Saturday, June 11, 2016
The Disaster of Freewill Theology
My perspective on Freewill Theology is that it has its roots in the fall of man. To be more specific, my claim is that the idea of the sort of freedom found in the focus of freewill theology is an idea that lay at the very focus of Satan’s rebellion against God, and man’s seduction to rebel against God. The idea of Freewill Theology places man at the locus of control to choose the contrary. This raises questions regarding what it means to choose as well as what I mean by the contrary. What does it mean for one to choose A versus not A? What is choice? What kinds of choices exist? What goes into making a choice? What does that process look like? My aim is show how the idea of freewill theology influences pagan culture and how the influence on that culture makes its way full circle, back into the community of Christ’s disciples, the church.
It would be an understatement to say that there are a healthy number of Christians wondering exactly what has gone wrong with the good old U.S. of A. Why, just yesterday, everything seemed to be fine. And now all of the sudden, we have turned the page, and a new chapter has begun. And that chapter is unlike anything we have read so far in this book. It’s like a bad dream. If you have ever seen the movie ‘Pleasantville’, you know what I am talking about. Christians talk about the values of yesterday: the values that made this country great. Those values are why the country was great. And if we want to be great again, we must get back to those values. What the typical modern Christian, shallow though he or she may be, does not understand is that the people in charge of today’s culture, the influencers if you will, do not believe that that country ever was great. In fact, what they believe is that that country was evil. And it was evil precisely because of those values. So, what is going on here? What is happening? Why the shift? Why the change in moral values? Why the change in perspective? I dare say that from both the pagan philosophical standpoint and the theological perspective of the church, it can be traced to, in large degree, the wholesale adoption of freewill theology or philosophy. This mindset begins with a view of God (if it allows for God at all), and a view of man that are both the product of sinful projections, tracing their origins back to Genesis 3.
Genuine human freedom, as defined by the proponents of freewill theology, is incompatible with determinism. In other words, any theological schema that affirms determinism in any way is false if the idea of libertarian human freedom is true. Human acts must only and always be the direct result of the human will, uncaused and undetermined in any way whatsoever. This is what I mean by the use of the expression, freewill theology or freewill philosophy. This brand of freewill is also known as contra-causal freewill or, more commonly, libertarian freedom. There are no causal laws or all-powerful, sovereign agents behind human choices. The actions of individual humans are self-caused. To reject this sacred doctrine of modern paganism is the ultimate betrayal of humans everywhere. How can the disciples of Christ in this modern pagan culture think rightly about this doctrine and about the phenomena it is producing in the culture and the influence it has over the church? First, we must understand its roots, identify the areas in our own thinking it has infected, and ask God to cure that infection by cleansing our minds with the washing and purifying power of His Word.
To think better about freewill theology, we must think biblically. And to think biblically requires that we go to the text of Scripture and ask the Scripture to inform our thinking in the area of human freedom and responsibility. What does God say about the matter? The story begins in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1:26 we are told that God created man bĕṣalmēnû kidmûtēnû, in our image, our likeness. Man is the unique representation of God within creation. Of all creation, man is the only created being that images and represents God. As such, man is to rule the rest of creation. As God rules over all things, man is to rule over God’s created order. Hence man is a reflection of God and is to reflect and image God over creation and back to God for God’s own glory. This is why man exists. The idea of independence is entirely foreign to man’s role as imager and representative of God. This arrangement is called the Covenant of Works in theological jargon. But man chose to reject God’s arrangement, and according to Hosea 6:7, Adam broke the covenant. Rather than rule over creation, man decided to replace God with himself and then do the unthinkable: he worshipped himself and God’s creations, exchange the glory of the incorruptible for the base image of beasts and creeping things. Man was seduced by a promise that was partly true, but most false.
Step one in this story was to question if God had even issued a commandment. “Did God really say you cannot eat of the fruit from that tree?” Step two was to contradict God outright, “You will not surely die!” God is wrong or God is deliberately withholding something good from you without justification! Step three, Eve looked. Eve began to examine the situation using her own rational criteria rather than simply rejecting the temptation to abandon simple, unquestioned obedience, she chose her own path. She reasoned contrary to God. She was deceived into thinking that she could operate independent from God. She could chart her own course. She could determine her own path. She could, like God, create her own world with her own morality, her own way of knowing, her own system. She could determine right from wrong apart from God. She could create her own truth. She was free to do as she pleased, even free to go against her Creator. We know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve together, acted on a lie and as a result, the world was hurled into sin. The desire for absolute freedom, for absolute independence prevailed and our first parents invited divine curse and rejected divine blessing.
Now, a freewill theology proponent would use this scenario as a line of evidence in support of their position. But does the fall of humanity really support the basic thesis of freewill theology? I don’t think it does even for a minute and I am not alone. Remember that freewill theology denies any causal elements in the actions of human beings. In order for Adam and Eve to have truly been free creatures, exercising freewill, according to the idea of freewill theology, their fall had to take God by surprise. The acts of free creatures, if they are truly free, cannot be known in advance. At least, if we are going to honor the definition of freewill theology as the absence of any causal element in human actions. If God knew in advance that Adam would fall, and God’s knowledge is perfect knowledge, then Adam could not have acted differently in those circumstances. What God knows, He knows perfectly. This is because of how God knows, not simply due to the fact that God knows. God’s knowledge of future human actions is based on God’s decree of what humans will do in the future. Since the divine decree is efficacious, then God’s knowledge of the fall was unimpeachable.
Freewill theology is rooted in pagan Greek philosophy. The clash between the wills of men and the wills of the gods is a common struggle. And that struggle is now expressed so many different ways in the church, in sermons, and in Sunday school classes. It was Aristotle who wrote, “The Stick moves the stone and is moved by the hand, which is again moved by the man; in the man, however, we have reached a mover that is not so in virtue of being moved by something else.” [Physics, 8:256] It was Pelagius who, more than anyone, introduced this mindset in the early church. And it was Augustine who rightly put him in his place. Pelagius’ view of man is necessary if freewill theology is true. After all, if men are unable to please God, then one has to wonder in what sense he is free. Contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture, Pelagius believed that man possessed the inherent ability, apart from divine grace, to obey and please God. He reasoned that responsibility required ability and since man was responsible to please God, he must be able to do so. Hence, man must be free to obey God or not, to please God or not. And this is precisely the sort of influence that pagan philosophy has held over various components of the church throughout her history and especially in modern American culture. Freewill theology unwittingly eliminates divine freedom, renders divine sovereignty unintelligible, and brings right back to the promise of the serpent in the garden, placing man at the locus of control of his own destiny.
Freewill theology has devastating impacts to a biblical soteriology, essentially making man the captain of his own salvation. Decisional regeneration and easy believism are direct correlates of this theology. Contrary to this way of thinking, Scripture clearly informs us that men do not choose Christ as an act of their will. (John 1:12-13)
Freewill theology produces movements like the market-driven-seeker-sensitive-church. This movement claims that whether or not men are born again is entirely within their own power. Nicodemus understood full-well that the command to be born again was beyond his power. (John 3) Churches ignore the biblical teaching that no one seeks after God and move to create programs, music, campuses, and styles that appeal to the unregenerate. They are “removing obstacles” to faith in Christ so that they can get as many in the church as possible. As a result, evangelical churches have filled their memberships with a majority of unregenerate people who are at best, deistic moralists satisfying their self-righteous conscience.
Freewill theology produces methods like classical apologetics. This method assumes that men are free and able to evaluate the arguments on their own merits, as if the evidence and facts that support it are neutral. The goal of classical apologetics is to remove the obstacles to faith, the offensive claims of Christian that may offend human reason as the unregenerate understand human rationality. The idea is to clear a path so that the unregenerate can take that path to a born again experience. This method ignores or engages in exegetical gymnastics where 1 Cor. 1-2 are concerned. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21) “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:30) “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor. 2:14)
Freewill theology and philosophy fit perfectly into our postmodern world. Elizabeth Meek writes, “To be human is to make sense of experience. There are voices today that would discourage the attempt. They say, you can’t really get it right, you can’t really understand. All you can do is come up with some private interpretation, and you need not worry about your private interpretation fitting the world, because there is no world to fit. And for you to think you can get it right, objectively right, is an attitude that threatens everyone else’s freedom to think what they like.” [Meek, Longing to Know] In our postmodern culture, there is no world out there. There is no truth about the world out there, no objective truth about some reality external to the human mind. The world is whatever your mind wishes to do to it. And so we see a reality in which babies are butchered in the name of women’s health. Marriage is desecrated in the name of love. The male-female distinction is discarded in the name of discrimination. Truly, Paul was speaking for God when he wrote, they became futile in their speculations. (Rom 1:21). That Greek word futile is mataioō and it literally means worthless.
Freewill theology impugns God’s freedom which is a denial of divine sovereignty in any meaningful sense. Moreover, it denies the divine decree and places God in the position of not knowing, and at best, learning. Freewill theology elevates the ability of man, essentially making him his own redeemer and renders the guarantee of redemption null and void which means that death of Christ itself accomplished nothing on the cross. It only made something possible which seems absurd in the light of freewill theology. Freewill theology lends itself to an unbiblical ecclesiology, permitting unregenerate people to shape the weekly gathering of the Christian community by changing the styles of music, teaching, preaching, and outreach. Freewill theology leads us to use a method of apologetics that is far more likely to fill the church with people who are not truly converted but rather, impressed with arguments and evidence for Christianity. It is an external Christianity that fails to get to the heart of the gospel. It places man in the seat of authority and judge over Scripture and asks him to render his verdict which he is all too eager to do. Freewill theology is consistent with postmodern, pagan philosophy. Man is the master of his own destiny, the captain of his own ship, the author and finisher of his own fate. He creates his own private interpretation of the world around him and of the Christian world if he decides to engage in a local community. As a result you end up with a conglomeration of people who accept abortion, deny the authority of Scripture, reject special creation, deny a literal fall, literal parents, embrace homosexuality, reject church discipline, divorce at will, and carry on a life that is defined by their wholesale rejection of divine authority and anything resembling biblical submission. So much for freewill theology. From my perspective, it is nothing short of a theological disaster in every way.