A divine determinist’s reflections on a self-determinist’s reading of Scripture: the original sin

I came to the third chapter of Robert Picirilli’s book, Free Will Revisited, with particular eagerness. I concur with him “that what matters most, in the discussion of free will (or any theological issue), is what the Bible says” (p. 18). I also agree with his intent when he states that “the Bible never undertakes to speak directly to the issue of whether people have the capacity for freedom of choice.” I would say it a bit differently, however. Since Scripture asserts, throughout, that humans are morally responsible for their intentional choices, it is obvious that they have the freedom necessary to make such choices. Picirilli is wise, however, to observe that the result of the Bible’s not having specified what kind of freedom such moral responsibility entails is that most us reach our understanding in this regard “from putting together the implications of other biblically clear truths,” and so our position is usually a logical construct (p. 18).

Why is it, I wonder, that Picirilli and I, from our years of studying Scripture, have arrived at different conclusions about the kind of freedom which God has given to us? We both believe that God has created humans (and angels) as morally responsible creatures, but he believes that only libertarian freedom (the power of contrary choice or alternate possibilities [PAP]) is sufficient to ground moral responsibility. I am well aware that this is the predominant view within the Christian church, worldwide, and that most people outside the church, in western cultures, intuit this to be true. Why then do I disagree with Picirilli’s definition of “free choice,” so that he ends up with an incompatibilist construct, and I with one that is compatibilist? We are both determinists, of different sorts, but why does he believe that most of the world’s history has been determined by humans and angels, when I believe that it is determined by God himself? This is the great theological watershed, and we all need to work toward a coherent understanding of which side has identified the truth? There are significant differences between positions on each side of the mountain, but one fundamental difference lies between those two sides. (See the diagram in my first post in this series.)   

My theological conversion to compatibilism

Until I was preparing for my comprehensive exam in theology, as part of my MA program at Wheaton, in the spring of 1967, I too believed that we have libertarian freedom. When I was a freshman in Bible College, we were all required to take a course on personal evangelism. Our teacher was a Calvinist, and his description of how people become saved was offensive to me and to most (or all) of the class. We all knew, intuitively, as post-enlightenment westerners, that unconditional election could not be true, because people had to be able to make the personal decision to believe in Jesus in a saving way, or they could not be condemned for not believing. God’s election of sinners to salvation must, therefore, have been conditional on their repentance and faith.

I was a New Testament major and so I asked Charles Horne, the theology prof who was going to set my comprehensive exam, for some reading recommendations to bring me up to speed. Among the books he recommended was John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied. I started reading that short work as a convinced, but rather ignorant, Arminian. That book was instrumental in bringing about a theological conversion on my part. I found Murray’s exegesis of Romans 8 thoroughly persuasive and, suddenly and unexpectedly, I became a novice Calvinist. That conversion from the incompatibilist to the compatibilist side of the watershed has never been reversed. The more I read Scripture, the more it was confirmed, and I grew to love what Calvinists speak of as “the doctrines of grace.”

My Calvinism has been tweaked through the years, so that I now differ from Murray on one point. I have become a hypothetical universalist, agreeing with Arminians that the Bible teaches that Christ died for everyone, not only for the elect. In this regard I agree with John Davenant and a number of the other British delegates to the Synod of Dort, as with Calvin himself, I believe (see this blog post). Their perspective was given room in the Canons of Dort, which spoke of Christ’s atoning work as “sufficient for all” though efficient only for the elect. So, although I no longer subscribe to the L (limited atonement) of TULIP, which is of relatively recent origin anyway, I consider myself a 5 point Calvinist in the sense of being in agreement with the Canons of Dort (see my blog post “Four-point” and “five-point” Calvinism defined).

I say all this, to explain that I have not always been a compatibilist, that I have significant sympathy with evangelical incompatibilists like Robert Picirilli, and that I keep studying God’s Word with a willingness to revise my theological model if Scripture convinces me that I have been wrong. I have never been part of a denomination or organization which required me to be a Calvinist, so I have had little at stake. This is the context from which I now approach Picirilli’s biblical case for “free will” (understood libertarianly and incompatibilistically).

Considering the Scriptures important to Picirilli’s understanding of free will

To the question, “does the Bible uphold freedom of will?” Picirilli’s answer is simple and certain: “The answer, it seems to me, is that the Bible everywhere assumes, in its presentation of the interaction between God and humans, freedom of will” (p. 19). I say: “Amen!” It is unquestionable that Scripture depicts and assumes humans to have been given the sort of freedom which constitutes them morally responsible for their actions, especially the eternally important choice of whether to respond in faith to the gracious offer of God or to live in alienation from God, which Picirilli is right to emphasize (p. 19). I also commend Picirilli for his admonition that we “take the Bible as a whole,” but this is where things get messy, within the history of the church.

Reflections on how we decide which theological model or system is correct

On either side (or all sides) of the many theological topics which are controverted within the global Christian church, proponents of the alternative views cite biblical texts which, taken alone, look like clear indications that their theological conclusion is the “biblical” one. When an issue comes up, people cite confidently their supporting texts, and they are often mystified when their opponents are not convinced by them. I affirm the necessity of careful exegesis of individual passages which appear to be significant for the formation of one’s Christian doctrine in a particular point. I think that all thoughtful Christians will also admit, however, that there are some texts which are foundational for people who hold an opposing doctrine, which we find difficult to understand, because they do not seem to fit well with the doctrine we confess.

In regard to the watershed issue of the extent of God’s detailed providential control within the world, both Picirilli and I have concluded that we must work toward a clear sense of the big picture, the grand narrative. Since Scripture is not explicit about the nature of creaturely freedom, I posit that we should focus on its very clear depiction of the nature of God’s sovereign governance in the world, and then we can contemplate the significance of this for human freedom. Studying the big picture is something we can never stop doing, in this life, and many of us can testify to “aha moments” when we suddenly see the big picture differently. Sometimes, this comes about through a particular text, which had previously not fit well in our system, but which suddenly looks to be saying something different than we originally thought it did, and to be so important a text on this particular subject, that it requires us to reshape our big picture.

In Providence and Prayer, I laid out 11 different models of how God works in the world. I think that the ones at either end (Semi-Deism and Fatalism) are not serious contenders, but for all of the others a serious biblical and theological case has been made, and none of them can be summarily dismissed without examining their case. I have had students whose own model was changed, sometimes quite significantly, in the process of their study with me, and their change sometimes took them further away from my own model, rather than closer to it.

Picirilli has worked for years at framing his own understanding of the big picture in regard to God’s governance in a world where God has created an immense number of free, moral creatures, both human and angelic. Obviously, he cannot take us through the whole Bible, but he proposes that “a few of the highlights will reveal the whole” (p. 19). Reading that statement, I assume that these are Picirilli’s key texts, the ones which, taken together, have brought him to his own systematic model, and the texts to which others of us who are ready to revisit our own models should therefore now attend carefully. Perhaps some readers of this book will come to the end of this process having seen important texts in a new light, and having come to see the big picture differently. Others will be unconvinced, but all of us should be spiritually enriched for having made the journey of “faith seeking understanding” with the help of what Picirilli has learned on his own journey.

Most of the biblical texts which Picirilli lays before us pertain to the situation after the fall, but the difference between the situation before and after that original sin is very important, and that is what we will look at in the remainder of this segment of my review series.

The First Sin

Jonathan Edwards

Picirilli quotes Genesis 2:16-17 and states: “This certainly sounds like freedom of choice” (20). Indeed, it does, but Picirilli is quick to accept that the nature of Adam’s freedom might have been different before the fall than after, and he cites Jonathan Edwards whom, he suggests,

says enough to raise questions about the freedom of Adam and Eve before their sin. He observes that God, when he created humankind, so ordered “his circumstances, that from these circumstances, together with his [God’s] withholding further assistance and divine influence his sin would infallibly follow” (FW 415) (p.20)

What we see here is Edwards’ distinction between God’s preceptive and his disposing will.

The first expresses what God loves, as in his counsels and invitations, and presumably includes the instructions to Adam and Eve. The second expresses “what he chooses as a part of his own infinite scheme of things” (FW 415), which presumably includes their sin. (p. 20)

Picirilli observes that this “means that God placed Adam in a set of circumstances where his sin was the only and necessary choice,” which is obviously not the sort of free will which Picirilli deems necessary to moral freedom. I expect that, if Edwards had read Picirilli’s statement he would have wanted to explain the sense in which it was Adam’s “only and necessary choice,” in order to reject the fatalism which might be heard by an Arminian reading his work. (I am always nervous about the term “necessary” in the context of our discussions of human freedom. I appreciate Edwards’ choice of “infallibly”rather than “necessarily.”)

Right now, I see things as Edwards did. God gave Adam and Eve sufficient grace to constitute them morally responsibly free, but not the efficient grace which would have ensured their continuance in obedience. God could obviously have done the latter, since this is what he will do when he has glorified us and put us in the new earth, and I believe he has already done it for the “elect angels” (1 Tim 5:21).  But, God deemed it wiser to permit the fall of many angels, and original, representative, human sin, in order to glorify himself through the greatness of his redeeming grace. This is the essence of the “greater good defense” against theodicy, as contrasted with the “free will defense.”

This is a good place to comment on the distinction which Edwards made between two aspects or kinds of God’s willing. His distinction is common in Reformed theology, and it frequently befuddles incompatibilists. John Piper wrote a fine essay, entitled, “Are There Two Wills in God?” (in Schreiner and Ware, eds. Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perpsectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, 107-131). In it, Piper notes that the distinction between what God decrees and what he wills and teaches “is not a new contrivance” (p. 109).

This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. . . . For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure)” (p. 109).

John Calvin

Picirilli found nothing in Luther regarding the nature of Adam and Eve’s freedom before the fall, but he posits that “Calvin, however, clearly affirmed that Adam and Eve possessed free will before the fall” (p. 20). I will quote the remainder of this paragraph because it is very important to our discussion of free will in regard to Calvinism, the tradition within which I locate my own understanding.

[Calvin] says that humanity as created was “endowed with sound intelligence of mind and uprightness of will.” Furthermore, our present state of bondage to sin came about as a result of Adam’s abuse of this freedom (BLW 46-47). He notes that Adam could choose to remain in God’s will or abandon it (BLW 133). He approvingly cites Augustine to say that Adam had the grace of free will to choose the good, and that the freedom that existed before it was lost by the fall included the possibility of choosing the good or the evil (BLW 177-78). These observations certainly affirm the power of contrary choice before the fall. It appears that Calvin would agree with me about the implications of Genesis 2:16-17 (p. 20).

Chapter 5 of Picirilli’s work is devoted to Calvin’s doctrine concerning free will, so I don’t want to get too far afield right now, and I’ll endeavor to stay with the question of whether Adam and Eve had “free will” before the fall, even if they lost it because of the fall. As an overall statement re: Calvin’s theology of freedom, though, I note that in stating Calvin’s understanding, we must take into account the later work of Calvin, particularly as it addressed God’s providence and predestination. Picirilli has intentionally limited his exposition of Calvin to his first response to Pighius, but we will ultimately need to put that work in the context of the whole of Calvin’s theology, where Calvin’s more global statements about God’s sovereign providence must be seen as the context within which we understand what he had to say to Pighius, while allowing for the fact that, in Calvin’s mind, as in the minds of all theologians, positions change in significant ways, without necessarily rejecting earlier statements.

A. N. S. Lane on Calvin’s understanding of freedom and moral responsibility

I have read a lot of Calvin’s work, and it has influenced me greatly, but I am not a “Calvin scholar.” As a bit of autobiographical trivia, I’ll mention here that when I was 25 years old, my family boarded a freighter from San Francisco to Manila, as we headed out for our first term of missionary service in the Philippines. That voyage took a month, and it gave me the time to read through the two volumes of Calvin’s Institutes. I had been a Calvinist less than two years by then, and so my theology was still very much in formation, and I approached Calvin as a teacher from whom I wanted to learn humbly.

Others who have given much more time to the study of Calvin’s theology have been of great help and, at this particular point, I am greatly indebted to the fine work of A. N. S. Lane, particularly his essay, “Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” (Vox Evangelica 12 (1981): 72-90). Lane aptly observes that “Calvin’s account of man as created seems to leave no reason for questioning his original freedom before the Fall. But doubts are raised once one turns to the doctrine of providence. God’s sovereignty and rule means that he controls not merely the ‘laws of nature’ but the whole course of history.” (“Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” 73).

While Calvin repeatedly and violently attacked the term ‘freewill’ his opposition to it was not as unequivocal as is often supposed. On occasions he was prepared to concede that it could have a perfectly sound and acceptable meaning. His attitude to freewill was complex and needs to be examined in the context of the different phases of man’s existence. (“Did Calvin Believe in Freewill?” 72).

Lane discerns

a significant divergence between Luther and Calvin. Luther taught that ‘all things happen by absolute necessity’ [Assertio omnium articulorum, cited by H. J. McSorley, op. cit., 255]. He also denied the scholastic distinction between absolute or consequent necessity (necessitas consequentis) and necessity of consequence (necessitas consequentiae) [In the Lectures on Romans, the Disputatio contra scholasticam theologiam and the De servo arbitrio, cited by H. J. McSorley, op. cit., 232-6, 242, 315-21]. Pighius assumed that Luther and Calvin were agreed on this and accused them both of teaching that nothing is contingent but that all things happen by absolute necessity [A. Pighius, op. cit., f. 6a]. Calvin did not dissent from the statement that he and Luther agreed concerning the bondage of the will, but he introduced a significant reservation regarding the specific point of absolute necessity. This point, he said, would be covered later in his response to the second part of Pighius’ work, in his Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, which was to appear in 1550 [Def. serv. arb. (OC 6.247-52, especially 248, 250)]. In this work Calvin took a position significantly different to Luther’s. He agreed that God’s will is ‘the chief and principal cause of all things’ and ‘the necessity of things’ [Predestination 177f. (OC 8.360)]. But he conceded the validity of the scholastic distinctions between relative and absolute necessity (necessitas secundum quid et absoluta) and between necessity of consequence and consequent necessity [Predestination 170 (OC 8.354). The ET is unreliable here, conflating the two distinctions into one]. ‘Though it is proper for us to regard the order of nature as divinely determined, I do not at all reject contingency in regard to human understanding’ [Ibid]. This is further spelt out in the 1559 Institutio. While all things are controlled by God, ‘to us, however, they are fortuitous’. Not indeed that they are truly random, but ‘they have the appearance of being fortuitous, such being the form under which they present themselves to us, whether considered in their own nature, or estimated according to our knowledge and judgement’. From our point of view the future is contingent, although the outcome is determined. ‘At the same time, that which God has determined, though it must come to pass, is not, however, precisely, or in its own nature, necessary.’ Christ’s bones were like ours and therefore clearly breakable, and yet it was impossible for them to be broken (Jn. 19: 33, 36). There is, therefore, good ground for the scholastic distinction between different types of necessity [Inst. I.xvi.9 (1559)].

Calvin’s acceptance of this scholastic distinction sets him apart from Luther and aligns him with the great mediaeval scholastics (“Did Calvin Believe in Free Will”? pp. 74-75).

Some of the above pertains to the larger look at Calvin which follows later in this review series, but we’ll focus now specifically on what Calvin has to say about the freedom of Adam and Eve prior to their fatal fall.

When we come to Lane’s discussion of Calvin’s view of human freedom before the fall, it is not difficult to grasp why Picirilli concludes that Calvin would agree with him “about the implications of Genesis 2:16-17” (p. 20). Lane concedes that

Calvin clearly taught that it was [Adam’s] own fault. Adam could have stood but he fell solely by his own will. This happened because ‘his will was pliable in either direction, and he had not received constancy to persevere’ [Inst. I.xv.8 (1559)]. But that is not to say that the Fall was inevitable. Adam was able not to sin (posse non peceare). He had a free choice of good and evil (libera electio boni et mali); and not only so, but in the mind and will there was the highest rectitude, and all the organic parts were duly framed to obedience.

The first man had ‘soundness of mind and freedom of will to choose the good (voluntas ad bonum eligendum libera)’. Calvin summed his position up in a confession of faith: ‘We believe that man was created pure and complete and that it was his own fault that he fell from the grace that he had received’ (“Did Calvin Believe in Free Will”? pp. 75-76.) 

To Picirilli’s mind (with its libertarian assumption), it is understandable that this sounds like the “power of contrary choice” but, did Calvin understand that power as Picirilli does? I was doubtful of this, on account of Calvin’s doctrine of the divine decree, and Lane confirmed my doubts. For his comments, Lane gets beyond Calvin’s earliest response to Pighius, in The Bondage and Liberation of the Will, and into Calvin’s second response in Predestination, as well as looking into the Institutes. I’ll quote Lane at length once again, rather than endeavoring to paraphrase him, since he is beautifully concise and clear:

Calvin insisted that the Fall happened through man’s own fault. But there is more to it than that [In Inst. I.xv.8 (1559), where Calvin teaches that Adam had freewill, he adds a reminder that the question of secret predestination must later be considered]. Adam fell because God decreed it, his awesome decree (decretum horribile) [Inst. III.xxiii.7. Most, but not all, of the section comes from 1559, including ‘decretum horribile’ (OS 4.401)]. [I note the importance of Lane’s translation of horribile as “awesome,” because I sometimes hear Arminians say, mistakenly, that Calvin believed that the decree was “horrible.”] It is illegitimate to say that God willed merely to permit the Fall. What God wills is necessary and must happen. ‘The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not’ [Inst. III.xxiii.8].

Then, as now, this teaching was called unjust and Calvin was asked why God should decree that man should fall. ‘God knowingly and willingly suffers man to fall; the reason may be hidden, but it cannot be unjust’ [Predestination 122 (OC 8.315)]. Calvin was firmly opposed to any attempt to speculate here beyond what has been revealed, a modesty denied to many of his more ardent followers.

How it was ordained by the foreknowledge and decree of God what man’s future was without God being implicated as associate in the fault as the author or approver of transgression, is clearly a secret so much excelling the insight of the human mind, that I am not ashamed to confess ignorance…. I daily so meditate on these mysteries of his judgements that curiosity to know anything more does not attract me [Predestination 124 (OC 8.316)].

Calvin explicitly appealed to the doctrine of providence for support in this matter. If God did not decree the Fall, ‘where will be the omnipotence of God, by which, according to his secret counsel on which everything depends, he rules over all?’ [Inst. III.xxiii.7 (1559)]. ‘Man therefore falls, divine providence so ordaining’ [Inst. III.xxiii.8]. It is clear that, given his doctrine of providence, Calvin had no choice but to say that God decreed the Fall. Until the final edition of the Institutio he treated providence and predestination together but in 1559 he broke with theological tradition and separated them, placing predestination in the setting of soteriology [Cf. P. Jacobs, Prädestination and Verantwortlichkeit bei Calvin (Darmstadt, 1968), 67-71, on the position of and relation between providence and predestination]. But the link with providence remains, not least in the idea that God decreed the Fall. This idea, far from being weakened by the separation of predestination from providence, is strengthened in 1559 by the inclusion of new material drawn from the polemical works of the 1550s (“Did Calvin Believe in Free Will”? p. 76).  

In my experience, the most significant factor leading evangelicals to incompatibilism has to do with moral responsibility. Itis there that I most feel the tension in holding to my own compatibilism, but I have been pushed to compatibilism by my overwhelming sense that the big picture of God’s universal government, within Scripture, makes divine determinism the only option, in both the doctrines of providence and of salvation. No less clear, however, is the biblical teaching concerning the moral responsibility of sinners for our suppression of God’s revelation, our stifling of the Spirit’s work, and our blatant and repeated decisions to disobey our own consciences, which I believe to be the criterion according to which God judges us. It is there that we hear the voice of God and either obey or disobey it, willingly and without external constraint. Hence, my being a compatibilist.

This issue is not new to our time, it was one which Calvin faced in the 16th century. Once again, A. N. S. Lane has very helpfully exegeted Calvin in regard to this matter, so I quote him at length:

Many have felt that God’s foreordination of the Fall destroys man’s responsibility. But Calvin insisted that the Fall was man’s fault. ‘Man therefore falls, divine providence so ordaining, but he falls by his own fault’ [ Inst. III.xxiii.8]. The cause of the Fall lies in man.

Though, by the eternal providence of God, man was formed for the calamity under which he lies, he took the matter of it from himself, not from God, since the only cause of his destruction was his degeneration from the purity of his creation into a state of vice and impurity [ Inst. III.xxiii.9].

Calvin was also most emphatic that the Fall was voluntary.

Adam fell, though not without God’s knowledge and ordination … Yet this neither mitigates his guilt nor involves God in any blame. For we must always remember that he voluntarily (sponte) deprived himself of the rectitude that he had received from God, voluntarily (sponte) gave himself up to the service of sin and Satan, and voluntarily (sponte) precipitated himself into destruction. One excuse is suggested, that he could not evade what God had decreed. But his voluntary (voluntaria) transgression is enough and more than enough to establish his guilt. For the proper and genuine cause of sin is not God’s hidden counsel but the evident will of man [Predestination 121f. (OC 8.314)].

But Calvin was not quite right to say that the voluntary nature of the first transgression is ‘enough and more than enough’. Fallen man also sins voluntarily and yet he is a slave of sin. Calvin needed to show not merely that the Fall was voluntary but that it was not necessary, from man’s point of view. He was not quite unequivocal on this point. Man had free will, but the reason why he fell so easily was that he had not received constancy to persevere. ‘If any one objects that [the will] was placed, as it were, in a slippery position, because its power was weak, I answer, that the degree conferred was sufficient to take away every excuse’ [Inst. I.xv.8 (1559). Cf. II.i.10]. Calvin conceded that God could have prevented man from sinning, but argued that this was not incumbent upon him. ‘No necessity was laid upon God to give him more than that intermediate and even transient will, that out of man’s fall he might extract materials for his own glory’ [Inst. I.xv.8 (1559). Cf. Serm. 48 on Harm. Ev. (on Mt. 4: 1) (OC 46.598): Adam suffered from infirmity of nature but not from the vicious infirmity of original sin]. Elsewhere Calvin reversed this argument to oppose Castellio’s position that God did not will the Fall. He foresaw the Fall and he had the power to stop it, yet he chose not to. There is no explanation save that such was his will. For Adam not to fall he needed fortitude and constancy. God gives these gifts to his elect and yet he chose to withhold them from Adam [De occulta dei providentia (OC 9.294)]. Here Calvin came close to suggesting that the Fall was necessary, through the withholding of these gifts from Adam, but in fact his position is that the withholding of the gifts made the Fall possible, not necessary [A. Lecerf, op. cit., 38f. misinterprets Calvin to teach that the Fall was necessary. A. M. Hunter, The Teaching of Calvin (London, 1950), 121 wrongly states that ‘as God had decreed the Fall, [he] must have in some wise already biased Adam’s will’]. But the possibility is more of a probability since Calvin did not believe that man lasted long without sinning [Comm. Gen. 3: 6]. While Adam was not under a necessity, he does not appear to have been given much of a chance (“Did Calvin Believe in Free Will”? pp. 76-77).

Concluding reflections on my present understanding of Adam and Eve’s freedom before the fall

There have been times when I leaned toward belief that God created Adam and Eve with libertarian freedom, but that they lost this freedom when they misused it and were expelled from the Garden. For quite a while, however, I have settled into belief that Adam and Eve were not created libertarianly free. The basic nature of their freedom did not change in the fall, but their moral nature changed drastically. As created, they were “very good,” as was everything God created, but moral goodness is like existence, it is constantly dependent upon God’s sustaining.

I posit that there is a “moral entropy” similar to the “physical entropy” spoken about by natural scientists. If God ceases to sustain a creature’s existence by means of his general providence, then that creature will cease to exist. This is what happens when God ultimately destroys the wicked, in body and soul. Neither souls nor bodies are naturally immortal. Immortality (eternal life) is a gift of God to those whom he saves through Christ. Similarly, though God made Adam and Eve morally good, their remaining good was dependent upon God’s gracious providence, it was not naturally inherent in them. As Calvin stated, God had secret reasons for not preventing them from choosing to disobey. Similarly, the Westminster Confession said: “This their sin, God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory” (VI, i).

To confess this is one thing, to explain it is another, and I do not think we will ever be able to explain how this works, in this age. Once again, my soft compatibilism is tugged in the direction of mysterian compatibilism. I am so convinced by Scripture that God is absolutely in control of everything that happens in his creation that, if I were to be convinced that libertarian freedom is essential to moral responsibility, I would not become an incompatibilist, I would become a mysterian hard compatibilist, affirming both divine determinism and creaturely libertarian freedom, while acknowledging that I am unable to explain how these two are compatible. J. I. Packer, who has never stated what he understands the nature of human freedom to be, has suggested that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are an “antinomy,” which he defines as “an appearance of contradiction between two conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary” (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 18).

Earlier posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2.     


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

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