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Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience (1 Peter 3:15b-16a ESV)

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12/01/2004

Free Will, part 2 

I've talked about the various types of free will before. In this post, I'm going to discuss the different perspectives on how free will and divine sovereignty coincide.

Some people think they don't. If we have free will, then God really cannot know what the future holds, whether ten years from now, or ten minutes. God rolls the dice and takes a chance. He's got a better chance at being right than we do, but He still only has a chance. He could be wrong, he could be surprised. He is often disappointed. But He's still God.

That, in a nutshell, is open theism. God makes mistakes, and learns from us. We control our destiny, and God is just along for the ride. I'm working on a post where I look at the various Scripture passages that open theises typically use to support their view, and I'll post that later on. For right now, I'll say that I really don't think that this is the omnipotent, omniscient God that the Bible shows us.

If we hold to libertarian free will, though, open theism is not that big of a stretch, philosophically. We can always do things differently, so our actions influence God's knowledge and planning. Some people have adopted a different view, which is called Molinism.

Molinism essentially teaches that God has 'middle knowledge' -- that He knows things based on His creative action (free knoweldge), based on 'the way things have to be' (natural knowledge, things that are necessarilly true and not dependant on anything), and based on His absolute knowledge of all possible actions that His created beings can take (middle knowledge). This is a very complex system (I just finished writing a 15 page paper on it for philosophy, which I will post somewhere later on) -- suffice it to say that it involves God knowing absolutely everything that we could possibly do, not just what we actually do. His knowledge of the future is tied to this middle knowledge.

I am a compatibilist: I think that our freedom is based in God's will and our character/personality. We are therefore free, but not absolutely free. In His sovereignty, God knows what choices we will make -- based on either the situation we are in, or His understanding of how we will react to a situation, or simply because He knows how He will act in the situation and thus knows its outcome. This is similar to middle knowledge, but is based ultimately in God's creative act -- either in His creation of us and our personalities, His shaping of the situation around us, or His special act in creation. (This ended up being the thesis of the paper I just mentioned -- that the idea of middle knoweldge is correct, but it is not separate from God's free knowledge -- what He knows because of His actions. Here is an article by someone who agrees with me. There is an excellent one in the recent Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society that says essentially the same thing).

Sovereignty and free will is not an issue for compatibilists. Our free will is always exercised under the supervision of God, and He works through our actions. Because His will is always accomplished, He is in control of the circumstances, even though we are exercising our freedom. Libertarian free will implies a God who is always having to guess to stay one step ahead of HIs creation, or at the very least a God who really doesn't know everything.


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