God knew the non-elect when He created the world and that they were not to be saved; you also still affirm total depravity; and consequently, you affirm the role of grace to enable a person to accept salvation. People who understand Calvinism (Vance seems to, and Hunt enough to agree with Vance) know that they must reject Total Depravity and ignore God’s knowledge of the non-elect when He created the world. So, you called yourself a Calvinist by affirming TUIP but never grasped the significance of denying L. Then you became disenchanted with Calvinist theology while still affirming T and grace. (I did not go back and review your book, so I hope I remember it correctly and if I didn’t, you can set me right.)

          So, I was confused after reading your book. You make several allegations of double-talk by Calvinists (not that individual Calvinists do not say goofy things or not always say what they believe – but what Calvinists say and what Calvinism is can be different things), and I could not make sense of the reasons for your disenchantment with Calvinism from them – I saw your allegations as strawmen having little to do with Calvinism directly. In my mind you should have followed Vance and Hunt in rejecting T – and rejecting all of the Calvinist TULIP. That you did not led me to the conclusion that you didn’t really understand Calvinism because one cannot really divorce any of the five points from the others. You claimed to have done so – Impossible, in my mind, except with a confused understanding of Calvinism.

            Ronnie W Rogers

            rhutchin

            Thanks for your response.
            You said, “You were a four-pointer, rejecting Limited Atonement. The starting point for Calvinism is God’s knowledge before He created the world of those who were to be saved (the elect) and those who were not to be saved (the non-elect/reprobate). Non-Calvinists usually ignore this point, so I was confused as to how you could accept it and still reject Calvinism.”

            First, the starting point of Calvinism is not “God’s foreknowledge of those who were to be saved” because non-Calvinists believe that God knows everything. The starting point of Calvinism is that it pleased God to unconditionally elect some to Salvation and predetermined some for damnation (actively, passively or consequently). The position you stated, and Calvinism’s actual position that I stated are very different. Additionally, surely you are aware of the notable Calvinists throughout church and Baptist history who did not accept limited atonement (David Allen has done some important work in this area; for example, see his chapter in Whosoever Will).

            As a four-point Calvinist, I recognized, as do other four-point Calvinists, that limited atonement logically fits into the Tulip. However, we also believe, that the clear and ubiquitous teaching of Scripture says Christ meaningfully died for the sins of the world. Consequently, the departure of a four-pointer from limited atonement is not due to his lack of understanding of Calvinism, but rather a decision to depart from the system of Calvinism when they believe it is contradicting the straightforward teaching of a panoply of scriptures. Now, you may continue to opine that four-pointers do not really understand Calvinism, but wouldn’t it be better to recognize that some can disagree with you and other Calvinists because they do understand and believe the clarity of Scripture is superior to the logic of the system? Someone can understand your position and simply disagree, i.e., disagreement does not entail not understanding. They may be right or they may be wrong, but that is a discussion beyond deeming that they do not understand because if they did….

            Now, you may want to dismiss me as an obtuse dolt who studied, taught and preached Calvinism for twenty years (I defended the arguments for Calvinism that I now reject) and spent another twelve years in thinking through some conflicts that I found between Calvinism and Scripture (as espoused by both four and five point Calvinists); however, it seems somewhat naive or hubristic for a five-pointer to conclude such about all four-point Calvinist today as well as many of the past. Again, David Allen has done us all a great service in cataloging many of the notables. Here are just a few from his book and blogs, Bullinger, Cranmer, Baxter, Hodge, Shedd, etc. I would suggest that the arguments about Calvin’s position have merit if for nothing more than his averring both sides of the coin in his commentaries, etc.

            My dear brother, would it not be better to recognize that some do not reject limited atonement because they do not understand Calvinism (which implies if they did they would really not be so misguided) but simply reject the logic of some Calvinists understanding of the Scripture? Simply put, my rejection of any part of Calvinism, Calvinism’s re-inventions of some very clear scriptures, and the disquieting realities that I do not find reflective of the nature of God or the gospel as revealed in Scripture does not mean that I do not understand Calvinism, or Owen for that matter.

            You said, “At the same time, you continue to affirm that God knew the non-elect when He created the world and that they were not to be saved; you also still affirm total depravity; and consequently, you affirm the role of grace to enable a person to accept salvation. People who understand Calvinism (Vance seems to, and Hunt enough to agree with Vance) know that they must reject Total Depravity and ignore God’s knowledge of the non-elect when He created the world. So, you called yourself a Calvinist by affirming TUIP but never grasped the significance of denying L. Then you became disenchanted with Calvinist theology while still affirming T and grace.”

            I must admit, I find this concern quite baffling, and rather misleading, albeit unintentionally so. I will try to respond; first, of course, whether one is a Calvinist or not, God being omniscient, He has always known who the elect were, and for anyone to deny that God always knew who would be saved seems beyond the pale of orthodoxy. This is the kind of talk that clearly implies that non-Calvinists deny that God knew who the elect are, which is absolutely untrue your citations notwithstanding.

            Again, the essence of Calvinism is not the affirmation that God knows who will be saved (the elect), but rather that He unconditionally chose some to salvation and did everything necessary to predetermine that these unconditionally elect would freely choose to believe (although their choosing was not between choices); this freely exercised faith arises from their new nature which was forced upon them; additionally, God simultaneously predetermined to withhold the same (He could have saved everyone) from the vast majority of His creation, even though He told His people to present salvation to them like it was really available. While I do believe you did so unwittingly, your wording is an example of double talk, which elides the actual teachings and disquieting realities of Calvinism and implies even worse for non-Calvinists.

            I believe in election because the Bible teaches election, and I believe any true Biblicist must affirm election. Some Calvinists believe that rejecting Calvinism’s definition of election (unconditional) is the exact same as rejecting the biblical passages regarding election — only Calvinists are Biblicist. I would argue that the rejection of Calvinism’s unduly causal sovereignty and compatibilist free will is not the same as rejecting Scripture, some Calvinists claims notwithstanding. Thus, if you can accept that one can believe in election, while rejecting Calvinism’s definition, then you can see how I could have been a Calvinist-Biblicist and now I am simply a Biblicist. If you cannot, then you cannot.

            Second, at one time I accepted Total Depravity as Calvinistically defined (compatibilism, dead with the only possible solution of unconditional election and regeneration then faith). Now, it is that understanding of TD that I reject. I make no pretense of my present views being consistent with the Tulip. I am in no way trying to mimic the TULIP, or define things in such a way that allows me to be a quasi-Calvinist. I reject the TULIP and anything that I say that is consistent with an aspect of it is coincidental. I am seeking to express what I believe the Scripture teaches to the best that I understand it. That being the case, I believe the Scripture teaches Total Depravity rightly understood. Again, I am rejecting Calvinism’s understanding as well as the idea that rejection is tantamount to rejecting the biblical teaching. The opposite of total depravity is partial depravity, which I categorically reject. Would you think I understood Calvinism more if I believed in partial depravity? I believe the Scripture teaches that man is totally depraved (extensively), so that every part of him is so affected by the fall that He will not and cannot come to God on his own—I believe I sufficiently explain this in my book.

            Having been a Calvinist, I recognize the difficulty of some Calvinists to accept that one can believe in total depravity and reject Calvinism’s compatible understanding. Calvinists often chide non-Calvinists for minimizing the depravity of man (in some cases justifiably so), but when I, and others, teach TD (without Calvinism’s compatibilism) based upon incorporating all of the relevant characteristics as laid out in Scripture, it is said that we do not understand Calvinism — strange conclusions to me.

            Calvinism is a system of thought that seeks to explore and explain the Scripture. It seeks to do this consistently, comprehensively, emanating from and reflective of a devotion to God, and many godly and knowledgeable followers of Christ believe the system is the best at handling the totality and perplexities of Scripture. It is also true, that Calvinism is not Scripture. Nor is it the only consistent, comprehensive, system that reflects a devotion to God from a host of godly and knowledgeable followers of Christ. Having been a Calvinist, your conclusions about me notwithstanding, I understand how difficult it is for some Calvinist to believe that someone else may be right.

            You said, “You make several allegations of double-talk by Calvinists (not that individual Calvinists do not say goofy things or not always say what they believe – but what Calvinists say and what Calvinism is can be different things), and I could not make sense of the reasons for your disenchantment with Calvinism from them.”

            I have gone to great lengths to define what I mean by double talk (see authorial glossary in Refections…), which unfortunately for some seems to have done little good. I do not mean espousing inconsistencies that arise from human frailty — goofy or inconsistent positions — of which we are all guilty. Rather, by double talk, I specifically and only mean thinking, praying, writing or speaking in such a way that obscures what I call the disquieting realities of Calvinism (as your earlier explanation of Calvinism seemed to do).

            If a person accepts and unabashedly proclaims these realities, then he can be a knowledgeable and consistent Calvinist; but if one is unwilling to face, accept and proclaim them, he cannot be a consistent Calvinist. Additionally, I am not calling anyone a double talker nor is my use of this term intended in any sense to be pejorative. Now I am very clear about this, and if you seriously read my book, I believe it would be difficult not to misunderstand my meaning. I give numerous examples of what I mean by double talk throughout the book. It is the ubiquitous presence of such in theology books, commentaries, and messages of Calvinism that fuels my disenchantment.

            You said, “I saw your allegations as straw men.” I infer that you meant this to be a serious statement, and I take it accordingly. Actually, this one statement indicates that I wrote a book that was not based upon knowledge of the subject and therefore required manufactured arguments. Saying an argument is a straw man and demonstrating such to be the case are two very different undertakings. If you can show me where you think I made a straw man argument, I would greatly appreciate it. Then, I will either clarify, or if it is indeed a fallacious argument, I will disavow it, and thank you for pointing it out to me. I am very susceptible to saying dumb things. I may have even made an invalid argument concerning problems within Calvinism (which I learned almost entirely from studying and listening to Calvinists), but I am not aware of any. I have no desire to misrepresent Calvinism because I believe the unbridled reality of Calvinism’s teachings and entailments need to be made known to both Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike. I want people to really understand Calvinism as some very knowledgeable Calvinists do and forthrightly declare — which I applaud. My concern is that people do not understand enough about Calvinism and alternative options. Consequently, misrepresenting Calvinism is contrary to my purpose and spirit.

    Ronnie W Rogers

    rhutchin said, “Some people, including some Calvinist, have coined that term to describe the co-existence of God’s sovereignty with the free will of man.” I believe this is a misunderstanding of compatibilism. Compatibilism is actually the belief that free will and determinism are compatible. This is held by Darwinists, Atheists, Naturalists, Materialists and Calvinists, as well as anyone who believes that there are “determinative antecedents” prior to a person choosing—whether one believes in God is not entailed in compatibilism.

    Additionally, so long as the person freely chooses (no external force e.g. gun to the head), compatibilist say the choice is free. Lastly, compatibilism rejects the notion of “otherwise choice” being necessary for free will or responsibility to exist. Consequently, the determinative antecedents in compatibilism change depending upon the proponent i.e. a Darwinist might argue material antecedents whereas a Calvinist would argue God’s sovereignty. I hope that you can see that while Calvinist default to compatibilism in order to explain Calvinism’s view of sovereignty and soteriology, it does not mean that God’s sovereignty is compatible with man’s freedom. That is often said by Calvinists, but it really clouds the issue and misrepresents (no ill-motive intended) the issue at hand. To wit, it is not that Calvinists believe in God’s sovereignty and are therefore compatibilists; whereas, non-Calvinists are not compatibilists because they either do not believe in, understand or hold as high a view of God’s sovereignty as Calvinists. It is not the existence of sovereignty and free will that requires compatibilism or that compatibilism merely seeks to explain that relationship; rather, it is Calvinism’s view of Sovereignty (which I think is a diminished view since God cannot be sovereign over otherwise choice beings) and the compatibility of determinism and free choice. Unfortunately, many who claim the title Calvinist, as well as many who do not, do not realize how dependent main-stream Calvinism is on compatibilism (or even know what it is). I attribute this in large measure to the fact that some are not aware of its ubiquity in Calvinism and that some of those who do know this continue to becloud the reality with double talk. However, there are enough Calvinists who both understand and articulate it to corroborate that it is the perspective of Calvinism. If it is not, please explain (don’t quote an inconsistency of someone) how it fits with Calvinism. At this time, I do not know of one knowledgeable, consistent Calvinist who attempts a consistent articulation on incompatibilism because if one does then why be a Calvinist.

    You said, “Even in the garden, where Adam had libertarian free will, the influence of Satan on the decision to sin seems to have destroyed the “libertarian” aspect of Adam’s free will….I think many people tend to understand that the sovereignty of God is not compatible with the “libertarian free will” of man.

    First, you argue for libertarian free will in the garden, and then you argue that the sovereignty of God is not compatible with libertarian free will. So, was God not sovereign in the garden? If He was sovereign over libertarian beings then, when did He lose that ability? If He was not sovereign in the Garden when His creatures had libertarian free will, we have even a bigger problem. If He was at anytime sovereign over libertarian beings, then why cripple Him with compatibilism now.

    You said, “If “libertarian” free will is to allow such influences [you are referring to Eve and Satan’s influence on Adam in the garden] in the “ability to choose otherwise,” then why call it “libertarian” free will as opposed to that “free will” acknowledged by Calvinists?”

    Libertarian free will does not exclude “influences” and even very strong ones (this is why we rear children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord etc). The difference in libertarian and compatibilism (in Calvinism and elsewhere) is this: in libertarianism, there are influential antecedents which encourage choices but they do not determine what the person chooses. He may very well go against all heretofore influence. He can act or refrain within the range of choices that he has. Whereas in compatibilism, the antecedents are not merely influential, but they are determinative; so that the person with compatible free will freely chooses to act a certain way, but he did not have a choice to do other than he chose i.e. it is freely choosing without a choice to do otherwise. Calvinism does not espouse soft-libertarianism and to think that it does is inaccurate. Further, when Calvinists unwittingly present it as the same as incompatibilism, the real nature of Calvinism is obscured.

    Three easily recognizable and essential determinative antecedents in Calvinism are unconditional election, selective regeneration and regeneration preceding faith. Without the determinative antecedent of regeneration prior to faith, man cannot believe. He can only disbelieve.

    Calvinists defaulting to compatibilism in order to explain how God can be sovereign is one of the major flaws of Calvinism, which actually diminishes the very God they wish to exalt—He is apparently incapable of working His will with true otherwise choice beings.

    In both libertarian and compatibilism, God establishes the range of options. The difference is that with compatible free will, God limited the range of choices to one (that which the individual always chooses). Whereas, according to the libertarian perspective, God limited the choices to what was chosen and to what man could have chosen other than what he did in fact choose. Using salvation as an example, we believe that God grace-enables individuals to hear the gospel and either reject it or accept it, and whatever the individual does in fact choose, he could have chosen otherwise. Whereas, Calvinism says that the lost can only freely reject the gospel and the unconditionally elected, once regenerated, can only believe the gospel. These decisions are free, but they are determined by other than the choice between options. Thus, to understand Calvinism as soft-libertarian is inaccurate on many levels.

Christian

Thank you.! Keep up the good work.

Robert

Hello Ronnie,

Great statements here on the nature of libertarian of free will. I believe from reading this that you have greatly strengthened your position on free will.

You have also taken some strong steps towards dealing with the objections that often comes up which you well note:

“However, many have asked me how can it be possible to guarantee those in heaven will never sin if Adam had libertarian free will and chose to sin? Stated a little differently, is it possible for God to create a truly otherwise choice human being who will never choose to sin, and if it is possible, then why did He not so create Adam and Eve, which would have avoided sin and its consequences.”

At one point you shared a very important principle that helps us understand why we will not sin in the eternal state:

“The redeemed in heaven will have experiential knowledge of sin and the consequences of sin, but they will have been redeemed from that and transformed by glorification. Thus, it appears that the redeemed and glorified man will have what is necessary to live forever and only use his freedom to choose righteousness.”

Here you bring up the point that **we will have been glorified**. We do not fully understand what this entails but it must be a large part of why we will no longer sin in eternity. It would seem that this glorification involves both our bodies and our minds and also our character.

In addition to our being glorified I think we also must emphasize the **environmental** factors that we will experience in the eternal state. These environmental factors will greatly influence our range of choices in the eternal state.

First and most importantly we will experience God directly in a way that we do not do now (cf. “then we will see face to face”). That will greatly impact our choices, you would think! :-)

Also, according to scripture we will no longer face that trinity of evil (the devil, the world system and the flesh). These will all have been eliminated from the presence of the eternal state with God. Most of our temptations come from these three sources, so temptation to sin will be eliminated in the eternal state. This means that in ***that environment*** our range of choices will appear to not include any temptation or desire to sin.

We also cannot underestimate what it will be like being in eternal fellowship with other believers who have also been glorified.

So if our nature (both physical and mental) is perfected having been glorified, we are in the direct presence of God and in a perfect environment (with no devil, world system or flesh) to contend with, in perfect fellowship with both God and other believers, ****these factors combined**** help explain why the believer will no longer sin in the eternal state.

Robert

Ronnie W Rogers

Thanks Robert
I agree with your comments and see them as a part of my positon. As you noted, I am trying to offer other suggestions that address questions regarding the existence of otherwise choice in eternity and if it (make man with choice but no sin) is something that can be done, and could have been done, then why did God create man in such a way that untold suffereing must take place (similar to what Plantiga’s atonement suggestion seeks to address). Also, the angels were apparently in the presence of God with no tempter etc.

By the way, this summer I read Plantinga’s Free Will Defense and about Trans-World depravity along with a host of various theologians, theists, and atheistic and Darwinian philosophers regarding compatibilism, libertarianism etc. Very good and interesting.

RD Magee

Does a genuine, born again, saved person have the ability to genuinely walk away from Christ, losing their salvation? If not, why not? If so, why so? What changed?
Is leaving the faith, choosing to walk away and reject Jesus within the range of choices for a saved person? If not, why not? If so, why so?
What changes for a person from before he or she was was saved? Before they were saved, did they not have the free libertarian choice to embrace Christ or reject Christ? Once saved, does the range narrow? Does it narrow even more once glorified? Why?

    Robert

    RD Magee,

    Taking a machine gun-like approach when asking questions is not very conducive to getting quality answers. You fired a lot of questions in a small space so I am not going to answer your questions one by one (which I would do if there were fewer questions and I did not sense a machine gun like approach).

    Your first blast of questions was:

    “Does a genuine, born again, saved person have the ability to genuinely walk away from Christ, losing their salvation? If not, why not? If so, why so? What changed?
    Is leaving the faith, choosing to walk away and reject Jesus within the range of choices for a saved person? If not, why not? If so, why so?”

    Your first set of questions appears focused upon whether or not a genuinely saved persons can lose their salvation.

    The answer for Southern Baptists (and this site is a Southern Baptist site) and many other Baptists is No. If you are a Southern Baptist it is odd that you would ask these questions as you already know what SBers believe on this. If you are not a Southern Baptist: people have written books on this subject I suggest you avail yourself of them (if you ask for recommendations here I am sure others will gladly oblige you).

    “What changes for a person from before he or she was was saved? Before they were saved, did they not have the free libertarian choice to embrace Christ or reject Christ? Once saved, does the range narrow? Does it narrow even more once glorified? Why?”

    I hope we change when we are saved! :-)

    I will give you one really big hint: check out what the New Testament says about the believer receiving the Holy Spirit.

    Regarding our range of choices, our range of choices will change over time and in various circumstances. Most people know this; it is a bit of a common sense notion as we all experience it all the time. For example just this morning I was just talking to someone about how a mutual acquaintance had suffered a stroke. That person does not have the same range of choices following the stroke. Do they still have and make choices (i.e. have free will)? Yes. Is their range of choices post-stroke the same? No. The examples could be multiplied endlessly but the point is simple our range of choices fluctuates in different contexts and circumstances.

    Similarly, our range of choices in the eternal state is going to be different than it is now. How can it not be different if the devil is judged and no longer tempting us, the world system is destroyed and the flesh is nullified by our having been perfected?

    Our range of choices is greatly influenced (though not necessitated) by our environment. You might want to carefully think about how our environment changes between this present evil age (where the devil is active, there is a fully functioning world system, and we all struggle with the “flesh” whether we are believers or not) and the age to come. You might also want to keep in mind that while our range or choices does in fact fluctuate, all the while, in whatever environment we are in, we always maintain our ability to have and make our own choices.

    Robert

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