Libertarian Free Will: It’s Not Biblical – Part 2

In last week’s post I ended on the fact that our wills are enslaved to sin, which can only be set free through the power of the Holy Spirit. The biblical data shows that natural man is enslaved to his nature, which is a fallen, sinful one.

When Paul says, “no one does good . . . no one seeks for God,” what does that mean?

Uh, what it says it means—We are not good; We don’t seek for God.

That is why God had to come save us.

Getting back to libertarian free will.

One of the problems with the Western world is this mantra that we can do whatever we want. “I can accomplish and do what I desire, and no one can tell me that I can’t.” The liberals are truly the ones who have adopted this mantra and have promulgated a narcissistic view of human entitlement. Unfortunately, this ideology has bled into the Christian faith, affecting many churches’ biblical anthropology. Again: We are to look at the Scriptures to properly understand the metaphysical framework of humanity.

Seminary professor Bruce Ware footnoted in his book God’s Lesser Glory a comprehensive study done by a doctoral student regarding divine foreknowledge documenting (divine foreknowledge is the open theist’s kryptonite) “1893 texts state predictively that God will do something or other in or through human beings; 1474 texts state predictively what human beings will do something or other, apart from God directly acting through them; 622 texts state predictively what unbelievers will do or have happen to them; 143 texts affirm God’s sovereign control of human choices; 105 texts of apparent counter-evidence” (n2., p. 100).

The open theist maintains that we must have libertarian free will in order to be rightly held accountable for our actions. There are no explicit verses in Scripture that demonstrate our wills are independent of God’s will. Libertarian free will is more of a philosophical assumption, failing to take into account one’s will and desires in choosing or not choosing, failing to recognize the role of causality in events that take place. So what they have done to ensure the Bible teaches that we have libertarian free will is they have removed God’s divine foreknowledge.

Those findings listed above are staggering and devastating to one who holds to libertarian free will. Now, obviously we cannot go through all of the verses demonstrating that God brings about human free actions that we are responsible for, so we will examine a few where we see this clearly, and I will list more Scriptures at the end.

Exodus 7:2-3; 11:9 – “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. . . . Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh will not listen to you, that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’” (God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to not listen to Moses, so that God’s wonders would be multiplied)

Deuteronomy 2:30 – “But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand, as he is this day.” (King Sihon did not let messengers pass by him—his choice—for the Lord hardened his heart, so that the Lord might give Sihon into the hands of Israel.)

1 Samuel 2:25 – “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death.” (Eli’ sons would not listen to their Father; it was their will to not listen and though it was God’s will for them not to, he held them accountable for it.)

2 Samuel 17:14 – “And Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the Lord had ordained to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the Lord might bring harm upon Absalom.” (Either the counsel of Hushai was thought to be better by Absalom, according to God’s will, or God in fact made Hushai’s counsel better so as to bring harm to Absalom in his choosing to follow Hushai.)

1 Kings 12:15 – “So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (Rehoboam did not listen to the people, and his failure to do so was God’s work in fulfilling his Word).

2 Chronicles 25:16, 20 – “But as he was speaking, the king said to him, “Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be struck down?” So the prophet stopped, but said, ‘I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my counsel.’ . . . But Amaziah would not listen, for it was of God, in order that he might give them into the hand of their enemies, because they had sought the gods of Edom.” (Amaziah’s failure to listen was of God, yet he received judgment for his actions.)

Ezra 6:22 – “And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” (the king was against this, but he changed his mind, but we see the Lord turned his heart—will—to give them aid.)

Daniel 11:36 – “And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done.” (Here the King does as he wills, as it was decreed that he should.)

1 Chronicles 14:8-11 – “When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. But David heard of it and went out against them. Now the Philistines had come and made a raid in the Valley of Rephaim. And David inquired of God, ‘Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?’ And the LORD said to him, ‘Go up, and I will give them into your hand.’ And he went up to Baal-perazim, and David struck them down there. And David said, ‘God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like a bursting flood.’ Therefore the name of that place is called Baal-perazim.” (This one is a bit different than the others, but quite telling of God’s involvement in human actions. Here David is inquiring of the Lord if he should fight the Philistines and to see if God will give them over to him in defeat. The Lord confirms he will, so David (carries out the action) strikes them down, then he attributes the defeating of them to God but then recognizes God carried it out by his hand.)

See further: Gen. 50:20; 1 Kings 8:58-61; Prov. 16:4-5; Isa. 10:5-15; Jer. 29:10-14; Luke 22:22; John 1:12-13; 6:37; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; 13:48-14:1; Rom. 9-10; Phil. 2:12-13; Col. 3:1-3.

Here is a term that expresses the type of free will the Bible does teach: Compatibilism. Human free will is compatible with God’s sovereign will by which he determines what will come to pass according to his divine decree and ultimate plan. Our freedom is not constrained; rather, it is unconstrained within God’s decree, and our choices and actions are part of what he has ordained to take place.

We will get more into that next week

Oh, and I leave you with this interesting point to think about:

When it comes to a court of law, the pivotal piece of information needed in a murder case is to establish the motive behind it. If a person truly has libertarian free will, meaning no causes affect his will to do something, then his action to kill is ultimately without motive, and he would most likely be found insane because if there is no cause, no motive, then the prosecution cannot demonstrate he was ultimately responsible for his actions. His actions were really just an accident; he did not make a purposeful choice to commit the crime. If he murdered for no reason, he must be crazy! Just think about that for a second; our justice system would be chaotic if it held to a truly libertarian view of free will. (John Frame’s point here was so illuminating in his critique of libertarian free will; No Other God: A Response to Open Theism, p. 126)

—Romans 11:36

The Providence of God, by Paul Helm

Review of The Providence of God
by Paul Helm
IVP Academic (February 25, 1994)
ISBN-10: 0830815333

The Providence of God is an introductory work in theology proper, i.e., the doctrine of God, focusing on his providence over creation in redemptive history. The author, Paul Helm, teaching fellow at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, presents his view of providence. I say that because he does—. Instead of presenting a general view of providence ascribed to a certain theological system (though he is a Calvinist), Helm “puts forward the ‘no-risk’ view of divine providence . . , [which he believes] corresponds both to Scripture and to the historic teaching of the church” (p. 15). Though he puts it forth as his view, it is not foreign; rather, he has tailored a traditional, Augustinian/Reformed view to his method of expression in teaching and application.

Divine providence is God’s acting and governing in the world now. Helm introduces us to God’s providing for the world and all of creation in a personal way. I believe that is how the doctrine of providence should be studied, for Christians enter into a personal relationship with their creator and need to know, personally, how he governs, interacts, uses, and ordains all events that have and will occur in redemptive history. Helm taking the helm in that manner (pun intended) is very pastoral and makes a topic that can seem abstract, giving one a that’s-just-the-way-it-is view and makes it something purposeful, personal, and tangible for the Christian seeking God’s will. This is clear in his introduction, when speaking of special providence, Helm writes, “God cares for the individual Christian now; but he also cares, has cared, and will care for all Christians at all times. . . . the providential purposes have one supreme end, the salvation of the church” (p. 20). Furthermore, he believes what he has put forth does not go beyond what the Scriptures teach and hopes it provides discussion and dialogue for his readers.

The structure of his approach is very systematic. But what is most important, which sets the tone and overarching theme of his approach is in the context he establishes for God’s providence to be studied in: redemption for the church. In his “Orientation,” he puts forth three key elements, three contexts of divine providence (p.21) as he calls them, which serve as his foundation for theological expression of providence from Scripture, and also as he interacts with other providence theories in theology. These three contexts, “the interests of the individual Christian, with the interests of all Christians—the Christian church—and with the interests of the whole of creation animate and inanimate” are bound up in divine providence (p.21). From these three contexts certain questions generate:

(1) personal questions of need, of success or failure, or guidance; (2) the history and destiny of the Christian church, including all events which are constitutive of her existence, primarily the work of Christ and of his Spirit; and (3) the whole of the animate and inanimate creation in which the life of individuals, and of the church exist. God’s providence is equally at work in all these areas; there is no sphere in which he is less in control, or less interested, than in some other sphere, no ‘no-go’ areas (p.23). With this framework of thought and focus, he works through the aspects of providence related to creation, the fall, redemption, guidance, prayer, accountability, evil, and finally, in how were are to understand God’s providence. Again, providence is a very personal doctrine and grasping it as a creature, to the best of our ability according to what God has revealed in his Word, is important if we are to “rest in our wrestling.”

The views he interacts with are the “‘risk-free’ or ‘no-risk’ view of providence and the second family, the ‘risky’ view’” (p.39), which are derived based upon the question, “Does God’s providence, according to Scripture, extend to all that he has created, including the choices of men and women? Or is his providence limited, perhaps limited by God himself, so that he does not infallibly know how the universe is going to unfold?” (p.39). These questions are central to the debate. Again, he adopts is the ‘no-risk’ view. Helm is not advocating that he can provide a settling answer for his readers in this book; however, his goal is to put forth his view, which he believes is the most biblical and logical based on the doctrine of God as found in Scripture. Those advocating a ‘risky’ view, which posits a human freedom under God’s providence is not compatible with Helm’s ‘no-risk’ deterministic view. For under the ‘risky’ view, God’s knowledge of all things, which governs the degree of his providence, is not absolute or exhaustive; and that is why it is ‘risky’; God does not know all possible actions and events of his creatures because of the free will they have to make choices. Man is ultimately in control, not God.

On all of the topics pertaining to providence, Helm ensures to interact with those who espouse the other views of providence, addressing their objections but also pushing the antithesis against them as well. His skill-set is that of a philosopher, so he interacts in that type of framework (not too heavy though), which will surely appeal to those who delight in that type of discussion. I believe the best chapter of this book is chapter 5 on Providence and Guidance. Here he addresses one of the key issues a Christian first encounters, and can still struggle with, in coming to the steep granite wall of providence; that is, how it affects and impacts his life. The thoughts of “why do anything if it is all determined anyway,” can be a challenge to overcome. Realizing that all events, tragedies, actions, blessings, natural disasters, faith, salvation, and every moving molecule are under the guidance and providence of God, can overload the psyche. However, the key take-away is that “Scripture teaches a particular providence, that not only the ends are ordained by God but also the means to those ends” (p.139). All things work for good; “even the Christian’s sins work for together for his or her good; not so much the sins as sins, but what arises out of them; what they may, in the providence of God, lead to; and what a Christian may learn from being aware of them” (p. 127).

He ends his book addressing the problem of evil as well as interacting with some of the other defenses toward the problem (free will defense, soul-building, various greater-good defenses, etc.). He presents his view (only a few pages to end the chapter), which is a “copula” of the strong points of the greater-good defenses, culminating in the resolution to evil: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All things were made through him and for him. Evil is solved in Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement.

Conclusion

I believe Helm’s book did what it set out to do: present a cogent, ‘no-risk’ view of God that falls inline with the historic views of the orthodox Christian faith. With that said, I think his main fault in the work is the little use of Scripture he employs to present the orthodox God of the Bible. I think including more biblical exegesis (or really just more Bible verses!) to support his philosophical and logical arguments would have made his case that much stronger (not that I think it wasn’t; I am thinking of those contra to his view point). However, he stayed true to the Reformed heritage and put out a book that is not stale but rather gets the reader engaged through question-and-answer type discussion. Another solid book for the library.

—Romans 11:36

(By the way, this is my first book review….so take it easy on me!)