John Frame: Critique of Libertarianism


Reading through John Frame’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian BeliefI was reading through his section on Human Responsibility and Freedom. In this section he has a section that critiques libertarianism. He has 15 points which I think are helpful. He begins with R.K. McGregor Wright’s definition of libertarianism (No Place for Sovereignty pp 43-44) : The belief that the human will has an inherent power to choose with equal ease between alternatives. This is commonly called “the power of contrary choice” or the “liberty of indifference.” This belief does not claim that there are no influences that might affect the will, but it does insist that normally the will can overcome these factors and choose in spite of them. Ultimately, the will is free from any necessary causation. In other words, it is autonomous from outside determination.”

Libertarianism assumes there is a part of human nature, which we might call the “will”. This will is independent of every aspect of our being and therefore is able to make decisions contrary to every motivation. It is necessary to maintain this level of freedom because this is the only freedom that can result in being held responsible for our actions. This view has a long history in Christian theology and most of the early church held this or something similar till Augustine during the Pelagian controversy. Though it has grown in popularity in modern evangelical circles, modern day Calvinists are having to continue to oppose it. Frame rightly points out that this view is subject to very severe criticisms. He gives more detail in his book but I wanted to provide a list of those critiques here that he takes the space to explain.

  1. Scripture does not teach it in any explicit way.
  2. Scripture never grounds human responsibility in libertarian freedom-or, for that matter, any other kind of freedom.
  3. Scripture does not indicate that God places any positive value on libertarian freedom (even granting that it exists).
  4. Scripture never judges anyone’s conduct by reference to his libertarian freedom.
  5. In civil courts we never assume that libertarian freedom is a condition of moral responsibility.
  6. Law courts normally assume the opposite of libertarianism, namely, that the conduct of criminals arises from motives.
  7. Scripture contradicts the proposition that only uncaused decisions are morally responsible.
  8. Scripture also denies that we have the independence demanded by libertarian theory.
  9. Libertarianism, therefore, violates the biblical teaching concerning the unity of human personality in the heart.
  10. If libertarian freedom is necessary to moral responsibility, then evidently God is not morally responsible, for he is not free to act against his holy character.
  11. Libertarianism is essentially a highly abstract generalization of the principle “ability limits responsibility”.
  12. Libertarianism is inconsistent not only with God’s foreordination of all things, but even with his knowledge of future events.
  13. As with open theists Pinnock and Ricer, libertarians tend to make their view of free will a non-negotiable, central truth, with which all other theological statements must be made consistent.
  14. Philosophical defenses of libertarianism often appeal to intuition as the group of belief in free will: anytime we are faced with a choice, we feel that we could choose either way, even against our strongest desire.
  15. If Libertarianism is true, then God has somehow limited his sovereignty so that he does not bring all things to pass.

(pp 825-831)