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!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Legitimacy of Paradox as a Theological Model - Part 11

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.

6) Free will doctrine misconstrues the rich biblical notion of freedom 

 Fallen man does not have free will because the ability to do evil is not a component of freedom. The part of the definition that is true (the ability to sin) has nothing to do with being a free person. Consider the following examples.  

 In the garden, Adam’s ability to do evil was not part of his freedom. Instead, it revealed the incompleteness and mutability of his freedom. As the WCF states: “Man, in his state of 
innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to 
God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it” (IX, 2).  

 For Christians who can live righteously but who may also sin, is their ability to sin central to their new found freedom in Christ? No, it shows that they have freedom now partially and not yet fully. Their ability to sin is not evidence that they are free. Instead, it is evidence that their freedom is incomplete. What demonstrates their freedom? What shows that they are free persons is their ability to do good from the heart, even though it has to grow. 

 Furthermore, saints in heaven do not have the ability to sin (i.e. they do not have free will) and this does not alter their personhood, praiseworthiness, or responsibility. Being free from sin completely is the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8.21). The free person is the person who is able to do good deeds; he is free for “slavery” to righteousness (Rom. 6.18, set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness). To be ultimately and supremely free is to be delivered from the ability to sin. Accordingly, heaven is a place where free persons enjoy a glorious God-like freedom.33
 Notably, God is a free person without the ability to do evil (so, He does not have “free will”). What makes Him free is His ability to act with perfect holiness. Surely, God is praiseworthy for His holy actions even though He cannot lie. Thus, the idea of free will as the ability to choose between good and evil confuses the biblical teaching about freedom.34
 Therefore, fallen man does not have free will; he does not have the ability to do a single good thing such as submitting to Christ in faith (Jn. 6.44; Rom. 8.7), but he is fully responsible.  

Pastor Ostella's Footnotes
33 The old Star Trek TV shows spoofed this point more than once. They would present a world of perfect peace and harmony where everyone performs only good actions. But this state of affairs is rejected by Captain Kirk because man has no free will. For Kirk, if personal beings are not able to choose good or evil, then it is not utopia. He must be able to choose evil but not do so for it to be utopia. We should note that this is a wholesale attack on heaven. It is a denial that heaven as described in the Bible is a good thing. It denies that heaven is utopia. Why do I say this? Because there are all kinds of personal beings in heaven who cannot choose to do evil and that is part of what makes it heaven.  To whom do I refer? They are the saints, angels, and God!  What kind of heaven would it be if we thought that there could be another host of fallen angels? What kind of heaven would it be if the saints, rescued from sin for eternal life, could fall again like Adam and Eve? Would you even think of it as heaven, if God were capable of sinning?  The elect angels can only choose to do good. The saints in heaven can only choose to do good. God can only choose to do good. The epitome of free will, that is, of the free person with the capacity of will, is the immutable ability to choose only to do good.  
34 Perhaps, we would be better off if we stopped using the confusing words “free will.” Calvin refers to “free will” as “a proud name” for “a slight thing” that is all too commonly used in an erroneous sense and should therefore be avoided (Institutes, 2.2.8; cf. Calvin's "Refutation of the Objections Commonly Put Forward in Defense of Free Will," Ibid., 2.5.1-19). Dropping the term would help clarify things in discussion of the “sovereignty/responsibility” paradox. Ciocchi (JETS, September 2008, 573-90) however makes matter worse by moving in the opposite direction and claiming that the SR tension should be called the sovereignty/freedom or the sovereignty/free will tension. There are two problems: a) he fails to distinguish the freedom that belongs only to Christians from the slavery of non-Christians, and b) he apparently assumes the definition of free will in which the natural man is able to do good or evil.  

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