I am writing a book on the ever thorny, controversial, misunderstood topic of free will. Beginning today and over the course of the next few weeks, I plan to blog about the issue. I invite your feedback, as this will help me fine tune the contents of my book.
In this first post, I am simply introducing the topic.
Biblical Christians embrace two foundational affirmations. First, God is in control of all that transpires in time, space and history including the course of individual human lives. Secondly, human beings are responsible moral agents who freely choose the direction their lives take. On the surface, these two truths appear to be in conflict with one another. How can God direct the course of human history and yet humans remain free to choose their own course of action?
Since free will and divine sovereignty seem irreconcilable, one or the other is usually denied or limited in some degree. Historically, some Christians have limited God’s sovereignty in order to uphold what seems so obvious, that man has a free will. This is most often associated with Arminianism. Other Christians have emphasized God’s sovereign determination of what transpires while either limiting human freedom or denying it altogether. This is generally associated with Calvinism. Either man has a free will which limits God’s sovereignty or God is absolutely sovereign and man is not really so free. But is it possible to somehow reconcile God’s sovereignty with human freedom?
My book is a quest to answer that question in the affirmative. Most Christians have no problem accepting the over-arching sovereignty of God in the big picture of history. However, when it comes to God’s sovereignly decreeing our actual choices we often entertain a different perspective. Many assume God’s actions have little bearing on our personal choices. We like to reserve a certain degree of autonomy for ourselves.
For many, to deny free will is anathema. This is understandable. It seems intuitively obvious we make our own choices and appear to do so independently. Our choices are usually made unhindered and seemingly apart from any outside causes other than our own freedom to choose. Many readily accept that God chooses us for salvation and directs our lives for His purposes, but don’t we also freely choose what we want as well? How can both notions be true?
Why is this subject so important? Having a Biblical view of divine sovereignty and human freedom helps us with a host of important matters in the Christian life, such as:
- God’s role and our role in matters of salvation.
- How regeneration, conversion and sanctification work.
- How we should develop methods of evangelism and discipleship.
- Building greater confidence in God’s providential purposes for both history and our lives.
- Making sense of the existence of evil and whether God or man or even Satan is responsible for it.
The questions can be quite personal.
- If God determines the course of events in my life how can I be responsible for my actions?
- Isn’t determinism – another way of speaking of God’s absolute sovereignty – really fatalism so that it doesn’t matter what choices I make? Shall I resign myself to “what will be will be” and there is nothing I can do about it?
- How can I have a meaningful relationship with God?
- Doesn’t God’s sovereignty undermine my choice to freely love Him?
- Does it really matter what choices I make if God has already determined them?
- Why should God’s commands matter if He has already determined whether I am to be in or out of line with His moral precepts?
- Am I nothing more than an automaton, a programmed robot or a computer?
- How can I know if my choices are out of the will of God?
Sorting through all the thorny questions and confusing ideas surrounding this topic is daunting. But the rewards are worth the effort. When we enhance our understanding of God’s role and our own roles in the unfolding of His plan for history and for our personal lives, it gives us confidence and hope that God is good and wise and powerful and that our choices have meaning and purpose. We are a vital part of what He is doing in the world. Our choices matter and what makes this true has everything to do with the manner in which His sovereignty manifests itself in our lives.
In my next post I will introduce the first of two major positions Christians take on the nature of human choosing and what freedom and responsibility look like. This first position is known as libertarianism and the other is called compatibilism. Stay tuned.