God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Libertarian Freedom: In Balance

Millard Erickson holds to a compatibilist view of moral freedom, as do virtually all Calvinists. Compatibilism is the perspective that determinism and moral freedom are compatible; hence, the name. To wit, man makes a free choice when he chooses according to his greatest desire; however, what is often overlooked is that the desire from which he freely chooses is the product of inviolable determinative antecedents. Thus, man does not have the ability, given the same past, to make a different choice than he does in fact make at any given moral moment; accordingly, man’s free choice is not just certain, but it is in fact necessary given one’s past.

Erickson is correct and quite frank in recognizing that according to Extensive perspectives, God has endowed humans with libertarian freedom, saying, “Every individual has genuine options.”[1] He is incorrect in deducing that such freedom means, “It is humans who render their actions certain; God simply acquiesces.”[2] This is an imprecise statement that unjustifiably favors Calvinism.

An impartial description clarifies that according to Extensivism, God, in eternity past, predetermined to create man in His image, which includes being endowed with the ability to choose otherwise. This libertarian freedom and ability is truly a force, but it is a force that was instituted, designed by, and operates according to God’s plan as well as an act of His free and sovereign will. Therefore, it is God determining what will be certain, and man exercises his ability to do otherwise within, and as an integral component of, God’s plan. God comprehended every decision and the consequences of each decision as well.

God works sovereignly and lovingly, providing man as much freedom as possible to choose, even badly, within His permissive will. When man’s misuse of this gift and ability seeks to extend beyond God’s permissive will, God clearly at times, overrules through providence or exercises temporal judgement. He could have also overruled by not even permitting the state of affairs from which the excessive abuse arose. Therefore, while man does have true otherwise choice, in contrast to Calvinism’s determinism, it is God who determines what is certain.

Man’s gift of libertarian freedom does not ipso facto make him sovereign. God sovereignly chose to create man with such and continues to rule over such. Consequently, what one sees in the Scripture is God blessing those who obey, condemning those who do not, and at times, judging those who exceed the limits of His permissive will that He has established, which can be seen most clearly with kings and God’s dealings with various nations, including Israel.

If one considers God sovereignly ruling a universe in which He endowed humans with true otherwise choice, it is easy to see that such a state of affairs is far more complex and a grander display of His glory than the deterministic model of Calvinism. It places God’s sovereign rule and man’s freedom in the balance as is found so clearly throughout the Scripture. It is this biblically symmetrical coalescence that is absent from consistent Calvinism.

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 326-27.
[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 326-27.

Ronnie W. Rogers