Friday, August 28, 2009

The libertarian conundrum

Arminians typically define freewill as the freedom to do otherwise. More recently, this has been cashed out as the principle of alternate possibilities.

They sometimes try to give this metaphysical grounding in the nature of God. They claim that God has libertarian freedom, and since we’re made in God’s image, we share that attribute.

Some Arminians also believe in the perseverance of the saints. They appeal to the fact that the Remonstrants left this question open.

There are also some Arminianism who subscribe to postmortem evangelism.

By way of reply, Calvinists raise some stock objections to their position. We ask them if God can sin. Can God choose between good and evil? We also ask them in the saints in glory can sin. Can they lose their place in heaven?

In response, Arminians say the freedom to do otherwise doesn’t require both good and evil choices. As long as there is more than one good choice, you have alternate possibilities to choose from.

And that’s true. It’s also a good way to gloss God’s freedom.

However, while that’s a valid distinction in its own right, it creates fundamental problems for Arminianism. To begin with, it’s ad hoc to say that we have libertarian freedom because God has libertarian freedom, but then, when asked whether God can sin, introduce a major discontinuity between human freedom, which includes the freedom to sin, and divine freedom, which excludes the freedom to sin. Either God is the template for human freedom or he’s not.

And, if anything, there’s a deeper objection. The freewill defense is the Arminian theodicy of choice. This is how Arminians explain the possibility of sin. And this is how Arminians justify the divine permission of evil.

God couldn’t make men who only do right without infringing on their freedom of choice. “True” loved can’t be “forced.”

Although it’s possible for God to make men who only do right, they would be “robots” and “puppets.”

But if, in reply to our objections, Arminians concede that the freedom to do otherwise only requires alternate goods, then they abandon the key presupposition of the freewill defense. For the freewill defense is only compelling if there’s no possible world where human beings freely and invariably do good.


  1. My problem with this whole debate over freedom is that Libertarian Freedom is a presupposition that can't really be defended on Biblical grounds. Scripture deals with freedom in an entirely different paradigm.

    In the natural, we see degrees of freedom. People in various countries are allowed various degrees of freedom by their government. The tighter a government's control over its citizens the less freedom we would say they have. It could be said that they are less free (as opposed to simply "not free") when compared to citizens of another country. The more a gov't limits or influences the decisions of the citizens, the less free they are. Using this view of freedom, it could be said that the more a Christian is influenced or compelled by God and the more submitted to him they are, the less free they are. But this is not the case. In fact, it is the opposite! And it is not as though the more freely we choose God the more limited God's grace is to us. There is no opposition between the two in scripture. If we place human freedom and divine sovereignty in opposition we are outside the bounds of scripture and we have gone from a biblical definition of freedom to a secular and philosophical definition of freedom. In this view of freedom, followed through to its conclusion, God's divine power cannot help but rob man of his humanity. Rather, the freedom God is concerned with is found in being conformed to his image (and that of one that cannot sin) not one of arbitrary choice.

    In the Bible, freedom is not contrasted with submission. Rather, we are only free in our submission to Christ. If we come to scripture with an idea of Libertarian Freedom we find the language of the Bible confusing and even offensive when it speaks of being slaves of righteousness, bondslaves of Christ, and complete submission.

    The Bible does not tell us that we are enslaved because we are unable to order our own way, but that we are in fact enslaved to the very extent that we have ordered our own way. The enslaved will is attempted autonomy. As such, to "autonomously" (which is what most people mean when they say "freely") submit to Christ is a contradiction in terms.

    (Note: The above is from some notes I was taking while studying the nature of freedom and I neglected to write down the source(s) I was reading at the time. The words are mine, but I make no exclusive claim on the ideas.)

  2. This has already been addressed in the concept of the gnomic will.

  3. It just occurred to me - if true love can only come by free will, then how loving is God to give anyone free will who will choose otherwise? Is it not more loving for God to turn that person into a robot for the sake of that person?

    Rather, I think the Arminians' concept of love is skewed. Godly love is not a matter of absolute freedom, which is divisive, but of submission and restraint for the purpose of relational cohesion. Libertarian free will cannot submit. If it does, it's no longer libertarian free will. That's why our will must be limited. If we chose God, we haven't chosen him based on free will, but rather that it is in accordance with his will. (Don't the Arminians love to point out that God doesn't desire any to perish?) If we choose other than God then we are enslaved to sin. Both are within the bounds of God's creation and our will is at least restricted in that manner. There is no middle ground. Therefore, God's love is absolutely cohesive with his elect and absolutely divisive with those who are not his elect for the sake of the value of his love with the elect.