In his book Primitive Theology, John Gerstner, in the chapter entitled “A Primer on Free Will,” writes, “Dear reader, you have in your hands a booklet entitled A Primer on Free Will. I don’t know you, but I know a good deal about you. One thing I know is that you did not pick up this book of your own free will.
“You have picked it up and have started to read it, and now continue to read it, because you must do so. There is absolutely no possibility, you being the kind of person you are, that you would not be reading this book at this time.”1
So, at the outset today, let me also say to you, dear reader, I do not know you, but I do know some things about you. One thing I know is that you did in fact choose to visit this site of your own free will.
You are here, and you have started to read it, and you even now continue to read these words, because you choose to do so. There is absolutely no possibility, you being the kind of person you are, that you would not continue to choose to read this site at this time, yet, of your own free will (for you are free to leave this site whenever you wish).
The alternative is that God brought you here against your will because I am right on the matter of free will and He wants to open your eyes to the truth (which would be a contradiction, since I am claiming that you are actually here of your own free will).
Of course, what Gerstner was getting at was that our “free” will is conditioned or determined by our desires. I picked up his book because I desired to pick it up, thus my will, according to Gerstner, was controlled by my desire to read something in his book. He and R. C. Sproul, Sr. (given that Gerstner was his mentor) use the same logic and philosophy and apply those to their hermeneutical grid of biblical interpretation.
Thus everything which we do is determined (rather than merely influenced) by what we desire to do at any given moment. Even if a person abstains from doing something wrong, like getting drunk, that person abstained because he or she wanted to at that moment.
You are reading this site because you want to. And if you began to read this site and then clicked your mouse to another site, or to do something else, it was because you wanted to, even though you would never read the rest of these words. Our will, then, according to his logic, is controlled by our desires. So, how can anyone say that we have “free” will?
Understand this, friend: what Gerstner and others mean by free will is an arbitrary free will; it is a willy-nilly freedom which is spontaneous and without regard to wants or desires. Thus one never “freely” chooses to do something without any precondition inherent in the person.
Though I understand Gerstner’s assessment, this is not what I mean by using the term “free will.” I would add that this is not what the Arminian usually means by using the term either. The real question is, Did God foreordain or cause our decisions?
We believe that there are three factors involved in what is done by human beings. 1) There is motive and desire. 2) There is the Mind. 3) There is the will which moves a person to action. Motives/desires may influence the mind, thereby causing the will to move one into action; but they do not necessarily control or determine the action.
Gerstner also stated that our “choices are free in the sense that they belong to us and not to somebody or something else.”2 He is even more frank when he writes, “Putting the matter positively, my choices are my will.”3
Though we cannot divorce our will from our desires, for one in fact may inspire or influence the other; however, desires or motives do not necessarily determine what we shall choose to do.
Where, however, will Gerstner’s logic lead us? It will lead us to such statements as, “I choose of myself alone, not forced by any other factors, but I always choose what is wrong because that is the kind of person I am. That is, I freely choose, to be sure, but I always freely choose what is evil . . .”4 (emphases mine). I always choose what is evil. That is indeed an interesting statement.
Without getting into a dialogue with some of you over what is considered good in God’s eyes and what is called good to humanity, let me reiterate what Jesus said: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 TNIV, emphases mine)
Not only do “evil” people do “good” things (as Jesus admitted), but some unregenerate people actually pray and give money to the poor. Cornelius and his unregenerate household “were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:2).
God subsequently sent Peter to tell Cornelius the gospel. Peter concluded, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34). So, what of Gerstner’s comment, that, “I always choose what is evil”? Does it not, on Scriptural grounds, fail as a standard of truth?
Gerstner and many, if not most, Calvinists use this same logic in an effort to philosophize their way into promoting the notion that regeneration must precede faith if anyone is to be saved; and that, due to humanity’s wicked nature, a nature that would “always choose evil,” God has, by necessity then, elected to save some of them.
What have Gerstner and others not taken into consideration? They have missed the point that, in an effort to save the greater part of humanity (as opposed to only some), because of God’s desire to see them saved (1 Tim. 2:4), and His love of human beings whom He created in His own image (John 3:16-18; Gen. 1:26), He graces them with an ability to receive (or reject) Christ Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) and the Word of God (Rom. 1:16; 10:14-17; Heb. 4:12).
And let not the Calvinist forget that we, too, believe that no one can come to Jesus except the Father draws the individual (John 6:44, 65). Though we somewhat agree with the Calvinists’ view of Depravity and Inability, we disagree that the instrument used to bring a sinner to Christ is regeneration (presupposed by particular election).
To be continued . . .
1 John H. Gerstner, Primitive Theology (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1996), 223.
2 Ibid., 232.
4 Ibi., 240.