Libertarian Free Will is a Myth – 11 Reasons Why

Riley Yates

I believe man has free will, but not libertarian free will. If you believe in “eternal security” or “the perseverance of the saints,” you don’t believe Christians have libertarian free will either. As a result of being reborn by the Spirit, sinners repent and believe in Christ and are saved, and no longer “have the freedom or power or ability to” be an unbeliever. John Hendryx, in a response to Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell’s book Why I’m not a Calvinist, lists eleven reasons to reject libertarian free will. The link to the full article will be provided at the bottom of this article. It’s worthy of your time and attention. What follows are excerpts from Hendryx’s article:

What is Libertarian Free Will?

Freedom as understood in the libertarian sense means that a person is fully able to perform some other action in place of the one that is actually done, and this is not predetermined by any prior circumstances, our desires or even our affections. In other words, our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature. All free will theists hold that libertarian freedom is essential for moral responsibility, for if our choice is determined or caused by anything, including our own desires, they reason, it cannot properly be called our decision or free choice. Libertarian freedom is, in fact, the freedom to act contrary to our nature, wants and greatest desires. Responsibility, in their view, always means that we could have done otherwise.  This is what libertarians themselves confess as you will see in the following 3-part definition from Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell in their popular book Why I am not a Calvinist:

(1) “The essence of this view is that a free action is one that does not have a sufficient condition or cause prior to its occurrence…the common experience of deliberation assumes that our choices are undetermined.”

(2) “…It seems intuitively and immediately evident that many of our actions are up to us in the sense that when faced with a decision, both (or more) options are within our power to choose…Libertarians argue that our immediate sense of power to choose between alternative courses of action is more certain and trustworthy than any theory that denies we have power.

(3) “Libertarians take very seriously the widespread judgment that we are morally responsible for our actions and that moral responsibility requires freedom” That is, a person cannot be held morally responsible for an act unless he or she was free to perform that act and free to refrain from it. This is basic moral intuition.”

Finally, in a very revealing admission, Wall and Dongell end their definition of libertarian freedom by asserting that to prove the validity of libertarian free will “…Arminians rely on contested philosophical judgments at this point.”  By their own admission, then they RELY on philosophy, not Scripture as an ultimate basis for their conjecture. Walls and Dongell contest that Calvinists no less must also rely on philosophy to demonstrate the truthfulness of their positions. However, this is a notion which I will decisively refute later in the discussion by showing the Scriptural basis for the position that there is always, of necessity, a reason for the choices we make, especially moral choices (compatiblism).

Libertarians, therefore, when asked what caused the person to choose one action over another, will answer that a free act is when no causal, antecedent, laws of nature, desires or other factors are sufficient to incline the will decisively to chose one option or another. Clark Pinnock, a well-known defender of this position, asserted that only the kind of freedom, which has the ability to choose the contrary, is genuine freedom. He says, “It views a free action as one in which a person is free to perform an action or refrain from performing it and is not completely determined in the matter by prior forces—nature, nurture or even God. Libertarian freedom recognizes the power of contrary choice. One acts freely in a situation if, and only if, one could have done otherwise.” (Most Moved Mover pg. 127) In other words, within libertarianism, we could acceptably choose to receive Christ apart from a desire to receive Him.

What is Compatibilism?

Compatibilism is the belief that God’s predetermination is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). Our choices are also determined by our greatest inclinations. Compatibilism affirms that we make choices for a reason, that the will is not independent of the person and we will always choose what we want (Deut 30:16,17,19; Matt 17:12; James 1:14).  It means God has granted us the ability to act freely (that is, voluntarily without coercion), but not independent from God nor free from our desires, but to act according to our desires and nature. In other words, voluntary choice (to chose to act as we please) is compatible with determinism. The Scripture itself testifies that

“…no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  (Luke 6:42-45)

Figtrees, of necessity, grow figs, not thorns. According to Jesus, then, nature produces a necessary result or fruit at the exclusion of something else. One cannot produce a result that is contrary to nature. While libertarians uphold the philosophy that “choice without sufficient cause” is what makes one responsible, the compatibilist, on the other hand, looks to Scripture which testifies thatit is because our choices have motives and desires that moral responsibility is actually established.  Responsibility requires that our acts, of necessity, be intentional, as I will further demonstrate later in the essay.

11 Reasons Why Libertarian Free Will is a Myth

(1) According to libertarians, the power of contrary choice means that it is always within the ability of the human will to believe or reject the gospel. But if we have the natural capacity to believe or reject the gospel freely (in the libertarian sense) why is there the need for the Holy Spirit in salvation at all, especially when the gospel is preached?  If you ask a libertarian whether he could come to faith in Christ apart from any work of the Spirit, like all Christians, they must answer ‘no’. In other words, even to a libertarian, it is not “within the [natural moral] ability of the human will to believe or reject the gospel.” There is still the necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the sine qua non of the affections being set free from sin’s bondage.  Therefore, they are forced to admit that the possibility of the natural will exercising faith would be inconsistent with basic Christianity, since we all know that the natural man is hostile to God and will not willingly submit to the humbling terms of the gospel. We all agree then, that left to himself, man has no libertarian free will to choose any redemptive good, since his affections are entirely in bondage to sin (until Christ sets him free) and cannot choose otherwise. So it ends up that libertarians must believe that, in his natural state (which is most of the time), man’s will is only free in the compatibilist sense, since, apart from the Spirit, he can only choose according to the desires (love of darkness) of his fallen nature. Unless, of course, they can offer another explanation of why one cannot believe apart from the Holy Spirit…

…But, having deduced that libertarian free will must still be true, libertarians believe they resolve this problem by inventing a logical scheme (nowhere found in the gospels) where God grants something to all who hear the gospel called prevenient grace, which temporarily removes the sin nature by allegedly placing sinners in a pre-fall-like state where they have libertarian freedom to either chose or reject Christ, a choice undetermined by any desires or nature. Thus, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to the libertarian, is never sufficient in itself. To grace we must add the choice of the unregenerate will.  While we heartily agree with libertarians in the necessity of preaching for salvation so that the Holy Spirit can germinate the “seed” of the gospel, yet to dogmatize the belief that once having heard that one is wandering the earth in a semi-regenerate state with a libertarian free will is wild extra-biblical speculation at best…

…Remember, not even libertatians believe we naturally have libertarian freedom. If we did then we could theoretically believe the gospel apart from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Yet I have not yet found one libertarian willing to admit this, for to do so would fall into the heresy of Pelagianism. No, the libertarian must acknowledge that, prior to grace, man’s “freedom” is compatibilistic. In the end, Scripture defines freedom, not as libertarians do, but as the freedom from the bondage to sin, since we are slaves of sin until the Son sets us free (John 8; Rom 6). Biblical freedom is the freedom to do what is pleasing to God (John 8:34-36; Rom 6:15-23; 2 Cor 3:17) and this freedom from sin is granted in the redemptive work of Christ…

(2) Extra-Biblical Intuition:  Without providing any biblical evidence whatsoever for the basis of libertarian freedom Walls and Dongell instead make their strongest assertions about why they believe this theory in statements such as “We believe it is … obviously true that responsibility requires libertarian freedom,” and it is their “judgment” that “the common sense view of freedom is libertarian freedom.” Also “…it seems intuitively and immediately evident that many of our actions are up to us.” Right away we see there is an open admission here that the libertarian free will position derives its assumptions solely from a philosophical precommitment of what they call intuitive common knowledge.  This means that one of the most the foundational doctrines which hermeneutically controls the way they read the entire Scripture is based purely in speculation and logical deduction with statements like “it seems” rather than from any biblical exegesis…

(3) Causeless Choice: Libertarians, of course, like to claim that we also base our compatiblism in philosophical assumptions but this assertion simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.  There are an endless number of Scriptures that affirm that our choice to believe or reject the gospel is done so of necessity because of our innermost affections and inclinations.  For example, in John 3:19 it says that those who reject the gospel do so because the love darkness and hate the light.  A libertarian, on the other hand, to be consistent, must assert that one rejected Christ, not necessarily because he hated him, or on the other hand did not chose Him because he had affection for Him, but rather only because he chose to, which is contrary to everything we know of Scripture…

…To give you a real life example of libertarian causeless choice, read the following excerpt from a recent conversation I had with a libertarian where I asked a simple question about why we believe the gospel. I asked,

If the gospel is preached to two persons and they both receive equal (prevenient) grace, why is it that one man ultimately believes the gospel and not the other?  What makes the two people to differ? Was it Jesus Christ that makes them to differ or something else? If both had the same prevenient grace it wasn’t Jesus that made the to differ, so obviously one had a natural advantage over the other.

He answered in classic libertarian fashion, “One heard and understood, one did not. One believed and one did not. That’s the nature of free will. Our decisions are not DETERMINED by forces outside of our will. And that’s why one man accepts and another rejects Christ.”

Lets take a closer look at his answer.  He said that ‘one understood and one did not’ … but where did such understanding come from to begin with?  Was this understanding itself derived from nature or from grace? In the libertarian scheme did God grant this understanding so that one believed?  We are forced to conclude that He did not, for if He did this for everyone, then both persons would have the same understanding.  So we must conclude that, to the libertarian, such spiritual understanding is entirely self-generated, apart from any work of God’s grace in us.  Whatever differences there were between the two men, these differences were not derived from grace. Ultimately,  it is a reliance on some innate ability in one man, which the other did not have. So we must ask, then, according to libertarianism, was it chance that generated this difference in natural wisdom between the two?  Was it random? Or was one man naturally just smarter or wiser than the other? The only two alternatives left to us here are either that one person just happened to understand (‘just because’) by chance, or that one was already better equipped than the other (in his natural self) to respond positively to the gospel command. Neither of these possibilities is aligned with the teaching or intent of the gospel, which is by grace through and through…

…But the answer faces the same difficult question as the first — did one just happen to believe?  My gospel says that only the humble, who recognize that they have no hope in themselves, will embrace Christ and, in like manner, the proud will despise and reject Him.  Either sin and virtue, of necessity, precede our choice when Christ is put before us.   It is the grace of God that makes us humble, not innate ability or chance. But the libertarian is unwilling to say it was only by God’s grace in Christ because he then would admit to God’s sovereign choice. Nor will he provide an answer that reveals a moral virtue in one person (humility) that the other (who was proud), did not naturally have. This would expose his belief in salvation by merit. But these two answers are the only possible conclusions…

(4) The Belief in Libertarian Free Will Destroys Moral Responsibility – Walls and Dongell make a strong case that our judicial system is based on the commonsense view of libertarian freedom since the lawyers often defend the degree of guilt of clients based on whether they were coerced, their upbringing, emotional state and the like.  These kind of conditions indeed often make people less culpable if their inability made them so they could not have done otherwise. If criminals could have made different choices than they did, i.e. if they were coerced into making a bad choice, then we all agree they would not be as legally responsible for their crime.  While it is true that coercion often plays a role in the legal degree of punishment, but this only scratches the surface of the matter. Consider the opposite that if criminals just chose to commit a crime but had no intent or motives for it at all then the lawyer would be forced to plead insanity for his client before the court. If the choice to commit a crime were not based and caused ultimately on a reason, desire or motive then he would have to be absolved from guilt because he would not be responsible for it. If one chose to murder someone simply because he chose to it would be a sign of sickness not responsibility. Libertarian free will, therefore, destroys responsibility.  Moral responsibility exists, not in spite of, but because our choices have reasons, motives, intent. Only the determinist, therefore, upholds moral responsibility. Can we be held responsible for doing something we do not want to do?

Furthermore, inability usually does not diminish culpability in a moral decision.  If a human were asked to fly and they could not due to their physical limitations, we could not justly blame them for their inability, but if someone were to borrow $100 million and squander it in a week of wild living in Vegas, his inability to repay would not alleviate his responsibility.  Therefore, what we ought to do morally does not always imply that we can, and yet we remain culpable. God commands that we perfectly obey the Ten Commandments. Our inability to do so morally does not take away our moral guilt because our inability is moral and intentional. We wanted to disobey and our desire was rebellion…

(5) Scripture is Incompatible with Libertarian Free Will. There is simply no passage in Scripture where our wills are seen to be independent of God’s plan and our desires (libertarian freedom). The position is genuinely a philosophical construct. A failure to demonstrate a biblical basis for this belief again means that libertarian should be abandoned. In fact the Scripture shows just the opposite.  God clearly says that it was He who foreordained the crucifixion but he also holds those who did it responsible (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28). Judas’ betrayal was said to be according to Scripture (Acts 1:16; John 17:12), but God does not hold him any less responsible for it.

(6) Libertarian Freedom Would Make God Himself Not Responsible for His Choices.  God always makes choices according to His holy nature.  All members of the Trinity have acted in sinless perfection. God cannot even desire an unholy act, nor can He lie, for He would no longer be God if He did. In fact His choices are so wrapped up in His nature and essence that He could not do otherwise. But God’s freedom is the real freedom defined by the Bible — a freedom from sin, not a freedom to do otherwise.  God is free in the compatibilist sense in that He always acts according to His nature, never against it.  God does not have ‘freedom’ to do what is contrary to His nature, so He is not free in the libertarian sense (in fact no one is). In a similar way, we all strive toward and look forward to the day when we will no longer be bound by sin.  Our resurrection bodies will be free from all sin and death.  This means there will be no libertarian freedom on the new earth because we will be compelled to choose good because that is what we will want by nature. Libertarians often call anyone’s life where we cannot chose otherwise either robotic or one where we cannot be held responsible for our choices. If true then this would have to apply to God and our future glory as well. Is God a robot because He cannot choose to be unholy?

(7) If all our choices are free from our own desire and free from the plan of God then they are based on chance. This means that God could be taken by surprise. A chance event is defined as one that does not have a sufficient cause that would make it utterly unpredictable, even to God.  But we all know that chance is utterly inconsistent with God’s sovereignty, providence and foreknowledge of future events. This creates another fatal flaw in the philosophy of libertarian freedom.

(8) The Libertarian makes his philosophy of the will central to his interpretation while compatibilists make the covenant grace of God in Christ central. It is my contention that the libertarian error is not unlike the error of the ancients who believed that the Sun revolved around the earth.  One’s starting point is always important because it reveals what is important to someone. To make libertarian free will the philosophical glasses through which one looks at the whole of Scripture (when the Text says nothing about such a belief) is a radical departure from honest biblical interpretation, by any standard. But the bias is so ingrained, it appears, that libertarian free will is simply accepted by many because they say it is ‘obvious’. But our preference or feeling is not the basis of how we determine Scriptural truth, especially in such critical matters…

(9) In Why I am Not A Calvinist, Walls and Dongell assert that the purpose of their book is to assess whether there are persons “whom God has not chosen to bless.” Here they intend to create an invidious comparison by painting the Calvinist God as distinct from their own because, to the Calvinist, God chooses not to love all men in the same way. But even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that election is contingent on foreseen faith, then there is nothing in Arminian theology to prevent God from only creating those whom he foreknows would respond to the gospel. Since this obviously is not the case, where does that leave the love of God as defined by the Arminian and set in defamatory contrast to Calvinism? In the end God knows everything (is omniscient) and therefore, even in the libertarian scheme, prior to even creating the universe God knows the choices all persons will make before creating them, so why did He go ahead and create them? Libertarians cannot consistently say that God foreknew which sinners would be lost and then say it is not within God’s will to allow these sinners to be lost. It is obviously within His providence for this person to be lost for he could easily have chosen not to create them if He so desired.  In the same way, if God foreknew who would be saved then how could we consistently preach that that God is trying to save every man?  God knows whom He can save or who will be saved, so who would claim that He is trying to save more?  Among the libertarians, Open Theists, have recognized this internal inconsistency and instead of recognizing that the compatibilist position was right all along they have plunged themselves into deeper darkness by fastening ignorance on God (since they claim God does not know the future).

Furthermore, Walls and Dongell are clinging to an unbiblical assumption that God is somehow obligated to those who are in active rebellion against Him. Our salvation is called merciful because we did not deserve it and so our surprise should not be that there are some that God has not chosen to bless redemptively, but rather, our surprise should be that he was wiling to save any.

(10) Libertarians complain that effectual grace forces people to do something against their will.  If the elect will all be saved, they reason, then they must have no real choice in the matter. But compatibilists affirm the belief that we must personally exercise our own faith in order to be justified.  God does not do the believing for us. Consider that a healthy infant who was just born must breath on his own.  Consciously or unconsciously the baby wills to breath. No one else breathes for him. However, his/her lungs themselves were a gift of God, apart from his willing. Also he uses his own eyes to see, but the eyes themselves were are gift of God…

(11) Libertarianism dismantles the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ purchased in our redemption, to the libertarian, is never sufficient in itself. This grace is conditional and only when faith is contributed to the mix is it considered sufficient.  Faith is seen as something that arises separately from Christ’s work rather than as a result of it. So to a libertarian, we could not properly thank God for our faith since it is the only thing that is alone self-generated. While all men have grace, so they say, grace is not what makes men to differ from one another. If something other than grace sets apart the elect from the non-elect then it is not grace alone (or Jesus alone) that saves.

You can find the full article here.

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