Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Irresistible Grace and Free Will

Note: This post has been getting a lot of hits recently (relatively speaking). Note that this was written in 2012, far before I actually began doing more serious research into Calvinism and Arminianism. Forgive the half-formed thoughts of a guy just out of college!

I was thinking about the Calvinist notion of "irresistible grace" the other day: The doctrine that when God calls you by bestowing His grace upon you, that call is utterly irresistible. The image of Christ is restored in you and you are enabled to see God and the Gospel for what it truly is, and such is the nature of grace that you are not merely predisposed but predetermined to accept God. (As an interesting aside, this doctrine (or something very much like it) is also present in most or all iterations of Christian Universalism: All people will eventually repent because God's love and grace is irresistible). Here, then, is the question: Whether this leaves any room at all for free will after Adam and Eve. Ultimately, it seems that the answer is "No. Not even a little bit."

Calvinism depends on man's state of total depravity: The theory that we cannot, of our own will, choose to do anything but more evil. In this framework, the doctrine holds together quite well. The call of God overcomes the total depravity and enables man once more to choose God: And this is exactly what he does, what he must do (whether this framework is accurate, and whether the Armenian position is also viable, is not the subject of this blog).

Now, most of you know that I hate the doctrine of pure predestination (for a more full explanation, click here). I dislike the notion of Irresistible Grace for the same reason. Some Calvinists say that we don't have free will until God calls us. But here's the thing: According to Irresistible Grace, we don't have free will then, either. If the Grace is really irresistible, then our free will plays no part in anything. But it might be argued that we do have free will: It's just that someone with free will will always choose God, because God is so good that it's essentially impossible to do anything else. As I said before, that makes sense in this framework, the framework of totally depraved mankind experiencing free will for the first time.

However, we do have a view of pre-depraved free will: two instances among mankind, and innumerable among the angels. Adam and Eve were, presumably, created with the same sort of free will that God restores us to in Jesus Christ. The angels, likewise, were presumably created with free will. Let us see what the Bible says about them.

Adam and Eve were created "good." God created them in His image and declared them, and their world, good. They lacked nothing. They did not suffer death and decay, they existed in harmony with nature, and most importantly, they communed with God on a regular basis. They did not suffer from the total depravity Calvinism insists on: They did not even suffer from the "predisposition" to sin that some Christians insist on. And yet they fell, just the same.

Now, their will must have been completely free: The only alternative is that they were defective from the very beginning: That God meant for them to sin from the very moment of their creation. That is, indeed, to make God the author of evil, and all the total depravity of future generations cannot help Calvinism here. The Calvinist God escapes responsibility for the sins of man because it is their depraved will, caused by the sins of Adam, that chose it freely: But the wills of Adam and Eve could not have been depraved unless they were created depraved: Either it is their free will that chose sin over God, or God royally screwed them over and brought sin into the world by his own creating hand.

The case of Satan (or Lucifer) is even more pronounced. He was the most beautiful of the sons of God, the most glorious of them all. He communed constantly with God: He lacked absolutely nothing. And yet he fell, without even the excuse of an outward temptation acting upon him. WIth him, too, we must say that his will was totally free, or else make God the active author of evil.

Back to the initial question: Does Calvinism allow for any amount of free will? The answer is no. None at all. Aside from the relatively short segment of Adam and Eve's lives before the Fall, there is no free will: There is not even the possibility of free will. Free will will not always choose God, not even when the will is able to clearly make a decision in the full knowledge of all relevant facts. Adam and Eve were in Paradise, in the habit of communing with God regularly, and they fell. Lucifer was with God in heaven, lacking nothing, and he fell. Thus the irresistible grace of Calvinism does not restore our free will: It merely replaces our inability to follow God with an inability to do anything else.


Many Calvinists will take issue with this, and say that free will can totally coexist with Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace. But here's the thing: When they do this, they are most likely being disingenuous in their use of the word "free", and they don't use it to mean what it self-evidently means. When depravity is, by definition, total, and grace is likewise irresistible, it makes no sense to characterize either succumbing to the depravity, or acquiescing to the grace, as "free": It can only become "free" by changing the definition to something that doesn't actually mean "free."

And if they attempt to get around this by insisting, "No, seriously, it really is free, we just don't know how it works, so paradox!"...it still doesn't work. Because then they're saying "Depravity is total (meaning our wills aren't free to choose good, and are actually incapable of choosing good), and grace is irresistible (meaning that you can't resist God's call)...but your will is still definitely free. Yep. Totally."  In essence, they're saying "There's no free will, but there is! Paradox!" They go way too far in outlining God's sovereignty before appealing to paradox, and in doing so they rob the paradox of any really paradox-ity.

No comments:

Post a Comment