Rebecca Stark is the author of The Good Portion — God, the second title in The Good Portion series, a series written specifically to encourage women to immerse themselves in the depths of Christian doctrine.

The Good Portion — God explores what Scripture teaches about God in hopes that readers will see his perfection, worth, magnificence, and beauty as they study his triune nature, infinite attributes, and wondrous works. 

Rebecca also blogs at Out of the Ordinary.


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Theological Term of the Week

libertarian free will
A conception of freedom that “proposes that a moral agent is free so long as, for whatever choice he makes, he could have chosen differently; that is, given all the conditions that are true of the situation in which he makes his choice, the agent is free so long as he could have chosen differently within that identical situation in which he makes the choice”;1 “the ability to choose with equal ease between alternatives out of pure contingency and no necessity,”2 which, according to the proponents of libertarian freedom, is necessary for moral responsibility.

  • Scripture that disproves libertarian free will:
     …for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27-28 ESV)
    And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. (Exodus 3:18-20 ESV)
  • From the London Baptist Confession 1689:

     Chapter 3: Of God’s Decree

    1._____ God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

    Chapter 9: Of Free Will

    3._____ Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

  • From Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by J. I. Packer, arguing that libertarian free will is not necessary for moral responsibility: 

    Scripture teaches that, as a King, [God] orders and controls all things, human actions among them, in accordance with His own eternal purpose. Scripture also teaches that, as Judge, He holds every man responsible for the choices he makes and the courses of action he pursues. … God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught us side by side in the same Bible; sometimes, indeed, in the same text. Both are thus guaranteed to us by the same divine authority; both, therefore, are true. It follows that they must be held together, and not played off against each other, Man is a responsible moral agent, though he is also divinely controlled; man is divinely controlled, though he is also a responsible moral agent. God’s sovereignty is a reality, and man’s responsibility is is a reality, too…

    To our finite minds, or course, the thing is inexplicable. It sounds like a contradiction, and our first reaction is to complain that it is absurd. Paul notices this complaint in Romans ix. “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why does he (God) yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? (Rom. ix.19).” If, as our Lord, God orders all our action, how can it be reasonable or right for Him to act also as our Judge, and condemn our shortcomings? Observe how Paul replies. He does not attempt to demonstrate the propriety of God’s action; instead, he rebukes the spirit of the question. ‘Nay but, O man, who art though that repliest against God?” … Our part, he would tell us, is to acknowledge these facts, and to adore God’s righteousness, both as King and Judge. … The Creator has told us that He is both a sovereign Lord and a righteous Judge, and that should be enough for us.

Learn more:

  1. What Is Libertarian Free Will?
  2. John Byl: Free Will and Responsibility
  3. Scott Christensen: Comparing Libertarian and Compatibilistic Beliefs on the Human Will (pdf) 
  4. Bob DeWaay: Free Will or the Bondage of the Will: Definitions are Critical
  5. John Hendryx: Eleven Reasons to Reject Libertarian Free Will
  6. Ronald W. Di Giacomo: Free Will - Confusion Abounds

Related terms:

1From God’s Lesser Glory by Bruce Ware
2From Free Will - Confusion Abounds by Ronald W. Di Giacomo

Do you have a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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Reader Comments (8)

LOL, neither of those verses disprove libertarian free will! The latter has God knowing what Pharaoh is going to do unless forced and we discover the forcing is circumstances. Pharaoh could still have chosen otherwise but God knew he wouldn't. Same thing with the previous verse. The only way it contradicts libertarian free will is if someone imports more meaning to "predetermine" than the word necessitates.

More on Free Will

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRey Reynoso


Oops. I meant to include verse 20 in the last proof-text: "So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go." I'll add it.

My point in using this text is that there is no possibility that God's actions won't achieve his desired result. Right? And libertarian free will requires the possibility of contrary choice.

Pharaoh could still have chosen otherwise

Really? Even after God told Moses what he would accomplish by the wonders he would do in Egypt? There's a reason libertarian free-will is associated with open theism and God not knowing for certain the future choices of free agents. If God knows our future choices, then our free-will is no longer of the libertarian sort, but is, rather, some sort of compatablistic free-will.

Same thing with the first proof-text. Was there a possibility that Herod and Pontius Pilate would not make the choices that led to Christ being crucified if God's plan has predestined that they do what they do? Even if God's plan included things on the basis of mere foreknowledge, could his plan not have come to pass? Was there a any possibility they would not choose as they did?

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

The verse change doesn't really address it.

Libertarian free will isn't necessarily an open future. They make a mistake of confusing foreknowledge with causality--incidentally, just like most Calvinists. For example: a police officer sets up a sting operation whereby a drug dealer, in that situation, plans to sell drugs. That's not entrapment because the drug dealer could have done otherwise. He didn't, so he's still culpable. The drug dealer could have done otherwise.

Now imagine the police officer has a time machine and looks at the future. He sees that if he sets up the drug bust the drug dealer does buy. So, he acts and the drug dealer sells the drugs. Merely knowing doesn't remove the hypothetical that he could have done otherwise. Fact is, that if the cop decided not to set up the drug sting, then it would have been different: the dealer would never have sold the drugs.

Christ gives an example of this. If the miracles done in Jerusalem were done in Sodom, they would have repented. That means that it was possible that the Sodomites could have repented. They didn't repent. But that doesn't mean they were caused to not repent. It doesn't even mean that their situation caused them to not repent. It doesn't even mean that the fact God predetermined not to have Christ perform miracles there caused them to not repent. They didn't repent because they didn't want to repent. They could have if they were willing, but they weren't so they didn't.

So as to your questions, there is no way possible that Herod and Pilate would have done other than what God predetermined--but the predetermination wasn't the cause of their doing what they did. The fact they did what they did proves that the thing they did was already foreknown and forechosen by God. What it doesn't mean is that God caused them to act as they did.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRey Reynoso

I think I lost my long comment but my response was basically this: there is no way that Herod and Pilate would have done other than what God predetermined--but the predetermination wasn't the cause of their doing what they did. That's what makes their actions so evil. They could have decided not to be wicked, embrace the Lord of Life, throw crowns down at his feet: instead they joined hands with the lords of the world and killed the King of Glory. Just according to plan, surely, but the fact the plan is there isn't the cause of them doing it. Neither does it mean that they couldn't do otherwise. If God had seen that they would not have done what they did if Christ avoided arrest and enacted that plan, then they wouldn't have crucified Christ.

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRey Reynoso

>>They didn't repent because they didn't want to repent.<<

"IT" is that simple Rey and yet that hard cause no MAN nowadays and when I say MAN, Christians who trully believe In Jesus Christ from my experience should believe that HE and HIS MOTHER are the new Adam and Eve and to make a long story short, I agree that we would need a "TIME" Machine and to make another even longer story shorter, we Christians should know that Through The Cross and Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus The Christ, we ALL His Children have life Ever LASTING or how ever long "IT" might last.

I hear ya! But Victor didn't Jesus say in so many words while He walked on earth that we who lived were all Evil?

I agree and although I, me and myself at this time don't read The Good Book, I've heard "IT" said in the pass in so many words from The Gospel and/or by Jesus that once we die and our name is in The Book of Life we will stop living backward and then round and round we'll go while we live and/or where or when we'll stop God Only Knows.

Hey! I better stop now cause I promised God that I would not be blogging for Lent and I'm getting pretty close to "IT" if you know what I mean. We don't want me to literally get carried away by "IT" do we?

Happy Lent to you Rebecca and also to all your wonderful readers and writers. God willing and if you're interested, I should be able to tell you more after Lent and hopefully my ego will co-operate cause now my Lord has placed my soul in charge which is kind of sad cause I was hoping that Jesus would tap me on the shoulder and show me how to deal with "IT" but who cares cause I trust God! :) I really do!

God Bless Peace

March 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVictor

The fact they did what they did proves that the thing they did was already foreknown and forechosen by God

Then they didn't have libertarian free will, at least according to the definition above, and according the definitions given in the linked articles.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

Hello Victor,

Thanks for the greetings.

March 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

Neither does it mean that they couldn't do otherwise.

LFW requires the power of contrary choice. There must be the possibility that a choice will be made and also the possibility that it won't be made. If there is a possibility that a specific choice won't be made, then God would have to know both what will be chosen, and also that there is a possibility that it will not be chosen. LFW, then, requires that God know contradictory things, if, that is, he knows the future choices his creatures

April 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrebecca

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