By J.C. Thibodaux
One of the most telling signs of the fallacious nature of Calvinist apologetics in general is its heavy reliance upon caricatures and misrepresentation of the beliefs of other Christians. There are few things more frustrating than trying to explain a concept to someone who simply takes one aspect of what is being said, and runs with it in a half-baked attempt to disprove it, heedless of any details or qualifications, yet this very tactic is something of a staple among Calvinism’s more vocal proponents.
I’ve posted before on a proper Christian description of libertarian free will, as have numerous other writers. Of note is the fact that libertarian free will, in the context of orthodox Christian theology, allows one to freely choose within a range of available options. Therefore depending upon individual contexts, the possible choices may be limited, and some options may not be possible. This concept should be fairly obvious to anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with Arminian theology, since one of its primary distinctives is that men do not naturally possess the capability to come to faith in Christ apart from the gracious work of God (prevenient grace).
Nonetheless, no matter how often or how clearly it’s repeated, many Calvinist writers either aren’t grasping the concept, or just continue to dishonestly distort it. One of the usual tactics is to frame libertarian free will as some imaginary power that lets one do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with no restraint whatsoever.
John Hendryx, in his essay Eleven (11) Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will, tries to deny that God has contrary choice by using this same worn-out caricature:
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).
Problems With This Logic
We heartily agree that God’s choices are constrained by His nature. God’s power of contrary choice (which as we’ve shown, is essential to His sovereignty in election) doesn’t entail Him being able to violate His own Holiness, since that would be outside the limits of what actual contrary choice allows. The ‘libertarian free will’ Hendryx compares God’s will to doesn’t accurately reflect the Christian view of free will, i.e. contrary choice within certain limits; but is rather a caricature along the lines of ‘ability to choose absolutely anything without constraint’ – nothing more than an overly simplistic strawman.
Further, Hendryx’s conclusions here don’t follow: God’s choices being constrained by His nature doesn’t amount to His choices being entirely determined by His nature. The difference between constraint and determinism can be described with a more physical case: The shoulder socket constrains how far and in which directions one’s arm joint can move (without really getting hurt anyway), but it would be silly to say that the socket itself ‘determined’ which directions one’s arms moved and when, since the joint moves freely within the range of the socket. Likewise, the constraint that God cannot lie doesn’t preclude Him from having other options, since choices don’t always come down to only the two options of ‘be dishonest or don’t be dishonest;’ there can be more than one choice within the range of honesty and Holiness. As I’d pointed out in our last post, it was not essential to God’s nature that He create me, nor would He have been any more or less Holy had He chosen not to do so. God does have power of contrary choice, since both options were well within the range of His Holiness; He therefore is free in the libertarian sense, since as can be seen with the ball-and-socket joint, freedom within a range is still freedom.
Obviously, this Calvinist dilemma of ‘determinism or limitless free will’ is spurious, since one can have libertarian freedom within limits. Not that this stops them from using this fallacy to try and attack libertarian free will anyway. Some Calvinistadors go as far as to take this ‘free will lets you do anything’ absurdity to an even more ridiculous extent, asking questions like, “If you have free will, why don’t you ‘choose’ to flap your arms and fly?” (an obvious non-sequitur, since our making choices doesn’t necessarily affect any externals; or in plain English: it’s libertarian free will, not libertarian free super-powers). Such silliness is hardly worth comment except for the fact that I’ve actually confronted an educated Calvinist debater who tendered this sort of sophistry as a serious argument!
Not that this comes as any major surprise. The scriptural case for the reality of libertarian choice is so strong, that the only ‘viable option’ left for compatibilists to save face is to burn strawmen.