Thursday, February 05, 2009

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom I

Professor David C. Innes
(Image from The King's College)

In response to my query on "Total Depravity?", I received a number of helpful comments, the most detailed one coming from the hand of David C. Innes, a professor of politics in New York City at The King's College and a blogger along with Harold Kildow at the impressive blog Principalities and Powers. Here (albeit slightly edited) is what Professor Innes wrote with respect to my remark about free will:
Free will? Are you familiar with the Fourfold State of Man? It is certainly in Thomas Boston (Human Nature in Its Fourfold State; 1720, Banner of Truth 1964) but it is said to be originally formulated by Augustine. I have not found it in this form, however.
State of Innocence - posse peccare (able to sin)
State of Sin - non posse non peccare (not able not to sin)
State of Grace - posse non peccare (able not to sin)
State of Glory - non posse peccare (not able to sin)
In this understanding, natural man is unable not to sin, dead in sin, by nature at enmity with God, unable to respond to the gospel without the efficacious work of God's Holy Spirit. (On that last point you MUST look at -- and highlight, if you haven't already -- Ez. 36:24ff. and Jer. 31:31ff. Marvelous and beautiful OT accounts of God's saving work to come.)

As for the will considered from a natural standpoint, I find Jonathan Edwards has the most compelling account of what exactly happens when we will something. He understands it in terms of one's chief love or desire at the moment of decision. Of course, he gets it from Augustine. Of course, if the will is under the dominion of the desires, where is the "freedom" of the will? If freedom is autonomy, there is none because the desires are shaped by a thousand influences from one's nature to one's family to one's lunch. If freedom is the ability to be and do what one was created to be and do, then in sin one's will is hopelessly enslaved, whereas in Christ and most fully in glory one's will is entirely free (again Ez.36/Jer.31).
Let me approach the central issues raised in this passage from an oblique angle.

Professor Innes stresses the profound sovereignty of God and questions the putative freedom of the will, which he touches on as "autonomy," on the one hand, and as 'conformity', on the other hand. By the former, he means a will unshaped by desires. By the latter, he means a will in conformity to God's will. At least, I think that these are the alternatives presented by Professor Innes. As we see, he understands the former as empirically false and the latter as doctrinally true. My reading of his words is that human beings have volition entirely grounded in and exhaustively stemming from their nature, whether that nature be unfallen, fallen, redeemed, or glorified. I hope that I've adequately summarized his views.

I agree with Professor Innes that the Bible does emphasize the sovereignty of God, but it also emphasizes the responsibility (and hence the freedom) of individuals. Allow me to cite William Lane Craig's well-formulated expression of this:
The biblical worldview involves a strong conception of divine sovereignty over the world and human affairs even as it presupposes human freedom and responsibility . . . . An adequate doctrine of divine providence requires reconciling these two streams of biblical teaching without compromising either.
This is from page 1850 of The Apologetics Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 2007) but can be read online at the link given.

At issue here is what the expression "free will" can mean within the context of a biblical understanding of human responsibility consistent with the sovereignty of God. If I recall, Craig elsewhere cites the words of Jesus from Matthew 11:23 in support of human freedom:
καὶ σύ Καφαρναούμ μὴ ἕως οὐρανοῦ ὑψωθήσῃ ἕως ᾅδου καταβήσῃ ὅτι εἰ ἐν Σοδόμοις ἐγενήθησαν αἱ δυνάμεις αἱ γενόμεναι ἐν σοί ἔμεινεν ἂν μέχρι τῆς σήμερον (Morphological Greek New Testament)

And thou, Capernaum, which unto the heaven wast exalted, unto hades shalt be brought down, because if in Sodom had been done the mighty works that were done in thee, it had remained unto this day; (Young's Literal Translation)
Whether or not my memory serves me well on Craig having cited this verse, the verse itself can serve me well, for it offers a case of a counterfactual situation whose truth depends upon the possibility that the people of Capernaum could have acted differently and chosen to repent in response to Jesus's works (cf. verse 20). Capernaum is to be punished for having chosen the wrong response, differently than Sodom would have chosen in a similar case.

I think that this counterfactual situation fits what is sometimes called -- for example, by Alvin Plantinga, philosophy professor at the University of Notre Dame -- a "counterfactual of creaturely freedom" (pdf), which here entails the morally significant freedom required for responsible moral agents to be held accountable for their actions.

Look at the biblical statement, which -- in its larger textual context -- effectively means that Capernaum will be condemned because Sodom would have repented (cf. verse 20). The "because" here specifies the reason for Capernaum's condemnation, namely, that Sodom would have repented, implying that Capernaum should also have repented. But that implication further entails that Capernaum could have repented, for a "should" entails a "could."

How free will actually 'works' is difficult to say, but described negatively, I think that we can state that a free choice is one that cannot be exhaustively described as the consequence of a causal chain, whether external (roughly, "environmental") or internal (roughly, "natural").

To explain an individual's actions in terms of causes is to exculpate that individual of responsibility for those actions; to explain an individual's actions in terms of reasons is to hold that individual responsible for those actions.

Or so it seems to me from here.

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At 12:47 PM, Blogger David C. Innes said...

Well, imagine my surprise when I went to Gypsy Scholar and find my own face staring back at me. A little spooky, but I adjusted.

Well that is a challenging point, and I've had to ponder it. But is the example really any different from Jesus' call for people to "Repent!"? Or is it any different from the very fact of a Judgment Day, when Jesus will say, "I was hungry and you didn't feed me"? Here he says, Messiah himself lived in your midst, preached the Kingdom, and you didn't repent. He uses the example of Sodom to shame them and so to stir their consciences.

These examples confront us with a mystery. (Or is the word antinomy?) The Scripture teaches two overwhelmingly clear facts: divine sovereignty in salvation (as in all things) and human responsibility. People are dead in sin. We cannot help but sin in all we do. We have sinful natures, and a thing can act only within the limits of its nature. I am not free to fly around the room like a bat, because I have a human nature, not a bat nature. A sinner by nature can only sin. Despite this, God holds us accountable for our sin. Apparently human responsibility and human liberty are not the same thing.

Of course we have a natural freedom. I can choose to wear my black socks tomorrow or my white socks (though choice is fairly predictable there). But I have no spiritual liberty. I am dead in sin. I am as enslaved to sin as Israel was enslaved to Pharaoh.

The other overwhelming fact is God's sovereignty in salvation. God had to free Israel from their bondage through a mediator, just as he frees his people from bondage to sin through the Mediator who is Christ. It is Christ who "binds the strong man," as he says in Mark's gospel, and plunders him (the redeemed are the treasure he plunders). How do we explain all of these texts and the overt doctrinal statements in the Epistles? (E.g. Ephesians 2 which says we are dead in sin...but God made us alive in Jesus Christ--cf. Lazarus in his grave. It is by grace you have been saved...and this is not of yourselves...," and so on.)

God calls for repentance. He holds us accountable for not responding to that call. But, mercifully, he gives regenerates some to trust in Christ and be saved.

How do we hold these two things together? Arminians try to remove the mystery by trumpeting the free will, but they vastly diminish God (as it were) in the process.

I am not a theologian. I am a political theorist with a seminary degree (Gordon-Conwell 94-95, Reformed Presbyterian Th. Sem. 95-97) who of course has had a healthy interest in understanding the Christian faith theologically and the text of Scripture exegetically for the 24 years since my conversion.

But I am persuaded that Reformed theology articulates most faithfully the teachings of the Bible as whole, explains most reasonably with the world as we encounter it, glorifies God most fittingly, and satisfies my God-longing soul most deeply.

People I know have been reading Herman Bavinck recently, the great Dutch theologian. I'm trying to get hold of Our Reasonable Faith. His four volume works are are in print (Presbyterian and Reformed publishers?). Otherwise, I always recommend Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology.

Let me add that I admire your work on fan death.

In addition, I have always been impressed that you respond to everyone who comments on your blog, and you are always gracious in your responses.

Well, that's a start, but it's bedtime here in America, and I'm taking my freshmen through Socrates' conversation with Cephalus in book I of the Republic in the morning.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

David, anyone who admires my work on fan death is a "close, personal friend of mine" . . . as somebody used to say.

But to lesser points . . . I, too, am no theologian, nor a philosopher, though I've read more of the latter than the former, but I do try to figure things out (and that leads me into rather deep waters despite my skills of Archimedean bouyancy being limited to the basics of dog paddling).

I find your own blog impressive, and really need to go to the trouble of adding it to my blog roll. I plead indolence.

I suppose that finding one's face staring back at one is nearly always disconcerting. I am surprised every morning when I turn on the bathroom light in order to shave. My astonishment increases over the years . . . am I really still alive? Or am I a ghost? There is something ghastly about it all. A bit spooky, certainly.

I'll need to return to your remarks in a couple of days. I have, in the meantime, received a flurry of photos depicting the ice storm that hit the Ozarks last week and feel incumbant upon me the duty of posting the most 'iconic' of the photos along with snatches of description supplied by long-time acquaintances.

Also, I need to reflect upon your remarks . . . being the slow thinker that I am.

Thanks, again, for your comments. If I'm gracious in my own, then that comes from a power beyond my own . . . coupled with lessons in humility learned from life's slings and arrows.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:22 AM, Blogger leptopus said...

If a man is in the desert, and has no water in his canteen, he will die. He is in need of (physical) salvation. If God fills his canteen with water, the man may now drink and live, or he may choose not to drink thus and die. If the man drinks and lives, and then tells people later that it was his own forsight in filling the canteen that saved his life, he is a liar. If he drinks and lives, and boasts that it was his wise decision to drink the water that saved his life, he is a fool. He should praise God for the miracle of the water, for his salvation has come solely through God's grace, and yet he still had a (trivial) decision to make.

Perhaps this is a bad metaphor, or maybe not. It's not consistant with Calvinism, at least as it has been taught to me. Nor is it Arminianism, since it isn't stipulated that God supplies the water to all. But I don't think it detracts from the glory of God if he leaves the man to choose whether to drink or not. It would see to elevate God, in allowing the man to work out his salvation with his hands trembling from thirst.

Is there any motive a man could have for not drinking under those circumstances? Surely there are many. Is there any motive that God would want to respect, and thus allow the man to fail to drink? Perhaps if the man hated God, and failed to drink because he refused God's charity, that is a reason God would allow?

If I could be shown where the Bible clearly impeaches this sort of thinking, I would be benefitted. If I could only be shown where the Bible impeaches it unclearly not so much, but still some. If it's some other source, I doubt I will benefit at all.

At 3:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Leptopus, I'm guessing that a Calvinist might argue that water provided to a man dying of thirst in the desert would be analogous to irresistable grace -- an offer impossible to refuse.

Perhaps one could refuse the water, of course. In such circumstances as you describe, however, a refusal seems very unlikely to me, but some people are suicidal.

But what about one's next breath. Is that a choice? Even if one has held one's breath for a long time?

Suppose that a man in scuba gear deep underwater discovers that his tank was not properly filled and that he will die if not provided with more oxygen. Let us imagine that the man is also profoundly depressed and suicidal. I suspect that such a man would, nevertheless, choose to accept the oxygen in the moment that his body is crying out for another breath.

A Calvinist might offer that scenario as analogous to an offer of irresistable grace.

But I wouldn't rule out entirely that a man might choose to die and thus 'inhale' a great gulp of cold seawater instead . . . though that seems unlikely to me.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:13 PM, Blogger Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hi Horace. You seem to be appealing to Matthew 11:23 as prima facie supporting the principle of alternative possibility. I think this is illicit. All that is in view is a counterfactual; it doesn't rely on or entail PAP.

Capernaum is to be punished for having chosen the wrong response, differently than Sodom would have chosen in a similar case.

Indeed. Let me rephrase your words back to you: Capernaum is to be punished because they chose sinfully.

Look at the biblical statement, which -- in its larger textual context -- effectively means that Capernaum will be condemned because Sodom would have repented (cf. verse 20). The "because" here specifies the reason for Capernaum's condemnation, namely, that Sodom would have repented, implying that Capernaum should also have repented. But that implication further entails that Capernaum could have repented, for a "should" entails a "could."

This just doesn't follow. Firstly, Capernaum will be condemned because they chose sinfully. Not because Sodom would have repented. How does the latter follow? Why would the fact that Sodom would have repented function as a reason for condemning Capernaum? Condemnation is grounded in wilfully choosing what is wrong; not in some kind of comparison to other sinners. The comparison can certainly emphasize the depravity; but it does not function as a grounds for condemnation. Secondly, in what sense is it implied that Capernaum could have repented? In the sense that they were naturally able? Certainly I agree. But in the sense of alternative possibility? I don't see that; you can't merely assume it. An argument is required. Thirdly, on what basis do you say that a "should" entails a "could"? All men should be perfect. Are you arguing that all men could be perfect? An imperative in no way leads one to infer an indicative.

Moreover, how does Jesus know what Sodom would have done? That is, what grounds his knowledge? The Calvinist says that counterfactuals are grounded in God's knowledge of what he would have caused to occur in some other possible world. Hence, Jesus can know certainly what Sodom would have done in the possible world where he performed such signs in it. But if you are making an argument for libertarian free will—specifically an argument which presupposes as necessary the principle of alternative possibility—then what grounds exist for this knowledge? Was Jesus just guessing? If PAP obtains, then in principle Jesus could not possibly know (that is, he could have no certainty) that Sodom would have repented. There just doesn't seem to be any way for him to know this, given that it didn't actually happen. Furthermore, even if some account for the grounds of his knowledge can be given, the problem remains as to how God can have knowledge grounded in anything but himself. How can he be genuinely omniscient if some of his knowledge is contingent upon his own creation? This would seem to destroy both his simplicity, and his status as the ontological grounds of knowledge itself (see John's use of the term logos).

I'll leave you with a simple counter-argument for divine determinism; you can read a fuller explication of it on my own blog:

I take it as given that any Christian knows that all things which exist are made to exist both initially and continually by God only. See John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11; Genesis 1:1; Ecclesiastes 11:5; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17; and Acts 17:28. Now, “all things which exist” are adequately described as anything, at any time, which actually obtains in reality—or, more simply, anytime anything is real. And the phrase “makes to exist initially and continually” refers simply to the instantiation of something in reality, for as long as it is in reality. If God makes something to exist, both initially and continually, then God instantiates it in reality. I therefore propose the following:

1. Anytime anything is real, God alone instantiates it in reality.
2. A human choice is real.
3. Therefore, God alone instantiates a human choice in reality [by modus ponens].

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

At 2:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bnonn -- as my 'research' shows you prefer to be called (but correct me) -- you can call me "Jeffery."

You have posted a very impressive critique. Part of what you say I think that I can meet by rewording my argument. The core of your critique, however, if more difficult, for I will first need to learn more and think more deeply, and then try to see if I can meet your objections.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:04 PM, Blogger Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Hi Jeffery. Fair enough; do let me know if you develop your thought further. I'm always interested in interacting with alternative views to my own.


At 10:06 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Bnonn, for your patience. By the way, I meant to say "The core of your critique, however, is more difficult...."

I should admit, though, that I'm not of the caliber that those who interact with Bill Vallicella have come to expect of the 'Friends of Bill'.

Nevertheless, I am a friend of Bill.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bnonn, I have a couple more posts on this issue, one of them posted prior to your objections:

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom II

The second post is in response to a single point that you raised in objection:

Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom III

I'm taking my response one step at a time to keep things simple.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:17 AM, Blogger David C. Innes said...

Leptopus above gives an illustration to make a point. It seems to me to be a case of offering an illustration not in illumination of an argument, but in place of one.

It is not the appeal of one metaphor or another, but the evidence of the clearest passages in the biblical text, as well as the most overwhelmingly comprehensive message of the Bible as whole that should carry the day. I find that reading the less clear passages in light of the more clear passages, the consistent meta-narrative (if I may) of the Bible as a whole, as well as the God-worthiness of the Reformed doctrine of God lead me without any hesitation to a Reformed position.

Consider this biblical evidence:

Romans 3 is quite emphatic concerning human depravity.

Romans 9: "It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy" v. 16 This chapter addresses your question directly, Jeffery. He speaks of vessels of wrath and of mercy prepared for destruction and glory respectively.

Paul compares salvation to creation.

In 2 Cor. 4:4-6, he says, "the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." It is God who must say "Let there be light" in the heart of a sinner for that sinner to be able to recognize any spiritual benefit in Christ and any spiritual darkness in himself. The initiative must begin with God.

Paul also says that in Christ you are a new creation. The old has gone Behold all things are made new. That is part of the whole Genesis to Revelation theme or meta-narrative of creation through the Son, fall in Adam, and recreation through the Son as Savior.

And so on and so on. But I must go. The evening service call for my worshipful attention!

At 1:37 PM, Blogger David C. Innes said...

My friend Jason Poquette, trusted pharmacist and church elder, has written a gracious, insightful and soul satisfying response to your question on his blog, Pickled Eggs.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, David. I had noticed a few visits from that link, and I need to go there and read.

I am still marking essays, and tomorrow comes a test to be graded, then final grades to be calculated for this intensive course that I'm teaching, but later this week, I want to sit down and post a response. Despite my earlier remark, I think that I will need to write up a new post (which might require me to do some reading to avoid re-inventing the wheel).

I usually respond more quickly, but this is a difficult topic that requires much thought and extra precision.

Jeffery Hodges

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