Why Calvinism’s View of Free Will and Scripture Are Irreconcilable

Calvinism rejects libertarian free will and believes in compatible moral freedom, which means everything and everyone is micro-determined. For that to be the biblically reflective approach to understanding Scripture (what the Bible actually portrays and teaches), Calvinists would have to explain why the Bible, from Genesis two through Revelation twenty-two, is absolutely permeated with verses, events, challenges, commands, offers, and judgments that clearly reflect that people have libertarian free will. That is to say; they can choose to act one way or differently in a myriad of passages.

For example, just read Genesis two and three as it appears (from the warning not to eat of the forbidden tree, naming the animals, the dialogue in the fall, the fall, and concomitant judgements upon Adam, Eve, and the serpent) along with Revelation twenty-two (from the blessing upon those who keep the prophecy of the book, the angels rebuke of John, the Spirit and the bride’s open invitation to come, and the warning to anyone contemplating taking away or adding to the book).

In both books, we also see things God determined apart from the choice of man (Genesis, like what tree not to eat of and the penalty for doing so, and in Revelation, the design of the city, and his second coming). What does not emanate from the chapters, and I think the same is true throughout the Bible, is Calvinism’s Compatibilism–micro-determinism of everything; I submit to you that to find it there necessitates an unwarranted theological importation.

The three major views of moral freedom (free will).

Man is determined; therefore, whatever he does, he could not have done otherwise. Accordingly, he is not morally responsible for his actions. Sometimes this perspective is referred to as hard determinism, whereas compatibilism is referred to as soft determinism. These are designations coined by William James. This perspective says determinism and moral responsibility are not compatible. Neither Calvinists nor Extensivists hold this perspective.

Determinism and moral responsibility are compatible; hence the name. This compatibility is not achieved by compatibilism being less deterministic than hard determinism. Rather, it is achieved by defining free choice to mean as long as a person chooses according to his greatest desire, he can be considered to have made a free choice for which he is morally responsible; even though given the same past, he cannot choose differently in the moral moment of decision.

Consequently, the difference between compatibilism (soft determinism) and hard determinism is not to be found in the levels of the deterministic nature of each because they are the same. Rather, the difference is compatibilism contends people are morally responsible for their choices if they are made according to their greatest desire, and hard determinism says they are not.

Therefore, moral responsibility is the product of defining free choice as a person acting in accordance with his greatest desire even though the desire is determined; therefore, the choice of a compatibly free person is more precisely a determined free choosing. I frequently find Calvinists who affirm soft determinism and disavow hard determinism because they think soft is not as unflinchingly deterministic as hard; that is based upon a misunderstanding of compatibilism.

Man is not determined. He has the actual ability to choose between accessible options, at least in some scenarios. Libertarians contend determinism is not compatible with moral responsibility. Man possesses actual otherwise choice and can, therefore, act or refrain in the moral moment of decision, given the same past within a given range of options. For a better understanding of what each position entails, see my article, Compatibilism and Libertarianism: A Summary.

Extensivism (my term for we who believe God’s love and salvation extend to every person) would argue God endowed man with this ability, which is an aspect of being created in the image of God. God determines the range of options. Adam’s range of options prior to the fall was greater than mankind’s options after the fall. The range of options present prior to the fall was the result of creative grace.

Fallen man can still choose between options, but the range of options is less than man had prior to the fall. This lessening includes losing the ability to make choices that are inherently righteous or spiritually restorative (making one right with God) based solely on creative grace. In order to make an inherently righteous choice or one that is spiritually restorative, God had to provision redemptive grace, grace enablements (see my article Grace Enablements).

Libertarian freedom allows for both determined events (wherein human choice does not affect the outcome) and undetermined events in which people choose between options, and whatever they did, in fact, choose, they could have chosen differently; it also supports God, or even man, overriding a person’s libertarian freedom in various situations without the person losing their ability to choose otherwise in future decisions.

In contrast, Calvinism/compatibilism requires that everything is determined, and if there is even one verse that demonstrates the freedom to choose differently than the person chose, Calvinism/compatibilism collapses as a biblically reflective perspective; thus, unless a person can demonstrate that the Bible teaches only micro-determinism, he should totally and quickly disavow Calvinism. In my book, Does God Love All or Some? I demonstrate that Calvinism’s view of moral freedom is absolutely in conflict with the teaching of Scripture when we consider all the Scripture.

What makes the micro-determinism that is entailed in Calvinism/compatibilism so difficult to detect is that Calvinists regularly interpret, talk, live, and teach the Scripture libertarianly. Meaning, they do so as though there are undetermined choices involved i.e. man has the ability to choose among the options available in the passage, and whatever he does choose, he could have, and often should have, chosen differently. They leave those listening to them thinking they believe the people depicted in the passage have an actual choice between the options given. Now, while that is true to the Scripture, it is in absolute contradiction to Calvinism/compatibilism.

True to compatibilism, if a person chooses to pray he could not have chosen not to pray, and if a person chooses not to pray, he could not have chosen to pray; now apply that to every single choice depicted in Scripture and life and you will understand the micro-deterministic nature of Calvinism’s compatibilism.

Within Calvinism, compatibilism entails that while man may be the proximate cause of his actions and there may be secondary causes, they are as determined as everything else. And God is the ultimate cause of every thought, choice, act, and outcome; this regardless if it is a choice to help someone or murder someone. This undeniable reality is only lucidly evident after one wades through all the Calvinist’s obfuscations of this ultimate reality; that is the unchangeable nature of compatibilism. That is the outlandish and unbiblical nature of imposing compatible moral freedom upon God’s creation of man and Scripture.

Ronnie W. Rogers