Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Object!

Preface: I've written this intentionally in a lighthearted way. I mean it largely as fun. It contains serious thoughts and all, but I'm not looking for an argument, a fight, or even a disagreement. Or even a conversation. I'm just asking people to think and I'm trying to do it in a fun way. If you are disturbed by this or riled by this or outraged by this, please feel free not to read it. None of those are intended here.

A belief system in Christianity that is currently in vogue (believe it or not) is "Calvinism". Yes, that's right. The counter-Calvinist (whatever contrary label you wish to apply) view has reigned supreme for quite some time and now this old/new view is rising. Time Magazine, the bastion of Reformed Theology (not) had a piece a few years back about "The New Calvinism" listed among the "10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now". Why? Why the rise in this belief system? Well, it's primarily because it makes sense. I mean, despite the term "Calvinism" applied to it, the justification comes from Scripture. Even its detractors admit that it's a well-thought-out view, rational, even complete (even if they say it's wrong). So it seems to be working today.

Of course, any belief system will have its detractors and this is no exception. Just as there is no shortage of poor representatives and false followers, there is no shortage of objectors. Please pick up a Complaints Form at your local "non-Calvinist" church or website and check off your favorite challenge to Calvinism. One of the top-of-the-list, absolutely-most-common, popular objections to the "Doctrines of Grace", "Reformed theology", "Calvinism", or whatever other term you might wish to apply is the objection of "free will". Consider.

The Bible (not Luther, Calvin, Augustine, or whomever) teaches that Natural Man is "dead in sin", "inclined only to evil", "blinded by the god of this world", "not able to understand the things of God", "hostile to God" ... oh, you've seen this kind of stuff before. (Let me know if you need the biblical references.) So those of whatever-you're-going-to-call-this-view (henceforth known as "WYGTCTV" for short) believe that, well, that's the way it is. Sinful Man without divine intervention will not choose God. To do so would violate his/her nature. It's not that the ability is absent; it's that the will is lacking. It's not that he/she cannot choose to fly because he/she lacks the wings. It's that his/her nature prevents it. The will won't. This belief is listed in the flower guide (TULIP) as "Total Depravity", an unfortunate shortcut term for the fact that humans are sinful at their core (something that every genuine Christian who has examined Scripture at all agrees on). It leads naturally to God choosing whom to save based not on Man's ability to choose God, but on God's choice ("Unconditional Election"). Which leads naturally to God (the Trinity, actually) carrying out the necessary procedure to save those whom God chose ("Limited Atonement"). Which leads naturally to the question of how God would bring about the salvation of a person who fits the description above -- apart from their own inability to favor God with their choice ("Irresistible Grace"). And, of course, given that all of this is the work of God, the natural conclusion is that God's work can't fail ("Perseverance of the Saints"). Shorthand. Please don't pick the TULIPs, because they are a very poor representation of the real ideas.

So with that construction, you can see that human beings have no Free Will, right? And there is no possible way you can read Scripture and conclude that human beings have no Free Will. How many times are we commanded to choose? How can we be commanded to choose if we have no choice? And, besides, doesn't logic dictate that we have Free Will? I mean, if we do not have Free Will, we cannot be held liable for that which we do not choose. So both Scripture and logic compel us to conclude that those doggone WYGTCTVists aren't merely wrong, they're anti-Scripture, anti-reason, and just plain annoying to boot! Burn the heretic! Burn the heretic! No, wait, that's not quite right. But you get the idea.

So what would someone like me, someone who is unfortunately classified as a WYGTCTVist, say to this very clear and coherent objection? Well, I cannot answer for someone like me; I can only answer for me. And my answer would be "Amen!" I do not believe that human beings lack free will. I believe that human beings absolutely have the capacity to make choices. I believe that humans inherently possess the ability to make personal choices without external coercion and not simply as determined by physical or divine forces.

There. That should clear everything up, right? I know that there are some of those dreaded WYGTCTVists that actually deny any existence of anything deemed "free will" with or without my dreaded capital lettering. I think they're wrong. I know there are hyper-Calvinists (because they really don't fall in the WYGTCTVist category) who discard anything resembling the ability to choose in human beings. Hard determinism, it's called. No choice whatsoever. And for those of you opposed to WYGTCTV based on that view, I'm with you. Cannot support it. Right out the window with it. Not possible biblically or logically.

Of course, you'll also see that it doesn't help at all, does it? Because I do believe that humans in their natural condition are "dead in sin", "inclined only to evil", "blinded by the god of this world", "not able to understand the things of God", "hostile to God", and so on. I do believe that "There is none righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." (Anyone need the reference for that?) So without even arguing for or against "Free Will" (or "free will"), I have to ask in what sense those who object to WYGTCTVism agree with Scripture on these points? I'm not asking you to agree with me ... or Luther or Calvin or Augustine or John Piper or R.C. Sproul or John MacArthur or ... you get the idea. I'm asking how you who disagree align your view with that Scripture. Me? I believe Man has free will (lowercase) and I agree with those passages. I'm asking you to correlate (if only in your own mind) your Free Will view with the very clear passages that put limitations on Man's ability to make this right choice. And you will also need to figure out how "I chose God on my own" doesn't put your salvation outside of unmerited favor (grace). Your move.


David said...

I think for your 2nd to last sentence you meant "...,doesn't put your salvation outside of unmerited favor (grace)." Unless I'm reading that wrong.

Stan said...

Fixed it.

Eric said...

I may be missing something, or I just may be confused, but sometimes I think this topic is made more complicated than it needs to be. The way I understand it is that regeneration is the answer. What I mean is: We are born with a sinful nature without "free" will, God regenerates us, thus giving us a new heart changing our nature, thus giving us the desires of our new heart, thus we choose God.

Stan said...

Well, now, Eric, you see it like I do. In what appears to be the clearest understanding that correlates Scripture and logic both, regeneration would precede faith. "Born again" is not the result of our faith, the other way around. But you have to understand that the non-WYGTCTVist would disagree ... and it's not the most popular view (although it is coming up -- again).