Sunday, February 10, 2013

Libertarian Calvinists?

In dialog four of his book, Coffeehouse Compatibilism, Lahm makes a few assertions in regards to human freedom:

1. One cannot be spiritually free if one is not already libertarianly free.

2. Libertarian freedom does not imply a Pelagian view of grace.

3. Scriptures that speak of man’s inability are not related to the issue of libertarian freedom, but rather a spiritual freedom.  There is a distinction to be made.

Now, I would like to argue that Lahm’s view of Libertarian freedom and distinction from spiritual freedom is actually in agreement with the reformed tradition!  Well, at least it was.  By the way, Lahm defines libertarian freedom as one who possesses “control [over] their actions and have real alternative possibilities before them (p. 73).”

His distinction is actually quite common in reformed scholastic thought.  Let us quickly examine a few big players:

William Twisse (The Five Points of Grace)
"It is utterly untrue that any of our divines, of my knowledge, say that by the sin of Adam, his whole posterity hath lost their free will; In the time of my minority in the University, in divinity disputations we heard concerning free will such a distinction as this of common course. The actions of men are either natural or moral, or spiritual; the resolution of the truth, as touching free will, according to the foresaid distinction, was this: we have not lost our free will, in actions natural, nor in actions moral, but only in actions spiritual, so that the natural man perceiveth not the things of God, for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2.14). And the affection of the flesh is enmity unto God, for it is not subject to the law of God nor can be (Rom. 8.7,8). So that they which are in the flesh cannot please God."

John Gill (The Cause of God and Truth)
"The distinction between the natural and moral liberty of the will is of great service in this controversy; though these two are artfully confounded together; and because the one is denied by us, it is concluded that the other is also; whereas we affirm, that the natural liberty of the will is essential to it, and always abides with it in every action and in every state of life. A wicked man, in the highest degree of servitude to sin, his will acts as freely in this state of bondage as Adam's will did in obedience to God, in a state of innocence; but the moral liberty of the will is not essential to it, though it adds to the glory and excellency of it; and therefore may and may not be with it, without any violation to, or destruction of, the natural liberty of the will. The moral liberty of the will to that; which is good was with Adam in a state of innocence; this was lost by the fall; hence man in a state of corruption and unregencracy is destitute of it; in the regenerate state it is implanted in the will by the Spirit and grace of God, and in the state of glorification will be in its full perfection; so that the controversy ought to be not about the natural, but moral liberty of the will, and not so much about free-will itself, as the strength and power of it."

John Owen (A Display of Arminianism)
"We grant man, in the substance of all his actions, as much power, liberty, and freedom as a mere created nature is capable of. We grant him to be free in his choice from all outward coaction, or inward natural necessity, to work according to election and deliberation, spontaneously embracing what seemeth good unto him. Now, call this power free-will, or what you please, so you make it not supreme, independent, and boundless, we are not at all troubled. The imposition of names depends upon the discretion of their inventers. Again; even in spiritual things, we deny that our wills are at all debarred, or deprived of their proper liberty: but here we say, indeed, that we are not properly free until the Son makes us free"

In their respective treatments, all three of these Calvinists make the same type of distinction Lahm does in regards to freedom.  Gill even stated that the natural freedom of the will is essential to the moral.  The terms and divisions might be different, but there is an understanding of a natural freedom that man possesses.

At the end of his book, Lahm's states that he hopes Calvinists will abandon their deterministric/compatibilistic views, because they are not biblical (p. 80).  It is my opinion that the men quoted above would agree with him.  So, when  did Calvinistic thought change?  I suggest you listen to this lecture on Jonathan Edwards by reformed historian Dr. Richard Muller.  Oh, and go buy Lahm's book.  Perhaps you will find agreement with his conclusions.

Audio: "Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of Ways in the Reformed Tradition"