Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom I
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.Let me approach the central issues raised in this passage from an oblique angle.State of Innocence - posse peccare (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.)
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)
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).
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)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.
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)
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.