Monday, August 3, 2009

Calvinist Freedom

This morning, I began to read Roger Olson’s perspective on the Doctrine of God in the titled book, “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God” by four writers: Paul Helm, Bruce Ware, Roger Olson, and John Sanders. Olson’s chapter, titled “The Classical Free Will Theist Model of God,” presents a very commendable view of Arminianism and its evangelical nature in the face of attacks upon its theological system. Olson’s chapter, as all the others, faced attacks by the other writers, notably among them, Bruce Ware. In his response, Ware writes the following:

“In response, I put forward this claim: libertarian freedom possesses an initial advantageous prima facie philosophical and intuitive legitimacy, yet under examination this legitimacy soon vanishes such that the Calvinist view of freedom—which I prefer calling “FREEDOM OF INCLINATION”—alone can sustain careful and probing scrutiny…for example, if we are considering the menu at a restaurant and eventually order the deluxe pizza, it seems clear to us that as we requested what we did, we surely could instead have selected a hamburger or the French dip. In other words, it seems intuitive that we could have chosen otherwise, and in fact, if we could not have chosen otherwise, we wouldn’t have been free. But what this surface analysis fails to notice is a definition of libertarian freedom that is sometimes hidden or implied. Not only is it the case that when we choose X, we could have chosen Y; it is also more precisely the case that at the moment we choose X, ALL THINGS BEING EXACTLY WHAT THEY ARE WHEN WE MAKE THE CHOICE OF X, we could instead have chosen Y. Now, as one analyzes libertarian freedom more fully exposed, as it were, we can begin to detect a real problem…if all of the factors leading to my choosing X are identical to the reason that, instead, I might choose Y, then THERE IS NO EXPLANATION FOR THE CHOICE OF X OVER Y OR Y OVER X. Libertarian freedom, then, reduces to what Calvinists have long called a ‘freedom of indifference.’ If this libertarian view of freedom is correct…libertarian freedom accounts for human free choice such that no explanation is forthcoming for why one made the specific choice one did and, hence, one must be quite literally ‘indifferent’ to X or Y when one chooses X instead of Y or Y instead of X” (Bruce Ware, from “Perspectives on the Doctrine of God.” Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008, pages 190-191).

Bruce Ware presents what he believes to be a problem for Arminians; yet, he has the wrong idea of what choice is. A choice is only a choice if a person has two or more alternatives. But what Ware seems to do is present one possibility as having a stronger inclination or preference over another.

But how does this eliminate choice? While people do make choices everyday that their inclination exhibits strong tendency towards, similarly, they also make choices that their inclinations GO AGAINST, ARE OPPOSED TO! For example, if I’m at the car dealership buying a new car and I want a BMW but can only afford a Honda, I’m gonna choose a Honda—ALTHOUGH IT GOES AGAINST MY INCLINATION—because I can only afford a Honda! To buy a BMW when I can’t afford it might be a nice at first, but it won’t be nice when the BMW gets repossessed and taken back to the car lot! Mind you, my reasons for the BMW might be more and might be stronger, but to choose what my inclination wants would be to go against all sense of reason. I must take into account the financial issue if I plan to get a car I can keep. The financial reason, then, while maybe not as strong as my desire for the car, is gonna win the day.
Ware labels the Arminian freedom as a “freedom of inclination”—but then, this isn’t a FREEDOM at all! This is what James has to say about the inner inclinations of man’s heart:

“No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Notice that man has “evil” desires. This matches the words of Genesis 6 regarding God’s decision to destroy man:

“When the Lord saw that man’s wickedness was WIDESPREAD ON THE EARTH AND THAT EVERY SCHEME HIS MIND THOUGHT OF WAS NOTHING BUT EVIL ALL THE TIME, the Lord regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6, HCSB).

Jesus Himself tells us of the corruptness of man’s hearts:

“For from the heart come EVIL THOUGHTS, MURDERS, ADULTERIES, SEXUAL IMMORALITIES, THEFTS, FALSE TESTIMONIES, BLASPHEMIES. These are the things that defile a man…” (Matthew 15:19-20a, HCSB).

Scripture clearly shows us man’s inclinations—if all man does is go towards his “inclinations,” then evil is not only all he CAN do; it is all he WILL DO!
And if this is all Scripture told us, then we’d have every reason to believe that we could NEVER come to be convicted of our sin. However, Scripture not only TELLS us of our nature, but shows us how to FIGHT our nature:

“BLESSED IS A MAN WHO ENDURES TRIALS, because when he passes the test he will receive THE CROWN OF LIFE that He has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, HCSB).

“Be sober! Be on the alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. RESIST HIM, FIRM IN THE FAITH, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your brothers in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

“For His divine power has given us EVERYTHING REQUIRED FOR LIFE AND GODLINESS…by these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, ESCAPING THE CORRUPTION THAT IS IN THE WORLD BECAUSE OF EVIL DESIRES” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

And, last but not least, the favored passage of 1 Corinthians 10:

“Therefore, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall! No temptation has overtaken you except WHAT IS COMMON TO HUMANITY. God is faithful and HE WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO BE TEMPTED BEYOND WHAT YOU ARE ABLE, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that YOU ARE ABLE TO BEAR IT” (1 Cor. 10:12-13).

Man’s inclination lies in temptation, evil, and sin. This is what the heart of man desires most; and yet, Scripture tells us that we can “resist” these inclinations, these evil desires, that we can choose THE OTHER PATH, the alternative! We are also told (from the 2 Peter 1 verses above) that God gives us everything we need to live a godly life. So, despite Ware’s statement of the “freedom of inclination,” Scripture attests that, not only are we free to do what our flesh desires—but that we are also free in Christ to lean on His power and His strength and CHOOSE to do that which is pleasing to Him. However, for one to agree with me in the last statement I said means that, contra Bruce Ware, we CAN go against our inclinations! We are not “bound” in our “freedom” to do only sin. We are truly free to choose from either two or more options in every decision.

Man goes against his nature every day when, for example, a husband REFUSES to cheat on his wife with a single woman; when a Christian who struggles with homosexuality refuses to give in to his struggle and, instead, maintains his purity for Christ’s service; when a believer chooses not to deal drugs when he gets laid off of work, and so forth. We make choices everyday that go against what we want. But when we make these decisions, we do so because there are also STRONG REASONS for choosing the alternative (just like our inclinations come with STRONG REASONS). This doesn’t produce a “freedom of indifference,” but rather, a true deliberation of the mind regarding what to do.

In every decision, ONE OPTION will stand out from all the rest; but the option that stands out might not match our inclination.

Bruce Ware and other Calvinists have their own idea of “Calvinist freedom,” where a choice isn’t a choice. But the truth is that Calvinist Freedom isn’t freedom at all—if all man could do was what lay in his heart, then God’s strength and power for the believer would be of none effect. Calvinist freedom fails to deliver in the way Bruce Ware believes it does: for, it not only goes against Scripture…it also nullifies the work of Christ on the Cross.

No comments: