Free Will 

Some people thik that there is essentially one agent acting in human history, one and one alone who has ever had any power to make the plot turn out differently:

"That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on any thing but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture. What we formerly quoted from the Psalms, to the effect that he does whatever pleases him, certainly extends to all the actions of men."

(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, Book 18, Chapter 1)

According to this author, both the wicked and the righteous are no more than his playthings:

". . .but we hold that God is the disposer and ruler of all things, — that from the remotest eternity, according to his own wisdom, he decreed what he was to do, and now by his power executes what he decreed. Hence we maintain, that by his providence, not heaven and earth and inanimate creatures only, but also the counsels and wills of men are so governed as to move exactly in the course which he has destined." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 1, Book 16, Chapter 1).

Against this, objectors say, no, we are not sock-puppets, there is free will. Is there such a thing as 'free will'? How defined? If we define it as 'the power to choose good over evil,' it may be that some classes of persons, such as unregenerate sinners, are so deficient in this ability as to be classed as 'unfree.' On the other hand, while Jesus promises regenerate believers will be made free, is that class free to choose evil? In the present order of things, it seems so: "The Bible does not promise that the Christian life will always be in a straight line upward. Rather it may be like a small boy climbing a snowy hill. He frequently slips, but he does manage to get to the top." (Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 91). But in the world to come, there cannot be ups and downs, no 'frequent slips.' So the moralistic definition of freedom creates conundrums on either end.

So let us leave good and evil aside for a moment and concentrate on the universe of morally indifferent choices, like whether to turn west or east when going for a walk around the block. Once we master the easy cases, perhaps we can return to the hard ones with new insight. If we define free will as 'the live ability to choose a different course of action,' we look in vain for any Bible confutation of our subjective impression that we do enjoy such freedom. In our own self-examination, we seem to find such a power: "There are many things whose existence is manifest and obvious; some of these are innate notions or objects of sensation, others are nearly so: and in fact they would require no proof if man had been left in his primitive state. Such are the existence of motion, of man's free will, of phases of production and destruction, and of the natural properties perceived by the senses, e.g., the heat of fire, the coldness of water, and many other similar things." (Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed, p. 83). We cannot shake the impression we are free to forego the tuna sandwich and go with the salami.

Why then is there a controversy? Or wait, let's do it the historical way, and start with the hardest case and work downwards to the choice of lunch:

Desderius Erasmus
Scriptural Basis
Seek and Find
Adam and Eve
Can and Does
Glorious Liberty
Rich Young Ruler
Be Ye Perfect

Desiderius Erasmus

One of the earliest debates of the Protestant Reformation was, unfortunately, a debate over free will between reforming monk Martin Luther and Renaissance humanist Desiderius Erasmus. How did the competing forces array themselves? Very many of the choices with which life presents us are between morally neutral options, such as, shall the man wear his Navy blue socks or his olive green ones? There is no suggestion in the Bible to conflict with out intuitive certainty that we ourselves make these kinds of choices, and not another party. But, of course, not all choices are morally neutral. Narrowing our focus to the case of choices which do have moral implications, one man, in the Bible, is said to be a slave, unfree, and that is the unregenerate sinner:

“Jesus answered them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.'” (John 8:34).

This man, the unregenerate sinner, we know is not free, and we were all once in his shoes. Rather bizarrely, this verse is the proof-text for the Calvinist denial of free will, even though the very same passage goes on to explain that another man is free: "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (John 8:36). The Bible does not say that no man is free, but that some men, unregenerate sinners, are not free. It is easy enough to understand how the day of decision in a human life came to attract a disproportionate amount of attention in this debate. Certainly this is the most important and consequential fork in the road with which life presents us: shall we follow God, or the devil? And how can we, unsound fruit trees shot through with sickness, choose willingly to follow God? 'Human free will' is not the answer for the sin-imprisoned sinner, we ourselves do not hold the key that will turn the prison-lock, but rather God's grace.

In Desiderius Erasmus' Catholic long march to salvation, the salvation decision is not made in one life-changing event. Rather it is the summation of a plethora of small decisions. Small dribs and drabs of grace are imparted through the sacraments, small choices made every day accumulate, and the verdict is reached upon the sum total of a life. In this understanding, the category 'human decisions touching upon salvation' has rolled itself into a giant snowball, co-extensive with virtually all human choices during an entire life-time. This understanding, however, is not Biblical.

Hard cases make bad law, they say. Making the one 'hard case' of an unregenerate sinner choosing,— how?— to walk down to the altar into the solitary index case for all human freedom is a poor protocol for deciding the question. There are other unquestionably free choices which do no labor under these disabilities. Start easy, with the socks.

Calvinists today argue, that no man is free. The Bible does not teach that no man is free, but rather that some man is unfree, some man is free. Else who is spying on our liberty, if there is no liberty?:  "And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:. . ." (Galatians 2:4):

  1. Adam and Eve were free before their downfall.
  2. Unregenerate man is not free.
  3. Regenerate man is free.

One can lengthen out 3.), perhaps, by pretended humility, bemoaning that once unregenerate, always unregenerate; and yet surely, at some point after the second coming, the man will be free to choose to wear the green sash with his white robe, or the blue! Thus Calvinist arguments in favor of a thorough-going philosophical determinism, such as that God's foreknowledge is incompatible with free will, are really arguments against the Bible. This myopia, this restriction of the field of view down to one case, and a hard case at that, took place right at the outset, courtesy of Erasmus, who defined free will as, "By freedom of the will we understand in this connection the power of he human will whereby man can apply to or turn away from that which leads unto eternal salvation." (Erasmus-Luther, Ernst F. Winter, Discourse on Free Will, p. 20). Broadening our focus will reverse the error. Insist to your Calvinist friend, that you want to talk about the regenerate man before his sock drawer, because in that case there is not even the semblance that he is on the Bible bus, and instead of arguing for something which is near to the Bible truth, he will find himself in opposition. Does God not foreknow from all eternity whether the regenerate man will wear the green socks or the blue?


Scriptural Basis

There is little in the Bible touching upon 'free will' as philosophers understand the concept. And how do they understand the concept, anyway? Usually not as freedom to do whatever your will instructs, because the man chained in the dungeon is not free to do that; and yet his will is not chained, only his body. His shackled feet are not free to walk out of the dungeon, but how has his will been chained along with his feet? Freedom of the will is the freedom to will, not necessarily to act. Some seem to define it as an unobtainable or unimaginable thing, an ability by the will to determine itself regardless of motive, whereas medieval anthropology tended to over-determine the will according to motive, as if the will is a passive scale mechanism weighing competing motives, and in no sense self-determining. There does remain, nevertheless, an intuition of something spontaneous and self-determining in the human character. Erasmus imported a legal and philosophical construct into the Bible rather than found it therein.

There are numerous Biblical assertions touching upon autonomy and self-determination. There is the legal concept of permission, i.e. liberty to determine one's own conduct, such as,

  • “I have given orders that all they of the people of Israel, and of their priests and the Levites, in my realm, who are disposed to go to Jerusalem, go with thee.”

  • (Ezra 7:13).

There is the concept of acting spontaneously and not under compulsion, as in,

"When leaders lead in Israel, when the people willingly offer themselves, Bless the Lord!" (Judges 5:2).

Or, "For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship." (1 Corinthians 9:17). Surely these two cases cannot amount to exactly the same thing! Some people are volunteers: "And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem." (Nehemiah 11:2). The word 'volunteer' occurs in the New King James Version in Psalm 110: "Your people shall be volunteers in the day of Your power. . ." (Psalm 110:3).

There are an abundance of Biblical exhortations and commands which, it is felt by some, imply the possibility of willing obedience.

"If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it." (Isaiah 1:19-20).

These exhortations include, in some instances, promptings and encouragement to the effect of, 'you can do it:'

  • “For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.
  • “It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
  • “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’
  • “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it.”

  • (Deuteronomy 30:13-14).

Or, for example, Acts 17:30:

"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained." (Acts 17:30-31).

This command is general and is addressed to all. If free will is a nullity as they claim, then in Jeremiah 18:8, God's response is left hanging upon a nullity:

"At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; If it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them." (Jeremiah 18:7-10).

Detroit Art Institute, Face of Christ

There is an awareness in the Bible that the thoughts of the heart might track with the outward behavior, or against it:

"As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a loyal heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off forever." (1 Chronicles 28:9).

The heart and mind may be "willing". . .or not. The fifth century monk Pelagius considered there to be sufficient 'play' remaining in the human will after the fall to satisfy God, but this is unbiblical; the Bible plainly teaches that salvation is by faith:

In a prophetic demonstration, Elisha requested king Joash to strike the ground with his arrows:

“Then he said, 'Take the arrows'; so he took them. And he said to the king of Israel, 'Strike the ground'; so he struck three times, and stopped. And the man of God was angry with him, and said, 'You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck Syria till you had destroyed it! But now you will strike Syria only three times.'” (2 Kings 13:18-19).

The number of times to strike was not specified in the instructions, and so it is a decision Joash made; and it appears fairly well a morally neutral one. Three times rather than twenty might seem half-hearted; but then on the other hand, Jesus scolds overly verbose petitioners for their vain repetitions. This free decision however had real consequences.

The much-maligned concept of the 'freewill offering,' a sacrifice which is optional rather than mandated, is another instance where a choice is presented, implying ability to make a choice:

  • “And whoever offers a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, to fulfill his vow, or a freewill offering from the cattle or the sheep, it must be perfect to be accepted; there shall be no defect in it.”

  • (Leviticus 22:21).

Five Points Wealth and Poverty
Michael Servetus Grace Fail
Post-Mortem Elder Rule
Ergun Caner Believers' Baptism
Robert Lewis Dabney

Again, in Philemon, Paul exhorts without compelling, wanting the runaway slave Onesimus to be received as a brother, yet unwilling to command:

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

  • (Philemon 1:14).

A similar instance is found in Acts 5:4, where Peter reminds Ananias that a certain property was under his ownership and control, "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." (Acts 5:4). While these instances, and many others, are brought up by advocates of 'free will,' it must be admitted they do not directly address the philosophical question, but rather form a cloud or nimbus of instances, touching upon the idea of self-direction.

God's word occasionally traces out the causal sequence. . .for events which never happened: "For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue." (1 Samuel 13:13-14). If the only source of causation is God's single, unitary will, then what is the force of 'would have'?

Scripture is full of laments, by God, against man's recalcitrance:

“'Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says the Lord GOD. 'Therefore turn and live!'” (Ezekiel 18:31-32).

If these are understood to be sincere and straight-forward, and one cannot imagine any reason why they should be otherwise understood, then there is manifestly a factor other than God's will which impacts this area. God laments what Calvin claims is His very own will,

"I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts; a people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face;. . ." (Isaiah 65:2-3).

Certainly no creature can defy God's will except insofar as He allows; yet, plainly, it is so. Satan is no real rival to God with respect to the raw power at his disposal, and yet he campaigns freely on behalf of his kingdom for the allegiance of the hearts and minds of men, and God allows this open defiance. God, it would seem, wants willing service, as did Paul with Philemon. There can be nothing gained by multiplying divine wills, beyond all possible scriptural warrant:


Hen and Chicks
He Marvelled
My Mind
Blot Me Out
Calvinist Memes
Bad Calvinists
God's Kindness

Seek and Find

When God, in Ezekiel, says that He has sought but not found,

  • “‘The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. 
  • “‘So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. 
  • “‘Therefore I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; and I have recompensed their deeds on their own heads,’ says the Lord GOD.”

  • (Ezekiel 22:29-31).

Under the assumption of monergism, then why did He bother looking? Is this just empty rhetoric? Why say it at all? We nescient people have the capacity to search for a misplaced key, when we and we alone placed it in its present location; but why does God say that He "sought for a man" when there is no such man unless He decrees? It seems there is some 'x' factor unaccounted for under some systems of explanation. Or else why ask why, if you know why, and the sole reason is your sovereign pleasure: "Why, when I came, was there no man? Why, when I called, was there none to answer?" (Isaiah 50:2).

In several instances, Jesus is said to have marvelled: "And he marvelled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages, teaching." (Mark 6:6); "When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." (Matthew 8:10). Jesus, to be sure, is both man and God, and as man could potentially grow in wisdom: "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him." (Luke 2:40). However He also is very God, and if His will is the sole cause determining belief or unbelief, it is unclear what there is to 'marvel' at in His unwillingness to grant belief to those of His hometown.

Why does God say that He 'saw,' not that He ordained, "And I said, after she had done all these things, ‘Return to Me.’ But she did not return. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also." (Jeremiah 3:7-8)? His knowledge, in this case, though certain from eternity past, is not coercive; He saw, He did not make.

God 'wonders' that there is no one to intercede: "I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold; therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me; and My own fury, it sustained Me." (Isaiah 63:5). Why wonder? Why look?


Adam and Eve

Adam and Eve, in the Garden before their fall, enjoyed free will; the command to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is accompanied by permission to eat of others at will,

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “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.” (Genesis 2:16-17).

It is so important a feature of Christian orthodoxy to uphold that Adam fell, he was not pushed, that John Calvin never explicitly denied this fundamental Bible truth, although his followers made bold to do so:

T - Total Depravity U - Unconditional Election
L - Limited Atonement I - Irresistible Grace
P - Perseverance of the Saints

Total Depravity

Not a Just Man Be Ye Holy
Guilty of All All have sinned
Nature of Sin The Mean
No Such Animal Internal Consistency

Unconditional Election

Things to Come John Calvin
Before the Foundation According to Foreknowledge
Not of Works If not Merit, then what?
Encyclopedia Salesman Bum on a Park Bench
Sitting in a Chair Things Which are Despised
Known and Unknown False Arminians
All Possible Worlds Flatland
Not a Marxist Denying the Bible
Spiritual Poverty Hen and Chicks
All Men

Limited Atonement

All and Some History
Fair Warning Unmerciful Servant
Died for All The Sampler
Thwarted Desire

Irresistible Grace

Stiff-Necked Drag and Drop
Internal Consistency Happy Atheists
Call and Response


Failure to Persevere Falsification

Even as late as the Canon of Dort, Calvinists still realized that it is essential to Christian orthodoxy to maintain Adam and Eve's real free will:

  • “Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy; but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.”
  • (Canons of Dort, III. 1.).

You will find plenty of contemporary Calvinists, however, who will fearlessly deny that Adam and Eve enjoyed real free will. This is because they do not believe creaturely free will to be compatible with divine omniscience. If creatures were free, they say, God would have no possible way of 'fore-knowing' (they assume God, like us, is trapped within the time-line) future events. . .because we have no way of knowing them! They constrict God's possible knowledge down within the limits of our nescience. If the defender of God's omniscience can supply no algorithm by application of which we could have knowledge of creaturely free-will decisions prior to the fact, then neither can God have such knowledge, or otherwise He would be superior to us. We know the contents of our own minds, we know our current intentions, and this, they posit, is all that God can know of the 'future.'

Point out to them that Adam and Eve, by John Calvin's own admission, were creatures who had free will, and yet God eternally foreknew their fall. Explain that, however God knew in that case, this is just how He does it in other cases! They will likely waffle on the idea that Adam and Eve had free will at all, and this deflection lands them into the alien religion of Gnosticism, not Christianity.

Omniscience is one of the essential attributes of God. Denying it, as many modern Calvinists effectively do in limiting it to the ability to inventory His own intentions, is to limit God severely. God is "perfect in knowledge:"

"Do you know how the clouds are balanced, those wondrous works of Him who is perfect in knowledge?" (Job 37:16).

You will catch Calvinists making statements like this: "It seems that He [God] has permitted the fall in order to show what free will would do; and then, by overruling it, He has shown what the blessings of His grace and the judgments of His justice can do." (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 348). Notice this author concedes that Adam and Eve had free will, before the fall. Now, what could be more futile than to 'demonstrate' that free will is theoretically impossible, being incompatible with divine foreknowledge, when here we have a clear and freely conceded case of it? If something has happened, then obviously it can happen! When your Calvinist friend portentously advises you that, if humans had free will, God could have no foreknowledge, ask him whether Adam had free will. If he says 'no,' explain he's a heretic. If he says 'yes,' ask him whether God foreknew the fall from all eternity. If he admits He did,— and the alternative is to flat-out deny God's omniscience,— then explain to him that this is just how He does it in all other instances, the way He did it here.

Did Adam and Eve as they came from the hands of God not enjoy freedom? And so how it be not only impossible but conceptually inconceivable that we their posterity, "this creature, originally made in the mage of God, this dethroned and exiled monarch" (Thomas Guthrie, The Gospel in Ezekiel, Kindle location 3354), may, by grace, regain what was lost? The seeming humility of this view cannot line up with what the Bible says about the creation of man.

As with the first Adam, so with the second. When the Word of God became man, He took on a complete human nature, including a will. Asserting that Jesus had only one will is the heresy known as 'monothelitism.' Of course there can be no suggestion of discord between His human and divine wills. But was His human will bound? By what? Certainly not by sin, of which He knew none. If there is One who walked the dusty hills of Galilee as a free man, then human freedom is patently possible; it is no illusory promise of the gospel.


William of Ockham famously said, do not multiply entities needlessly. Calvinism, as you must have noticed by now, shows a distinct tendency to multiple entities: they resolve every contradiction between their system and the Bible by bifurcating each Biblical category in two, so that there must be a secret decree of God, in addition to public Biblical proclamation. This needless complexity of the system is an advertisement against it; it is better to stick with the plain and simple Bible categories, not proliferating as under this system, just as they are laid out in the Bible, and it is quite easy to do so. I would not go so far as to say it is a wicked system, but no Bible believer has any real reason to subscribe to it. Some of the best of the Calvinist preachers, like Charles Spurgeon, are so strongly rooted in the Bible that they can resist the distorting tendencies of their ideology. The best of today's Calvinists are not so bad, but the worst are horrid:


Happy Slaves
Racial Insensitivity
What Saith the Scripture?
Test Case
John Brown's Body
Whosoever Will
Hobgoblin of Little Minds
Neighborhood of Boston
French Revolution
Spoiling the Egyptians
Slippery Slope
League of the South
Birds of a Feather
Cultural Inferiority

Can and Does

There is no question but that God can do what the Calvinists say He does.

"The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes." (Proverbs 21:1).

Speaking of the vision of two baskets of figs, the Lord says through Jeremiah,

"Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart." (Jeremiah 24:7).

In other words the difference between the faithful exiles and the apostatizing remainder was the Lord's' work, not the summation of a multitude of autonomous decisions. However, the sum total of the Bible evidence shows that, in general, the divine will is not the sole factor; not that the Lord would be unable to create a Calvinist world, but that He prefers not. Consider the warning to Ezekiel,

“Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: when I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.

““Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.’” (Ezekiel 3:16-21).

For whose blood is Ezekiel to be held responsible, if no actions or omissions on his part have anything to do with the outcome? Jesus commanded His followers to preach the gospel to every creature. When asked why this should be, given that many are not elect, Calvinists plausibly reply that they must preach the gospel to all because they do not know who are the elect and who are not. But Jesus certainly did know, and He proclaimed His mission to those He knew would not respond: "But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. . .But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:38-40). The proclamation of the gospel must be a bona fide offer; it is blasphemous to suppose otherwise, as the Calvinists themselves realize:

"It is blasphemous to think that God would be guilty of equivocation and deception, that He would say one thing and mean another, that He would earnestly plead with the sinner to repent and believe unto salvation, and at the same time not desire it in any sense of the word."

(Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 9634-9635). GLH Publishing.)

How this matter is composed by saying the "external" call is a bona fide offer, while the one which counts is not, is beyond comprehension.


Glorious Liberty

If there is no human freedom, then what is the "glorious liberty" of the children of God?:

"Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Romans 8:21).

God forbid it should be license, but the Calvinists seem determined it cannot be liberty either. It would seem that in Calvinism, Jesus, who is known to have come to set the prisoners free, never quite gets around to it. Indeed it is conceptually impossible. Paul speaks of it in the past tense:

"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1 NASB).

He made us free, aorist, done deal. . .but human freedom is conceptually impossible? The Calvinists are not the only ones who approach this conundrum from the standpoint of human philosophy. Some people offer an a priori proof of human freedom in this form: God created man in His image, therefore man must possess real freedom at some point in his salvation trajectory, or he would not be anything like God at all. Moreover, love implies some degree of reciprocity:

"Furthermore, without choice, love is meaningless. God is neither a cosmic rapist who forces his love on people, nor a cosmic puppeteer who forces people to love him. Instead, God, the personification of love, grants us the freedom of choice. Without such freedom, we would be little more than preprogrammed robots." (Hank Hanegraaf, The Complete Bible Answer Book, Kindle location 1517).

This seems like a hazardous way to argue, though, because it sets conditions on God's acts outside of and prior to the Bible. It is popular, however, in rebuttal of Calvinism: "'Calvinism robs the individual of responsibility for his/her own conduct, making a person into a puppet on a string or a robot programmed from birth to death with no will of his/her own.'" (William Estep, quoted Kindle location 3845, Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, edited by Brad J. Waggoner, E. Ray Clendenen). The Calvinists respond to this objection mostly by redefining 'free-will' so that it is has nothing to do with self-determination, but rather that an agent is acting freely if voluntarily.

When Euclid worked up his geometry he faced the difficulty that the truth, or falsity, of the geometrical statements he wished to make was not immediately apparent. One hook or handle with which to grasp the prize, he found, was to elucidate the various consequences of a given proposed theorem. If these consequences, which logically followed from the point in question, conflicted with something already known to be the case, the theorem was disproved. Human reason cannot do without this powerful tool. Unfortunately, its deployment leads to much ill-will in discussions of theology. Those confronted with an unwelcome, and unfamiliar, consequence of their assertions often react as do the victims of hate-speech or bigotry, complaining that they are maliciously misrepresented. But if the conclusion follows in accord with valid rules of inference, the defenders of the theorem must come to grips with it. Such is the case with the implications of the denial of free will as compared with Biblical statements like,

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:16-17).

or "God is love," (1 John 4:8). Compare this with,

"Reprobation is the exact, explicit denial that God loves all men, desires to save all men, and conditionally offers them salvation. Reprobation asserts that God eternally hates some men; has immutably decreed their damnation; and has determined to withhold from them Christ, grace, faith, and salvation." (David Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, 58, quoted in Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue, editors Brad J. Waggoner and E. Ray Clendenen, notes, Kindle location 4729).

If a certain view implies consequences which contradict the Bible, then that view is not Biblical.



In John 5:34, Jesus is quoted as saying to His hearers, "Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved." He is explaining His motivation in speaking to these people. He is not speaking at random or to hear the sound of His own voice. But we know that His goal, His own stated goal in initiating this conversation, was not achieved, because He also says: "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:40). Since a will is expressed in the goal Jesus set for the conversation, "that you may be saved," and yet, at the end of the encounter, the goal remains unachieved: "you are not willing," there is not here on display one sole and only will. We should count as many wills as does the Bible.



Though of course not inspired or authoritative, it is interesting to notice that the apocryphal book of Ecclesiastic makes a bow toward free will:

"Do not say, 'It was he who led me astray; ' he has no use for sinful men. The Lord hates every kind of vice; you cannot love it and still fear him. When he made man in the beginning, he left him free to take his own decisions; if you choose, you can keep the commandments; whether or not you keep faith is yours to decide. He has set before you fire and water; reach out and take which you choose; before man lie life and death, and whichever he prefers is his." (Ecclesiasticus 15:12-15).

The authors known as the Earlyl Church Fathers are not authoritative; they are believers like ourselves, sturggling to understand whenat God has revealed in scriptures. And they are not Calvinists:

"And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate. We see the same man making a transition to opposite things. Now, if it had been fated that he were to be either good or bad, he could never have been capable of both the opposites, nor of so many transitions. But not even would some be good and others bad, since we thus make fate the cause of evil, and exhibit her as acting in opposition to herself; or that which has been already stated would seem to be true, that neither virtue nor vice is anything, but that things are only reckoned good or evil by opinion; which, as the true word shows, is the greatest impiety and wickedness. . .For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made." (Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 43).
"This expression [of our Lord], “How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldest not,” set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free [agent] from the beginning, possessing his own power, even as he does his own soul, to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God. For there is no coercion with God, but a good will [towards us] is present with Him continually. And therefore does He give good counsel to all." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 37, Section 1).
No doubt, if any one is unwilling to follow the Gospel itself, it is in his power [to reject it], but it is not expedient. For it is in man’s power to disobey God, and to forfeit what is good; but [such conduct] brings no small amount of injury and mischief. And on this account Paul says, “All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient;” referring both to the liberty of man, in which respect “all things are lawful,” God exercising no compulsion in regard to him; and [by the expression] “not expedient” pointing out that we “should not use our liberty as a cloak of maliciousness, for this is not expedient. . .But because man is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free will, in whose likeness man was created, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book IV, Chapter 37, Section 4).
"But although we shall be understood, from our argument, to be only so affirming man’s unshackled power over his will, that what happens to him should be laid to his own charge, and not to God’s, yet that you may not object, even now, that he ought not to have been so constituted, since his liberty and power of will might turn out to be injurious, I will first of all maintain that he was rightly so constituted, that I may with the greater confidence commend both his actual constitution, and the additional fact of its being worthy of the Divine Being; the cause which led to man’s being created with such a constitution being shown to be the better one. . .For this purpose such an essence was adapted to man as suited this character, even the afflatus of the Deity, Himself free and uncontrolled. . .In this really lay the law which did not exclude, but rather prove, human liberty by a spontaneous rendering of obedience, or a spontaneous commission of iniquity; so patent was the liberty of man’s will for either issue. Since, therefore, both the goodness and purpose of God are discovered in the gift to man of freedom in his will, it is not right, after ignoring the original definition of goodness and purpose which it was necessary to determine previous to any discussion of the subject, on subsequent facts to presume to say that God ought not in such a way to have formed man, because the issue was other than what was assumed to be proper for God." (Tertulian Against Marcion, Book II, Chapter 6).

Again, they are not inspired, but if Calvinism were anything like a natural or obvious interpretation of the scriptures, it would be worth asking why everyone missed it until Augustine, the same Augustine, by the way, who provides inspiration to the Arminians.

There is a contemporary movement called 'open theism' which denies in principle that free will decisions, such as choosing the peanut butter sandwich over the taco, are in principle incompatible with God's omniscient knowledge of all things past, present and future: "'Clark Pinnock, for example, says flatly, 'Philosophically speaking, if choices are real and freedom significant, future decisions cannot be exhaustively foreknown.'" (quoted in Millard J. Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know it?, p. 158). This same open theist also says, "'It is plain that the biblical doctrine of creaturely freedom requires us to reconsider the conventional view of the omniscience of God.'" (ibid., p. 158). Ironically, many contemporary Calvinists make the very same claim! The Calvinists differ from the open theists on this point in that the former, who generally hold a high view of scripture, are not willing to let go of the scriptural affirmation of divine omniscience, while the latter are only too willing. I have not been able to verify that John Calvin himself held any such aberrant notions about God's knowledge of what, to us, is futurity, i.e., that God cannot in principle foreknow anything except His own volition. Rather, his view was that a certain choice, i.e., of good over evil, was unavailable to us owing to the corruption of our nature. The problem is this: how can a vile tree, the unregenerate sinner, put forth good fruit, namely repentance? Just as the Rabbis felt moved to place a hedge around the law, Calvin's successors sought to protect his insights by denying in principle the possibility of free will. Thus a system of Bible interpretation morphed into bad metaphysics.


Rich Young Ruler

Jesus encounters a rich young ruler who wants to be numbered among the just:

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?. . . Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.  Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.  And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" (Mark 10:17-23, Matthew 19:16-30, Luke 18:18-30).

We know that Jesus loved the rich young ruler, because so the text says: "Then Jesus beholding him loved him." So this does not seem to be a case of "Jacob I loved, Esau have I hated." Was the rich young ruler doomed from the womb, even though Jesus loved him? It would appear there is some factor beyond the divine will at work here.



Christians are urged to love even their enemies, because in so doing, they will become like God:

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:44-48)

Become like what God? Surely not like the Calvinist God, who loves some people and hates others and that's all there is to say about that. If we aspired to become like the Calvinist God, we would decide that we simply hated some people, and loved others, even before the former had done anything to offend us. But that is not what Jesus says to do; that is not His program for becoming like God. Whose vision of God's nature should we go with: Jesus, or certain ambitious, heavens-scaling men of the 16th century? We know the character of God:

"The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works." (Psalm 145:9).

Calvinists claim that those who dissent from their system are "open theists." There actually is such a group; it is not a total straw-man, though most of those they accuse of this tendency do not belong to it. The open theists say that they believe in the Bible, while other people believe in Greek philosophy. Is this so?: