- MP3 (1 hour and 45 minutes including Q&A)
- Handout (7-page PDF)
- Condensed Essay (4-page PDF, which Reformation 21 reprinted today)
Here’s the basic outline (the handout is more detailed):
Question 1. Why should we study “free will”?
Question 2. What are some challenges with studying “free will”?
1. What is “free will”?
1.2. Constraining and Non-Constraining Causes
1.3. Incompatibilism vs. Compatibilism
1.4. Indeterminism vs. Determinism
1.5. Libertarian Free Will vs. Free Agency
1.6. God’s General Sovereignty vs. God’s Specific Sovereignty
2. What have noteworthy theologians thought about “free will”?
The nine headings in this section reproduce the chapter titles in R. C. Sproul, Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997). I added the dates for each person in parentheses.
2.1. We Are Capable of Obedience: Pelagius (c. 354–415)
2.2. We Are Incapable of Obedience: Augustine (354–430)
2.3. We Are Capable of Cooperating: Semi-Pelagians (John Cassian, c. 360–435; Council of Trent, 1545–63)
2.4. We Are in Bondage to Sin: Martin Luther (1483–1546)
2.5. We Are Voluntary Slaves: John Calvin (1509–64)
2.6. We Are Free to Believe: James Arminius (1560–1609)
2.7. We Are Inclined to Sin: Jonathan Edwards (1703–58)
2.8. We Are Not Depraved by Nature: Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875)
2.9. We Are Able to Believe: Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952)
3. What are biblical and theological reasons for compatibilism and against incompatibilism?
3.1. The Bible never says that humans are free in the sense that they are autonomously able to make decisions that are not caused by anything.
3.2. God is absolutely sovereign.
3.3. Humans are morally responsible, which requires that they be free.
3.4. God’s absolute sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility are simultaneously true.
3.5. The Bible condemns some people for acts not done with a libertarian free will.
3.6. God is omniscient (e.g., he predicts future events).
3.7. God breathed out Scripture through humans without violating their personalities.
3.8. God enables Christians to persevere: Christians work because God works.
3.9. God himself does not have a free will in the libertarian sense.
3.10. God’s people do not have free wills in heaven in the libertarian sense.
4. How does “free will” relate to the origin of both sin and conversion?
4.1. Is libertarian free will the reason for the origin of sin?
4.2. Is libertarian free will the basis for the origin of conversion?
5. Concluding Applications on the Free-Will Debate
5.1.Praise God for sovereignly planning the universe and for flawlessly executing his plan.
5.2.Recognize that other orthodox Christians who disagree with you on this issue are not the enemy!
5.3.Since it is unlikely that all living Christians will agree on the issue of free will, promote unity on this issue as much as possible.
5.4.As in all areas of controversial doctrine, hold your view with humility.
6. Recommended Reading
This annotated bibliography of over twenty-five books and articles (1) places asterisks by the most highly recommended resources, (2) hyperlinks to every resource, and (3) ranks the level of difficulty of each resource.
The MP3 is missing the first couple of minutes from the introduction in which I essentially said this:
When David Vecchitto asked me earlier this year if I’d like to serve CrossWay this summer with an address in the Difficult Issues Series, he asked if there was a particular topic that I would like to address. I suggested addressing the topic of “free will” largely as a result of serving in Exploring Christianity last fall and earlier this year. As you know Exploring Christianity is one of the ways our church shares the gospel: it
creates a relaxed and informative environment for people from all walks of life to find out more about the Christian faith. It’s an opportunity to gather with other people over eight weeks to explore what the Bible says about our relationship with God. Exploring Christianity intentionally creates a setting where it is easy to ask difficult questions about big issues.
After eating dinner together and hearing a gospel-message, we break up into small groups throughout the building for an hour-long discussion where people can ask anything about Christianity. Nothing is off limits.
I was impressed with the thoughtful, difficult questions that non-Christians would ask. I also observed that non-Christians and Christians alike would often give the same answer to certain difficult questions like the following:
- 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?
Update: See Scott Christensen, What about Free Will? Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2016). My endorsement: “Many think that free will is the silver-bullet answer to some of theology’s most difficult questions. But do we have a free will? Short answer: It depends on what you mean by free. Long answer: Read this book.”