Monday, January 01, 2007

I Wonder as I Wanda

Is not the Calvinist’s claim that the elect “come most freely”, because they have been “made willing” and cannot fail to choose otherwise similar to Ben’s “I-Will Pill” taken by Wanda? If Wanda could not choose otherwise after taking the pill, how could we say she was free? Was the love she possessed genuine love for Ben or was it manufactured? And if Wanda’s love was produced artificially, could Ben ever really be satisfied with it? Would not he always know that Wanda really did not choose to love Him but was made to love him? Would we consider Ben’s use of the pill moral or immoral? Could Ben be prosecuted in a court of law if it could be proved he created this substance and gave it to Wanda to change her mind?

From my vantage point, Ben’s “I-Will” Pill makes me wonder whether the Calvinist’s view of irresistible grace, free will and “regeneration preceding faith” is correct. At least for me, I am not so sure. With that, I am…


Several issues here:

1.There is the matter of theological method. As is generally the case, libertarians like Peter Lumpkins begin with their seat-of-the-pants intuitions or canned illustrations about freedom, and then, if they do any exegesis at all, impose that on Scripture as their interpretive grid.

2.And because they begin with intuition rather than revelation, they are oblivious to the theological context of the discussion.

Notice the implicitly Pelagian cast of Lumpkins’ little parable. It assumes that Wanda is a normal person, and Ben must resort to brainwashing to “make” her love him.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, to play along with his illustration, but bring it more into line with Scripture, Wanda is not a normal person. Rather, Wanda is a fallen human being.

So Wanda, left to her own devices, is more like a drug addict who’s tripping out on acid, or a cancer patient who’s delusional because she has a brain tumor. She isn’t in her right state of mind.

What God does in regeneration would be analogous to a neurosurgeon who removes the tumor, thereby restoring her sanity.

The effect of the therapy is to restore the individual to a natural and normal state of mind.

3.Even in human affairs, there are cases in which one individual makes decisions for another individual.

If Wanda is clinically insane, she cannot give informed consent for the operation. But without the operation, she will die of brain cancer.

It is possible, under such circumstances, for the patient to be declared mentally incompetent and then have a family member act on her behalf. This is sometimes done by court order.

I suppose, though, that Lumpkins would let her die rather than “violate” her freewill.

Or an individual may be involuntarily committed to a rehab facility. As long as the junkie is enslaved to his addiction, he can’t act in his own best interest.

Or take the case of letting your best friend drive drunk. If he’s had one to many, do you let him get into the car and drive way, or do you confiscate his keys and drive him to your place to sleep it off?

After he has a chance to draw out, you return his keys—but not before.

Well, unless you’re Lumpkins. If you’re Lumpkins, you’d respect your best friend’s freedom of choice. He chose to drink too much, so if he kills himself by slamming into a tree, that’s the price of freedom.

4.It isn’t the intervention that’s coercive so much as the addiction or inebriation or insanity. The point of the intervention is to remove the coercive force which is controlling the individual.

That’s why we speak of someone driving “under the influence” of alcohol or hallucinogens.

5.But people like Lumpkins are default Pelagians. They don’t take the power of sin seriously.

So they always frame the debate between freedom and determinism in implicitly antelapsarian terms, as if Wanda were in the Garden of Eden.

6.In addition, not everyone has the maturity to make responsible decisions. That’s why we treat a five-year-old differently than a 50-year-old.

Do we let the five-year-old play in the street? Or play with the chemicals under the sink? Or play with the medicine cabinet? Or play with Daddy’s service revolver?

No, a loving and dutiful father (or mother) will severely restrict his child’s freedom of choice.

Wouldn’t we expect God to make decisions for shortsighted human beings?

7. People may undergo treatment to restore their natural desires. Lumpkins uses the example of romantic love. It’s always funny to me how theological libertarians think this is a knockdown argument for voluntarism.

To begin with, what is the basis of romantic love? Doesn’t it have something to do with sexual attraction?

Do we choose to have a sex drive? Do we choose to be attracted to a member of the opposite sex?

Does Lumpkins believe the average adolescent has to consciously choose his sexual orientation? Does he think a normal teenage boy must will himself to be heterosexual? Did he decide that girls are fun to be around?

Or was he biologically programmed to feel that way? Something that just comes naturally at a certain age?

By and large, most forms of love are spontaneous. A mother’s love for her child. A child’s love for its mother.

Or the whole business of “falling” in love. Not to mention related feelings like jealousy and betrayal.

Nothing is more patently artificial and utterly out of touch with the real world than the way in which libertarians like Peter Lumpkins talk about the dynamics of love.

They don’t begin with Scripture, and, what is more, they don’t begin with experience. Instead, they begin with the pat little theory of what freedom entails, and then they come up with canned little just-so stories that bear no resemblance to real life.

Little cardboard characters who make dry, disinterested choices.

Libertarian theology inhabits a grocery store lined with aisles of unlabeled boxes. Do I choose the white box or the brown box?


  1. If you’re Lumpkins, you’d respect your best friend’s freedom of choice.

    Or never give him cancer in the first place. But then you'd be compassionate and good, unlike Yahweh.

  2. Steve,

    Indeed, to echo your last point (about the white and brown boxes), it is the very limits on freedom that make the idea of "free will" even make sense.

    As a Calvinist, I've started leaning away from arguing against free will and rather to arguing for God's sovereignty and ensuring that "free will" is suitably defined. The libertarian free will view, as best I can figure, logically concludes with the black box of free will being nothing better than a random number generator. If my will is not subject to my nature, my experience, my knowledge, etc etc, then it is worthless... and all of those things are worthless. It is precisely because we choose based on those "restrictions" that freedom is even a sensible idea.

  3. Dear Gene,

    I am humbled you would take the time to analyze my little parable and thank you for it. Illustrations such as these are strengthed when they are engaged.

    I think it would have been a wonderful thing had we talked about it ourselves. I guess I see why though. Let's see:

    "libertarians like Peter Lumpkins begin with their seat-of-the-pants intuitions or canned illustrations "

    Flattery will get you no place, Gene...

    "Notice the implicitly Pelagian cast of Lumpkins’ little parable." Why Gene! Is my parable literarily that bad?

    "I suppose, though, that Lumpkins would let her die rather than “violate” her freewill."
    And am I morally that bad, Gene?

    "But people like Lumpkins are default Pelagians. They don’t take the power of sin seriously." Sticks and stones may break my bones, Gene, but calling me a heretic will never hurt me...

    "Lumpkins uses the example of romantic love. It’s always funny to me how theological libertarians think this is a knockdown argument for voluntarism." Actually, you missed that one, Gene. And, indeed I do think Voluntarism is a weakness in the Calvinist view of God, but that was far from my point...

    Frankly, Gene, your commentary, with all the respect I can offer, did not at all address the parable. Rather, for some curious reason you chose to focus on the rhetorical questions at the end.

    But thanks, nevertheless, my Brother. For you to spend so much time posting about it surely means the little parable poked somebody in the eye.

    Grace to you. With that, I am...


    p.s. this REALLY IS Peter Lumpkins this time. As for the other Peter you mistaken thought was me some time ago on another thread, I do not know him either. I laughed out loud when he said he googled your posts and you "fessed" up about copy/pasting old comments to recent issues. That helped me understand why your comments are so long, Gene...

  4. Literacy is not Peter's strong point. I did not write the above post. Steve Hays wrote it.

  5. Gene:

    Why distract from Peter's diatribe with something as mundane as a fact? Facts are only lightly regarded in certain sectors of the blogosphere. It seems to me that Dr. Lumpkins has some kind of personal consternation regarding you. Steve's article just gave him an opportunity to vent a bit. With that I am