Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Theological Model - Part 5

Pastor Richard Ostella of Westminster Reformed Church in Plymouth, Michigan has graciously granted permission to re-publish his March 2009 ETS paper on theological paradox here at THEOparadox. To understand these thoughts in context, please begin with part 1.

2A. Case in point 

  The focus here is not on the paradox of sovereignty and responsibility;11 it is on this assertion: “Fallen man does not have free will in his moral actions, but he does have full moral responsibility.” Here, free will means that fallen man has the ability to do good or evil.12  
Our case in point has two threads. They are in tension since it is difficult to grasp their inter-connection. It is easy to use one to deny the truth of the other. One could argue that if man is morally unable in his actions then he cannot be accountable for them. Moreover, it is easy to reason that if man is accountable (in light of Judgment Day), then he must have moral ability, i.e.  free will.13 Questioning belief in responsibility is hardly controversial, so our present task is to 
establish the claim that fallen man does not have free will.

Pastor Ostella's Footnotes
11 See John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism (P & R Publishing: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2001), pp. 119-141 for a discussion of free will in relation to foreordination.  

12 “God has give us genuine freedom to accept or reject the grace offered to all,” Bruce R. Reichenbach, “Freedom, Justice, and Moral Responsibility,” in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), 299 and “the power of moral choice entails the ability either to choose the good God designed for us or to reject it…the good thing called free will” is something man has in the fall, Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishes, 1999), 22-23, 29. David Basinger emphasizes the philosophical definition that free will is the ability to what you want without being forced in doing it: “God…must allow choice to be voluntary in the sense that it is free from coercive divine manipulation,” The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (Downers Grove, Ill: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), 36. Notably, Calvin states that those who are not graciously illumined by the Spirit are people who “voluntarily disbelieve,” Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans. J. K. S. Reid (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 58. 
13 In his infamous book on the philosophy of religion (“Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone”), Immanual Kant gave philosophy and theology a definition of free will that has the status of a commandment indelibly codified for all time on tablets of stone. His definition is intuitively simple and profoundly toxic. On one hand, if I am responsible for my actions, then I must be able to choose to do what is right or to do what is wrong. On the other hand, for Kant (and in many subtle ways for his disciples), belief in autonomous free will is an ultimate controlling belief (a presupposition) in his interpretation of Scripture and Christianity. For example, according to Kant’s reading of Scripture, it is of the essence of man that the antecedent to every act is an expression of freedom; otherwise, “the use or abuse of man’s power of choice in respect of the moral law could not be imputed to him nor could the good or bad in him be called moral” (p. 16). Thus, the tablet of stone for much of modern philosophy and theology has these inscriptions: “If I am responsible, then I must be able” and “duty demands nothing of us that we can not do” (p. 43). His ultimate controlling belief leads Kant to some extraordinarily toxic views: restoration from the fall by selfconversion, the Son of God as a personification of the perfect humanity located in each person and justification by faith in the good that one finds within and freely chooses to incorporate as a maxim or rule of life (pp. 40-48). A contemporary example of this same toxicity is the open-theist use of free will as the controlling belief that leads ultimately to a redefinition of the biblical teaching about God (as Frame shows in No Other God, pp. 119-122).

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