Human Freedom and the
Sovereignty of God
Scripture surely teaches both human
freedom and the sovereignty of God. However, it does not technically
of human freedom or sovereignty is in view. For this, one’s biblical
understanding is developed through a process of learning about ourselves and
about God via his written Word (Romans 12:2), together with some philosophical
discussion about the ways in which these subjects can be understood.
The terms indeterminism, determinism
are often used in discussions about human freedom. From a theological
perspective, Arminians and religious humanists believe in autonomous man,
and thus incorporate some form of indeterminism. Calvinists, Reformed, and
hold to sovereign grace hold to forms of determinism. In today’s
modernistic society, indeterminists outnumber determinists by a wide margin. So what do these terms mean?
view claims that an individual’s acts are free only if that person
could always have chosen to do otherwise. They typically deny that there is
causes a person to have to act in one way rather than another. Causal
conditions (one's ontological nature, forces, or influences) may push or incline the will, but
the individual can always choose contrary
to them. While choices are made for a reason, the indeterminist cannot
provide a causal explanation why an individual would act according to one
particular reason or another. Herein lies the root of all forms of
humanism and the illusion of autonomy.
contrast, the determinist claims that with every decision a person makes,
there are causal conditions (inclinations) playing upon his or her will so as to incline it
in one direction rather than another. Given prevailing causal influences and
without mitigating forces, it is impossible for an individual to
choose otherwise. What is true of God (that He acts according to His nature)
is also true of his creatures.
However, keep in mind there is no such
thing as the definition of indeterminism or the
definition of determinism. There exists subtle differences amongst both
groups. One form of determinism which appears consistent with Scripture
and is best able to reconcile the truths of human freedom, responsibility, and
the sovereignty of God is called compatibilism.
COMPATIBILISM is the
belief (presuppositional tenet), held by many Bible-believing Christians, which
asserts that mankind possess enough freedom of will (volition) to make him an
active participant in the drama of redemption, but not so much that we need to redefine or place limitations on
God’s sovereignty. This position distinguishes two kinds of causes which
influence and determine actions—constraining
nonconstraining. Constraining causes force an individual to act against
his will. Example 1: I order you to behave in a certain way and
threaten you with physical harm if you don't comply. By comparison,
nonconstraining causes are sufficient to bring about a determined action, but
they do not force persons to act against their will, desires or wishes.
Example 2: I encourage you to behave in the same way as in Example 1, but now
present an irresistible argument that effectively connects in a positive way with the source of
your motivation. Your will and desire are brought into conformance with my
will. Thus, under compatibilism the will is considered "free" since the
forces are nonconstraining, but the will is still causally determined.
These concepts should immediately make sense to anyone who has raised children
or have managed employees in the workplace. What of Scriptural examples?
There are numerous verses from Genesis to Revelation that reflect compatibilism.
For example, Acts 2:23 reads:
This man was handed over to you by
God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men,
put him to death by nailing Him to the cross.
And Peter and John's prayer to God in Acts
4:27, 28 is also instructive:
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met
together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire
against your holy servant Jesus, whom You [Sovereign Father] anointed.
They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
And further, in Acts 13:48, we read:
...and all who were appointed for
eternal life believed.
These verses clearly teaches the compatibilist concept of
determinism. Herod and Pilate were not forced into their evil
conspiracy; rather their sinful dispositions (nature) and inclination was allowed to run
course. The Father’s providential control of circumstances brought about
His predestined event of the Son's death at Calvary. Further, it is
necessary for Herod or Pilate to have been able to have choosen contrary to be held
responsible for there actions. If I owe a debt and am legally responsible for
repayment of the debt, my ability or inability to repay has no bearing upon
whether I am or am not responsible.
While this would appear to be the normal mode for God’s
dealing with men, it does not preclude actions which mysteriously resemble
constraining causes. The Acts 9 account of Saul’s conversion documents a
supernatural change of mind and heart for the Jewish zealot. Did not God’s
intervention violate Saul’s so-called "free-will" decision to persecute the Church?
Certainly it did!
Sovereignty, Responsibility, and Free
Will: Books and articles listed below include determinist and
compatibilist authors and resources--both dispensational and covenant. All believe in
the sovereignty of God and reject the sovereignty of man. Books
are listed in alphabetical order by the author's name.
W. E. Best,
Free Grace Versus Free
Will (Baker Book House, 1977). Dr. Best was pastor at South
Belt Grace Church in Houston, Texas for several years. See
our article Free Will vs. Volition.
John Nelson Darby,
Writings of... and Letters (Various reprints).
Comments by the 'father' of modern-day dispensationalism clearly reflect his
John S. Feinberg, God Ordains All Things,
PREDESTINATION & FREE WILL - Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human
Freedom (InterVarsity Press, 1986). Dr. Feinberg's article is
a comprehensive introduction to the moderate Calvinist position and
John Gill, The Cause of God & Truth
(Baker Book House,1980). An exhaustive refutation of Christian
humanism using copious scriptural references and citations from the early
John Hendyrx, 'Just
- Eleven (11) Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will
John is the creator of the Calvinist/Reformed resource warehouse - monergism.com
R. A. Huebner,
God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men
(Bible Truth Publishers, 2003) This is by far the finest presentation
of the biblical view of human responsibility from the dispensational
perspective. A must read!
Martin Luther, The Bondage of the
Will (Fleming H Revell Company, 1957). Originally written in
Latin, Luther captures the quintessential difference between the Reformation
and all forms of Christian humanism and in particular--Roman Catholicism.
This translation includes the excellent 60+ page Historical and
Theological Introduction by J. I. Packer and O. J. Johnston.
Important historical reading!
Miles J. Stanford,
From Arminius, to Calvin, to
Paul (Colorado Springs, CO). Classic MJS contrasting
Arminianism with Covenant Calvinism, and then offering a complete Pauline
soteriology based on the compatibilist view of the will.
Robert K. McGregor Wright, NO PLACE
for SOVEREIGNTY - What's Wrong with Freewill Theism (InterVarsity
Press, 1996). Bob Wright's book is an good short overview of the
Covenant Calvinist landscape and the Reformation viewpoint.
ARMINIANISM versus CALVINISM. This short booklet (first
appeared in Christian Truth magazine; later reprinted by Bible Truth
Publishers) is an introduction to J. N. Darby's biblical views. He was
neither Arminian nor Calvinist. Back before the great inflation of the
'70s, Miles Stanford mailed this booklet (then 35¢) to many of his
correspondents. Of those Arminian-bent believers who claim to have known
and appreciate Miles Stanford, I often wonder if they failed to receive a
Within the context of a normal literal hermeneutic, we believe a
compatibilist understanding of the will combined with a Pauline dispensational
approach to Scripture best harmonizes the entire Bible.
We recommend all the works of Miles Stanford, who advocated sovereign
Pauline dispensationalism and a compatibilistic view of the will.
The Problem of Evil:
John S. Feinberg, THE MANY FACES OF
EVIL - Theological Systems and the Problem of Evil (Zondervan
Publishing House, 1979, 1994). Dr. Feinberg's scholarly thesis on the
subject which as evolved over several decades. Deep reading only for
those who have mastered and are comfortable with the materials listed above.
The following is a partial list of writer/theologians
advocating various forms of indeterminism and therefore cannot be recommended:
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