Rebuttal of Founders Article on Libertarian Freedom

Earlier this year Braxton Hunter wrote a great article opposing Compatibilism published in The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry and reposted in the SBC Today Blog.

roads-diverging

Contra-Causal Free Will : The ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from any given moral action.

That article was rebutted by the Founders Blog in a post titled: A Brief Response To Braxton Hunter’s Article on Libertarian Free Will.  Below is one excerpt from that article that I would like to address today:

Proponents of libertarian freedom say that given all the causes and influences involved, including the man’s own character, personality, and preferences, his choice to turn left or right is not determined. The man is free to choose against all influences and causes such that there is no determining or governing reason for his particular choice.

This is an incomplete picture of the claims made by proponents of Libertarian Free Will. If one desires to understand and thus address this perspective it might better be defined in the following manner:

Proponents of libertarian freedom say that given all the influences involved, including the man’s own character, personality, and preferences, his choice to turn left or right is determined by his will alone. The man is free to choose for or against any or all influences such that there is no determining factor for his particular choice outside the own function of his will, which is mysterious and beyond full comprehension.

Too often those from the deterministic mindset beg the question of this debate by asking why a particular free moral choice is made. For example, Calvinists are notorious for asking the unsuspecting believer, “Why did you believe in Christ and someone else does not; are you smarter, or more praiseworthy in some way?” What the Calvinist and likely the target of his inquiry often do not understand is that the question itself is a fallacy known as “Question Begging.”

Begging the question is a debate tactic where your opponent presumes true the very point up for debate.  For instance, if the issue being disputed was whether or not you cheat on your taxes and I began the discussion by asking you, “Have you stopped cheating on your taxes yet?” I would be begging the question.

Likewise, in the case of the Calvinist asking “Why did you made this choice instead of that one,” he is presuming a deterministic response is necessary thus beginning the discussion with a circular and often confounding game of question begging. The inquiry as to what determines the choice of a free will presumes something other than the free function of the agent’s will makes the determination, thus denying the very mystery of what makes the will free and not determined.

The Founder’s blog article made the same foundational error in their assessment of Libertarian Freedom by presuming a deterministic premise and neglecting to affirm that the mysterious function of the will itself is what determines the agent’s choice.  The cause of a choice is the chooser.  The cause of a determination is the determiner. It is not an undetermined determination, or an unchosen choice, as they attempt to frame it.

If someone has an issue with this simply apply the same principle to the question, “Why did God choose to create mankind?”  He is obviously all self-sustaining and self-sufficient. He does need us to exist. Therefore, certainly no one would suggest God was not free to refrain from creating humanity. So, what determined God’s choice to create if not the mysterious function of His free will?

In short, whether one appeals to mystery regarding the function of man’s will or the function of the Divine will, we all eventually appeal to mystery.  Why not appeal to mystery BEFORE drawing conclusions that could in any way impugn the holiness of God by suggesting He had something to do with determining the nature, desire and thus evil choices of His creatures?

7 thoughts on “Rebuttal of Founders Article on Libertarian Freedom

    1. How much time do you have?

      I did a pretty extensive study on Luther in college so I’m more familiar with “Bondage of the Will” than I am with Edward’s work. I have read bits a pieces of it along the way, but even that was a while ago.

      So, in brief I’ll just say Luther’s polemic is chalk full of the typical vitriol, sarcasm and plain uncharitable language we have grown accustom to in these types of discussions (from both sides). Some people are drawn to that, “YEAH, SHOW THEM WHO IS SMARTER” kind of “dialogue,” which in my opinion often never ends up in any real dialogue because the emotions are so high neither side really understands the other. As Braxton Hunter’s article well stated, “we talk past each other.”

      I’m going by memory here, but I recall Erasmus making the typical point that God would not give man a command without also giving him the ability to obey it. Luther responds with an illustration of a man who is bound in chains but who believes himself to be free. He then goes on to suggest that the command for the chained man to lift up his arms could not be followed, but he at least could be become aware of his chains (which is the actual purpose of the command itself).

      This could be compared to our natural condition of being born bound in our sin and blind to that fact (an affirmation of the natural wills bondage if left to ourselves, which I wholeheartedly affirm). However, God uses the law as a “tutor” or “schoolmaster” to reveal our chains (a revelation Calvinists suggest we cannot come to unless first regenerated, which I wholeheartedly deny).

      “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)

      Are we to believe that we are also born unable to “become conscious of our sin” on the basis that we cannot attain forgiveness from it through works? I don’t see this taught anywhere in the bible.

      Calvinists take proof texts which show man is born sinful and cannot earn righteousness by works through the law as support for their unfounded premise that man is born totally unable to attain the imputed righteousness of Christ by grace through faith. Proof we cannot earn our own righteousness by works is NOT proof that we cannot recognize that fact and respond to God’s gracious appeal to help us.

      I hope that helps. Let me know if you have a specific part of either work you’d like me to address and as I have time I would be happy to look at it.

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  1. This question that you posit from Calvinists (which I have heard forms of before my self) “Why did you believe in Christ and someone else does not; are you smarter, or more praiseworthy in some way?” also suffers from a false assumption that virtually the entirety western Christianity suffers. That is the idea that a man is not meritorious or praiseworthy for humbling himself and coming to God rather than rejecting him, or for doing good instead of evil, or for acting out of selfless love rather than selfishness. Yet this is precisely those who God lifts up, gives merit / honor to and praises. The Early church and eastern church has never had a problem saying that a man who does such things is to be praised.

    Just by way of a couple examples consider:

    Tatian (110-172AD) – Each of these two orders of creatures [men and angels] was made free to act as it pleased. They did not have the nature of good, which again is with God alone. However, it is brought to perfection in men through their freedom of choice. In this manner, the bad man can be justly punished, having become depraved through his own fault. Likewise, the just man can be deservedly praised for his virtuous deeds, since in the exercise of his free choice, he refrained from transgressing the will of God.

    or

    Justin Martyr (100- 150ish AD) We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be.

    Now the thing to realize here is that a Godly believer in Jesus, while deserving of praise from others (and apparently even God himself) will not be one to boast in himself, so he will deflect praise to God the father for enabling him by grace to act correctly or believe and trust on Him. So he would not be one when asked if he deserves praise more than another to affirm such an idea but from the outside looking in we understand it is his humble cooperation with God’s provided grace that sets him apart from others. This is something we should not fear to praise in others and that God himself praises and lifts up that person who not only believes but deflects the praise he is due for the love of God and others.

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  2. Another Good Post! Maybe I am the only one going back over those oldies but goodies! 🙂 I would add that though a mystery in some ways, the free will of humanity is affirmed by verses like 1Cor 7:37 – “…having no necessity, but has power over his own will….” At least the believer has it, according to this passage, though the indefinite pronoun in vs. 36 probably opens it up to anyone.

    I would also say that we probably should address the understood limits to free will, in the sense of the limits brought on by limits in opportunity and ability. I know this opens up the theological “can of worms” concerning depravity and pre-salvation grace, but I think you would agree that we are only free to choose from choices we see are there! Maybe its only the difference between freedom in ability and freedom with legitimate opportunity, but the results vary significantly in both free-will situations.

    Keep up the good work!

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  3. Hi,

    If this is your definition of free-will, how on earth do you reconcile it with prophecy? I don’t see how you can.

    “Proponents of libertarian freedom say that given all the influences involved, including the man’s own character, personality, and preferences, his choice to turn left or right is determined by his will alone. The man is free to choose for or against any or all influences such that there is no determining factor for his particular choice outside the own function of his will, which is mysterious and beyond full comprehension.”

    At best you end up with open thiesm. Or do you suppose God can foresee the arbitrary will and outcome of all people’s actions? But in everything hypothetical universe one amendment would reset the arbitrary choices of all humanity. How could anything be forseen let alone predestined(prophecy) . All i can see is open thiesm where God doesnt know the future but is just taking really good educated guesses.

    Thats why im currently a compatibilist. I dont know how to reconcile Libertarian Freewill and prophecy/foreknowledge. If mans decisions are influenced by external things (you deny this) then i can see God amending and shaping the world so all men respond freely as God would have them. Men do as they will and are fully responsible and God fulfills his plans. If God cant touch a mans will and according to you external things dont influence the will (which God could use to shape the will of men still leaving them free and responsible) then how are you not an open thiest and how does God achieve anything he desires? I don’t see how he can.

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    1. Hi Aaron! You said – “If mans decisions are influenced by external things … then i can see God amending and shaping the world so all men respond freely as God would have them.” I agree with you, and I also believe that God’s “amending and shaping” was not all predetermined before creation, but prophecy shows that some ends have been chosen already, so any free-choices He or man might have, must be all worked together to reach those pre-determined ends. I believe this is the normal reading of Scripture’s depiction of the future, as partially determined and partially open.

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