Is Calvinism Cosmic Determinism? Part 1


Are we robots, chess pieces, puppets on a string? Is that what Reformed theology teaches? I have had more than a few discussions of “free will” with non-Calvinists. And perhaps the first observation I’ve made is that the attack on Calvinism usually has two problems.

  1. It doesn’t interact with our confessions.

  2. It is usually a supposed “logical” problem rather than exegetical.

To address this question it is best to use the Confessions. Specifically addressing this issue is Chapter 9 of the Westminster Confession of Faith found here. But posted here for reference in this article with proof texts:

Chapter IX – Of Free Will.

i. God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil.(1) 
(1) Mt 17:12; Jas 1:14; Dt 30:19. 
ii. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom and power to will and to do that which was good and well-pleasing to God;(1) but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.(2) 
(1) Ecc 7:29; Ge 1:26. 
(2) Ge 2:16,17; Ge 3:6.
iii. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation;(1) so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good,(2) and dead in sin,(3) is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.(4) 
(1) Ro 5:6; Ro 8:7; Jn 15:5. 
(2) Ro 3:10,12. 
(3) Eph 2:1,5; Col 2:13. 
(4) Jn 6:44,65; Eph 2:2,3,4,5; 1Co 2:14; Tit 3:3,4,5. 
iv. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He freeth him from his natural bondage under sin,(1) and by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good;(2) yet so as that, by reason of his remaining corruption, he doth not perfectly nor only will that which is good, but doth also will that which is evil.(3) 
(1) Col 1:13; Jn 8:34,36. 
(2) Php 2:13; Ro 6:18,22. 
(3) Gal 5:17; Ro 7:15,18,19,21,23. 
v. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.(1) 
  1. Eph 4:13; Heb 12:23; 1Jn 3:2; Jude 24. 

I will use Hodge’s commentary on the WCF as a source. I would also recommend Williamson’s commentary and Robert Letham’s.

Chapter 9 is an important section that many critics and adherents of Reformed theology ignore in my experience. This is unfortunate because the common accusation of Calvinism is that it assumes us to be robots, chess pieces, blow up dolls, etc. This couldn’t be further from the truth of what the confessions (or the Scriptures) teach. The confessions understand that our consciousness is what “renders our moral government possible”. The Reformed believe that God has created man in his image. Therefore humanity is endowed with this “inalienable faculty of self-determination”. That is, that man has the power to act or not to act. And when man acts he acts in accordance with his desires. Hodge says “there are only three generically different views of this subject possible:

1. That which regards the actions of men as caused directly by outward circumstances and occasions, under the same great law of necessity which governs the movements of all material agents.
2. That affected by the Arminians and others, which regards the will in man, or his bare faculty of volition, as possessing o, mysterious capacity of self-determination, irrespective of all the judgments of the understanding and the affections of the heart andthe entire state of the man’s soul it the time.
3. That which is taught in this section — namely, that the human soul, including all its instincts, ideas, judgments, affections, and tendencies, has the power of self-decision; that is, the soul decides in every case as, upon the whole, it pleases.”

Look to future posts as I discuss Free Will in accordance with Chapter 9 of the WCF.

Part 2


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