I'm off to Florida today, but thought I would post part of an email question I received from Benjamin Roberts yesterday:
"An acquaintance of mine has recently turned Calvinist and in my longing for unity I shared that I think I might be a compatibilist. Not long after this he wrote me and told me that I was just a calvinist with a different name. The small amount I've read on compatibilism led me to the conclusion that Scripture teaches God's sovereignty and also man's free will and that they aren't mutually exclusive. But I fear my understanding may have been too limited and I may have made an error in calling myself this."
First, some definitions:
compatibilism--The idea that free will and determinism are compatible. Usually free will is defined as the freedom to act here rather than true freedom to will. In other words, I am not coerced to keep typing. But the question of whether forces inside the chemistry of my brain are forcing me in effect to keep typing.
Some compatibilists would say that it makes no sense to say that I might not act in accordance with my beliefs and convictions, for example. If I were fully free, I might make a different decision with exactly the same conditions internally and externally. This position is sometimes called soft determinism.
Incompatibilism--The idea that free will and determinism are not compatible.
Libertarianism (in this context)--The idea that I am free not only to act but to will as well.
It seems to me that compatibilism is very "compatible" with Calvinism in most of its forms. So a Calvinist might say that since we are all totally depraved, we all freely act in conjunction with our nature. No one coerces me to sin but I have a sin nature.
I suppose orthodoxy takes a somewhat compatibilist approach to God's nature as well. God freely acts in accordance with His nature, but could not do otherwise, could not lie, for example, for He would never want to lie.
My sense of God's sovereignty has led me to wonder if God is not truly free if this is the case, so I pose that God binds himself to His "nature" in this universe, but theoretically might choose another nature in another creation.
I am also open to the possibility that determinism and full free will might be compatible within God, outside this creation. They seem incompatible within this creation.
I personally like John Wesley's conjecture about free will and salvation the best (put here in my own terms). At points in our lives, God empowers our true free will to the point where we can make "ex nihilo" decisions whether to accept or not to accept His grace. If we make the right choices to the right degree, He empowers us to choose the good (or perhaps "changes our nature") while still being able to choose the bad.
I doubt that we have full free will on every issue, however, and there is probably more truth than we would like to admit to something called hard incompatibilism--the idea that with quantum randomness, neither free will nor determinism makes sense.