Another response to “The Exalted View of God in Scripture”

Following is another of my responses to a comment to my article “The Exalted View of God in Scripture” posted on SBCToday.com in March 2014. This article, without all of the responses recorded on SBC Today, is also on this blog if you scroll down to April 7.

Thanks for your response. I truly did enjoy reading your article, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

You said, “The compatibilism that you have addressed is not true compatibilism.” I wish to differ and explain why. Compatibilism is the philosophical belief that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible; hence, the name. In contrast, strict determinism and libertarianism are both incompatibilist because they deny that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible, albeit for very different reasons.

In compatibilism, choice is considered free so long as the individual chooses according to his/her desire and there is no external coercion (voluntariness exists). Determinism exists in that determinative antecedents unalterably determine the desire from which the free choice emanates. These antecedents can be explained variously depending on whether the compatibilist is a Materialist, Darwinist, Theist, Calvinist, etc. All compatibilists who understand compatibilism agree upon the existence of determinative antecedents, but disagree on what they are, e.g., atheists would not consider God.

 

Now, if you mean by God working immanently so that man freely chooses but could not have actually (at that point in time and space with the same antecedents) chosen otherwise, then that fits compatibilism. In compatibilism, voluntariness (free choosing) exists, but origination (that the idea can originate within the person—agent causation and/or otherwise choice) does not. According to compatibilism, a person cannot act differently that he did in fact act—not freely anyway. Compatibilism argues that the choosing is free, but the idea of a choice between accessible options is non-existent based upon the determinative antecedents. Further, compatibilism does not exclude natural causes, be they secondary, tertiary, etc. Consequently, I do use the term correctly.

 

In your article you propose that God works “acting immanently…which always has a natural cause.” You use terms such as “persuasively” etc. Now, if by immanently working you mean that man (in certain areas, i.e. Adam’s sin, responses to grace-enabled faith) can act in concert with the constellation of natural antecedents (influences, persuasions, or whatever the antecedents may be) or he can choose not to, then that is not compatibilism. That is libertarian free will, and we are not actually disagreeing on this particular point.

 

However, if your usage of such is determinative so that the moral agent could not have chosen other than he did in fact choose, then you are arguing for compatibilism with only different determinative antecedents. Per my article, I do not believe Scripture reflects that view of man, and that it actually degrades both the creation and creator; although, the very opposite is the desire of every Calvinist I know. Again, according to compatibilism, an action can be both determined and free so long as one is not coerced and the person does what he desires. It does exclude origination, otherwise choice, and can only be sustained by defining freedom in a way that is not apparent in Scripture, and that I do not believe anyone lives consistently with; moreover, in compatibilism, the question of ultimate responsibility looms ominously.

You said, “The standard Calvinists have coopted the term, but as you have pointed out, their version of compatibilism is as lacking in freedom as plain determinism.” As explained above, compatibilism seeks to maintain both determinism and freedom. Further, compatibilism is what it is, and the development of personal versions only beclouds the issue. Compatibilism allows Calvinists to believe man freely believes or disbelieves, and that Adam freely chose to sin, but that freedom is defined as stated above, which precludes any notion of a choice between accessible options at the moment of decision in time and space. Consequently, the free choosing is actually a predetermined free choosing.

In addition, Calvinists who place regeneration before faith must include both force and free will (I am not sure where you stand on this so I am not suggesting this is your position). Although they are seldom so bold as to state selective regeneration so forthrightly, this understanding is attested to ubiquitously in Calvinism because prior to regeneration, man is “wholly passive” and regeneration is monergistic. After the new nature is forced upon the sinner, because the sinner could only freely disbelieve (or your word would be “unwilling” or aversive), he freely chooses to believe in Jesus unto complete salvation. However, the distinction is that as a sinner he could only freely disbelieve (or using your terms, have “unwillingness” or “aversion”), and as a monergistically regenerated being he could only freely believe. Thus, his free choice is a predetermined free choice.

Relevantly, if we can dust things off a bit more, let me ask this. Do you believe that God’s immanent working (regardless if you use terms that do not entail determinism, “persuade,” etc.) resulted in Adam freely choosing to sin and yet it being impossible for him to have chosen, at that point in time and space with all antecedents in place, not to sin? If not, then your “immanent working” fits nicely into compatibilism as properly defined. If you believe that the unsaved (elect) only freely choose to believe unto salvation and could not have chosen otherwise and the others (non-elect) freely choose to remain unwilling and were never given a choice by God’s enabling grace to do otherwise, then your “immanent working” fits nicely into compatibilism. Compatibilism simply does not require transcendence in any form.

Conversely, if you believe God’s pre-salvational workings grant a genuine opportunity for every hearer to believe the gospel unto salvation or reject the same unto damnation, and whatever he did in fact choose, he could have chosen otherwise at that point in time and space, then we agree.