Do people have free will?

Andrew Naselli takes a long look at the question of free will over here. Fascinating stuff. take some time this weekend to explore it.

Here is the introduction to get you started:

Non-Christians and Christians alike often give the same answer to difficult questions like these: Why did God allow sin in the first place? Why does God save some people and not others? Why does God send people to hell? Why can living like a Christian be so frustrating? The immediate solution often suggested is simple: “free will.” To many people, it’s a satisfying answer: “Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, God does x because he has to preserve my free will. Yeah, OK. Next question.” I’d like to suggest that we re-think this important issue. 

The title of this short essay is a question: “Do We Have a Free Will?” That question may be jarring to you because it asks if something exists that most people assume exists. My short answer to that question is that it depends on what you mean by “free.” The longer answer is the rest of this essay.

ok and just because I can’t let it go, here is another section to tease you over there for all of it.

Is libertarian free will the reason for the origin of sin?

Short answer: No. 

When addressing this hugely difficult question, it is helpful to consider the following: 
1.  God is not the author or agent of evil, and he is not culpable for evil. 

2.  Satan is not God’s equal opposite (i.e., a God-versus-Satan dualism). 

3.  God, who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, ordained that sin would enter his universe. (See the short essay in this series entitled “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering and Evil?”) God sovereignly works through secondary causes (such as humans) such that he is not culpable for evil but the secondary causes are. 

4.  Satan and then Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted to sin, and they are morally responsible to God for it. (The ability of humans to sin has four historical stages. First, Adam and Eve were initially able to sin. Second, after their fall, all unregenerate humans [i.e., those who are spiritually dead] are not able not to sin. Third, regenerate humans [i.e., those whom God has given spiritual life] are able not to sin. Fourth, glorified regenerate humans are not able to sin.) 

5.  Tension remains because compatibilists cannot explain exactly how God can ordain all things without being the author or agent of evil. It is at places like that that your head will start spinning if you try to put all the puzzle pieces together (we don’t have all the pieces!). Rather than deny explicit statements of Scripture that support compatibilism, a far better option is to acknowledge that this is a mystery that we finite and fallen humans simply cannot comprehend exhaustively.

6.  There is no easy answer to explaining why God ordained the origin of sin in the first place. John Piper offers a helpful pastoral perspective in Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008). (This is available online for free as a PDF: See esp. pp. 39-64.) Why doesn’t God simply wipe out Satan? Piper concludes, “The ultimate answer . . . is that ‘all things were created through [Christ] and for [Christ]’ (Col. 1:16). God foresaw all that Satan would do if he created Satan and permitted him to rebel. In choosing to create him, he was choosing to fold all of that evil into his purpose for creation. That purpose for creation was the glory of his Son. All things, including Satan and all his followers, were created with this in view” (p. 48).

emphasis added.

I read Spectacular Sins earlier this year. it was really very good indeed.

Now it is on sale for 5.00

Do yourself a favor, and if this stuff interests you, spend five dollars on Spectacular Sins and read it too. Then you will see why I was so offended by Wm Paul Young on page 165 of The Shack.

Hat tip to Challies who says this one is not for skimming so set aside a few minutes to read it.


The Meaning of Man’s Will

R. C. Sproul has a three part series on what it means when we say that man has free will. Fascinating stuff. This is the kind of stuff that keeps a person from swearing off the internet altogether.

Here are the links:

part 1
part 2
part 3

and here is a bit of the introduction:

The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing, and often conflicting, views about it.

The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in man, in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important for us today is how the Fall affected man’s moral choices.

It was St. Augustine who gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the Fall. Augustine’s classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre–referring to the ability to sin.
2. posse non-pecarre–referring to the ability not to sin, or to remain free from sin.
3. non-posse pecarre–referring to the inability to sin.
4. non-posse, non-pecarre–referring to the inability not to sin.

Considering Adam before the Fall, Augustine argued that Adam had possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability not to sin (posse non-pecarre). Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non-posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness of God to do what he wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.

Before the Fall Adam did not have the moral perfection of God; neither did Adam have the inability to refrain from sin (non-posse, non-pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the race into ruin.

As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partially a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition which reflects the judgment of God upon the race.

and here is the first paragraph of part 3.

But what about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. And if God is utterly sovereign to do as he pleases, no creature can be autonomous.

and where he gets to the meat of the coconut here:

I leave the question of explaining the Fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, not because God or anyone else forced him to. Man chose out of his own heart.

Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it.

wow. These are from the book How Can I Know God’s Will by R. C. Sproul and here on this page are downloadable MP3 lessons on it.

the Shack part I

I am reading the Shack. It took all the way to page 165 (out of 246) before I got completely angry. Up to that time I was reading at a relatively low grade frustration level. The prose was juvenile. the story was wooden. The theology was wrong. The emphasis was on Mack instead of God. All frustrating things.

But on page 165 Mr. Young finally made me mad. Here is what appears there, beginning at the bottom of 164 for some context:

“For love. He chose the way of the cross where mercy triumphs over justice because of love. Would you instead prefer he’d chosen justice for everyone? Do you want justice, ‘Dear Judge’?” and she smiled as she said it.

“No, I don’t,” he said as he lowered his head. “Not for me, and not for my children.”

She waited.

“But I still don’t understand why Missy had to die.”

“She didn’t have to, Mackenzie. This was no plan of Papa’s. Papa has never needed evil to accomplish his good purposes. It is you humans who have embraced evil and Papa has responded with goodness. What happened to Missy was the work of evil and no one in your world is immune from it.”

emphasis added.

The “She” above is Sophia, who is the distillation of God’s wisdom like Solomon portrayed in Proverbs.

Now just think one brief minute about what we know about God from the scripture. Revelation 13:8 says that there is a book written before the foundation of the world that is known as the book of the slain Lamb. It seems fairly obvious to me that God “needed” “planned” for some evil to occur that would result in the propitiatory sacrifice of His Son for the reconciliation of the folks whose names were written in that book.

The idea that God didn’t plan for things we don’t like is deeply offensive.

The thing about it is that this statement that Mr. Young puts in the mouth of God’s distillation of wisdom undercuts the whole central message of the book up to that point.

The Godhead was up to then taking turns convincing Mack that he had no right to sit in judgement of God’s actions or others. The author then does exactly what he is writing a book to argue against. He sits in judgment of God and decides that God would never plan or need what the author and Mackenzie agree to be evil. how arrogant is that? how stupid? how blasphemous?

Don’t get me started.

For a contrast between this kind of theology and the Bible’s portrayal of God see this post of mine regarding two approaches to the bridge collapse in minneapolis minnesota.

W. Paul Young is trying to do the same thing that Roger Olson wants to do which is to help God get off the hook for bad things that happen in the world that we humans don’t like.


And God says, “Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that’s one of my self-limitations. I don’t want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world.”
It’s a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it’s the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity.

emphasis added.

The Bible:

5 I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
7 I form light and create darkness,
I make well-being and create calamity,
I am the LORD, who does all these things.

emphasis added.

So the question is, do we take God at His word or not? Do we think it is our job to “relieve God of responsibility” for things that happen to us that we don’t like?

original sin, part 2

about a month ago, I posted on Original Sin. Specifically, one of the leaders of the emerging church had decided that he didn’t believe this doctrine and Kevin DeYoung called him out on it with scripture.

yesterday, I received this comment to moderate:


There’s a huge difference between “inclined toward evil” that you quoted above and blackened and deader than dead. Maybe not in Calvinism, but Biblically, there’s a huge difference.

Paul in Romans 3 is drawing from Psalm 14, one written by David, which states, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

One would think in reading Psalm 14 alone that the words stand alone. No one does good.

Yet four Psalms later, in Psalm 18, David says, “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I am not guilty of turning from my God. All his laws are before me; I have not turned away from his decrees. I have been blameless before him, and have kept myself from sin.”

Same author. Is David confused? Or in both Psalms, is David using black/white imagery (“no one does good” and “”I am not guilty”) to make the rhetorical point that this sinful inclination is powerful yet God calls for our obedience? Viewed in this light, we can read Psalm 14 (and then Romans 3) with fresh eyes, where God is looking down to see if any will have the courage to stand up and be obedient. He laments that humans, by and large, have turned away, but David proclaims in Psalm 18 that God rewards those who pursue righteousness.

Kevin also uses rebellion (not total depravity) language in quoting Jeremiah 17 (deceitful, desperately sick), Titus 3 (hating on another), and Romans 5 (corrupt nature). The Bible uses extreme imagery both ways; to celebrate human righteousness (obedience) and decry human rebellion (depravity). There’s no easy way to clean this up, as much as the system of Calvin would like to do so. Let the Bible speak for itself.

Nathan Myers

you would think from this that Paul’s quote of Romans 3:10 was the main thing that Kevin DeYoung cited. It wasn’t.

Assume for a minute that it was. What is Nathan’s refutation? Paul was relying on David. David said something else somewhere else and therefore Paul didn’t mean it the way it sounds, and that some of the other verses that Kevin cited were simply “extreme imagery” to “decry human rebellion.”

And then Nathan has the nerve/temerity/audacity/hutzpah/guts to tell me that I should let the Bible speak for itself. Just wow.

Ok, I will. Here is the “extreme imagery” supporting the idea that humans are born into sin and bear the sin nature by nature:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

and here is the “extreme imagery” that says that apart from Christ we are all DEAD in our sins (not some kind of “mostly dead” or “a bit sluggish.”)

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Do you get that? the Bible, speaking for itself, says plainly that we were all dead and caught up in sin by our nature. that we were naturally objects of God’s wrath. That God then made us alive in Him, by His glorious grace. God through the sacrifice of His son, Jesus, made a way for us to be rescued from our sinful nature. That is why Romans 6 is such good news. We have been made alive and are no longer enslaved to our natural sinful nature. We now have a true choice to reject the opportunity to offer our members up as instruments of unrighteousness for the first time. For the first time, we have the opportunity to offer ourselves up as servants to righteousness.

That news wouldn’t be so good if there were no such thing as original sin. That would mean that Pelagius was correct and that any person can decide on their own to pursue God. That concept just won’t fly if you let the words above from the Bible “speak for themselves.” It only works if you explain away what Paul told the Ephesian church in chapter 2:1-10.


John MacArthur nails it with the opening sentence of this post (the second and third sentences are excellent as well) which is an excerpt from the book Ashamed of the Gospel.

No doctrine is more despised by the natural mind than the truth that God is absolutely sovereign. Human pride loathes the suggestion that God orders everything, controls everything, rules over everything. The carnal mind, burning with enmity against God, abhors the biblical teaching that nothing comes to pass except according to His eternal decrees. Most of all, the flesh hates the notion that salvation is entirely God’s work. If God chose who would be saved, and if His choice was settled before the foundation of the world, then believers deserve no credit for their salvation.
Scripture affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We must accept both sides of the truth, though we may not understand how they correspond to one another. People are responsible for what they do with the gospel—or with whatever light they have (Rom. 2:19, 20), so that punishment is just if they reject the light. And those who reject do so voluntarily. Jesus lamented, “You are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:40). He told unbelievers, “Unless you believe that I am [God], you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). In John chapter 6, our Lord combined both divine sovereignty and human responsibility when He said, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (v. 37); “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life” (v. 40); “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (v. 44); “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (v. 47); and, “No one can come to Me, unless it has been granted him from the Father” (v. 65). How both of those two realities can be true simultaneously cannot be understood by the human mind—only by God.

Above all, we must not conclude that God is unjust because He chooses to bestow grace on some but not to everyone. God is never to be measured by what seems fair to human judgment. Are we so foolish as to assume that we who are fallen, sinful creatures have a higher standard of what is right than an unfallen and infinitely, eternally holy God? What kind of pride is that? In Psalm 50:21 God says, “You thought that I was just like you.” But God is not like us, nor can He be held to human standards. “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa. 55:8, 9).

We step out of bounds when we conclude that anything God does isn’t fair. In Romans 11:33 the apostle writes, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?” (Rom. 11:33, 34).


I noticed in the sidebar at the Straight Up blog a three part series on God’s role in suffering by Gerald Hiestand. Here is part three which contains links to the first two parts. Go check it out.

I like these bits here especially well, but it is all good and very much worth a read:

And it is at this particular point that I find indeterminism wanting. As a theodicy, indeterminism generally attempts to lessen the tension between God’s goodness and human suffering by appealing to moral freedom. It is through the wrong choices of free moral agents, we are told, that suffering has been introduced into the world. Well and good—even determinists would agree so far. But then indeterminists often (not always) make a logic-leap and conclude that when faced with suffering, we should look not to God, but rather man, Satan, and the random effects of a fallen world as the ultimate source. The subtle and (often not so-subtle) implication of indeterminism is that God has no causal relation to our suffering. Now I affirm human freedom. And I affirm that much of the suffering we experience is the direct result of creation’s choice to live independently of God. But one cannot simply sprinkle the pixie dust “free will” over all suffering and magically resolve the tension between God’s goodness and human suffering.

At the end of the day, there’s no way around it. God, by very nature of his being, is the ultimate “buck stops here” person in the universe. Nothing can happen apart from his divine sovereignty. He could have prevented the planes from crashing into the towers. But he chose not to. From massive natural disasters, to the death of the smallest creatures, God’s eye beholds all; his hand oversees all. And nothing happens apart from his divine counsel. Not even open theism, with it denial of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, gets God off the hook. Even the open theist has to admit that God knew the intentions of the terrorists—if not from the dawn of time—then at least on the morning of 9/11. And still he chose not to intervene. The fact remains that creaturely freedom, however immediately the cause of suffering, does not operate outside the exhaustive scope of God’s sovereignty. The story of Job is a classic example.


As far as theodicy is concerned, I prefer determinism’s willingness to call a spade a spade. It acknowledges up front that God is the ultimate first mover, the One who ordains all things. Nothing happens apart from his divine will. At the end of the day, peace in the midst of suffering comes through submission to the divine will. It comes through trusting that God has a good reason for why he ordains what he ordains in relation to my life. And perhaps even more significantly, it acknowledges that he has the right to do so. Any theodicy that attempts too vigorously to wipe the blood off of God’s hands robs us of the rest that comes from resting submissively in the wisdom of God’s divine care. Such theodicies are an emotional quick fix, but they can’t satisfy the hurting heart in the end. Like Job, we find our ultimate peace in bowing before the mighty hand of a sovereign God who, beholden to no one, has the right to purposefully ordain all things—even suffering—for our good and his glory. Determinism reminds us that God owes us nothing, and yet has given us everything.

that bit about trying to wipe the blood off of God’s hands reminded me of Roger Olson being scared of the “calvinist” (I think he means the Biblical) God. The way I read the Bible it says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. As a matter of fact, the Bible talks a lot about fearing the Lord. hmmmmmm.

we must get this

here again is a link to John MacArthur’s two part message on God and evil. if you only have 25 minutes, then listen to part two only. Unfortunately, the free listening of the message is no longer available. They cost money (2 dollars) to download, but are worth it.

originally posted on 8/27. everyone needs to listen to part two at this link. seriously.

if God is sovereign over all like He says He is in Ephesians 1:11, then it necessarily follows that God wills that evil exist.

“God wills evil to exist. (without being evil)” according to the Ligonier ministries blog, that is how John MacArthur begins the two sermons linked here. UPDATE: the quoted phrase comes at the beginning of the second message.

I am going to give these messages a listen this morning and this evening.

UPDATE: The first message was only 24 minutes long. Mainly it consisted of establishing with scripture that God is sovereign over all things. That everything is part of His plan.

oooo! part 2 starts out with a kick.

UPDATE II: Excellent 2nd message as well. as you would expect from John MacArthur, it is mostly just straight scripture. If you don’t start from the assumption that the Bible is God’s word to us and that our job is to figure out what it says and get under it, then you will not get these messages. if you do start from that assumption, then it is a wrasslin’ match. ding, ding. let the match begin.