ƒ*Below is a combination of two conversations that I’ve had with reformed Christians on the debate between Free Will and Divine Sovereignty. I listened to a podcast where the Professor said he often had his students construct dialogues. I liked the idea; most of this is not based on my imagination but actual conversations, as my first attempt. The bulk of the text is based from one reformed Christian ideas; however, many of his points I thought were weak, so I did tweak them a bit with another reformed Christian’s comments of a debate I’ve had almost a year ago. However, in both cases, it appears that when presented with either proof texts and philosophy they both relied on a sort of personal revelation conclusion. I still think the arguments are weak but I surmise it’s not due to reformed Christians not having good arguments. The two that I had conversations with seemed to want to rely on short deflective statements rather than a development of their position. Again, in searching for truth, I’d ask for any reformed Christian who reads this to comment and present their arguments for dialogue. There are many authors and commenters on AATW and it can be a good experience to develop our ideas. Also, note, the conversations at the behest of the reformed Christians avoided philosophy so topics like determinism were never brought into the conversation.*
Vinnie: Free will is a myth. It’s a philosophical concept that has nothing to do with theology. The concept of Free will is a contradiction of God’s Divine authority based on the idea that the individual’s will is outside the authority of God’s word.
Tomas: I believe you’ve mistaken the permeance of God’s omnipotence and the idea of what constitutes free will.
Vinnie: God is in control of every aspect of our lives. God is the creator; he sustains us and everything in His dominion. Why do you make petitionary prayers for a new job or a promotion, good health, or to have a safe trip unless God is completely sovereign over all things?
Tomas: Much of what you say is true, God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, etc. Of course, prayers are for our own good whether we receive what we’ve asked for or not, it’s purpose to build our habits of virtue through God’s grace. For we cannot pray without the Spirit. I suppose I need to ask, “Do you believe the Bible is the word of God?”
Vinnie: Of course! And the scripture shows that Free Will is a myth! Genesis 50:20!
Tomas: Oh yes, the intention of harm being a part of God’s plan for the greater good. Naturally, I have to ask why does the passage necessarily support God’s Divine Sovereignty instead of humanity’s free will? You believe God to be supremely in control and yet you’re willing to put constraints on His power by declaring that because He has Divine sovereignty.
Vinnie: I understand your point and I agree that there are certain ideas within Christianity that don’t make a lot of sense if God is sovereign. Nonetheless, I believe He is.
Tomas: Interesting, so you’re admitting to rejecting observations within your own ability to reason?
Vinnie: Things can be logically proven and still be wrong.
Tomas: Careful down that rabbit hole, The ole’ atheist quip, to argue against a concept of free will one must have a sort of prior knowledge of actions being a free choice of the will. A prior knowledge acts as a sort of proof by the definition itself and admits to the existence of free will by your own argument against it.
Vinnie: This is a prime example of why philosophers make poor theologians. I don’t accept your point, because I believe God is in control, and God has complete freedom. So there is free will, but it’s God’s freedom and not ours. As creatures under God’s sovereign control, we are not free in relation to God’s will.
Tomas: And yet you’re not presenting any substantial proofs for your positive claims here.
Vinnie: To simply state, Reformed theology gives theological answers to theological questions in the context of the Reformed and Covenantal tradition in which it is presented. It really doesn’t advance the argument to erect straw men just to burn them down…
Tomas: Well, you’d have to show how I’ve erected a straw man on your position, which again you provide no proofs for such a claim. Furthermore, I can only surmise that your proofs would be weak arguments that Free Will doesn’t exist. In fact, what you do do is create a tautological argument by repeating words “reformed” and “theology” without implying anything of substance. Furthermore, as you indicate that only true theology can be done by doing theology—see the Tautology there?—you’ve erected a sort of Every True Scotsmen fallacy, as your saying, “Every true theologian uses theology, not philosophy.” I will use both philosophy and scripture as proof for the existence of the Free Will.
Thomas: If free will is a myth, it contradicts the theological doctrine of Original Sin and that of an omnibenevolent God. Naturally, if God creates and sustains all, including all of humanity’s will, then wills a programmed fall from grace; doesn’t give grace sufficient for all to be saved then he ultimately would be responsible for all subsequent evil actions made by humanity. Of course, in such a scenario, a judgment would be made on some who have no opportunity to cooperate with His grace–reprobate–to atone for sins they could not freely choose not to commit. As these concepts contradict with the essence of Divine Justice one cannot articulate the Augustinian view of the elect as double predestination because Augustine, in his Confessions book 7, explains quite clearly that humanity is solely responsible for evil, as it has no substance, as all of God’s creations share in his goodness and that evil is a privation of said goodness.
Furthermore, God gives humanity, government, the authority in scripture to punish criminals–Romans 13: 3-4. To give authority to punish criminals who are not responsible for their actions would be intrinsically disordered within the frameworks of divine justice. The Theologian makes the argument that the judgment of any action would be illogical if free does not exist unless of course, one argues that society’s response is a predetermined one.
Vinnie: if God has free will and man has free will, if the two come into conflict God’s free will wins. It’s called the Sovereignty of God…
Tomas: Okay, now take that to its conclusion. No Free Will means God is responsible for Adam’s fall. Therefore, it would contradict the need for atonement as Adam could not create a free act of disobedience against God, which consequently renders Christ’s ransom of our sins meaningless. So, let’s make this clear so a straw man argument cannot be claimed. if God’s will wins out, there’s no need for atonement of sins that one did not freely choose on their own. No need for atonement, no need for Christ. You’ve rendered Christianity as needless.
Vinnie: As I said, if God is truly sovereign (i.e. omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent) then this creates problems for the Christian worldview, which you rightly point out. Nevertheless, I believe that God is Sovereign because of the Divine revelation of scripture.
Tomas: So let’s move into scripture and let’s not forget the whole context of Hebrews 10:26-29:
26 For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?
Vinnie: The context in reformed theology expressed by James White is that “he was sanctified” means Christ. Your argument is not with me, but it seems at minimum you fallen into Semi-Pelagian heresy.”
Tomas: Shall we take the sentence to a linguist to graph the sentence? I would presume that the vast majority will choose the man as the one who was sanctified by Christ being God would have no need for sanctification. The heresy of Semi-Pelagianism is starting with Free Will without God’s grace. Of course, this isn’t the position I’m claiming to hold. Now, your statement is a prime example of a straw man fallacy, so let me explain why…
God’s grace gives each person sufficient grace to choose Him. It begins with Him but then we’re allowed by God, who is sovereign, to cooperate with Him. After this initial grace, we can certainly pray, choose to do his will through his Church; however, this isn’t a radical separation from God’s will. As God is existence, our will’s do not function outside of God. By God’s omnipotence, he can certainly will us to have free will and still operate within his Divine Providence. So, when we pray, help others as Christ commands in Mt. 25, or fast as Christ mentions in Mt. 5, etc. God continues to give us perseverant grace to actualize our will through His Grace to order our will toward His own. The will isn’t radically free but formed through the habits of virtue and vice. Again Hebrews 10:26-29 illustrates this by acknowledging those who are sanctified can fall from God’s grace.
Vinnie: It’s not that I’m mildly impressed with your ability to move effortlessly conflating one category with another but at some point to engage in such novelties is unproductive. I believe God is Divinely Sovereign. Good day.