Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Joke of Calvinist Compatibilism

“The great problem of the incompatibilist conception is that it reverses the biblical order of priority in the relationship between God and human beings. It says, in effect, ‘I am free; therefore, God is limited by my freedom.’ But rather than the WILL OF GOD BEING DEPENDENT UPON THE CHOICES OF HIS CREATURES, Scripture teaches that the absolute dependence of all creatures upon God. This is the biblical ground of compatibilism. We cannot define God’s right or agency by our perception of freedom; rather we must understand what freedom means within the biblical witness to a divine sovereignty in which not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command” (“Why I Am Not An Arminian” by Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004, page 142).

Authors Robert Peterson and Michael Williams make fun of Arminianism in this statement. The authors themselves believe in compatibilism; but their definition of compatibilism is different than my definition of compatibilism.

For these Calvinist writers, compatibilism says that God’s will is done in the world—and God accomplishes this by making sure that my emotions, feelings, inclinations, thoughts, and actions all line up with what God desires. If God desires for me to do evil, then (which I pray a lightning bolt doesn’t strike me for saying, dear Lord), He will actually give me the inclination to do evil. My freedom, then, according to Bruce Ware, is that I am free to do evil; so, therefore, I will do evil because that’s all my freedom will allow.

But notice what Peterson and Williams say about Arminianism: [the] “will of God being DEPENDENT UPON THE CHOICES OF HIS CREATURES…” However, Arminianism doesn’t say this at all.
The will of God is not dependent upon the choices of His creatures. But it is non-dependent in a different way than the Calvinist maintains.

God’s will is not dependent upon His human creation because the very free will that mankind has been given COMES FROM GOD! The very dominion over the earth that man has been given was given to him by God Himself! Remember Genesis 1:26-27?

26 Then God said, "Let Us (P) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. (Q) They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth, [f] and the creatures that crawl [g] on the earth." (R)
27 So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female. (Genesis 1:26-27, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

So God is responsible for man having free will. Surely then, if God gave man free will, and a choice involves at least two options, then God maintains sovereignty over man’s choices.

However, God, in His sovereignty, has allowed man the possibility of walking away from Him, has given man the power to choose a life apart from Himself. But God is only responsible for giving man power; He is not responsible for what man chooses to do with it!!!

I titled this post “the Joke of Calvinist Compatibilism” because Calvinists, in their assessment of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will, seek to find a way to make everything “work out.” But they try too hard: the solution is found in the fact that man’s free will IS FOUND IN THE WILL OF GOD, for God willed man to have free will (which is, as Irenaeus said, part of man’s being made in the likeness of God).

But Peterson and Williams make a huge statement in the last sentence of the above quote:

“We cannot define God’s right or agency by our perception of freedom; rather we must understand what freedom means within the biblical witness to a divine sovereignty in which not one drop of rain falls without God’s sure command.”

I think they’re right: we have to define freedom biblically, in which everything happens with God’s command. But free will only happens BECAUSE OF GOD’S COMMAND! God made man in His image, after His likeness, and gave him dominion over the earth, lordship over the earth. This then, was God’s command (in the same way God said “let there be light,” and light came into being).

The compatibilism that the Calvinists seek is what I call a “theological redundancy.” God made free will and His own sovereignty compatible when He decreed that MAN WOULD BE MADE IN HIS IMAGE, AFTER HIS LIKENESS! But Calvinists, adding their own “finishing touches” to Scripture, have decided to create ANOTHER compatibility of their own—and, in the making, have done a huge disgrace to the Word of God.


Kevin Jackson said...

Exactly right. A W Tozer said: "Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so."

Deidre Richardson said...


Thanks for responding...

I like your quote from A.W. has free will ONLY BECAUSE God is sovereign.

Tozer's quote is fitting for this post also because "A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures."
I don't know if you read my response to another responder under one of my posts on "Process Theology," but I told him there (and I'll say it now) that if my God is not fully in control of everything, if my God is not all-knowing and all-powerful, then free will IS just an illusion-- for my free will, my power to choose, is only effective IF the One who gave it to me has all-power. If God is powerless, then so is my free will; and if my free will is powerless, then the image of God in me is diminished.

Please continue to read and respond. I highly recommend the book "A Dictionary of Early Beliefs" by David Bercot. It's a book that discusses 700 main topics of the early church. The book itself contains sections on salvation, free will and predestination, divine foreknowledge, hermeneutics, philosophy, apologetics, etc. I'll be using a great many of the quotes of church fathers on this blog from Bercot's book.