November 24, 2004

Free Will, part 1

There has been a lot of discussion in the Reformed neighborhood of the Christian blogosphere on the subject of free will, or the lack thereof. I'm writing my philosophy paper on an aspect of the free will/sovereignty discussion (which I'll talk more about later on, probably), so I figured I'd weigh in.

First, if you want to take a look at what has already been written, check out these links:

  1. Jollyblogger on Free Will and Total Depravity (part of his series on TULIP)
  2. Parableman on Calvinism and Free Will.
  3. Pruit Communications, where Terry talks about his own Free Will Journey.
  4. Rebecca Writes about Isaiah 10.
  5. And Adrian Warnock promises us that There is No Such Thing as "Free Will."

The first thing I want to do is talk about the two definitions of free will. Most Arminians will advocate libertarian free will, which simply says that for every decision we make, we are always capable of doing the anything other than what we've done. For example -- this morning, I had eggs and toast for breakfast. Under libertarian free will, I could have just as easilly had steak and eggs, or poached eggs, or Corn Flakes. There is nothing that coerces us or forces us to do anything -- it's all up to us.

I see a couple of problems with this -- I don't know how to fix poached eggs, and my wife isn't home to fix them for me, so there's one option I'm not free to take. We have no steak, so there goes another option. We have Corn Flakes, but I like mine with milk, and we're out of milk (yes, it's grocery day!), so there goes that option. Doesn't sound like my will is very free, does it? Sounds like there are external factors that influence my decisions. Adrian mentions that even the laws of physics constrain our free will -- I can't climb to the top of my house and decide to fly, can I?

Most people don't believe in total, fatalistic determinism -- the idea that God has determined our every move, and that we are simly robots programmed to do what He tells us in every instance. Obviously, if we did that, God would take the heat for every evil act done on earth, because we're only robots performing according to our operating system that He designed and programmed. So there has to be another option.

Most Calvinists I know (and a LOT of people who don't consider themselves Calvinists) believe in compatibilistic free will. This holds that our will is free to the extent that we are given some choice, but not total choice. My breakfast decision was limited to the food on hand, and what I can cook. My college selection was based on what I could afford and who would let me in. I had the choice of several options for breakfast, and several options for college, but I was not free in the libertarian sense of the word. My free will had to be compatible with the influences on my life, both external and internal.

This sounds like determinism to a lot of people, especially once you factor God into the equation. An omnipotent God can manipulate things in our lives so that the circumstances and resources point us to only one option. I've been wanting eggs for a while now, and this morning was the opportunity that I had to fix them. The deck was stacked against me choosing anything else -- and that, some would say isn't a free choice. I would say that I was behaving in a manner that is compatible or consistant with my personality and situation.

There are some free acts that aren't possible in some situations -- that doesn't mean that we are any less free. That means that we do not have total control of our destinies: that, ultimately, we are slaves to something, whether that is our environment, our psycological makeup, or even God and His will. Our decisions are dependant on something, and that violates the definition of libertarian free will.

Coming soon in Part 2 -- how do we reconcile free will and divine sovereignty? Good question.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 01:11 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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November 21, 2004

Does Western Christendom Still Believe in God?

I need to define my terms first, because I'm using the word 'Christendom' in a different way than I usually do. I'm going to use Christendom to describe Western society in general, assuming (I think correctly) that much of Western culture, especially it's morality, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I started thinking about this topic on Thursday in my Intro to Philosophy class, as we discussed Nietzsche's The Madman and it's claim that God is dead. I'll start by letting the text speak for itself:


Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"---As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?---Thus they yelled and laughed

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

"How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us---for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto."

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. "I have come too early," he said then; "my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars---and yet they have done it themselves.

It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: "What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"


As of 2002, 85% of all Americans considered themselves to be Christians, according to the data at the Barna group. 87% of Americans say that they believe that God created the world. Only 69% believe that God is all-powerfule, all-knowing, etc. But clearly, there is a majority of people who claim to have some type of faith in God, most of them considering themselves Christian. But what kind of God do they really believe in?

  • 54% believe that being good enough gets someone into heaven. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
  • 60% say that Satan is not a real being, but the personification of evil. And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.(Luke 10:18 ESV)
  • Only 20% have volunteered time to help out a church. Only 25% volunteer time to help a non-church-based nonprofit organization. And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'(Matthew 25:40 ESV)

We aren't consistant. We pay lip service to God, and deny Him by the way we live our lives. We're like the people in Nietzsce's parable: we are shocked when someone actually comes out and says there is no God, or that He is dead, but we live so that people cannot see Him through us. We lament the fact that our society has no moral base, that in essence God is dead, but we ignore the fact that we are the ones who killed Him, through our apparant unbelief.

We get upset about the risque commercials airing before Monday Night Football. What do we expect from a fallen society? What do we expect, when we have by and large abandoned popular culture, choosing to live in our Christian ghettos -- listening to our Christian music, reading our Christian fiction, watching TV on our Christian satelite channels. We rarely engage anyone who is not a Christian, and when we do, we find we have nothing to say. We cannot relate to them at all, on any level.

We have bought into the lie that faith should have no impact on our lives outside of the church building. We've also bought into a false notion of what the Christian life really is. We've forgotten that living the Christian life is more than "giving Jesus a try." It's more than becoming Jesus' best friend. Jesus really has become our "homeboy" -- He's one of the gang, He fits in. He doesn't tell us to change our lives. He doesn't tell us what to believe -- matters of religion are personal things. He doesn't expect us to make an impact on society.

We need to rediscover a faith that impacts every aspect of our lives, a faith that makes it impossible to live contrary to our beliefs. We need to recover a belief in a Savior who commanded us to go and make disciples.




Posted by: Warren Kelly at 05:43 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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November 09, 2004

Sola Scriptura and Tradition

I'm hoping right back on this horse -- I think that our idea of Scripture is vital to the future of the Church, and I think there are a LOT of misunderstandings concerning the doctrine of sola Scriptura.

Of course, a lot of great information was available in the League of Reformed Bloggers carnival, Post Tenebras Lux. There is a wealth of information on the Net, too -- both good and bad. But I have to clarify this little issue.

Where does sola Scriptura stand on tradition? And specifically, how do we deal with this verse: "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter." 2 Thes. 2:15 (ESV)

First, sola Scriptura does not ignore tradition. It does not mean that we ONLY accept what the Bible says, and avoid anything it doesn't talk about. I've said this before, but I still get people asking about it. Someone posted a comment at Jollyblogger, commenting on the carnival, that essentially was this verse and a rant about the Reformation. People still don't get it.

Tradition is important. But tradition does not trump Scripture. When Scripture does speak, we cannot follow a tradition that contradicts it. The verse from 2 Thessalonians teaches us that we need to listen to what we're taught, whether we read it or are taught it orally. That's all it says. But Paul teaches, just as clearly, that we are to test any teaching that we hear with the Word of God. That's what the Bereans did, when they encountered Paul's teaching -- and they saw that what he was saying was true. It didn't contradict Scripture.


Sola Scripture doesn't say anything about rejecting tradition. Anyone who has any knowledge of the Reformers knows that both Luther and Calvin quoted from the patristic writings. They didn't reject history, or historic teachings. They DID reject those teachings that they felt contradicted Scriptural teaching -- and that is what we must do today.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 09:15 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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