Sunday, October 03, 2010

Impact of Free Will/Determinism on other areas...

Your sense of human freedom usually has immense implications for other areas of your life. Say you believe God directly determines many if not most things that happen in your life.[1] Say you believe God also predetermines whether you will believe or not. This sense of determinism will often bleed over into other areas of your view of the world. You might emphasize the absolute authority and sovereignty of God, along with justice as the key dimension of God’s nature. On the other hand, a person who believes in free will tends to see love as the primary way God currently relates to the world, with an emphasis on helping us grow and come to make the right choices.

While none of us is completely consistent with our ideas, these views of God will tend to play themselves out in other areas of our lives, like how we raise our children or how we vote. [2] A person for whom God’s justice is so prominent may tend to respond to a child’s disobedience with an immediate and wrathful response, a focus on punishment of wrongdoing. The person for whom God’s mercy is more prominent may see disobedience as the child inflicting harm on him or herself, a moment when the child needs to learn something for his or her own good.

Similarly, the person who emphasizes God’s justice may see it as a duty to try to make the laws of the land mirror as much as possible divine law. Such a person will emphasize preaching against sin, since sin is an effrontery to God’s justice. The person who believes in free will, on the other hand, will not likely feel as much compulsion to force the rest of the world to follow God’s will. After all, they believe God created a world in which we can choose to disobey him. They would focus more on influencing others for good than in trying to force it.

[1] Many of those who believe in predestination, of course, do not believe that God pre-determines everything.  Many believe he only determines one’s ultimate salvation.  Popularly, however, many Christians believe that God orchestrates even little things in our lives to give them direction and purpose.

[2] Not to mention other areas of our belief system. For example, Calvinists tend to emphasize the idea of “penal substitution.” It is the sense that because God’s justice is so absolute, God must exact the precise amount of penalty for any sin. God cannot simply have mercy on someone. For Calvin, Christ not only took our punishment, including his descent into hell. For Calvin, Christ experienced the exact amount of punishment justice demanded of every individual God predestined for forgiveness.

Others see such a mathematical sense of God’s justice as absurd. God is God, and in the parables, Jesus presents a God who has the authority to forgive sins simply on his own authority. For example, Joel Green and Mark Baker point out in Rediscovering the Scandal of the Cross that the Parable of the Prodigal Son says nothing about the father having to arrange someone to pay for the debts of the younger son (***). The father has the authority simply to forgive the son, with no payment made at all.
What have I missed?


Jeremy Wales said...

I agree that one's understanding of free will/determinism impacts other areas ... but I'd say in almost the *opposite* directions.

For over a year after I became committed to following Jesus I was Arminian, in fact I was passionately anti-Calvinist: I believed Calvinism made the God of love into a sadist. But when I became convinced that the Bible does indeed teach God's unconditional election of those who are saved I did go through other theological changes, just as you predict, but in the precise opposite directions.

e.g. It was precisely as an Arminian that I thought justice was the *primary* attribute of God. i.e. If God is to be just then he has to give an equal chance of salvation to everyone, or so I thought, and because he *must be just* in this way, or so I thought, then everyone must be as free to choose Jesus as anyone else. It was only as a Calvinist that I came to think we're all completely lost, unable because of our sin even to choose forgiveness, that the only truly just thing for God to do would be to condemn us all, and that it's only because *God's mercy is even more prominent than his justice* that he ensures some of us are saved nevertheless. The opposite impact to what you've described.

Similarly, it was as an Arminian that I became frustrated with people who refused to follow Jesus even after I told them about him - after all, they were FREE to choose the right thing! - and I tried to force people, even ridiculing their counter-arguments, thinking that they were there for the persuading if only I pushed hard enough ... because I thought they were free to choose. It was only as a Calvinist that I came to empathise much more with those who continue to reject Jesus, realising the only difference between me and them was that I'd been given God's Spirit through no doing of my own, and trying only to speak patiently to people, praying that God would do the rest by his Spirit. This seems like the opposite of the forceful tendency you ascribe to Calvinism and the gentle tendency you ascribe to Arminianism.

At least, that's been my experience.

Marc said...

This is a valid observation. Yet I'm struck by how God's Justice has such negative connotations in evangelical thought and in your post. Of course, without the idea of impending wrath from God evangelicalism falls apart. Jesus came to save us from God['s wrath] right?

However, as real as impending judgement was for Jesus and his contemporaries, it was a good thing. God's Justice was what you prayed for and yearned after because you were the oppressed, the low, the poor expecting a great reckoning. I don't think they were completely misguided nor that Jesus turned this hope around and said: "Yes, but you all are gonna get crushed when wrath comes so get saved now!" Instead he said "Seek first the Kingdom and God's Justice" and taught about the kind of Father-God who restores order and makes the low high and the high low.

What would happen if we forgot the primitive "Justice equals Punishment" equation we've been handed and started seeking to establish and usher in God's justice? What if we read promises like Isa 11 and 42 of what the Messiah was supposed to do and applied them to ourselves as the body of the Messiah?

James Petticrew said...

I have always thought it was interesting in regard to how our theology shapes our outlook that while Wesley opposed slavery, his Calvinistic friend Whitefield owned slaves, or at least organisations he was involved with did.

I wonder if there different views on the issue of predestination led them to develop different anthropologies when it came to race and so the justification or condemnation of slavery.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for these initial responses. They make me doubt whether I should include these paragraphs or at least that I need to be a lot more guarded in them. This is for a philosophy book that would be used as a textbook. Perhaps these issues would serve better as questions at the end of the chapter where a student would share their own self-reflection.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Are you saying "experience" trumps logic, when it comes to faith :-),as you and Jeremy had different interpretations of Calvinism/Arminianism, so you shouldn't use it in your philosophy book? Maybe you should hand over this task to the psychology department!

Ken Schenck said...

Angie, if I understand you correctly, yes, I believe people tend to use ideas to justify impulses they get from experience. It is amazing to me, for example, that such a vast sweep of Wesleyans are so far removed from clear values in Scripture toward the poor and needy, or what should be clear Christian values on issues like civil rights or women's rights. Instead, the bulk of twentieth century Wesleyanism is a dark emptiness where Wesleyans resisted obvious rights to African-Americans and spent most their time preaching about how long your sleaves were. Today's Wesleyans make fun of these issues from the past but basically have the same closed mindedness and enslavement to cultural currents as ever on our current issues.

This is because, ultimately, the majority of us play out our religion in terms of traditions and experiences that give ourselves a sense of identity rather than ideological consistency or clarity. It is the same everywhere in all religions, where culture hijacks the religion's more historical and long lasting values.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Religion IS culture. And those that assume a cultural referent for their identification are using ideology to define their "worlds".

American culture is diverse because it does not base its identity upon religion, but law. And law is to be impartial, if it is just. So, civil rights has absolutely nothing to do with religion, altho religion can be used to further the ends of justice.

Today, I believe minority rights has been used to further injustice, because "racial" prejudice is used as a "trump card" for any and every "offense". When in reality, the political goals or agenda of the minority is to intimidate the majority into quiet submission to "just retribution".

Equality does not mean "outcome", as outcomes should be based on individual choices of value. Equal before the law means there is not partial treatment in regards to citizen rights of opportunity, in representation, equal access to trial by jury, etc.

The Founders were not adverse to religion, but knew that religious liberty was an important value in American society, if there was to be a maintenance of civility/social order.

Ken Schenck said...

Sorry to be so stupid. I guess I thought the fact that I believed God loved and wanted to redeem the whole world might imply that I would want to see those values played out in my country. My mistake. The thought must have come from the eggs I had for breakfast.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I wasn't trying to "preach" to you. I'm sure you know that whatever one values will be the values one wants played out in their country. This is human nature.

The problem is whenever "God" is used to justify a certain political position. The term "God" has powerful connotations, and one's religious opinion shouldn't be used to force an issue upon another politically, as that forces an image of God as co-ercive, using the power of "the law".

JohnM said...

Of course it's hard to recognize when we've baptised our bias, or we wouldn't do it. Does scripture really place a premium on personal freedom? Equality in status and condition? Political suffrage?

Ken, as for the impact of free will theology, it doesn't appear to me that people who hold to it (for the record I do) generally think through any such implications as occured to you. Maybe it's because free will is simply intuitive and thus assumed by most people, Christian or otherwise. Taking your specific examples, I've seen where free will believing Christian parents are as loath to spare the rod as as anyone. I won't argue here whether they're right or wrong, I just note free will theology appears to make no difference. The Religious Right, whatever you think of it, is not exclusively Calvinist. As for "duty to try to make the laws of the land mirror as much as possible divine law" - what were the Wesleyan abolitionists doing? Is the contemporary religious left looking only for voluntary compliance? I'm just saying I don't see that free will has to equal practical latitudinarian and determinism has to equal authoritarian.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Of course there will always be limitations to humans, as they are bound by "space and time". But, choice is a variable to the determinent of "space and time".

(I hope I'm not coming across as patronizing by giving an example). Our family had a choice to stay located where we'd lived for 9 years, awhile ago. But, we did not choose that, we moved. The move (space) brought about many changes that affected (or determined) our options (time/future) as a family. If we'd chosen to take another job, or stay in the same location, our lives, individually, and corporately would have been different. This is a belief in "parallel universes". So, I believe that there are many possiblities that are open to us, but there are also limitations, too.

We are determined by the place and time (generation) of birth. But, we are not determined in regards to staying in that place, although we are still limited by "time". We are gifted by talents that define our options, and we are not gifted in other areas, that determine what we cannot do or be. ETC.