Are we free? Do we actually have the ability to choose and make decisions? These are questions that philosophers and theologians alike have asked for millennia. These are the questions we are asking today!
In Christianity there are a few well-known ways of thinking about God's sovereignty and man's free will, these include Calvinism, Arminianism, and Open Theism. There are a broad range of variations of each of these systems of thought, however, in the next few posts I will outline these three ways of thinking and in a final post, I will discuss my thoughts and where I stand on these issues! Again, I want to make clear the arguments for each view and do not necessarily hold these views myself.
First, we will discuss Calvinism! There is a growing number of Christians, particularly in the US, who are becoming Calvinistic in thought. Calvinism, named after John Calvin, actually has its roots much earlier than the 16th-century theologian. Calvinistic thought began with Augustine of Hippo (354-430) and Calvin did not deny this! Augustine brought these ideas into Christian thought against the writing of Pelagius who advocated for total free will. In many of Calvin's writings, he references Augustine and the influence he had on him.
Calvinism at its core boasts as being a "God-centric" theology, placing God's sovereignty above everything else. After John Calvin died, his students created a systematic way of thinking about Calvinistic theology, this is known as the five points of Calvinism or TULIP.
The Five Points of Calvinism
- Total Depravity: This is the belief that man is totally sinful and could not reach out to God even if he wanted to. This is not to say that people can't do good things but simply that they cannot see God as good and cannot reach out to Him on their own volition. Scripture Calvinist use to back this up: Mark 7:21-23, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 3:10-12
- Unconditional Election: Here Calvinism says that God, from the foundation of the world, chose or predestined people to Heaven/Resurrection not based on any merit of their own. Before God even made the world, He chose His people and most Calvinists take this to an individual level, He chose the exact people. Scripture Calvinist use to back this up: Eph. 1:4-8, Rom. 9:15, John 15:16,
- Limited Atonement: This one is interesting, many think that not even Calvin held this belief but it was added after he died. This is the belief that Jesus died ONLY for the elect. Scripture Calvinist use to back this up: John 10:11, Matt. 26:28(Many not all), John 17:9
- Irresistible Grace: If God has chosen you if he has chosen to show you grace, then you cannot refuse that grace. Scripture Calvinist use to back this up: John 1:12-13, Philippians 2:12-13, John 6:37
- Perseverance of the Saints: Once you come to faith in Jesus, He will keep you until the second coming. This is sometimes referred to as 'Once Saved, Always Saved'. Scripture Calvinist use to back this up: John 10:28, Romans 8:1
Many Calvinists point to Romans 9 and John 6 as their key texts. Consider giving those a read and see for yourself if they support Calvinism. Also, I know many four-point Calvinist which simply means they don't hold all five points of Calvinism. Most of the time they reject the idea of limited atonement as there is not as much biblical evidence to back that up.
Edit: I realized I never answered the post's question! From a Calvinistic perspective, do we have free will? According to Calvinism we have a certain kind of free will. Calvinism falls into a philosophical category on free will called compatibilism, or soft determinism. Calvinist believe that due to our fallen nature, we are sinful, we are in bondage to sin and we cannot choose God, in that way we are determined. However we are still culpable for our actions and our choices really are our own. However this is not libertarian free will, which says that we truly have the ability to chose good or evil towards God, without any specific 'grace' on God's behalf. Calvinist say if God's will wants something to happen a certain way, it will happen that way for our against our will, but God does not meticulously choose everything we will ever do.
Here are some resources on Calvinism if you would like to look more into it!
For Calvinism, by Michael Horton: https://amzn.to/2Kauahl
Against Calvinism, by Roger E. Olson: https://amzn.to/2SP0Voa
Desiring God's Lengthy post on Calvinism: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism
John Piper on Calvinism/Arminianism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-C33...
Mike Winger on Calvinism: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxakE...
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