Exegetical Defense of Libertarian Free Will

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by jmbertrand, May 31, 2002.

  1. jmbertrand

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    Think of this as a friendly challenge. Arguments against Reformed soteriology start with the assumption that God has granted man a "free will" that operates in what philosophers would classify as a libertarian fashion -- i.e., man is only free if he has the power to choose, without compulsion from within or without, either A or B. The idea that God would damn men for not making a choice they do not have the power to make in the first place is abhorrent to one who embraces libertarian free will.

    Of course, the Reformed account of free will runs along different lines: as a result of the fall, man has lost his freedom and his will is now in bondage to sin. He has no moral ability to act outside the framework of that bondage. For an exegetical defense of this view, one need look no further than the relevant chapter of the WCF or the LBC 1689.

    But where does one find the exegetical basis for libertarian free will? I assume that there must be one, but it doesn't seem to figure prominently in the debate. Advocates of libertarian free will treat their theory as if it were an a priori on par with the existence of God, but is it really the case that we cannot explain reality without the assumption of libertarian free will? It seems not, especially when an exegetical case for a rival view can be put forward.

    At best, libertarians point to passages in Scripture and then draw assumptions from them -- i.e., "How can he say 'Choose you this day...' if men do not possess libertarian free will?'" but this kind of inference doesn't make for a very solid, positive statement of the doctrine. Considering how important libertarian free will is to so-called "Biblicism," there ought to be a positive statement of the doctrine with which we can interact.

    Mark

    [ May 31, 2002, 12:14 PM: Message edited by: J. Mark Bertrand ]
     
  2. Primitive Baptist

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    And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Josh. 24:15)

    Actually, when Joshua told them to choose whom they were going to serve, the LORD was not an option. He did not tell them to serve the LORD or a pagan god. He told them to choose either the gods their fathers served or the god of the Amorites, both of which are pagan gods. Just a thought.
     
  3. AITB

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    Yes, but, his whole message was a plea to them to CHOOSE to serve the LORD; but, if they wouldn't, then he says "then, you'll be choosing between pagan gods - those are the only other options".

    Just because he didn't use the word "Choose"...he wouldn't have bothered saying "Serve the LORD!!!" if he didn't believe they had a choice and his words might encourage them to choose rightly i.e. choose the LORD, not pagan gods.

    You're right though, about the specific use of 'choose' in that passage.

    But it's being overly literal to say that was the only choice Joshua set before them, just because he didn't say the word 'choose' until then.

    Every time the Bible says "Obey the LORD!" or whatever, it's really saying "CHOOSE to obey!" because - there'd be no point in saying it if we had no choice, would there?
     
  4. Chris Temple

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    Mark:

    The problem, as I see it, is two-fold.

    One is the inability to grasp the concepts of primary and secondary causation. God is First Cause of all things. We cannot grasp that because we never deal with a first cause. We always deal with cause and effect from secondary causes. But God being God is incomparable to anything else, and so is Primary Causation.

    Secondly, even within our realm, someone who does not the ability to respond to righteous commands is still responsible morally and legally for not responding. We say "Stop or else!" to paedophiles, rapists, murderers, drug addicts, etc., but because of their "sick and unresponsive natures", they cannot respond to our command. This does not alleviate their responsibility to stop, nor make the judicial system unjust when they are punished for their crimes.

    Yet free-willers would say the perfect, righteous God of the universe is unfair for punishing those who cannot repent on their own. In short, they place their own standard on a higher ethical plane than that of the Living God, and in practice judge the Holy Judge as unrighteous.

    [ June 01, 2002, 12:13 PM: Message edited by: Chris Temple ]
     
  5. Nelson

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    In a book about theodicy, it made a similar reference to "libertarian freedom" that I don't agree with.

    Ii's obvious to me that one's freedom to choose does not operate in a vacuum. There are various forces or influences at work, to one degree or another, within or without that favors or demands a decision one way or another, however, it is not an influence or force that leads us to inevitably make a choice consistent with that compulsion.

    I do not agree that God predetermines all of our choices, the evil and the good, or the idea that before we can have faith in God or repent God gives us those respective acts as a gift.

    I believe man has the moral ability to do what is morally good and right; what he does not have the ability to do is to obtain God's favor (and this fact may be, if I understand your intent correctly, "the framework" of man's bondage to sin).

    I think the Bible, experience and common sense supports this.

    My question would be, how can God say, "Choose," if our choices were predetermined and irrevocably fixed by Him? How can free will be genuine if we cannot make a choice otherwise than God has determined for us to make?

    I think the command to choose strongly implies the idea of free will defined quite differently from the Reformed/Calvinistic position.
     
  6. Pastor Larry

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    The title of this thread is "Exegetical Defense ..." Therefore, please confine your comments to exegesis and the relevant discussion of it.
     
  7. Naomi

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    Chris,
    You stated:
    even within our realm, someone who does not the ability to respond to righteous commands is still responsible morally and legally for not responding.

    There is a difference between not having the ability, such as a person with an amputated leg not having the ability to walk, or the person with a problem of lust having the ability to not have an affair. God is a God of Love, but He is also a Just God, who must punish sin.
    The bible says that " NO temptation taken you but such is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above all ye are able; but will with temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it". I Corinthians 10:13

    Yet free-willers would say the perfect, righteous God of the universe is unfair for punishing those who cannot repent on their own.

    Who are "unable" to repent. It is Just and Fair to punish one who is "unwilling" to repent, and yet does not do so.

    In short, they place their own standard on a higher ethical plane than that of the Living God, and in practice judge the Holy Judge as unrighteous.

    I do not not agree with this statement. It is okay though :D I can still love ya as a brother in the Lord :D

    Naomi
     
  8. swaimj

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    J. Mark Bertrand said
    I have problems with the concept of "bondage of the will" as I understand Calvinists to present it. Calvinists I have read say that Adam and Eve had a free will in the garden. They had freedom to choose to eat of the tree or not. (How Calvinists can hold to free will even in this limited circumstance given their definitions and descriptions of the sovereignty of God I do not understand, but that is probably for another thread). Adam and Eve chose to eat of the forbidden fruit. As a result, they fell into sin, plunged the human race into sin, and, in plunging the race into sin, into the bondage of the will. In this bondage, according to calvinists, man is incapable of choosing right.

    However, this calvinistic concept is difficult to reconcile with the account of the sons Cain amd Able which immediately follows. After Able brought an acceptable sacrifice and Cain brought an unacceptable, God said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It's desire is for your, but you must rule over it."

    Observations:
    1. The two "if" clauses indicate real and genuine choices, not hypothetical or theoretical ones.

    2. The "must" clause puts a responsibility on Cain which was, in God's eyes, within his power to obey.

    3. When I compare the simple choice God gave Adam and Eve and the simple choice God gave Cain, I see no reason in the choice made or in the expectation God had to conclude that there is a difference in the condition of their wills. If "bondage of the will" is an accurate concept, I would expect to see a sharp distinction either in the response of the human or in God's expectation at this point.
     
  9. Chris Temple

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    Quite right. I apologize for moving it away from the exegetical!
    [​IMG]
     
  10. jmbertrand

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    First, I appreciate each of the responses. This is an important question, and because it overlaps with philosophical concerns it is essential that we keep the focus Scriptural.

    Let me reiterate that I am asking for a positive, exegetical statement of an alternative doctrine of free will, not a critique of the Reformed doctrine. I am already familiar with the Reformed doctrine, its critics, and their shortcomings. What I would like is a positive, exegetical statement of an alternative version of free will. Remember, it is not enough to feel strongly that one's view is correct; there needs to be direct Scriptural evidence to support it. Present this evidence so that your Reformed brothers and sisters may interact with it.

    Also, I mentioned in my original post that the most I have ever seen offered is an inference drawn from passages such as Joshua's statement. So how could pointing me right back to Joshua's statement and what you feel it implies take things much farther! [​IMG] The argument "How could God say x if y?" is not same as "God says x here, and here, and here."

    I am assuming that a person who opposes the Reformed account of free will does so because he holds to a rival doctrine he believes is more biblical. I have never seen this alternative set forward in a positive, exegetical way, so I am hoping that someone who holds to it will be able to assist.

    Mark
     
  11. swaimj

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    J. Mark Bertrand,
    When you ask for an exegetical argument in support of free will, you seem to be limiting the possible passages to ones that are didactic or epistolary in nature. You seem to be saying that no example from a narrative passage of a free choice being offered or a free decision being made qualifies as doctrine. Since "all scripture is profitable for doctrine" your method tends to rule as invalid narrative passages that should be considered.
     
  12. Pastor Larry

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    I can't speak for him but I will disagree with this. It is not that narrative cannot be used; it is that narrative cannot contradict didactic passages. The narrative will simply bear out what the doctrine teaches. It will not contradict it.
     
  13. jmbertrand

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    Note that I am not asking for an exegetical argument in support of free will -- there already exists a perfectly good one in the LBC/1689, among other places. What I am asking for is an alternative to this account, specifically a positive statement of libertarian free will.

    Let me put it this way. Both Calvinists and Arminians (to use the term broadly) agree that free will exists. The question is how we are to define the term. The Calvinist definition of free will is found in the confessions, along with the exegetical rationale for viewing free will in this light. My suspicion is that the alternative view that is so frequently argued here is based not on Scriptural necessity but on philosophical necessity. I could be wrong, and the best way to show that I am is to produce a positive, Scriptural argument to support libertarian free will.

    The debate is often formulated as if Calvinists denied free will and their critics defended it, when in fact we are dealing with a case of (at least) two rival 'versions' of the doctrine. In such cases, the usual practice is to compare the Scriptural support for each. I know of the Scriptural support for the Reformed doctrine, and I know of the philosophical reasoning behind libertarian free will -- but I don't know about the Scriptural support for libertarian free will.

    Naturally, inferences drawn from narrative are weaker than the direct testimony of didactic passages, since we tend to draw our inferences based on our existing assumptions. The Reformed doctrine makes use of both direct and indirect testimony, and I would expect an alternative account to do the same. However, it would be strange if that alternative could only point to inferences, since they are capable of being consistently read from a Reformed perspective -- i.e., they don't have to be interpreted the way a libertarian wants them to be. After all, people aren't Calvinists because they aren't familiar with the story of Joshua and didn't realize the word 'choice' appears in the Bible. [​IMG]

    Mark
     
  14. Nelson

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    I'm not a scholar but in my readings of the Bible I have not yet come across a Scripture verse explicitly supports the Reformed view of free will. It seems that both views of free will are inferences within certain texts like, as you noted, the one in Joshua.

    However, willing to be enlightened, I would like to know what is the Reformed definition of free will and the didactic verses that support it or if I can be led to a website that gives that information, I would appreciate it.

    If someone can also show me the Arminian definition and didactic verse of the same (especially "libertarian" free will), that also would be appreciated

    To avoid a change of subject, you may Email or private message it to me.

    Thanks
     
  15. jmbertrand

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    Nelson,

    I've copied and pasted Chapter 9 from the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689). This should give you an idea of the Reformed account of free will and some of the Scriptural support for it. To critique it, I suppose you would need to start a new thread, but I've included it here as an example of the kind of thing I was hoping an advocate of libertarian free will might provide.

    And Nelson, in the "Choices" thread you wrote:

    It's fairly cheeky, to say the least, to ask someone else to post the Arminian brief for libertarian free will. [​IMG]

    Mark
     
  16. rsr

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    From the 1660 Standard Confession:

    From the Baptist Faith and Message, 1963:

    [ June 06, 2002, 07:21 PM: Message edited by: rsr ]
     
  17. Nelson

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    Cheeky means "impudent." Kind of politely harsh on this little fella, ain't you?

    I just wanted to be sure I was on the same page as everyone else. I assume I have a good definition of libertarian free will.
     
  18. jmbertrand

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    Nelson,

    I used the smiley and 'fairly' in the hope of taking the sting out of it. [​IMG]

    Mark
     
  19. Nelson

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    That's why I stated it was politely harsh.
     
  20. Ray Berrian

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    rsr,

    I thought the confessions was correct at almost every point. I did wonder whether, in time, whether every person has an opportunity to believe in Christ. Isn't that why we send missionaries to the foreign lands? Not unless, some thing there is another way to Heaven other than through our Lord Jesus.
     

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