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free will

January 05, 2009

Today I want to step into dangerous territory and discuss free will. This is a massive topic with implications that stretch to almost every part of the Christian faith. I want to look at just one small part of it. I want to deal with a statement I’ve heard and read time and again. I came across this most recently when reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. “Free will,” he says, “though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” If God had not given us free will, such people say, we could not truly have loved him. Our love would be the love of robots, of automatons, love that would be neither genuine nor sincere. It would be a meaningless, forced love which in reality would be no love at all. This is what we are told. I want to suggest today that the Bible does not tell us one way or another. This may be a valid inference, but it is one that is not explicit in Scripture and, hence, one we should be hesitant to declare with great confidence.

I am writing today knowing that I could be wrong and inviting you to show me if that is, indeed, the case.

My line of reasoning will go like this. If this statement is true, it casts doubt on the manner and sincerity of the Christian’s love of God in heaven. Therefore, if this statement is untrue of the heavenly man, it may also be untrue of the earthly man.

It was Augustine of Hippo who first described the four states of man. They are most easily understood when put into the form of a table like this one:


Adam and Eve were in what Thomas Boston calls a state of “primitive integrity,” able to choose whether they would sin or not sin. They were able to sin but were also able to not sin. The choice lay before them and we know which path they chose. Adam’s decision cast man into a state of “entire depravity” in which people can no longer make such a choice. Man is now able to sin and unable to not sin. There is not a person on earth who can go a lifetime without sinning; neither is there one who would wish to. Our very natures have become sinful. However, those who are born again, who are regenerated by the Spirit of God, are in a state of “begun recovery” (again, according to Boston) and every moment of every day face a choice. They are able to sin but are also able not to sin. Experience and observation shows that Christians sometimes make one choice and sometimes make another. Their new natures give them the ability to choose to not sin, but the old man constantly fights back, pushing to choose what is sinful. But all the while Christians look forward to the day of “consummate happiness” in heaven when they will be able to not sin and unable to sin. God will grant them the ability to not sin and will remove any vestige of desire to sin. This is one of the great promises of heaven, that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4).”

It is this final part of the grid that causes me to wonder if our love truly had to be entirely free for it to be genuine. After all, as Christians we look with great anticipation to the day when our sin will be taken away and we will no longer even be able to sin. At this time will our love for God be more genuine or less genuine? Will we love God more or less than we love him now? When we read Scripture and, with great anticipation look to the passages that describe heaven, we can only conclude that our love for God today is only a shadow of the love we will have for him in that day. And yet it will be a love that is restricted by our sinless natures—a love that will not allow us to ever sin or even consider sin.

As I understand it, Augustine would agree with me here. He would say that the ability to sin is not essential to free will. After all, God is free but without the ability to sin. The angels are free but without any ability to sin. And, as we’ve established, we will be free in heaven, but not free to sin.

All of this to say that I simply do not find that we need to believe that the only love worth having is a love that can choose not to love.

But feel free to tell me if and how I’m wrong here…

October 01, 2007

Last week I went to Ottawa to enjoy my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful, classy, simple wedding. While the service was great from beginning to end, I particularly enjoyed the brief sermon which drew a startling contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God; between the love of the world and the love of God.

The pastor began by discussing a marriage contract drawn up by Albert Einstein. With his marriage disintegrating and already participating in extra-marital affairs, Einstein made a last-ditch effort to keep his marriage somewhat intact, even if only for the sake of the children. This is the contract he sent to his wife:

A. You will make sure

  1. that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order;

  2. that I will receive my three meals regularly in my room;

  3. that my bedroom and study are kept neat, and especially that my desk is left for my use only.

B. You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reasons. Specifically, you will forego

  1. my sitting at home with you;

  2. my going out of traveling with you.

C. You will obey the following points in your relations with me:

  1. you will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way;

  2. you will stop talking to me if I request it;

  3. you will leave my bedroom or study immediately without protest if I request it.

D. You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior.

His wife eventually agreed to them terms. When he received her response, “Einstein insisted on writing to her again ‘so that you are completely clear about the situation.’ He was prepared to live together again ‘because I don’t want to lose the children and I don’t want them to lose me.’ It was out of the question that he would have a ‘friendly’ relationship with her, but he would aim for a ‘businesslike’ one. ‘The personal aspects much be reduced to a tiny remnant,’ he said. ‘In return, I assure you of proper comportment on my part, such as I would exercise to any woman as a stranger.”

This comes from the pen (and from the heart!) of one of the brightest men the world has ever known. It’s a contract just shocking for its boldness and its polite disgust; its undertones of anger. Just imagine the state of the heart that would write such a thing.

What a contrast to the wisdom of the Bible. What a contrast to Colossians 3:5-17:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

What a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God!

I’m on my way down to Mobile, Alabama where I am going to bring a few reports from the Expositors’ Conference featuring Dr. Steve Lawson and Dr. John MacArthur. I hope to check in a bit later today…

September 16, 2005

This is the sixth article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here and the fifth here. We are reaching the end of the book; all that remains is today’s chapter and then the conclusion.

This chapter is an attempt to explain postmodernism. As anyone can attest who has attempted to define such a monster, arriving at a satisfactory explanation is no small feat. But Driscoll does quite a good job. He prefaces the chapter by reiterating the importance of the cultural mandate, though he provides no Scriptural support for this. “While we are here [on earth],” he writes, “we are supposed to be cultivating a culture like the kingdom…Culture is not something that God’s reformission people are merely to participate in; it is also something we are to cultivate, to plow, by living for the kindgom of heaven among the cultures of earth” (page 160).

Driscoll goes on to define postmodernism, at least as far as such a definition is possible. He begins by making four important points. First, postmodernism is basically a philosophical junk drawer into which people toss everything they can not make sense of. Ask four people for a definition and you’ll receive five answers. Second, postmodernity is not new, but was already being examined as a relic of the past as early as the 80’s. Third, postmodernity is simply another philosophy that is destined to pass away. And fourth, postmodern culture is not something that should be ignored, opposed or embraced; rather, it is simply another culture that Christians should seek to redeem.

The heart of the chapter is Driscoll’s list of seven demons that have entered the American church through what has been dubbed the emerging church. He warns that these are traps that must be avoided if we are to remain faithful to Scripture.

demon one: the Sky Fairy - Some church leaders see God as little more than an emasculated Sky Fairy who would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell. “As we work among cultures that value trendiness, we must not forget that the kingdom values timeless truths like sin, repentance, and faith that leads to good works” (page 167).

demon two: keeping it real…sinful - While emerging churches have placed emphasis on being real and genuine, many have taken this too far. “Because we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as license to sin without repentance” (page 167). We must not forget that the Scriptures value repentance much higher than being real or authentic.

demon three: hermeneutics of the Dragon - Postmodernity poses a challenge to the church because it changes the rules of hermeneutics. Too many postmodern leaders keep the Bible but do away with its authority, choosing to play with the interpretation and meaning of particular texts. Driscoll states, correctly I believe (in fact, this is something I’ve often mentioned in articles on this site), that while the battle of previous decades was for the Bible’s inerrancy, the battle for our day is over the Bible’s authority and meaning.

demon four: from creation back to ex nihilo - Postmodernism is a philosophy dealing with deconstruction. Too much deconstruction, without a building plan, leads to homelessness. “This sense of homelessness pervades those who have undertaken to deconstruct God, Scripture, gender, sin, the meaning of life, and anything else they can find” (page 169). The danger to postmodern churches is that, like fundamentalist churches, they become known more for what they are against, or what they are not, than for what they are.

demon five: the custom is always evil - We live in a gluttonous, spoiled culture where everyone is a customer and everything is a product to be marketed. This applies as much to the church as to a box of cereal. Many postmodern Christians have accepted a consumeristic mindset where they expect a church to cater to them and to meet their felt needs. “But as we cultivate a counterculture, we must not forget that what people need most is to die to themselves and live for God. If we simply give people what they want, we will not be giving them what they need” (page 172).

demon six: the photocopy heresy - Deeply embedded in our culture is the myth of egalitarianism, that everyone is equal in every way. This denies the obvious: that God has created people with different skills, roles and abilities. A postmodern church that is addicted to egalitarianism will be confused over many issues, including those dealing with sexuality and gender. It may also refuse to acknowledge any authority, including that of pastor or elder. In advanced forms this may even diminsh God (through open theism, for example), to make Him more equal to us. As Christians we must remember the duly-appointed authority structures God has seen fit to give us.

demon seven: the hyphenated Christian - Postmoderns reject any authority beyond themselves and reject any claim to truth other than the claim that there is no valid truth claim. Postmodernism has rejected truth and settled instead on the idea of multiple truths, none of which is in any way absolute. The Bible, though, claims to be truth and to reveal truth. It claims to hold total authority over the life of believers. “As we work among cultures, we must never proclaim Jesus as God merely from our limited and biased perspective but rather as God and the King who rules over a kingdom that includes the cultures of the earth. And the view from his throne is not simply one of the many equally valid perspectives but truth” (page 176).

Driscoll’s purpose in addressing these issues is to show that all of them will bring a rapid and inevitable end to reformission. He also warns of them so that believers can avoid being mired in these pitfalls as they seek to build a kingdom culture. He promises that “in the final chapter, I will share with you what this looks like at our church and will try to inspire you to pursue the dreams that God has given you for the place in which you live” (page 176).


I began my reflection on the previous chapter by noting, “This was probably the shortest and lightest chapter in the book thus far. I agree with the majority of what Driscoll teaches here.” While this chapter was not nearly as light, I would have to echo the second sentence once more. I found myself saying “amen!” each time Driscoll discussed one of the demons that plague the emerging church. As he addressed each pitfall I could immediately think of examples of people or churches who have fallen into exactly that error. It seems clear that Driscoll has spent a great deal of time studying the emerging churches throughout American and reflecting on what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. I was especially pleased to hear his affirmation of the authority of Scripture, for if one has a biblical view of the authority of Scripture it seems likely that many other pieces of theology must necessarily fall into place.

I look forward to reading the final chapter and look forward to being able to reflect on the complete argument Driscoll presents in The Radical Reformission.

August 09, 2005

It is a mild, grey morning at the cottage. My daughter is still asleep, so I have been unable to dial-up and do my twice-daily email check (that’s about all I do when I’m on vacation). So I’ve been passing the time by looking through directories of old articles. Among these I found the four articles that kick-started this site back in 2002. “Calvinism vs Arminianism” is dated October 10, 2002. “Mother Teresa” is dated October 28. Those articles were posted back when this site was only a repository for family photographs. Almost a year passes before it becomes a blog. A few months later there are articles about the band Evanescence and another examining my own propensity for evil. Those articles were really my first attempts at putting pen to paper, so to speak, and posting public articles. In October of that year I decided to get serious about blogging and haven’t missed a day since November 1, 2003.

There is one other article I found that I’m quite sure I never posted. But it seems that it was an important one in my spiritual development at the time. This was a time when I was considering walking away from the Reformed faith. Reformed was all I had known, yet I had begun attending a non-Reformed church and had seen a faith that I considered more active and more exciting. My wife and I began, pragmatically, I suppose, to wonder if being Reformed was a spiritual liability.

And so I wrote an article I entitled “Losing My Religion.” I am almost embarrassed posting it because it is somewhat private, but at the same time I found it interesting. I need to reflect on how successful I was in losing my religion. I have only vague memories of writing the article, but know that it came at a time when I began to “backwards engineer” my faith. This is a term I often used at the time and described the process of trying to dismantle my beliefs, bit-by-bit, to try to understand what was mine, what was tradition, and what was biblical.

And so I give you, without any further commentary, “Losing My Religion.”

Pronunciation: ri-‘li-j&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English religioun, from Latin religion-, religio supernatural constraint, sanction, religious practice, perhaps from religare to restrain, tie back — more at RELY
Date: 13th century
1 a  the state of a religious a nun in her 20th year of religion b (1)  the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2)  commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance
2  a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices
3 archaic  scrupulous conformity  CONSCIENTIOUSNESS
4  a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith
- re·li·gion·less adjective

Is it not true that everyone in this world is searching for a system of beliefs to which they can subscribe with scrupulous conformity? And do we not all wish to have a cause, principle or system of belief to which we can hold with ardor and faith? Based on such a drab description it is no wonder that so many people in our society are abandoning religion. There are some who are comforted by holding to an institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices, but certainly the general public is turning its back on just such a portrayal of religion. And who can blame people for running away from beliefs so stagnant and dreary?

The Christian faith, which our society is so quickly abandoning, should be much more than a commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. A religion based upon scrupulous conformity is destined to lead to legalism. Legalism, in turn, binds us to a reliance on our own abilities to find purpose and meaning in life.

Jesus was a perfectly sane man. Would it be sensible to suffer and die to save the world from sin and to deliver God’s people from the clutches of the Law in order to institutionalize a system of restraints and constraints? No! Faith, true saving faith, provides freedom. It provides joy and it provides pleasure. As Christians it becomes our joy and our delight to find pleasure in God. It is only in Him and through Him and ultimately through a restoration of a relationship with Him that we can find freedom. We are set free from the ties that have bound us and are allowed to experience true communion with our Creator.

I believe that every Christian has, within him, some religion. Within each of us there is desire to conform to an institutionalized system of beliefs. Sometimes we all prefer to be constrained rather than allowing ourselves to really be set free.

And so I am losing my religion. It is difficult to do. In many cases certain tenets of my religion have been with me since I was old enough to understand anything. Others have crept in somewhere along the journey and have wormed their way into the core of my being. Such beliefs are difficult to root out, and as a matter of fact, are difficult even to see within myself. Yet I am confident that with honest and deliberate self-examination I will be able to find them, contain them, and eradicate them.

I refuse to live a life bound by the bonds of religion. I want a faith that is living and breathing, a faith that wrap itself around every part of my life.

Life is far too short to miss the real thing.

April 19, 2004

Though not a regular reader of The Door Magazine as I find it a mite disrespectful at times, I do enjoy the section they call Truth is Stranger Than Fiction. In this section they highlight the most bizarre Christian products and advertising. For example, they have an advertisment they found in a newspaper for “Jehobics” which is a Christian system of aerobics.

On Saturday a pretty bizarre postcard showed up in our mailbox and I thought I would post it here as my contribution to Truth is Stranger Than Fiction.

Click the picture for the full image.

I have to ask…are unbelievers actually impressed with this sort of thing? It’s just so…gimicky…but perhaps that is just the view of someone who has been in Christian circles his whole life. I must say I am also a bit perterbed with them calling Jesus “the original hippie.” I presume they mean that he was anti-establishment, but it certainly strikes me as a very disrespectful thing to say about our Savior. Regardless, I guess it does stand out from the rest of the mail I received and perhaps the church will see some growth from it.