“Abasciano agrees with me that we must uphold the law of non-contradiction. But he claims that the notion that God determines who will believe, and at the same time judges those who fail to believe because they should have believed, is a contradiction. I argue that no contradiction exists here because we have a mystery analogous to the mystery of the Trinity. Abasciano rejects my view because philosophically, mystery ‘should be reserved for realities in which we do not know how something works, but in which there is no logical contradiction.’ He claims the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory because it is not a contradiction to say that there are three persons and one being, but my view fails, according to Abasciano, because it is a contradiction to say that God predetermines all things and also to say that human beings make authentic choices.
It should be noted that Abasciano thinks my view is contradictory because his definition of freedom differs from mine. Abasciano defends libertarian freedom which means that people have the ability to choose the contrary. I would argue, however, along with Calvin and Edwards (and the Calvinist tradition) for a compatibilistic view of freedom. Human beings are free when they choose in accordance with their nature, when they do what they wish to do...Abasciano is correct in saying that my view is contradictory if libertarian freedom is true. But I would argue that libertarian freedom does not accord with logic or the Scriptures (cf. Acts 2:23), and hence his objection on this point fails” (Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response To Brian Abasciano.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 2 (June 2006), pages 384-385).
“Good things come to those who wait” has often been used to demonstrate the importance of waiting and the good that results from it. As a result, I decided to leave Schreiner’s philosophical statement until last in his critique. Therefore, today’s post will show Schreiner struggling to maintain his philosophical leanings on the basis of the text.
First, he agrees with Dr. Brian Abasciano regarding the law of non-contradiction. I would say that this is one of the fundamental philosophical laws of human existence (see R.C. Sproul’s “Defending Your Faith” to see the Law of Non-Contradiction as well as other basic philosophical laws).
However, I would disagree that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are a “mystery.” If they are, then we cannot know what God has done for us or what God expects of us. In short, God has placed us on earth with a Bible that we are incapable of understanding. Surely, Schreiner wouldn’t say that we cannot understand the Bible; if so, why would he even write theology textbooks?
The major paragraph of the Schreiner quote above that I wanna tackle is his attack of Dr. Abasciano’s philosophical view of libertarian freedom:
"It should be noted that Abasciano thinks my view is contradictory because his definition of freedom differs from mine. Abasciano defends libertarian freedom which means that people have the ability to choose the contrary. I would argue, however, along with Calvin and Edwards (and the Calvinist tradition) for a compatibilistic view of freedom. Human beings are free when they choose in accordance with their nature, when they do what they wish to do...Abasciano is correct in saying that my view is contradictory if libertarian freedom is true. But I would argue that libertarian freedom does not accord with logic or the Scriptures (cf. Acts 2:23), and hence his objection on this point fails.”
Abasciano argues for libertarian freedom, the idea that humans have a limited amount of power (and choice) by which they make decisions that they are held accountable for. Schreiner, in contrast, argues “compatibilistic freedom,” which says that choices made are both chosen by the individual who commits them and God Himself. But Schreiner’s compatibilistic freedom is problematic when one considers that, in his view, God determined that certain persons would be saved and certain others would be damned for all eternity.
The biggest offense of Schreiner’s response is his statement that “libertarian freedom does not accord with logic or the Scriptures (cf. Acts 2:23)...” On a philosophical level, I desire for Dr. Schreiner to explain why libertarian freedom “does not accord with logic.” What about libertarian freedom is illogical? Is this not the kind of freedom Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden when God said, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17, NKJV)? Did God not grant them a significant amount of freedom to eat from every tree EXCEPT ONE? Did God not limit their freedom in the number of trees they could (and could not) eat from? How would his compatibilistic freedom fit Genesis?
He points to Acts 2:23 as the prooftext for compatibilism, and then says that Dr. Abasciano’s libertarian freedom “does not accord with the Scriptures.” But I could easily point to passages of Scripture that contradict Schreiner’s compatibilism. For example, what about 1 Samuel 23 where God tells David that he would be Saul would come to Keilah and the men of the town would hand him over...but it does not happen (instead, David escapes and Saul cannot find him)? What about when David attempts to number the people, and, for his sin, the Lord tells David, “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you” (2 Sam. 24:12)? This passage tackles the issue of Schreiner’s compatibilism: while the text tells us that the Lord, in anger against Israel, “moved David against them,” (2 Sam. 24:1), the text does not tell us that God determined David would number the people. Rather, it seems that God, knowing David’s own thoughts and heart, used his sinful disposition to accomplish His decision to attack Israel.
This is the same idea that we find in Genesis regarding Abraham, Sarah, and the Pharaoh down in Egypt. The Lord comes to the king (Abimelech) and tells him that he has another man’s wife. The king responds that he was told by both Abraham and Sarah that they were siblings, not spouses (Gen. 20:5). The king then goes on to state, “In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.” The Lord responds, “I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore, I did not let you touch her” (Gen. 20:6). The Lord prevents the king from sleeping with Abraham’s wife because the king honestly did not know that Sarah was Abraham’s wife! The Lord worked in accordance with Abimelech’s heart disposition...the Lord did not “cause” Abimelech to not sin despite whether or not he really wanted to. The Lord prevented the sin because Abimelech did not want to sin. This is why he asks “Lord, will you slay a righteous nation also” (v. 4)? If God determines anything in these situations, it is that He determines to either allow sin or not on the basis of the heart decisions of the individuals involved. Yes, Classical Arminianism can hold to divine providence without conceding anything to the Calvinist notion divine providence.
Compatibilistic freedom sounds like it argues that predetermination and human freedom are “compatible,” that is, that they work together. However, this is not what “compatible” means in the context of freedom: rather, what it means is that God predetermines something, then it happens, and the person is still held responsible because “they freely chose to do it.” For those who don’t believe me, read these words by Dr. Ken Keathley:
“First, God knows everything that could happen. This first moment is His natural knowledge, where God knows everything due to His omniscient nature. Second, from the set of infinite possibilities, God also knows which scenarios would result in persons freely responding in the way He desires. This crucial moment of knowledge is between the first and third moment, hence the term middle knowledge. From the repertoire of available options provided by His middle knowledge, God freely and sovereignly chooses which one He will bring to pass. This results in God’s third moment of knowledge, which is His foreknowledge of what certainly will occur. The third moment is God’s free knowledge because it is determined by His free and sovereign choice...God meticulously ‘sets the table’ so that humans freely choose what He had predetermined” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 152).
In short, God determines what He knows in His middle knowledge. If He knows that I will resist salvation, it’s because He determined it. There may have been a world where I would have been saved...but God doesn’t know that I will be saved because He chose the world in which I will not be saved. God determines what He knows about me.
This is the compatibilistic freedom Schreiner holds to. And yet, how is there any sort of genuine freedom if God determines what I will do? Libertarian freedom endorses the idea that God limits my options, but allows me to choose which option I desire...such as what my occupation will be (there are certain things I cannot do because I do not possess certain skills). Compatibilistic freedom says that God not only limits my job options (for example), but even chooses the exact job I will select...and then turns around and says, “You freely chose it.” Where is the logic in this???