Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Is this God's will?" Part I

I recently posted a response on a friend's blog. It was in a discussion related to how Christian's discern the will of God. It was so long I figured I should put it here too, since I so rarely post lately. I'd be interested to read your thoughts on the subject.

"So, how are we to discern between our own hearts and the Holy Spirit?"
Well, I think that we distinguish by the word. My heart will say all kinds of things in a given year, that I could easily attribute to God. But if I am in the word regularly, and letting my mind be shaped by God's word I will either have those inclinations of the heart confirmed or exposed as wrong. The Holy Spirit uses the word and applies it to specific areas of my life as I meditate on it. As a Christian my heart will have sinful inclinations, but it should also have an overarching desire to do God's will as revealed in the Bible. So in many cases my heart and the Holy Spirit's guidance through the word will line up well I think.

"Should a Christian never attribute to God extra-biblical wisdom for a decision?"
It depends. If by extra-biblical wisdom you mean Biblically formed wisdom, then I think maybe. The kind of wisdom that come from Biblical principles but then is applied to a situation the Bible doesn't speak directly to. For instance, if a man decides to marry a woman. If he has searched the Scripture to see God's instruction on the kind of person to marry, what a family is about, and how to pursue a bride... well then when he gets married I think it is fine for him to give credit to God's direction in finding his wife. But what usually happens is a guy likes a girl, prays "really hard," gets a mystical sense that this is God's will and then starts saying he knows it is God's will for him to marry the girl. The problem is that he hasn't consulted God's word. Plus, we don't KNOW that it is God's will until he actually marries the girl. James 4:13-16, "Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." God actually forbids presumption of His specific will, which is what so many people do.

One last thing on this, and then I'll stop for now. I do believe that God does guide us through a strong conviction, stemming from His word at times. Kind of like when a person is "called" to missions. There are specific calls to GO to all nations in the Bible. God may impress those deeply on a person's heart as she walks with God. God does lead that way I believe. But still, in those cases I wouldn't say much more than, "I think that God is leading me in this direction." or "I believe God has given me a passion to do this." We know it is inside of His will for us as Christians becuase it is commanded in the Word - but we do not know we will actually fulfill those desires because we are not God and don't control the future.


Keith said...

Interesting discussion topic! This topic seems to come up a lot lately. A few of the profs here at Southwestern did a little debate on this topic and one of the profs in it was trying to feel out where the students were on the topic in a class that I was in.

It is also a topic that Lori and I have had a lot of discussion on and it has been a significant topic in talking to a couple of friends of ours.

I think one of the most crucial first steps is thinking through what we mean by the "will of God." There is at least "secret" (or decree), "permissive" or "moral" (or revealed). Some would question whether there is a significant distinction with permissive. At the very least unless we have a soft view of sovereignty we should want to say that even divine permission is an active willing.

For example, in evangelism if we focus on the "secret" then it will really hinder evangelism. We must focus on the revealed will that God calls us to preach the gospel to all nations and call them to the obedience of faith.

I think similar problems arise when we focus on the "secret" will with respect to the will of God. I know numerous people that have caused themselves incredible anxiety because the common way of thinking of the will of God is to think of it in terms of the "secret" will. The "secret" will functions to comfort, but it ought not be the focus in trying to determine what decision we make except to bring comfort through the process.

With respect to "extra biblical wisdom", I also think the term needs some clarification as to what is meant. I tend to go with various theologians in thinking that the hard and fast distinctions commonly made are not necessarily as clear cut. For example, I think the line between meaning and application is very much blurry and overlapped. One can make a distinction slightly, but they overlap is to such a degree that I don't know that it is helpful. Also, much of our application of a passage often involves combining numerous passages together that we don't even realize. Often times we may not have one passage, but just the sort of general pulling together of passages that is shaping our thinking. In fact, I think this often occurs in a more tacit manner (I think that is the right term). So sometimes when people have a sense, it is actually biblically formed. I have come to realize that the heart has its reasons whether the person reflectively is aware of them and thinks them through or not. So often they may just have a sense but it indeed could be biblically formed. So the lines are not hard and clearcut.

I also think it is very difficult to fully separate experience and other factors. Vanhoozer has a lot of good comments on the place of discernment and wisdom, but I just moved and so the book I am thinking of is still packed up.

I have a lot more thinking on the issue, but this is already long enough and I have been sketchy.

Mark said...

Keep it coming Keith. Good thoughts. You're initial distinction was very helpful, and anything but sketchy. It actually speaks directly to what I was going to write in my next post... but probably don't have to. I completely agree with the role of God's secret will. That is a very important point. You are right that most people I talk to and have counseled in the past are stressing out over knowing God's secret will ahead of time... something He doesn't clearly (so that we can have certainty) tell us ahead of time.

Keith said...

The reason that I said that it was sketchy is because I didn't really spell certain things out much or explain them. It communicates perfectly well if a person is already on the same page as me, but other than that it has too many gaps.

It seems to me that the average Christian thinks of the will of God in terms of God's specific plan for their lives which contains every event other than maybe what they should eat for lunch on a given day. They think it is very particular and detailed and that it is their responsability to seek such a will out. Moreover, I find this is often combined with the notion that one can miss this perfect, specific will. From this a couple of consequences follow. First, this means that seeking the will of God will often involve many components beyond the Bible in large measure, because the Bible is not that specific. Second, this often raises many worries and fears about getting outside of this will. For example, the whole notion that one has married the wrong person and so for the rest of their life will be outside of God's perfect will. This leads to great anxiety before decisions. I have also read writings that then say that when we find ourselves outside of this perfect will that we must go back to where we went off the perfect path (now there is a nugget of truth here, but more on that later). Sadly, this is the justification of many people for leaving a spouse. They didn't marry the person they were "meant to be with." I have also heard of worries about marrying a person because maybe they will find out later that they were meant to be a missionary. I was taught this whole entire view of the will of God as a kid and I wondered perhaps what many people wondered... if you get off of the right path doesn't that then mean the entire plan is totally ruined and so you can never get back into that perfect will.

Now I will spell out a few terms for the distinctions in God's will and then compare and contrast my view with the view above. The "secret" will is what God has decreed to come to pass. Thus, there is no escaping the secret will. And the secret will is largely if not totally just that, "secret." We do not know it until it comes to pass. As a result, we are not responsible for seeking out the secret will. In fact, the secret things belong to God. One might even say that to seek out the secret will is to pry into things that belong to God and may even be closer to paganism. Hence the notion of astrology and other such things. For me the secret will contains all things that come to pass, it is comprehensive and detailed.

The permissive will is a part or portion of the secret will. This is the part of the secret will that consists of evil things. One might make a distinction between secondary and primary causes to dinstinguish things God ordains through his permissive will. On the other hand, some argue that we must still acknowledge that even God's permissive willing is an active willing. So perhaps we might want to make the distinction of the permissive will in terms of God's disposition. Thus, God's permissive will refers to those events that he ordains which in and of themselves he is displeased with even if his is pleased with them within the bigger picture.

The moral or revealed will is what we are responsible for. This may consist only of Scripture or some may include promptings or something else of that sort. But either way, I think people should mainly agree that this consists primarily if not completely of Scripture.

So now a quick comparison and contrast with the common view. I agree with the common view that God has a very particular and detailed plan for each of our lives. In fact, I would go further and say that it is so detailed that it includes what I shall eat for every meal of my life. Now from here I depart from the typical view in two crucial ways, which have several consequences. First, by my very definitions above we can never escape the plan God has for our lives. It will come to pass. Second, the key difference is how God keeps us on this set path and plan for our lives. In the typical view God keeps us on the right path by telling us what this specific plan is. This view typically presupposes an incompatibilistic view of God's sovereignty. Since God's sovereignty is incompatible with man's freedom (incompatibilism), then the only way God can keep us on the right path is through telling us and us choosing to follow (leaving aside complications from middle knowledge views which are complex since it is essentially impossible for us to ever know what CCF limitations God might have from the hand God has been dealt from the random CCF generator or however they might be grounded). From this stems the anxious search for the secret will of God and this means that we might also miss such will. It also follows that much of discerning God's will will involve feeling and intuition since we are seeking such a particular will.

By contrast, I am a compatibilist, I believe that free will and the sovereignty of God are compatible. This means that God can keep us on his perfect plan for our lives in ways without telling us. He can do so because he works in our hearts, he can bring others into our lives, through impressing Scripture on us, through our inclinations, personalities, events and small details that come into our lives... in short he can assure we stay perfectly on his perfect plan apart from spelling out the details step by step.

As a result, the focus is entirely on God's revealed will in Scripture with smaller room for promptings and such... but again I am not entirely convinced we should see these as completely detached from Scripture in the first place. (It seems to me that all godly desires in some manner stem from Word and Spirit. Somebody else has a passion for mission which inspires passion within me, but where did the first person's passion come from but ultimately from the Spirit and the Word and so forth...)

This means that we are not responsible to find the secret will! This means that much of God's guidance is to consider which options are biblically wise and which are not, praying about it, and being given a godly passion for one option and then just going for it. We don't need to doubt and fret that maybe it isn't that perfect plan which we may get off of and never get off.

So that nugget of truth in the notion that if we get off the path we must get back on is not that there is a detailed plan that if we get off we must try and go back to go where we got off... divorcing somebody for another etc. But instead the nugget of truth is if we are outside the more general, revealed will of God in Scripture we must go back to where we messed up and repent and get back on track. But this "way" or "path" is a general path involving general attitudes, habits, and commands. As far as the specific "path" that people normally talk about, we can never escape it since it is ordained by God. Such things belong to God until things come to pass.

Perhaps more specifics later on my thoughts on discerning God's will, but this is definitely the framework I work with. Anyways, I have already written book length comments.

Keith said...

Actually, one further quick comment... I think it is a bit sinful to look for the secret well since it belongs to God and Him alone until such things come to pass. Moreover, it seems similar to what astrology does. Plus, it is essentially a failure to live by faith. We want to trust in comprehensive, detailed answers, rather than in the one who holds such answers (to use a well worn cliche).

Mark said...

Great post. We are just about on exactly the same page. now I don't really have to write a part 2. I just hope people read the responses. So why do you think the common view is, well, so common?

Keith said...

Are there points where you would want to nuance your view differently? I have points where I hedge my bets a little and so am a bit ambiguous or undecided on some issues a little. I would be interested in refining it through discussions about anything you might nuance differently.

Now that is an interesting question of why the common view is so common. What do you think?

I have a few guesses. Actually, I think part of it may have to do with principalizing and failure to recognize the continuity between the OT faith and ours. Faith in the Bible is clearly defined by its object and content. Its object being the Triune Lord, but its content being the Abrahamic promise fulfilled in Christ.

This failure to see the continuity of the promise fulfilled in Christ, means that Abraham's example and all others in the Bible are applied in different ways. The promise to Abraham of a son, then becomes an example for people to trust God in the special individualistic promises God has given them. God promises them they will have a son or that they will eventually become the athelete, doctor, lawyer or whatever. People talk about getting special promises from God. This is precisely how I heard Abraham's faith taught in a Sunday School class a few years back.

What happens? Now everybody thinks that God will give them very specific promises and he is going to guide them step by step with this very specific plan for their lives.

This is what happens when we can't see the continuity properly between Abraham's faith and ours (the same could be said about David and the promise of the promised land for others etc.). Some might try to avoid the common results of the Abraham example by saying that Abraham is a special example and now that we have Scripture such things are rare or something like that. But the problem with this approach is that although it may cut off drawing wrong implications from the story of Abraham, it also ends up making it difficult to view Abraham as an example anymore.

The continuity between the faith of Abraham and believers in Romans is incredible. In Rom 4 God is described as the God "who gives life to the dead," (17) "calls those things which do not exist as though they did", (17) and "raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead." There is a continuity running through the God who creates, the God who justifies, and the God who raises Christ from the dead. Moreover, in this faith, Abraham reverses the failure of fallen humanity to glorify God (1:20-21; 3:23) by "giving glory to God" through his faith just as believers "boast in the hope of the glory of God (5:2)." Fallen humanity also failed to acknowledge the power (dunamis) of the Creator God (1:20-21), but Abraham believes that the Creator God was able to perform (literally dunatos estin) what he promised (4:21). He hoped against hope that although his body was dead he believed in the Creator God who had resurrection power (4:19), just as although our body is dead because of sin and we are killed all day long for his sake (8:10; 8:36), we hope against hope in the triumph of God, that the verdict rendered in Christ will turn into vindication in the resurrection through the Creator God who raises the dead (8:11; 8:28-39). (There are numerous other parallels that could be shown about the continuity of Abrahamic faith and NT saints, but I have already gone on long enough).

That was a long digression, but anyways I think much of the reason for this common view of the will of God stems from a hermeneutic that does not properly apply the examples of the OT saints. To have the faith of Abraham and the other OT saints for many involves following this step by step plan from God.

The other factor that I would see is that there is a destruction of the "not yet" in terms of the intimacy of our relationship with God. A guy named Tim Stafford has an excellent biblical theology tracing this biblical "not yet" in our experience of God's presence and intimacy. Michael Horton also has a good book on the topic, but at times I think he may be a bit extreme and overly polemical.

Anyways, thats my take on it.

B. C. Lovato said...

I'm a bit confused on the notion of God's secret will being inescapable yet also the result of our own free will. Could you clarify this a bit more Keith? I'm completely following the concept of the general will and the need for repentance and movement toward a right attitude, but the idea of God willing what I am going to eat for lunch seems rather odd. I will say that God has absolute knowledge of what I will eat today, but to say that He is willing me to eat that burrito and I am doing it out of my own free will isn't really clicking with me. Other than that I am in pretty much perfect agreement with your definitions and the concept that it is not our place to attempt to determine what the secret will of God is.

Keith said...

Well, where are you coming from theologically and philosophically? It will help in the way that I respond. If you are familiar with philosophy, then I could refer to libertarian freedom, middle knowledge, and other terms. Otherwise I would couch my response in different terms.

So are you familiar with philosophy/theology? How would you define free will? If you are familiar with philosophy/theology, then where would you see yourself on the freedom and foreknowledge issue and where would you see yourself in the Calvinism/Arminianism issue?

B. C. Lovato said...

Well, philosophically I am familiar with the classics - Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas. Some modern stuff - Hegel, Kant, etc. And some contemporary - Habermas, Heidegger, Sartre. Theology wise, I don't have much formal instruction. I've read a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And maybe I'm unsure of what my definition of free will is, and that could be the problem. Basically I would say free will is the ability to make our own decisions outside of the persuasion or coercion of outside factors. I mean, we take them into consideration, but the choice we make is very much our own. Anyway, as far as salvation goes I believe that we cooperate with the grace of God; and that while we can't "lose" our salvation we can willingly throw it away.

B. C. Lovato said...

Oh yeah, freedom and foreknowledge. I think God has absolute knowledge (I hesitate to call it foreknowledge if we are to believe that time is created by God and He is not in fact bound by it) of every choice that we make, but we do still make those choices for ourself without being forced to do so.

Keith said...

What is your view of Scripture? I ask, because my approach is essentially faith seeking understanding and a high view of Scripture. So my rationale for my view of free will stems from my understanding of Scripture.

Apart from Scripture, left to purely philosophical resources, I must admit that I don't know that we would be able to resolve the debates surrounding free will. It seems largely to come down to intuitions.

Let me know your view of Scripture and either way whether it is high or low, I will attempt an answer to your question from there... at least I can give my take on the issue at the current time being. In the summer I will be doing a directed study on the topic of free will so I expect to refine my views then.

Do you know Mark? Or have you just randomly found his blog?

B. C. Lovato said...

Oh I know Mark! hehe. I was in his discipleship group for two years at CBU. But yeah, Scripture. I would say a fairly high view. Inspired by God. Don't necessarily know if it's the literal Word of God, but that's just something I'm struggling with right now. But no, I would say that my views are definiely shaped by Scripture, and that I seek to shape them by Scripture intentionally. I have trouble throwing around the Word inerrant, but I do believe that it is without error regarding the nature of God and Salvation, but perhaps not necessarily in regard to history and science (and I don't think that's a problem as it's not what it was intended for).

Keith said...

Well for the sake of our topic, I don't think it should matter that you are still trying to work out some issues regarding your understanding of the nature of Scripture.

I gotta go for now, but hopefully I will get to responding later today.

B. C. Lovato said...

Alright, good "talking." Gives a little bit of meaning to my lonely days as a househusband.

Keith said...

Well, sorry to leave things hanging after asking you all the various questions to see where you are coming from. I had to run some errands and I knew this was going to be a long e-mail.

I need to give a disclaimer here at the beginning. I am still working out some of the details of my own view here and so take it as merely my view as it stands now. Also, this is a pretty general discussion and a professional analytic philosopher would surely take me to task for not being precise enough, but whenever you bring the professional analytic philsophers in it becomes so complicated that nobody can follow the discussion anymore anyways!

I guess the best way to start is to divide the views up. But before that I think I need to put a few definitions on the table. I don't think anybody would really dispute with the definitions I am about to give. They would disagree how one moves on from these definitions.
1. Counter factuals of creaturely freedom (CCF) is what a creature would freely do in a potential set of circumstances different from what actually occurs. Again, an analytic philosopher would want to pick on my definition. I would like to broaden this concept to be whatever a creature would do in a given situation and not merely just counter factual situations. So God might know a CCF that if I was offered a million dollars on January 31st 2006 that I would take it.
2. Natural knowledge is God's knowledge of all logical possibilities.
3. Free knowledge is God's knowledge of what he wills or decrees.

Now the different views. The easiest way is to discuss the views in relation to the problem of freedom and foreknowledge.

Your definition of freedom is fairly common. You wrote "Basically I would say free will is the ability to make our own decisions outside of the persuasion or coercion of outside factors. I mean, we take them into consideration, but the choice we make is very much our own."

The question arises as to how can we be free according to this definition if God foreknows what we will do. Are we not determined to eat at Burger King tommorrow if God foreknows it? How can we do anything else bit eat at Burger King if God foreknows it? If we are determined by God's foreknowledge, then isn't this something outside of us that determines that we will eat at Burger King?

Here, one can give many responses. Boethius argued that somehow the solution lies in the timelessness of God so that as you mentioned we should not strictly speaking talk of "fore" knowledge. But most philosophers don't really think this to be helpful. Even philosophers who believe in God's timelessness don't find this helpful (see for example Paul Helm's work on the timelessness of God and other works if you are interested). Another solution that is problematic is called the hard and soft fact distinction (again I can give you sources if you want to read on this option but since it isn't very popular I won't bother actually addressing it).

Another option is to just deny the foreknowledge of God. This is essentially open theism, but the problem here is that anybody with a high view of Scripture has too many problems such as prophecy.

One of the most popular options today in philosophy is the middle knowledge option. This option says that God knows the CCFs in a manner that is neither part of his natural knowledge or his free knowledge. The problem here is that what determines or grounds the CCFs. One might say that you determine your CCFs, but how can you determine your CCFs when you don't exist. This means that CCFs just exist as a brute fact and are as eternal as God is.

There is one last option. We can adjust our definition of free will so that it is not incompatible with the sovereignty of God. Since my approach is faith seeking understanding, I believe Scripture should shape my philosophy and provide the parameters rather than vice versa. Scripture provides the framework and I use the "tools" of philosophy to make as much sense of what Scripture says that I can.

Here is my position:
1. There are numerous examples in theology and Scripture where God ordains an event and yet people are held responsible.
2. People are only responsible if they are in some sense free. The key phrase here is "in some sense." Some sense yet to be defined.
3. Therefore, it is possible for God to sovereignly ordain events and for man to still be free in some sense.
4. Thus, the only viable options for those with a decently high view of Scripture are definitions of free will that are not inconsistent with God sovereignly ordaining events.

Really apart from Scripture, I might take your definition of freedom or some libertarian definition of freedom. But if I can make a case for statement (1) above, then I believe that a faith seeking understanding approach needs to say, "Well by faith I believe that some sense whatever free will a man has is compatible with God's sovereignty, so I will seek to make the best sense of this that I can."

So let me sketch a defense for statement (1) above. If you have problems with my sketch, then I can provide a more detailed argument with the specifics of the passages.
1. The death of Christ is described as forordained and predetermined. Plus individuals such as the Jews etc. are held responsible for the death of Christ.
2. Certain things in Job are attributed to both God and Satan.
3. What happened to Joseph was planned by God and yet the brother's of Joseph were held responsible.
4. Scripture conveys God's truth regarding salvation and forth without error (even if you are unsure about making an affirmation stronger than this). Yet God did not dictate most of Scripture to those who wrote it. Consider, Paul's epistles. From Paul's perspective he was freely writing letters to various churches and various situations. Yet God assured that no falsehood came into Scripture with respect to salvation and truth about God. If Paul is free according to a libertarian definition of freedom, how does God prevent error from slipping in apart from a dictation theory?
5. I can expand any of these arguments with more details and there are other passages and examples.

My belief is that God can do this because God can ordain things to come to pass in a manner consistent with our responsability and hence via some of my other propositions above consistent with a biblical sense of free will.

You asked me how I could affirm that God can ordain something and I still be free. My response is first and foremost, that Scripture has too many passages where it is affirmed that God ordains something and yet man is held accountable. If this is the case, then by faith I must affirm that somehow God can ordain something while I am still free and that by faith I must do my best to seek understanding. I must work with definitions that are compatible with God's ordination of events.

This means that I think Scripture compels us to deny libertarian definitions of free will. It can't be wholly or ultimately independent of God, nor be defined as the absolute ability to do otherwise.

So what sort of definition for free will would I suppose? There are two possibilities that I like. One is newer and the other is older. The newer definition is by John Martin Fischer. I am winging this instead of looking up the detailed version so forgive me if I don't get it all perfect. Fischer defines free will in terms of reason responsiveness. An action is free if there is reason responsiveness. This means that if the situation was changed slightly in some manner that a person would do otherwise. There are reasons that if altered would have caused the person to have done otherwise. So imagine a hypnotized person who is trained to bark whenever he sees water. When such a person sees water, he will bark and this action has no reason responsiveness whatsoever. It doesn't matter how one could alter the situation, because there is nothing that would persuade the person to not bark. Fischer believes his account can distinguish the actions we generally hold people accountable for and those that we do not. if his definition holds, then here we have a definition of free will that is wholly consistent with God's ordination of an event or action.

The other definition is older and comes from Jonathan Edwards. Basically the idea is that an action is free if we do what we want to do, but we are not wholly free to want what we want. Thus God can affect our desires through various means, but it is still our action because we do what we want to do. Again, this definition can distinguish between what we commonly consider free and unfree actions and yet it is a definition wholly consistent with God ordaining events and actions.

I have already typed more than enough and it may not even be understandable. This is my view of things right now... feel free to ask questions and that will help know what to write more on.

Mark said...

Thanks for the good posts Brian and Keith. My mind is definitely turning on this stuff.... I apologize for not being able to engage in the discussion as much as I'd like. A new semester just began, I'm preaching on Sunday and need to spend a lot of my time writing a sermon, etc.

Thanks for admitting you know me Brian. I'm sure you two have met. Keith used to hang out in my apartment at CBU, when we had discipleship groups sometimes... he'd usually be back in a room reading stuff.

I am not sure what I think of John Martin Fischer's explanation of freedom. Where would be a good place to look into it Keith? I do think Edwards is especially helpful in this discussion. Brian explained in his definition free will, that he thinks it "is the ability to make our own decisions outside of the persuasion or coercion of outside factors." I think Edwards would probably agree with that. People are completely free to choose whatever they want. But we always choose based on what we will. And our will flows from our heart/understanding/desire. We always choose according to what he calls "the last dictate of our understanding..." and whatever the last dictate discerned to be "the greatest apparent good."

Therefore, our choices are very much determined. But they are not determined by something outside ourselves tweaking our will to go against our own desires and thoughts. They are determined by our nature... by our heart/mind. Thus it is still the person that wills and chooses, thus the choice is made freely - no outside compulsion. But in any given set of circumstances, my choice is determined by the prevailing motive of my mind. Therefore it is easy to see how God could know all future choices, if He is able to know the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and further that He can create people and change human hearts through His grace. It is also feasable that God could determine all future choices if He is able to influence the inclinations of the heart through a multitude of ways and means: including the truth of the gospel, and the transformation of the heart by His grace.

Well, I just wanted to add something to the conversation. Carry on.

sherry said...


Thank you for continuing the discussion and bringing it up a notch. I look forward to mulling over the posts when I get some time this weekend.

And, Brian, although my relationship with my house is a jump from husbandry, I agree that blogging eases the sense of being alone. There's always a sense of connectedness that accompanies a new post.

With that commercial interruption, carry on!

Keith said...

Mark, yes, at first I thought that perhaps Brian's definition could be seen as consistent with Edwards, but it depends on how one takes the word "persuasion" in the definition. Edwards and others would agree that it is apart from coercion, but would he agree that it is apart from persuasion?

Yet, I think it might be difficult to hold a definition of free will that disallows persuasion, since I think another person could persuade me through an argument, but that I would still be making a free choice in accepting it.

But the consideration above leads me to believe that perhaps Brian means something along the lines of "determine" when he uses the word "persuade" since we are often persuaded in a manner consistent with out freedom. If this is what he means than I don't know that Brian's definition would be consistent with Edwards since on Edwards account our decisions would be determined by God's decree.

Anyways, Brian will have to clarify what he meant by his definition.

I am hesitent about Edwards for a couple of reasons. First, one of my philosophy profs seems to favor Fischer over Edwards, but it is hard to tell since he often doesn't totally tell us where he stands. I think it is because there are some philosophical objections to Edwards' work on free will. So I need to know more about those before I can fully go with his account. Second, although Edwards' account sounds good from the angle that it is discussed, for me, when one thinks in terms God's knowledge of CCFs being subsumed under free or natural knowledge or a combination of both it seems to me that even with Edwards' account I am still left wondering why we are to be considered free. In other words, I am not sure that we can give an account of why we can be considered free while determined. I think the best that we can do is try to give a definition of free will with necessary and sufficient conditions that properly picks out free and unfree actions and is consistent with God's ordination of actions and events.

This seems to me to be the strong point of Fischer's account. Fischer is intending to give an account of responsible actions that is not dependent upon us knowing whether our actions are in any way determined or not. For Fischer's account the best book is "Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility."

In either case I think Edwards account is very helpful for thinking about true spirituality, religious affections, and other such topics.

Vanhoozer also makes a point on these types of discussions that when we use terms such as "cause" or "determine" then we are already on the wrong track to have problems since these are ways of accomplishing things with impersonal objects. Thus he speaks of something like communicative action. To say God causes something thinks too much in mechanistic terms. But we often do things with our words and bring about change in our communication with others, but God's words are so much more effective than our words. His words literally create and transform, yet speaking is manner wholly consistent with creaturely integrity. I probably botched that up, but again, the book I would have to look it up in is in a box still.

B. C. Lovato said...

Yes, it does seem like you are QUITE a bit far from husbandry. Let's keep it that way. Also, I wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading your blog on occasion.

I do indeed remember seeing/meeting Keith on occasion.

Yes, let's drop the word "persuasion" from my definition and stick solely with "coercion." I tend to write these things rather quickly without necessarily refining my thoughts to the degree that I should. That said, thank you for helping clarify things -- this is good mental work as I am between schools and degrees right now. (Just finished my MA at a school that focuses primarily on continental philosophy, so I am quite out of the loop on the analytic side)
After your last post, I must say that I am much more sympathetic to your view. I think the problem was that, like you said, words like "cause" and "determine" do seem so mechanical. By referring to God's will as highly effective (perfectly effective?) communicative action I think we can better understand exactly what is going on. Furthermore, this helps us escape from a mechanistic view of human nature and into a relational view (both between other humans and with God). So, yes, let's get rid of my use of the word "persuasion" and move on to free will being free from coercion. God's will would not fall under that category and would I suppose be the ultimate persuasion. Like Mark said:
It is also feasable that God could determine all future choices if He is able to influence the inclinations of the heart through a multitude of ways and means: including the truth of the gospel, and the transformation of the heart by His grace.
I think if we look at it in this light, it is easy to come to agreement on your proposition that God's sovereignty and human freedom are completely compatible. Am I understanding you correctly with this interpretation?

Mark said...

No Edwards would not say that our choices are made apart from pursuasion. But Brian even admitted that some degree of pursuasion is allowable for human freedom. Probably just not the kind of pursuasion done at gun point, etc.

Edwards argues against a view of the will that is independent of any previous factors. The will is not "self-determining." The will does not have a will. Every event has a cause. The choice of the will is caused by what the "last dictate of the understanding" perceives as the greatest good. He goes onto argue that this view is necessary for our choices to have any moral praiseworthiness or blameworthiness. If the will is indifferent and makes choices that are uncaused by the nature of the person, then the choices have no moral element.

Well, I am getting off the point, and I need to get to work. An outside source can affect the will through pursuasion or influence upon the understanding, becuase the choice of the will flows from the understanding/heart. If this were not so then evangelism, preaching, and moral responsibility would be destroyed. There would be no reason for us to share the gospel, because a person's choice is not determined by his understanding and desire. An indifferent will at perfect equilibrium seems to be the only alternative to a will determined by the heart/mind. And if the will is determined by the individual's heart and mind, then the will can be influenced through pursuasion of a person's thoughts and motives.

I tend to agree with you that Edwards is not the final word on our discussion. I don't think his work on the will was even aimed at our discussion. It was more focused on conversion, etc. I do think he is helpful though in arguing that the will cannot be indifferent or undetermined. I'd better get going.

Mark said...

Hehe. Brian wrote, "Yes, let's drop the word "persuasion" from my definition and stick solely with "coercion." I guess I could have spent the last 20 minutes eating breakfast rather than hammering a point that was already agreed on:)

Yes I agree. Keith's/Vanhoozer's distinction between mechanistic terms and relational communicative terms is hugely helpful.

B. C. Lovato said...

Haha, I believe I was actually eating breakfast as I typed. Or at least drinking breakfast.

Keith said...


Yeah, you are understanding me correctly with that interpretation.

You said:
"I tend to write these things rather quickly without necessarily refining my thoughts to the degree that I should."

If a professional analytic philosopher looked at what I wrote it would have needed a lot of refinement! You should have seen the comments I got back on my last paper.

This focus on effective communicative action and God's working through the truth of the gospel is also how I hold together regeneration and justification, but that is another topic...


I hope to study Edwards more on the will when I do my directed study this summer on free will. I know it won't be a part of my assigned reading, but I will try and read it on the side and the prof I am going to do the study with knows of works that address Edwards understanding of the will in contemporary philosophy. I also hope to discuss it with my prof since he went to Westminster and is a compatibilist.

I think perhaps that Fischer gives a good definition of free will that rightly picks out free and unfree actions and is consistent with God's sovereignty. But I think Edwards can be helpful in thinking through "how" God works. And the question of "why" an action is to be considered free even while determined is something I take on faith. As I said before, left with only philosophy I am not sure what view of the will I would take. But from the standpoint of faith seeking understanding, I think we need to go with an understanding of the will consistent with God's sovereignty. So I think the various views can be complementary to some degree.

Mark wrote:
"Edwards argues against a view of the will that is independent of any previous factors."

For whatever it is worth, those who hold to libertarian freedom do not hold that the will is independent of previous factors. I know that you weren't saying that anybody does hold this and Edwards is just being thorough, but it is a common strawman found in works arguing against libertarian freedom. Like Terrance Tiessen in "Providence and Prayer" argues that libertarian freedom means that the choices are arbitrary, but this is not what they are saying.

There is a book on Edwards that I have seen in the bookstore that tries to place Edwards within philosophical history and relates him to some contemporary philosophy. I want to read that sometime. So much to read and so little time!

Mark said...

Real Quick. I believe Freedom of the Will was a polemical work, written to counter some specific forms of Arminianism in the 18th century. Edwards does present a view of the will that is indifferent and self-determining and contingent (occuring without any actual preceding causes). I do not remember whether or not Edwards was presenting this as the view actually held by people. Or if he was pushing their arguments to what he thought were their logical conclusions. I would need to do a little work on this to verify... but I believe that this view of the will was actually held by people back then. The fact that libertarians:) do not hold this view may historically have something to do with the way Edwards meticulously destroyed the argument. Or he could just be doing a straw man:) The tough thing about studing Edwards (especially his philosophical works) is that he is writing very much to hot philosophical issues of the day. So since I have not read more than survey in that area I was often at a loss for what exactly he was addressing.

Keith said...

Well, whether Edwards was responding to libertarians who actually held that view or he was just being thorough is something I leave to you since historical theology is not my major interest! :)

Neither possibility would surprise me. Edwards was so thorough that it would not surprise me that he was merely considering every logical possibility. On the other hand, they may well have believed that. It would surprise me though if Edwards were the reason that such a view of libertarian freedom was no longer held.

If Edwards was dealing with that view of libertarian freedom, I would imagine that it was a more popular level view rather than one of the more intellectual views. I say that because it seems that if anything theologians in the past were more philosophically astute and rigorous than today.

I only raised the issue to begin with because it is so common in Calvinistic theological literature to say that libertarian freedom results in arbitrary choices. I know Tiessen says that and I believe Feinberg also says that in his doctrine of God (I would have to check though). Those who hold to libertarian freedom are always correcting the Calvinists on this account. So for example an article by John Laing in a relatively recent JETS article examining Tiessen's view of Calvinism and middle knowledge. It is almost as if the philosophers who hold to libertarian freedom think we are fools to use such an argument, much akin to the way a Calvinist will think an Arminian foolish if they say that if Calvinism is true, then the Great Commission is pointless or that we are all robots. That is the only reason I raised the issue.

Anonymous said...

My brother-in-law is smarter than your there. :-) I confess to say that for now, I've just merely skimmed the responses, partly because I'm supposed to be writing a 5 page response to Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship...and my brain is hurting enough from that already. I miss you bro! Oh ya, I meant to tell you after our discussion on End of the Spear that I went to Mohler's website and listened to his radio commentary on it and was impressed with his intelligence on the matter. A lot of calbap people (Jeff Lewis included) liked the movie, but I did not. I guess that makes me the outsider...I'm okay with that. :-)
On another note...I got a 12 inch ibook this week...and am making $200 payments a month to mom ad dad. Yay for a laptop! :-) If you could pass that information onto Steph, I don't think I've called her yet to tell her.
Anways...this has nothing o do with what's being discussed and I probably interrupted the flow...but I just wanted to say hi and tell you that sometimes I'm just in awe or how much you know Mark!
Talk to you soon hopefully...tell my beautiful sister I said hi and I love her.
Love ya,

Mark said...

Robin, I'll pass that info along. Oh, and don't be too in awe. It is really hard to tell how much someone knows when they are discussing a subject you don't know much of anything about. All it takes is a few big words and some coherant sentences to make it seem like the person knows a lot. But he could be full of it or faking it. The truth is that the further I get in education (and the more I talk to Keith) the more I find out I don't know. I often feel like a jack of all trades, and a master of none.

sherry said...

I think it's God's will for a new post. Touch your wife's belly for me, k?

Mark said...

you got it. I'll work on another post. Thanks for the encouragement.