May 25, 2024

In many ways free will is like the air we breath. It surrounds us at all times. It is forever constant. We live by it yet hardly remember it is there. Without it we are nothing – we have no ability to choose, to love or live freely. Yet an even greater reality is true: the God of the universe controls every even and everything that happens in creation. How can these two ideas both be true?

Dr. Adamson Co, professor of theology, explained the different types of free will as understood by theologians and how the seemingly paradoxical ideas of free will and predestination relate to one another.

“Libertarian free will considers a will free only if the will is not influenced by anything or anyone outside of it,” Co said. “Compatibilistic free will considers a will to be free even if it is influenced by outside factors so long as it is not coerced to do anything it does not want to do.”

Co explained that the concept of free will can be found throughout the Bible, particularly when God gives us commands to follow. This is seen in Joshua 24:15. 

“[C]hoose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Determinism can best be defined as the idea that God determines all events in his sovereignty. Through this lens, he has control and power over all things. 

“There is a spectrum on understanding determinism and human free will. There are two kinds of determinism: hard determinism, which supplants the importance of human choices in order to highlight God’s sovereignty, and soft determinism, which allows a place for human decision-making while still upholding divine sovereignty in all events,” Co explained. 

Calvinism and Arminianism are the two main approaches to understanding how these divine sovereignty exist in relation to free will. 

“In a very general way, [Calvinism] holds to a compatibilistic notion of free will while the [Arminianism] holds to, more or less, a libertarian notion of human free will,” Co said. “There are various positions that exist between these two main theological positions and beyond these two poles.”

Co said that the varying theological views exist due to varying levels of emphasis people place on God’s providence. 

“Understanding the proper balance of these two emphases is very important to a balanced approach to the Christian life,” Co said. “When approaching this topic, humility is very important, knowing that we as frail human beings are dealing with the ways of a transcendent God whose ways are beyond our ability to fully comprehend.”

Above all, a gospel-centered approach is what is most significant in determining which view or side of the debate is considered most biblical. 

“Our position must be one that upholds the sovereign work of God’s grace in Christ while allowing for human beings to truly act upon God’s commands,”  Co said.

Brianne Jackson, CBU alumna in theater and Christian studies minor, said she holds the opinion that Christians should shift their focus away from debating topics such as these.

“I think God allows us to know a lot about him, but there are certain things that he does not reveal to us, and we just have to accept the fact that we don’t know everything and we can’t understand everything yet,” Jackson said. 

Lauren Sanner, junior applied theology student, provided her reasoning and perspective as to why a compatibilistic idea of free will is the most rational understanding of this theological dilemma.  

“Many theologians would say that there is doctrine that supports both. However, there is one that is heavily supported,” Sanner said. “This is the idea that God chooses those who will be saved. There are three main reasons why this is true: it is biblical doctrine, beautiful doctrine and practical doctrine.”

In her study of Scripture, Sanner said she has found extensive evidence that God chooses those he will save. She cited Deuteronomy 7:6 (NIV) as evidence for this position. 

“For you are a people [Israel] holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

Sanner said that Ephesians 1:3-6 also provides biblical readers with a clear description of God choosing those whom he will save. 

“Before creation, God chose those who he predestined to be his adopted sons and daughters so through his will they would be able to bring Hm glory, which is the reason why God createdhumans, to glorify him all that they do,” Sanner said. 

While predestination is a biblical idea, Sanner clarifies that free will exists in some capacity. as well. Humans are responsible for the sins they commit, while God enables them to do good and choose to follow him.

“It was Adam and Eve who chose to eat of the fruit and sin against God,” Sanner said. “Daily, people choose to do what they know is not right. From the beginning, humans chose to turn away from God and, because of that, all humans deserve the wrath and judgement of God. However, God chose to save some by sending his only son on the cross to pay in full the debt that humans had to pay, out of the love and the mercy he has.”

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