Arminianism and Predestination – A Suggestion
Blog 3: Contingent Human Freedom – What’s at Stake?
In the first two blogs of this series, I have tried to provide some evidence for a perspective on human freedom that underlies the rest of what I intend to discuss under the heading “Arminianism and Predestination – A Suggestion.” That perspective is rooted in the conviction that human freedom is not metaphysically libertarian—that is, humans have not been, from the moment of their creation, autonomously free. Humans, as is true of the larger universe which we inhabit, have been narrated in Genesis 1 and 2 as subordinated to the Word of God. I have argued, and continue to maintain, that human freedom is a consequence of grace—of God’s continued activity in the universe He has created—and not an essential and inherent quality of human nature.
Humans, as all creatures in the universe, have some capacity for self-determination naturally. My point has not been to argue that creatures in the universe do nothing whatsoever except by the specific decree of God. However, in qualified agreement with those who call themselves compatibilists, I do believe that God has set limits which constrain human freedom to such a degree that the concept of metaphysical libertarianism is simply inconsistent with the way in which human choice has been narrated in the Christian Scriptures. Any truly libertarian choice that a person makes, in this way of thinking, is a consequence of God’s grace and not an endowment of human nature.
Though this sort of medium does not lend itself to the defense of these positions exhaustively, I have endeavored to support these contentions in the first two blogs in two different ways. In blog 1, I attempted to illustrate this distinction between nature and grace in human freedom narratively and biblically. In blog 2, I struggled to explain the nuanced logic of James Arminius which leads inevitably, in my reading, to this sort of an understanding of human freedom.
What is at stake in this issue for me, however, should really begin to take shape in these next few blog entries. Of principle importance for this installment is the dismissing of a commonly held Arminian conviction that I believe has proven to be particularly difficult to reconcile with the testimony of Christian Scripture. And, it is the belief that God either cannot or will not violate the so-called ‘integrity of the human person’ by compelling her or him to do this or that.
If one accepts metaphysical libertarianism or believes that libertarian free will is an endowment of human nature guaranteed by God in all circumstances, then this idea that God will not violate human freedom makes a great deal of sense. However, if human freedom is understood in ways similar to the one I am advocating in this series of blogs, then the question of God’s overriding of human freedom becomes somewhat nonsensical.
Why is that? Well, in my opinion, the natural state of humanity is to be overridden by the Word of God. Only God’s grace can grant truly free choices—i.e., choices undetermined by the specific will of God or the natural restraints God has set in place. Therefore, in this way of thinking, it is not problematic at all if God were to elect, predestine, or forcibly cause a human agent to do almost anything. That, if I am correct, would be the most natural relationship anything in creation has to God, including humanity itself. Here I believe that the Calvinist tradition has observed something in Scripture that we, as Arminians, must also confess: God’s Sovereignty is not subordinated to human freedom in the narratives of Scripture. As Arminius himself has argued to the contrary, human freedom, rightly construed, is naturally subordinated to the Providence and Sovereignty of God.
Now, don’t read me wrongly. I do believe that, in His grace, God grants the larger portion of humanity such libertarian freedom that from a certain, very human, perspective it can appear as though human freedom is an endowment of human nature. The point I am trying to make is that this very freedom that so many of us enjoy is not a natural endowment, but a gracious gift of God’s continuing activity in the universe. Therefore, when Scripture narrates God as not permitting that sort of freedom to a person, what we are witnessing is not God abnormally over-riding human autonomy. Rather, those narratives illustrate instances in which God refused to intervene to permit the human being in question to act unnaturally—to act freely.
In the next blog, I will return to a biblical, narrative approach and deal with the Gospel of John—a book, to my reading, which makes little sense apart from the perspective on human freedom that I am trying to advocate.