Monday, November 30, 2009

The God of Non-Contradiction, Part II; Libertarian Freedom: A Display of the Sovereignty of God

I’m back to continue my examination of Axel D. Steuer’s article titled “The Freedom of God and Human Freedom.” Steuer shows us in his article that God is “The God of Non-Contradiction,” the One who is orderly and logical. Because God is logical and consistent in His character and nature, He is not going to “control my self-control,” for instance. Such beliefs are contradictions and go against all rules of logic. The Law of Non-Contradiction (I’ve said it numerous times) states that two opposing things cannot exist in the same respect at the same time (such as “short and tall”).

In today’s post, I’m gonna continue Steuer’s work. This post, however, will tackle the issue of libertarian freedom and what it means. It is my belief that many who argue against it do so because they fail to understand the nature of libertarian freedom.

Steuer goes on to say:

“The one kind of control God cannot logically have over free human agents is self-control. Thus, it is not paradoxical that an omnipotent being cannot COMPLETELY control another distinct being which has at least a certain degree of self-control or freedom. The creation of such freely acting or independent beings IN NO WAY LIMITS GOD’S POWER (indeed IT MIGHT BE TAKEN AS FURTHER TESTIMONY TO THAT POWER) nor does the existence of such beings require any sort of self-limitation on God’s part. GOD CAN STILL DO WHATEVER IS LOGICALLY DO-ABLE (i.e., God is still omnipotent) even if he freely creates beings over whose free choices he has (on logical grounds) no control” (“The Freedom Of God And Human Freedom.” Scottish Journal of Theology Vol. 36, pp. 172-173).

In writing about God controlling human “self-control,” Steuer tells us that “an omnipotent being cannot COMPLETELY control another distinct being...” The phrase “completely control” DOES NOT LEAVE OUT THE POSSIBILITY OF SOME MEASURE OF CONTROL! I say this because theologians such as Bruce Ware, and other compatibilists, attempt to add further limitation to man’s freedom---- when the truth is, that man’s freedom IS ALREADY LIMITED! This is the definition of what libertarian freedom is:

The Libertarian view - According to libertarianism, the idea that God causes men to act in a certain way, but that man has free will in acting that way is logically false. Free means uncaused. Man has free will, and his decisions are influenced, but not caused. God limits the actions of men, but not their mind or will. Man has the ability to turn to God in Christ and sincerely ask for help, selfishly perhaps, apart from specific (special) divine enablement. According to Arminianism, God, in his freedom, not only sets a condition on salvation and wills only to save those who would ask Him to rescue them. God, then, predestines those who He "foreknew" to salvation. Or, according to Open Theism, God is anxiously waiting to see what each person will do, for he cannot know ahead of time what the choice might be. (from Theopedia--

“God limits the actions of men, but not their mind or will.” This sentence sums up the libertarian freedom position perfectly. God limits our choices, and this is demonstrated in things that humans cannot do. A good example is one given by a former Apologetics professor of mine—that of flying. Humans do not have “unlimited” free will, for we cannot make ourselves fly. We cannot just get up, flap our arms, and start flying in the air. We are not immortal, so we cannot just get shot with bullets and not be mortally wounded or killed by the impact of the bullets through our bodies. There are things that our “humanness” or human essence will not allow us to do. In other words, humans are made with boundaries, limits to our potential. However, this is not a bad thing. Rather, having limits within our humanness is where freedom is most found. Timothy Keller writes regarding the claim that Christianity limits one’s potential:

“Disciplines and constraints, then, liberate us only when they fit with the reality of our nature and capacities. A fish, because it absorbs oxygen from water rather than air, is only free if it is restricted and limited to water. If we put it out on the grass, its freedom to move and even live is not enhanced, but destroyed. The fish dies if we do not honor the reality of its nature.
In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions. Those that fit with the reality of our nature and the world produce greater power and scope for our abilities and a deeper joy and fulfillment. Experimentation, risk, and making mistakes bring growth only if, over time, they show us our limits as well as our abilities. If we only grow intellectually, vocationally, and physically through judicious constraints—WHY WOULD IT NOT ALSO BE TRUE FOR SPIRITUAL AND MORAL GROWTH? Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn’t we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?”
(Timothy Keller, “The Reason for God: Belief In An Age of Skepticism.” New York: Dutton, 2008, pages 46-47).

Although Keller writes regarding limits to our actions as believers, I think Keller's argument would also apply to humanity in general. It is having limits within our humanness that we are most free. Therefore, libertarian freedom is truly free in that sense. It is not the freedom of the Open Theist, where God doesn’t know the future, or that of Bruce Ware, in which God “regulates and adjusts” the influences of my will to an extent that I do everything He wants me to do. No, the idea of libertarian freedom matches the freedom of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Keep in mind that they could eat of every tree EXCEPT ONE!

This is an important fact that needs to be understood in the debate regarding divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Bruce Ware, for instance, attempts to “limit” the freedom of man by eliminating every choice except that of his “inclination” in the decision process (man thus has a “freedom of inclination,” stated in his book, “God’s Greater Glory”). Others, like the Classical Calvinist camp, attempt to erase and eliminate man’s freedom completely (which only exacerbates the problem). But here, in the idea of “libertarian freedom,” is the solution to God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Think of it: the ideal theological solution to the question of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a system where God is clearly in control, but yet, humans do have some form of freedom in which to operate (both are sound biblical doctrines). So, how is this accomplished? “One’s account of providence must be robust enough to be a plausible candidate for DIVINE providence, without being so strong as to imply that God himself is an EVIL-DOER” (Kenneth J. Perszyk, “Molinism and Theodicy.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 44, page 168. Article itself is from pp. 163-184).

How do we listen to these words of Kenneth Perszyk? We do so with the assumption that, if evil exists (which it does), and God cannot be responsible for it (which James 1 states), then God cannot have all the power in the world. That power must be shared if God is not at fault for evil. Therefore, man has some freedom, even if Calvinists find the idea revolting...

And this is where libertarian freedom comes to center stage. In this theological idea (with a philosophical label), we find that man has a “limited freedom,” while God, as Sovereign, has an “unlimited freedom.” Man, then, is allowed to have freedom within boundaries, and God, having created those boundaries, still retains control over man as His creation (without determining man’s choices). There is no contradiction with God limiting the amount of freedom; there is contradiction involved, however, should God DECIDE man’s CHOICES. God cannot DECIDE TO CHOOSE FOR ME if He has given me the power to CHOOSE for myself! A determined choice is no choice at all...

The last statement Axel Steuer makes is the following:

“The creation of such freely acting or independent beings IN NO WAY LIMITS GOD’S POWER (indeed IT MIGHT BE TAKEN AS FURTHER TESTIMONY TO THAT POWER) nor does the existence of such beings require any sort of self-limitation on God’s part. GOD CAN STILL DO WHATEVER IS LOGICALLY DO-ABLE (i.e., God is still omnipotent) even if he freely creates beings over whose free choices he has (on logical grounds) no control.”

God’s power is not limited because of the freedom of man. Instead, it gives “further testimony to that power,” as Steuer tells us. It’s the same idea as a rich man. He demonstrates his wealth by giving large sums of money away to charity, for example. The fact that he CAN give away large sums of money shows that he isn’t threatened by so doing. In contrast, the person struggling from paycheck to paycheck doesn’t have the option of giving money away—for he or she barely has enough money for himself/herself!

God is still able to intervene in our world despite the choices of man; however, God has committed Himself to honoring the choices of man—which is why when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden (Gen. 1), God didn’t “erase” their choice. When the Israelites continued to complain and rebel in the wilderness, the Lord allowed them to die in the wilderness and forfeit entering the Promised Land. When Stephen was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel (Acts 7), he was stoned to death by Saul of Tarsus—and the Lord “stood” for Stephen in glory, but still allowed him to be stoned to death. Peter was still crucified for the cause of Christ—and the Lord did not step in and “erase” Peter’s death! The thief on the cross still had to die for his crime—despite accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. There are numerous other examples, but all these serve to show that our Lord has committed Himself to our genuine choices—-- such that He will not “choose” our choices or undo the consequences of our actions. He will intervene in our world when He so chooses----but not so as to violate the power of choice He has given man. This is why the Jews were disappointed when Christ revealed that He did not come to free them from Roman oppression.

I will cover a little more of Steuer’s last quote in my next post.

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