In Christ “all things hold together,” says Paul (Col 1:17). In other words, God “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Heb 1:3). More specifically, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Calvinists are some of the best in class at affirming free will. Granted, things went awry around 1800. But I mean before that. Everyone affirmed free will and free choice. Even Luther in his characteristically bombastic way denied free choice when it comes to matters of salvation, not free choice in civil, moral, mundane matters.
But I am thinking more of the mainline reformed tradition. For example, Peter Vermigli (1499–1562) wrote, ““God foreknows everything and our freedom of will is retained” (Common Places 2.33).” Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575) in his 1562 Helvetic Confession wrote, “no one denies that in external things both the regenerate and the unregenerate enjoy free will” (Ch 9).
No one denies that. That’s right. Only the most cage-staged Calvinist in his college dorm room would be silly enough to proclaim, “There is no free will!”
Everyone agrees that natural necessities limit freedom: disease, death, and so on. And after the Fall, we cannot please God with our works since sin is everywhere. “And without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb 11:6). So we are not free to do whatever we want—I cannot fly even if I choose to do so.
But we still have genuine freedom: I can choose red or blue or white or green. I can do one thing, but I might have done otherwise. I am not constrained by any external thing but my mind judges and my will chooses.
A Calvinist affirms all this. Yes, some like to nuance things in various ways. Calvin himself was not very clear on how to put the pieces together (click here to learn more). His contemporary Peter Vermigli was though. I wrote an article on him and free choice, which you can read by clicking here.
Later reformed theologians like William Perkins really found the language to speak about human freedom and divine freedom concurring. (To learn more about Perkins’s view, click here). And it is this idea of concurrence that makes Calvinists—or better Reformed Theologians—thinkers really skilled at affirming free will.
If God knows everything, you basically have five types of explanations when it comes to free choice in saving faith:
1. God sees into the future and knows your choice. So his decree to create includes your choice. (Arminian)
2. God has middle knowledge, knows all possible worlds, and selects the one that both guarantees creaturely freedom and occurs just as God wills. (Molinist)
3. God causes everything. He is the pool cue. We are the billiard balls. (Determinist)
4. God ordains genuinely free acts since he, as First Cause, acts in a way that transcends the physical ordering of things. He is first cause to our free choices, not in time nor in physical order, but in a way that only can make sense to God before whom all things are present in his timeless eternal existence. (Early Reformed / Reformed Orthodox)
5. God ordains all things, but he does so in a way that is compatible with human free choice. So God determines all, yet does so such that humans experience genuine freedom (compatibilism).
When reformed theologians speak about the first cause and secondary causes, they do not mean sequences in time. They refer to two ORDERS of causality:
1. Divine (first cause);
2. Creaturely (second or contingent causes).
The reason why the first cause—logically prior, but of a different order than secondary causes—can concur with secondary causes is BECAUSE they are of a different order.
When Adam and Eve sinned, God exiled them from the garden, and through them, sin entered the world. Christ came to redeem sinners and make them into saints. But if Adam had not sinned, then would Christ have come? Could Adam have not sinned?
Here are some Augustinian considerations. [Read more…] about Could Adam not Have Sinned? Some Augustinian Considerations