Thursday, October 22, 2009

The "Arminian" Verses, Part II: The "Free Will" References In The New Testament

I am back for Part II of my work on “Arminian” verses. Let me just say first, that I don’t label these verses “Arminian”; I am only doing that because R.K. McGregor Wright does so in his book. Secondly, while I am a Classical Arminian and do advocate the theology of Arminius himself (who, by the way, was Reformed in his theology), I do not seek to find proof texts to justify what I believe. I want the Scriptures to speak for themselves on this subject. My only task here at The Center for Theological Studies is to investigate theological claims and see the truth or inconsistencies in them.

Now, on to the task at hand. First, there is 2 Corinthians 8:3—

“For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were FREELY WILLING…”

Let’s read R.K. McGregor Wright’s response to this verse:

“Second Corinthians 8:3 (RSV) says that the believers of Macedonia ‘gave…of their own free will.’ The Greek word translated as ‘free will’ here is ‘authairetoi,’ which simply means acting ‘of themselves’ or ‘of their own accord.’ It does not contain the Greek words for ‘free’ or ‘will’ or anything similar. The point is only that they GAVE WITHOUT IT BEING DEMANDED OF THEM. WITHOUT EXTERNAL CONSTRAINTS, they gave voluntarily” (R.K. McGregor Wright, “No Place For Sovereignty: What’s Wrong With Freewill Theism.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996).

Notice that in the above quote, Wright says that 2 Corinthians 8:3 discusses free will only in the sense that the Corinthians “gave…without external constraints.” But watch his twist on this fact:

“The further philosophical question of whether their choice HAD SOME METAPHYSICAL OR SPIRITUAL CAUSATION BEHIND IT is not touched. Certainly there was no apostolic command involved. This is a case of Paul commending what the Old Testament calls ‘voluntary offerings’ in over twenty places” (164).

After he acknowledges the “freedom from external constraint,” Wright runs back into his presupposition when he assumes that there is “some metaphysical or spiritual causation behind it.” But Wright fumbles here because he doesn’t seem to know the definition of what it means for the will to be “free.” According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, one of the definitions of “free” is:

2 a : not determined by anything beyond its own nature or being : choosing or capable of choosing for itself.

So if the will is “free,” then this means that the human being is not “determined” in his or her actions; rather, there is nothing “beyond its own nature or being” that forces the person to choose one action over another. One thing you’re gonna discover as I cover Wright’s book from time to time is that he assumes that when people say “free will,” that they are referring to an “autonomous” will that people believe to not have been affected by the fall. I will go so far as to say that our will has been corrupted, but not destroyed. We are restrained in our decisions by our sinful tendencies, but these tendencies are not determinative. For instance, just because I have a “tendency” to like dessert does not mean that every time I go to the coffee company, I will necessarily have a piece of chocolate cake. Having the tendency to eat chocolate and actually choosing to eat chocolate cake are two different things, and one does not necessarily entail the other. The flip side of the previous sentence is that sometimes, I eat chocolate cake not because of the tendency, but because I am depressed or having a bad day, or I am just “craving” dessert.

The next instance Wright supplies is Philemon 14:

“But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but VOLUNTARY.”

The Greek word for “voluntary” is “hekousion.”

Wright comments as follows:

“Paul wants the slave-owner Philemon to be good VOLUNTARILY, not because he feels compelled by the sheer authority of an apostle: ‘that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will’...Paul wants Philemon to forgive Onesimus out of his own regenerate nature, recognizing the returning slave as his brother in Christ and not merely submitting to apostolic authority unwillingly. Again, THE QUESTION OF WHETHER THE DECISIONS OF A REGENERATE (or unregenerate) NATURE ARE CAUSED OR UNCAUSED (the Arminian freewill theory) ARE NOT IN VIEW HERE” (164-165).
For the first part of Wright’s second quote, he was fine. When he gets to the second part, we see his bias: that he believes the will could possibly be affected by “external” factors—although he writes that “Paul wants Philemon to forgive Onesimus out of his own regenerate nature.” I have to ask: what else is R.K. McGregor Wright looking for? What “else” is needed to convince him that a will that is “free” has no external constraints? Let’s read his statement on why the will isn’t “free”:

“This question therefore arises: Since the assertion of free will is a claim that no outside causes are controlling the will’s choices, how can anyone know for sure that this is so? THE ACTIONS OF THE WILL ARE MOTIONS OF THE SOUL, and THESE IN TURN ARE INVOLVED WITH THE WORKING OF THE BRAIN. The brain is an electrochemical machine of wonderful complexity, but it can be affected by many physical things, from a simple concussion to stimuli from electrical currents. It can be affected by the growth of a tumor or by chemicals in the blood, such as LSD. How do we know that it is not also affected BY COSMIC RADIATION? MILLIONS OF TINY PARTICLES FROM DISTANT STARS AND GALAXIES PASS THROUGH OUR BODIES ALL THE TIME. WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT EFFECTS THEY MAY HAVE ON THE ATOMS AND MOLECULES IN OUR BODIES WITH WHICH THEY COLLIDE. How can a person who believes in free will be certain HIS BRAIN IS NOT BEING MODIFIED AT ANY INSTANT BY A SUBATOMIC PARTICLE, CAUSING HIS OTHERWISE ‘NEUTRAL’ WILL TO TURN THIS WAY RATHER THAN THAT? One would need to have exhaustive knowledge of the situation in order to be sure there were no causes whatsoever operating on the human will. Thus, belief in free will seems to require omniscience” (51-52).

To be honest, I think Wright’s quote above is “extremely” laughable. What shocked me the most when I read it is that I would never have thought of a “biological” argument being used to argue against free will. However, if this argument were true, we could all get away with doing all sorts of things. The bottom line is that we all know that our justice system is built upon the laws of our society; and the laws of our society hold people responsible for the crimes they commit (except in cases of insanity). When a person is declared insane, the law presupposes that there are chemical issues in the brain or a lapsed mental state such that the person was not “cognizant” of what they were doing. Those who are held responsible are those who are perfectly normal (possess apt mental capability) and yet, commit crimes in cold blood.

I’m gonna lay it out on the table: Calvinists cannot argue that man is specially made in the image and likeness of God, and yet, downplay the “will of man” (John 1:13). If God acted by His will when He made man and gave him His image and likeness, as well as dominion over the earth, then when Adam was given the power to “name the animals,” he acted on his will and “chose” to name them what he wanted to. By naming the animals, he was acting like his Creator who had named the earth, land, sea, sky, day and night, as well as the sun, moon, and stars.

The last reference of Wright’s is 1 Corinthians 9:17—

“For if I do this WILLINGLY, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship.” (NKJV)

Here, Paul is talking about his calling to preach the gospel. In verse 16 he writes, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for NECESSITY IS LAID UPON ME, yes, WOE IS ME IF I DO NOT PREACH THE GOSPEL!” (NKJV)

The word for “willingly” in verse 16 is the word “hekone” (he-cone), from the word “hekousion” or “hekousios.”

Notice in verse 17, Paul discusses preaching “willingly” or “against” his will; in verse 16, he states that “necessity” is his external constraint—but then he says, “woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” He has told us that he must preach the gospel—but here, he says that he could choose not to...he would just face dire consequences from the Lord Himself is he failed to preach the gospel. Paul’s words “I have been entrusted with a stewardship” take the reader back to Matthew 25 with the parable of the talents. There were three servants—one had five talents, one two, and the other had one. The story goes that the Master gave them the talents and went away. When He returned, He required them all to give a report (account) of what they had done with their money. While the servants with five and two talents respectively were rewarded, the servant with one talent was condemned and cast into Hell because he failed to use the talent he had. So, once again, we see that Paul had a choice as well—but the choice of not preaching the gospel would only hurt him more!

This is what Wright says regarding 1 Corinthians 9:17—

“When we compare verses 16-17 from the Living Bible with the New American Standard Bible, we discover that the point again, in the more literal translation, is that something may be voluntary or obligatory, but the issue is not addressed as to whether the PROCESS OF VOLUNTARY CHOICE IS CAUSED OR NOT. This question of causation is the aspect of free will separating Arminians from Calvinists” (165).

“Process of voluntary choice?” Can the process itself really be “caused?” I think it’s safe to say that certain things motivate all of us, whether it be selfish or spiritual, etc. Back to my dessert craving: I go eat dessert a lot not because of “subatomic particles” acting on my brain, but because my body wants the dessert and I give in. I eat it because it serves an emotional purpose for me: when I eat dessert, the caffeine and ingredients in chocolate make me extremely happy. However strong the craving, my body does not make me go and put money on the counter at the coffee shop for the piece of cake! My own inner desires can only take me so far. At the end of the day, not even the inner desires can bind me to one choice over the other. Arminians, in arguing free will, are saying that the will itself is not “externally forced” to do anything. Arminians can never argue away inner motives or reasons for certain actions; but even in those cases, the inclination to do something does not NECESSITATE the action itself!

Volition is caused in one manner: it was given by the Lord, and He continues to sustain the will of man. However, if one is to argue that man’s choice is caused, then man can also plead innocent in the Garden of Eden for the fall. Unfortunately, God holds us responsible (Romans 5:8, 12).

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