A friend from church handed my his thoughts on election and free will last Sunday and asked for my comments. so I thought I would delete any names and post my thoughts here.
Hi______, I looked at your notes from Sunday.
First of all, I recommend this book: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer, IVP (it has been around forever, so it is probably cheap on Amazon). He lays out the issues.
Second, I see two overall ideas in the scripture
- Our choices and actions are real, have significance and we are accountable for them. How could that be true if they are predetermined without our will.
- God knows and elects us from before the foundation of the world is an idea found in a varity of places, including Ephesians 1 and Revelation (book of life) and Romans 8-11.
Packer calls this an antinomy – two ideas held to be true despite their apparent contradiction. (Wikipedia: Antinomy (Greek αντι-, for or instead of, plus νομος, law) literally means the mutual incompatibility, real or apparent, of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant)
Most people resolve the antimony by
- emphasizing God’s Sovereignty – Election. This is the “Calvinist” position (but really looks back at least to St. Augustine). This position can be either rather blunt (God does all the deciding) or nuanced (our will is somehow concurrent with the will of God, or he cause it so we freely choose, or something similar – this is called “concordism” if I recall correctly))
- Emphasize human choice, often called “free will”. This is the Arminian/Wesleyan position.
Basically saying that God cannot or does not negate our choices – how could he pass judgment against sin if it was determined by him? Can God predetermine sin? etc. The older Wesleyan Arminians held that God knows everything in the future but somehow limited himself. Some open theists say that God die snot know the future but makes good guesses.
I prefer to leave the antinomy unresolved and allow for the fact that somehow in the nature of God it is not a contradiction. If you press me, I think it has to do with God’s eternity. He is somehow outside of time (science tells us that time is a dimension; a product of space/time) So it would be possible for him to know in his eternal present what is future to us. In “Mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis he describes it as like a man watching a parade, not from the street, where it is seen from start to finish sequentially, but from a tower, where the viewer can see it all at once.
There are other antinomies – God is love and holy – how can he forgive sin when he is pure? (the Cross)
“Free will” is a specifically Arminian kind of term. I prefer to use other words less loaded. Our wills are not totally free or someone could have decided not to sin, but none have. So we are effected by the corruption of sin in that way. I use the term “choice” or “will”. Luther was a hard liner on this point and wrote a book “The Bondage of the Will”. John Wesley talked about “prevenient grace” where God enables us to get to the place where we can hear the gospel and decide. Calvinists will say that God saves us and only then do we believe. (There is an old debate over the Order of Salvation – “ordo salutis” – which I find to be a lot of picayune scholasticism.
I have also found that the Bible does not “answer” some classic philosophical questions such as the problem of evil or free will. Job and other passages deal with the problem of evil, but in the form of a narrative story and epic poetry that in the end does not give a rigorous answer but says “you have to trust me on this.” I note that the logic of election and free choice run into a wall of apparent contradiction. but so do other things we hold to such as: Matter can be described as waves or particles and both are true depending on how you look at it. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle is another example. Is that a contradiction or is there some deep level of science where that will be resolved.
I hope that helps.