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A Discussion on the Term ‘Free Will’ vs ‘Choice’

free_willWhat follows is an as-best remembered rendering of a recent discussion with a Calvinist friend (CF) as to the use of the phrase ‘free will’ instead of ‘choice’.

Me: I prefer the term ‘free will’. To me, free will implies that I’m deciding as to present options and variables. On the other hand, choice is simply a selection of that which has been presented to me. For instance, when my mother asked me to choose between the red or blue shirt – I was going to wear a shirt. I didn’t exercise free will as to whether or I would wear a shirt.

CF: Interesting. Can you still have free will when the Father draws you to the son? Also, what is the will ‘free’ from?

Me: Yes, one has free will with regard to God drawing us to his son. I differentiate a ‘pull’ or a desire to move in a given direction. Feelings & emotions may be present and it may be difficult to overcome them i.e. I may be feeling hungry and the brats on the grill smell wonderful. However, I can still exercise free will and choose not to eat. Ultimately, if God wants a relationship with his creation, it only seems rational that he’s given us free will. Otherwise, the love we would have for him is then God’s own love for himself. That, it seems to me, is a fundamental flaw within Calvinism and makes God out to be rather conceited.

CF: You should know that your definition of ‘choice’ is correct, but it is only one of the definitions. [Note: at this point my Calvinist friend pulls out a piece of paper and begins to read the various definitions for the word ‘choice’. I’m starting to think this is a set-up.] You’re big on definitions so I looked up ‘choice’ in my dictionary. It says: 1) an act or instance of choosing; selection 2) the right, power, or opportunity to choose; option 3) the person or thing chosen or eligible to be chosen 4) an alternative 5) an abundance or variety from which to choose 6) something that is preferred or preferable to others; the best part of something 7) a carefully selected supply.

For this discussion, I’m using the second definition. Fair enough if you want to use ‘free will.’ But surely you understand that Calvinist interpret ‘free’ to mean free from God. This ignores the fact that God predestines and draws people long before they accept Christ.

Me: Well done! You’ve shown words can sometimes have different meanings as a function of use or context. Did you intend for your last comment to support unconditional election – you state God predestines and draws people long before they accept Christ? In this regard, so far as I understand the Calvinist’s use of election, there is no choice and there is no free will. God chooses or has otherwise ‘elected’ you. And therefore, at some appointed time, you (effectually) believe.

I reject that and believe that a) I can choose to accept/reject God’s offer of salvation and b) I have complete free will in the matter because God gives me the complete freedom, and the responsibility to choose, without overriding that which I chose to do.

CF: You’re misunderstanding. Scripture clearly shows that God predestines those who will repent and come to Christ. Choice or freedom isn’t a mysterious good pleasure of God’s will.

Me: God created us. He desires us. He wants none to perish. He loves the world and he sacrificed himself for the world. And the wording of Jn 3:16 is “whosoever believes” and not those whom God has chosen. Obviously, we differ,

I don’t accept that God elects only a very few individuals for salvation. The verses I’m sure you’ll point to are, in my opinion at least, more than offset or otherwise countered by multitudes of other verses. Hopefully we can both agree that scripture must be consistent throughout the Bible. There can’t be election in one part of the Bible and free will in another. Agree?

CF: Sure, But I’m confused by your statement, “I don’t accept that God elects only a very few individuals for salvation”. Are you a universalist? You must think everyone is saved?

Me: No, I’m not a universalist and I’m a little surprised that you would infer that from what I said. I stated that God wants everyone to be saved. Clearly, he wants none to perish i.e. 2 Pet 3:9. But I grant you that doesn’t mean everyone is saved. Rather, as to your initial original thought, I believe that individuals have free will in the matter of salvation.

As to word definitions, I’ve said before, that I believe Calvinists are in serious error as to the meanings of certain words – such as a word you’ve already used twice – predestination. To me, predestination is not related to individual salvation. Rather, predestination is what God opted to do when essentially doing away with the law and enabling both Jew and Gentile to be saved through faith in Christ. This, to me, is made manifestly clear when I look through the book of Acts. I can dig up various passages later if you wish where Paul is talking to Jews and Gentiles at various times and explaining how we’re no longer under the law but grace. As such, when reading, say Eph 1:4-5, the meaning I derive is entirely different from what I understand Calvinist doctrine to be. As I see it, God [determined] that we would be holy and blameless [through Christ]. In love, God determined that we would be adopted as his sons [through Christ] because of his grace and mercy. Nevertheless, I still must make that choice. And I have free will to accept or reject God’s grace.

CF: Interesting. But as you know, I believe predestination is for salvation. But that does not negate the reality that the individual has a choice in whether to accept Christ or not.

Me: Your belief that an individual has a choice in whether to accept Christ or not is antithetical to traditional Calvinist doctrine. My understanding of Calvinist doctrine is that because of total depravity, no one can bring themselves to God. And, well, I also differ on that point with Calvinists. But I digress.

Also, I believe Calvinists confuse predestination with foreknowledge. Predestination, is God moving from the (OT) law unto (NT) grace by way of faith in Christ. And I would agree that God being outside of time knows in advance who’ll accept and who’ll reject his offer of salvation. In that regard, a will is not a will if it’s not free to be a will. I think that makes sense.

CF: I just prefer to use the word ‘choice’.

Me: Choice is what the will does. The will is free to move this way or that. It’s in the mind. A person is free to believe anything they want; right or wrong, good or bad, and to act or not act on that belief.

CF: Obviously, God isn’t sovereign if we can have control over him.

Me: Wait! Now we’re talking apples and oranges.

CF: No, we aren’t! God is sovereign over everything. Including the choices we make.

Well, that pretty much summed up the discussion. It seemed clear that we were, again, at an impasse. We weren’t going to find agreement. Rather, we agree to disagree. Yet, how can this be? How can good-willed folks in both the Calvinist and non-Calvinist camps have such diametrically opposed perspectives given we all work off the same ‘source material’ i.e. the Bible? To me, it’s a paradox and maybe even emblematic that what we respectively call faith is little more than opinion.

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