Calvinists Believe in Free Will Too

Every once in a while someone will say that Reformed theology rejects the notion of human free will as an “Arminian heresy”.freewill But a quick survey of various Reformed confessions reveals that Calvinists hold to free will also. For example, the Founders affirm the Abstract of Principles, which are part of the confessional documents of both Southern and Southeastern Seminaries. Note the section on “Providence“:

“God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any wise to be author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.”

Another example is The Westminster Confession, which most Presbyterians affirm. In “God’s Eternal Decree“, it states:

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (3.1)

Later, under the heading “Of Free Will”, the Confession states:

God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil. (9.1)

There is one important area that Calvinists don’t believe humans to have free will: the ability to turn to God. But (and this is the important point) neither does any other orthodox Christian. Even Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the semi-Pelagianism heresy that humans, apart from divine grace, have the natural ability to seek, turn, or want God.

The Second Council of Orange (529) (which is accepted as authoritative both by Catholics and the Orthodox) rejected semi-Pelagianism. The Council declared:

“If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was ‘changed for the worse’ through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture….” (Canon 1).

Similarly, it states,

“If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God….” (Canon 7).

The Second Council of Orange made many comparable statements. Apart from grace, salvifically speaking, the human will is in bondage.

I’m not trying to paper over the differences between Calvinists, Lutherans, Molinists, Arminians, and other Christians. All affirm the reality of human agency. The respective groups disagree primarily about how grace operates on the human will. About that there is much debate. But there is common agreement–even among Calvinists–that a human being, because he or she is created in the image of God, possesses a will which that person owns.

Cross posted at

What Hath Nature to do with Grace? An Exploration of the Bible’s Place in Higher Education.

Dr. Bruce Ashford (Provost and Professor of Theology and Culture at SEBTS) recently delivered this outstanding lecture in chapel at Southeastern. Dr. Ashford begins by surveying five views of the relationship between nature and grace, and concludes by giving a Kuyperian vision of the role of Christians in the world. You will want to take 30 minutes and watch this.


In Case You Missed It

Yesterday Russell Moore posted an article on his blog adapted from his new book Onward titled: “Could the Next Billy Graham Be Drunk Right now?” In this thought provoking article Dr. Moore writes:

I wonder how many people don’t’ listen to our gospel message because they assume they don’t “look” like the kind of people who would be Christians—namely shiny, happy Republicans…The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might currently be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic today. The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star this week. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was.

But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so.

On his blog, Marty Duren takes a critical look at Bill Nye the Science Guy.

It is interesting, if nothing else, that Nye’s own website does not promote his credentials. It does not mention his Ph.D. work. It doesn’t not mention his master’s thesis. And with good reason.

Bill Nye has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Cornell. He has no M.S. He has no Ph.D. He has no advanced degrees of any kind in ay field.

Bill Nye is not a tenured professor. Nye is not a professional scientist. He’s a science ambassador; rather like Angelina Jolie in a lab coat.

Ok, not like Angelina Jolie in any garment.

Nye has never published a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal article…The reason these facts are relevant is Bill Nye uses the goodwill built over years as an entertainment personality and science educator to gain a hearing for social commentary. When necessary he becomes Bill Nye the Pseudophilosopher Guy to do it.

Amy Whitfield published an article on the Gospel Project site discussing Hope and the New Creation. Amy writes:

True confession: sometimes I wish I could hide in my house and never leave. I’d round up the kids, lock the door, and build our own bubble that nothing can penetrate…The bubble isn’t to protect me from a big bad world that might tarnish my family. It’s to protect me from a sad world that might drown me with my own tears.

The days I want to hide are when the sadness of the state of things can seem too much to bear…Our own strength is not enough to face the darkness, and one day it will just seem easier to lock the door and block the pain. Then we soon realize that the pain lives within our hearts, because that same darkness can just as easily be found in us when we are looking to our own strength for the answer.

But the good news is that the answer isn’t within us.

The answer is in the story.

Nathaniel Martin published an open, honest and helpful post on his personal blog earlier this week that is a must-read for all students. “No Shame in Needing a Tutor: Confession and Encouragement to fellow Seminary Students.

Perhaps you are like me. You find yourself struggling with learning new ideas and realize that this is not necessarily due to lack of desire or work ethic. So how might we pursue faithfulness when learning difficult things? What we simply need is a little bit help. With this in mind, I want to encourage students like me to consider exploring the possibility of finding a tutor. Yes, a tutor. Finding someone who has mastered your subject can create great community and help assist you in learning. After all the best learning is done in community!

Chuck Lawless recently wrote about 12 ways to assist returning SBC missionaries on his blog. Dr. Lawless writes:

I seldom write a post that relates only to my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, but this one does (though believers of many denominations could help with the needs listed in this post). I love missionaries, and many I know are now making prayerful decisions about retiring from the field. These are heart-wrenching days, and I encourage Southern Baptists to consider ways to assist these folks who’ve given their lives for the nations.