Thursday, April 9, 2009

Some Thoughts On Free will, Calvinism and Arminianism

Think about the concepts of God’s foreknowledge, His election and predestination. These concepts seem to be on the opposite side of the concept of free will, so how do we define each of these concepts, including the phrase “free will”? The Bible doesn’t offer a definition of what the phrase “free will” means and in fact says that even your faith and mine is a gift from God; not originating, in other words, in ourselves. Romans 8:28 makes it clear that our love for God is bonded to His calling, “...Those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

This brings us to a series of experiments that in recent years have gotten physicists, neuro-scientists and computer scientists talking about what free will is, whether we have it, and if not, why we ever thought we did in the first place. These researchers now think that free will is more of a perception, or an experience than it is a driving force. In other words, “A person can choose to do what she wants, but she can’t make herself want something.”

The traditional definition of free will says people are absolutely free, and our actions are not predetermined. Anything is possible. Whatever choice you make is unforced.

Remember that scientists examine, measure and define what they can actually observe. When a scientist is presented with an active and aware brain, he or she will define it as a conscious mind. If the brain is active, but not aware of its activity, that’s called the unconscious. You and I know there is a third influence from the spiritual realm which scientists would have a hard time examining, and that is God Himself. Keeping that in mind,

The following is condensed from an article that came out recently in the news entitled “Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t” (Dennis Overbye, New York Times)
After lots of research, scientists are now saying that free will is more limited than the traditional way of looking at it. Our unconscious brain decides something, and our conscious brain only has the power to agree with or veto that decision once it is aware that a decision has been made. Put another way, we become aware of feelings, desires, even decisions about things that have come from some part of ourselves that we are not consciously aware of, and then we either continue with what has already begun, or we stop.

People have the ability to look ahead and plan. As one scientist said, “That’s what gives us moral responsibility.”

People do have the ability to choose. Even if our choices are predetermined, you and I have to live our lives to find out what those choices will be.

Some people are afraid that this limited version of free will would mean that “people are no more responsible for their actions than asteroids or planets.” That’s an argument Paul’s listener’s brought up with him in Chapter 9.

But these scientists have concluded that even though it is now observably true that we are limited in our use of free choice, the little free choice we have is of great potential worth.

Now here's what the Arminian points have to say, that those who followed Calvin's theaching refuted:

400 AD Pelagius / Arminius / Wesley, 1700's
the fall of man was not total, there was enough good left in man for him to will to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation.

election was based on the foreknowledge of God as to who would believe. Man's "act of faith" was seen as the "condition" of his being elected to eternal life, since God foresaw him exercising his "free will" in response to Jesus Christ.

redemption is based on the fact that God loves everybody, that Christ died for everyone, and that the Father is not willing that any should perish. The death of Christ provided the grounds for God to save all men, but each must exercise his own "free will" in order to be saved.

since God wanted all men to be saved, He sent the Holy Spirit to "woo" all men to Christ, but since man has absolute "free will," he is able to resist God's will for his life. God's will to save all men can be frustrated by the finite will of man. Man exercises his own will first, and then is born again.

If man cannot be saved by God unless it is man's will to be saved, then man cannot continue in salvation unless he continues to will to be saved.

And here's what the Calvinists had to say:

400 AD Augustine / Calvin, Council of Dort, 1610
Man is in absolute bondage to sin and Satan, unable to exercise his own will to trust in Jesus Christ without the help of God.

God’s foreknowledge is based on the plan and purpose of God, election is not based on the decision of man, but the "free will" of the Creator alone.

Jesus Christ died to save those who were given to Him by the Father in eternity past. All for whom Jesus died (the elect) will be saved, and all for whom He did not die (the non elect) will be lost.

God’s grace that cannot be obstructed. The elect are regenerated (made spiritually alive) by God before expressing faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. If a totally depraved person wasn't made alive by the Holy Spirit, such a calling on God would be impossible.

Salvation is entirely the work of God, man has absolutely nothing to do with the process. The saints will persevere because God will see to it that He will finish the work He has begun.


  1. You Said: The Bible doesn’t offer a definition of what the phrase “free will” means and in fact says that even your faith and mine is a gift from God; not originating, in other words, in ourselves.

    I agree 100%,,,seems rather ambiguous for the phrase to permeate so much of christian doctrine.

    As for myself, I will forever be glad that I
    became a 5 point calvinist long before I ever knew what one was, or ever heard of John Calvin,
    or Luther or Augustine. It was a great confermation when I did read thier stuff though.
    I don't feel so alone.

    Enjoyed your post, you my never read this being the post is deeply archived, but I will post my comments anyway. Really new to this computer stuff. So probably be catchin up for some time, lol :)

    Though the internet has helped me notice that
    Calvinist thought is still alive and well in places. I wear the label Calvinist lightly, just
    as a way of cognition, for I thank God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit for my conversion, not Calvin or any Calvinist thinker.

  2. Hi Joanne,

    Well thought I'd think out loud some more if that’s cool.

    This post really got me thinking about the conflict between Calvinist/Reformed
    and Arminian doctrine. Where is the root cause of conflict? Is it the non biblical term free will?
    I'm not sure it is technically, I think the problem is in the following verse, KJV Ro 4:4- Now to him that workith is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. Also verse 6 - Evan as David also describeth
    the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.

    Also should notice what Jesus says about trusting in works, Matthew 7:21-23;
    21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    Look what Jesus is calling works of iniquity, I don’t think the problem is really in the works as much as it is in the trust they were putting in them to try and prove their conversion to Jesus.
    A modern day look would probably look and sound the same, many look to their works to prove to themselves, and to others as well, that they have been converted.

    On a similar note one does not pick figs from thistles, fruit will come as the natural consequence of
    regeneration. Unless one fails the test of faith of which Paul exhorts each one to engage in.
    Ref : 2 Cor 13:5

    A dead tree has never produced one single bit of fruit, Jesus himself confronted a certain group of religious people saying, your like white washed tombs on the outside, but on the inside full of dead men's bones, I think its in Matthew.

    A quick thought on vrs 23 above, he says I never knew you, not knew you then forgot you, so the ones doing these so called wonderful works Jesus has never known.

    My prayer is simply "May all who are or will be His ,look to Him and Him alone who is the author and finisher of our faith" "AMAN"

  3. Some good thoughts in there. In the Bible election Human responsibility are perfectly balanced. Calvinism seems to weight election, whereas Arminian-ism seems to weight human responsibility.

    But actually, the really key difference, in my opinion, between the Calvinist and the Arminian is the endpoint. Do we have assureance of salvation or not?

    When Jesus says, in John 10, that the Father has given Him all those who believ in Him and that no one can snatch them from His hand, that is assurance of salvation. There's no other way to see that passage.

    So the Calvinist starts with Romans 3, that all (no excepetions) have fallen short of God's glory and none seek God ("no, not one") and ends with assurance of salvation, Romans 8 (and John 10). The inner points of Calvinism are all the logical conclusions that stem from these two endpoints.

    In Arminian thought, though everyone is a sinner, God has, by His grace, made it possible for every person to genuinely consider His offer of salvation. In other words, every person has been enough regenerated to make a real choice about Jesus.

    But, since that's the case, that means a person could later change their mind and fall away from the saved state (just as Adam and Eve were first in a "saved" or perfect condition, and then chose to fall away from God). Arminian thinking precludes the assurance of salvation.

    I know that dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists say it's impossible to take a middle road on this, I can't see any other way. The fact is, we are all sinners, and we none of us seek God of our own accord. The fact is, it is God Who saves, and by His work alone can we be counted among His people. Therefore, since He has done it, no one else can undo it. No one can snatch us from His hands, not even we can snatch ourselves from His hands.

    At the same time, I have to see His invitation to believe as genuine to all people. He is not a capricious God Who would toy with people, inviting them to believe when He knows they cannot.

    So I take the stance that election and human responsibility are equally balanced.

  4. It seems we are saying pretty much the same thing, just in slightly different lingo.

    I do see a few things a little different though, John 10 I see as security of salvation rather than assurance of salvation.

    Another thought, sinners are condemned not for rejecting Christ but because they are sinners and guilty of breaking Gods law. We will be held responsible and accountable for such rebellion. The only way out of this condemnation is by Grace through Faith in the finished work of Christ.

    Myself I don’t think Adam prior to the fall was perfect just innocent. He as well proves that left to ourselves we would fall again. Anything less than God divinely protecting our condition we would fall again and again.

    As far as things being equal, wouldn’t God have to at least give everyone a Damascus road experience to be fair in counting their rejection as legit?

    Well when all is said and done I think we agree a whole lot more than disagree.

    Have a great week!!

  5. You really got me to thinking about Adam. The Bible doesn't weigh in on whether he was a perfect creation, you're right, and it's true he was certainly innocent, and abiding with the Lord (Who walked in the Garen with him). And yet in his innocence, in his right relationship with God, he still was able to choose evil.

    I think this is why the converstaion goes on and on with this kind of topic, why this converstaion has continued for hundreds of years. It really is deep and has many facets.

    Thanks for the good food for thought!

  6. Hello again,

    This stuff really is interesting to read about and research. I have the books in my library but not to good or fast at typing to say what I'm thinking.

    However, I did find online this journal that explains better then I ever could some thoughts on human will, here!

    A little over half way down is a paragraph called "The Enslaved Human Will" if you don't want to read the whole thing. As it is quite long and involved.

  7. It IS a fascinating study, I agree. The idea of prevenient grace is intriguing, and is one of the key differences between what is usually referred to as Calvinism or Arminianism.

    the kind of human will that Luther described is also the kind of will that recent researchers have described in terms of the conscious will and the subconscious -- with the subconscious being the rider, and the conscious being the mule.

    Human will is far more determinitive (if there is such a word) than most people realize. It is easy enough to "harden" someone's heart by demanding they do something you know they despise doing.

    I do try to keep all this held with an open hand because the most important elements of the gospel do not demand that I believe one or the other. I know that all are born into sin, no one searches out God, yet all are equally invited to come to the Lord Jesus and be saved.

    Cryptically, God both declares in the prophets that none search for Him, and there is none righteous (Isaiah), and yet if someone does sincerely look for Him, He will make sure they find Him (Jeremiah),

    Cryptically, Jesus says none come to Him unless drawn to Him by the Father, and yet all who are weary may find rest in Him. None who come to Him will be turned away.

    It's a puzzle!!


Thank you for sharing your thoughts