I have to confess to having a habit of listening to Christian apologetic debates, particularly debates concerning free will v. predestination. I don’t listen to the debates to get ‘ammunition’ for the side I personally take in the debates, however they are helpful in determining if how I feel about the controversy has any merit. I have listened to quite a few of them with Protestant v. Catholic participants as well as Protestant v. Protestant participants (more of the latter than the former I think). When you listen to numerous debates concerning a particular subject it is quite possible that tendencies / trends begin to emerge. I’ve noticed just such a tendency in predestination v. free will debates, thus the above question.
The trend I have noticed is that while the participant arguing for the predestination of believers to salvation are more prone to stick primarily with a scriptural basis for their position, most of the free will advocates invariably end up arguing against Calvinism and John Calvin instead of making the case based on scripture and leaving Calvin out of the discussion. The same thing seems to happen in formal debates with moderators, less formal discussion forums with or without moderators, and even ordinary discussions between ordinary people. Free will proponents seem incapable of leaving John Calvin out of the debate/discussion!
So I have to ask why. It seems to me that the reason closest to the boat is the strength of the predestination/election scriptural position over against the free will position from scripture. While the terms predestination and election have specific scriptural support for the implied doctrines they teach, the term free will is only used of ‘free will’ offerings and never connected to the subject of salvation. The best that free will proponents can come up with as specifically scriptural are the passages requiring us to ‘choose’ something and the ‘warning’ passages that caution us to certain behaviors and resulting consequences. I’ve even had a friend of mine tell me that although the Bible provides more specific support for predestination and election he still comes down on the side of human free will. So I again have to ask why.
The only answer I can come up with is that we have been conditioned so completely to believe we have libertarian free will (our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God) that we just can’t let go!
Some hold on more fiercely than others. I don’t know how many times I have suggested to others that a simple study of what the Bible says about the nature of fallen men might impact their theology. I often offered passages such as Romans 8:7-8 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 concerning the mental state of every nonbeliever on the planet, but to no avail! And if a professing believer refuses to even discuss passages of Scripture, something is amiss. I have to ask of that ‘something’ is not a case of idolatry; of placing one’s presuppositions or opinion above the text of the Bible.
I don’t use ‘idolatry’ language in personal discussions but I have to wonder. I heard it said a few days ago that “If it’s in the Bible you can take it to the bank, but if it’s your opinion, take it to the Bible”. Following that little maxim would go far in settling just about any issue.
One last thing. I can say with certainty that my own ‘letting go’ took some time. I wasn’t comfortable but it was greatly humbling. In the end, I had to surrender to what I was reading in the pages of Scripture, like them or not. It was finding out what the Bible says about the ‘nature’ of fallen men that settled it for me. So I continue to point folks to the topic of the ‘natural’ man and try to avoid debates specifically about predestination and free will. I really believe that if we tackle the question of the nature of fallen men we can get farther down the road to understanding just how much God had to accomplish in order to ‘save his people from their sin’.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
I believe you are right in beginning with the biblical doctrine of sinful corruption. We cannot begin with passages that talk about “free will” since such passages do not exist [Unless, of course you want to talk about “free will offering passages, but what theological boob doesn’t understand that as voluntary as opposed to required offerings]. Passages that talk about human choice prove nothing since we all agree that sinner’s have the ability to make choices. As you have astutely pointed out, the usual M.O. is simply to hold on tenaciously to a philosophy that has been drummed into us by well meaning but misguided teachers. The result is that we bow and worship at a shrine of free will instead of at God’s throne, the source of free grace.
Good to see you, Randy! I had a conversation recently with someone clinging desperately to her free will. She stated: “I wasn’t forced to choose Christ, therefore I must have made a free will decision.” There was no concept of another possibility, although I presented her with Rom 8:7-8 and 1 Cor 2:14 and asked her to just read them and tell me what they say. I don’t know if she even read them. At least she gave me no indication that she had during several online exchanges.
You’ve made a fascinating observation in regard to John Calvin. It reminds me of how people sometimes bring in Luther’s anti-Jewish tracts to discredit his ideas. Hopefully we accept that our teachers, pastors and leaders are flawed human beings just as we are, and go back to the Scriptures as our ultimate authorities. And yet how few are willing to do this. Or they take a verse out of context, or ignore the teaching of the Bible as a whole in an effort to defend cherished ideas.
The only issues with too much emphasis on predestination and election seem to be:
* A tendency to doubt one’s salvation. “Am I really elect? I fall so short…”
* A slacking off of evangelism. “If they are elect, God will save them.” or “I cannot tell them that God loves them. Maybe He doesn’t”
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Alec! Good comments. I can understand doubts brought about by a sense of unworthiness, as well as slacking off in evangelism. I’ve experienced the former and hopefully dealt with the latter by realizing that sharing the Jesus who saved me with others is the greatest privilege our perfect God has bestowed on us, his children.
sharing the Jesus who saved me with others is the greatest privilege our perfect God has bestowed on us