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A Critique Of “Do We Have Free Will To Choose Salvation” by Richard Bushey

Richard Bushey, the author of the blog posted an article that I almost completely disagreed with (which is surprising because I usually agree with things that he writes). He wrote an article criticizing free will, and the ability to either choose or reject God. In Richard’s recent article, he writes some pretty bad arguments against synergism. You can view the original article here.

He starts off the article accurately summarizing a description of libertarian free will. Then he says “Our salvation must be decreed and offered to us by God himself.”  Well, I wouldn’t disagree with that. I too believe that our salvation is decreed by God. I believe like the Calvinists that God predestines individual people unto salvation. However, I see individual predestination in a different sense than the Calvinists see it. I believe God decreed to actualize a feasible world where I endured through certain circumstances, and because I ended up enduring through those circumstances, I ended up being saved, because God knew from eternity past that I would make the option to receive Him as my God and Savior if I endured through just those circumstances. This view is called Molinism, and it’s how I think God predestines people.

God predestines people by means of His middle knowledge. God knew, for example, that if Bob ended up in circumstance U. God, in His middle knowledge knew, “If Bob were in circumstance U, he would choose to action A over action B”. So in order to get Bob to freely choose action A, all God has to do is actualize a possible world where circumstance U is actualized, and as a result Bob chooses action A instead of action B. God’s purpose (the actualization of Bob choosing action A) is realized but God did not have to force or causally determine Bob to do such. God’s achieved His purpose through His omniscience rather than His omnipotence.

In the above scenereo, you could let “Action A” stand for “choosing to accept Christ’s offer of redemption”. I believe God does this with salvation. God elects individuals by means of creating them in circumstances where God knows they would choose Him if put in those circumstances. God chose which possible world He wanted to actualize from eternity past. So it could be said that God predestined Bob since He chose “from the foundations of the world” (see Ephesians 1:4-5) to create a world where Bob is in circumstance U and so Bob chooses A. It’s a free decision because God didn’t decree the proposition “If Bob were in circumstance U, He would freely choose A over B”. Bob made that proposition true. All God did was act on His knowledge of that proposition. This is what William Lane Craig means when He says “It is up to God whether we find ourselves in a world in which we are predestined. It is up to us whether we are predestined in the world in which we find ourselves”. For more on this, see my blog post “Molinism and Divine Foreordination” and “Is Molinism Biblical”.

However, given the wider context of the statement, it seems obvious that when he says “Our salvation must be decreed and offered to us by God himself.”  He does not mean it in the same sense I mean it. Rather it he means it in the same sense Calvinists mean it; that God picks and chooses whom to save and whom to damn from eternity past, and then offers irresistible grace to monergistically or unilaterally compel that person to faith.

Richard then says that nobody would ever choose God. We’re so evil at heart that we would only and always reject God. He then goes on to describe a view called Total Depravity, and goes on to give the biblical scriptures supporting that doctrine. This is not something I would disagree with. I agree that we are totally depraved. I agree that in our natural state, we would never freely choose to accept Christ as our savior. I agree with his interpretations of the various scriptures he uses to support Total Depravity. In fact, if you read my blog post linked to above titled “Is Molinism Biblical” I argue for Total Depravity as well.

However, I don’t think the doctrine of Total Depravity is enough to warrant the conclusion that salvation is a unilateral decision on the part of God, and that we humans have no say whatsoever in whether we serve Him. All that proves is that in the absence of God’s grace, it is impossible to come to Him. This is what the doctrine of resistible grace is, or “Overcoming Grace” as its called in the Molinist R.O.S.E.S. God’s grace is required in order for us to be able to come to Him. Without it, I agree with my Calvinist brothers that we would only vote against God every time salvation was offered to us.

Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.” But fortunately for mankind, Jesus also said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Jesus is sending prevenient or resistible grace to every single human being so that they can be saved (i.e is drawing all people to Himself), because all people are precious to Him. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 says “(God) has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself….” We could easily interpret this phrase “God in Christ was reconciling the world to Himself” to mean that God was sending previenent and resistible grace to draw everyone to salvation, not that God was forgiving every single human beings of their sins, because some won’t believe (see John 3:18).

John 1, the very first chapter of John’s gospel and the most glaring statement affirming Jesus’ divinity, states in verse 4 that “In Him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” Verse 7 says that John The Baptist  …came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through Him all might believe.” and in verse 9, The Bible says “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” What type of light is being given to every man? Well, many Arminian theologians will say that this light is prevenient grace. The word “Light” is used to refer to Jesus, obviously. But it’s also used to describe something that Jesus gives to people (i.e “The true light that gives light to everyone”).

God offers his amazing saving grace in his Son to sinners, but allows them to choose whether they will accept it or reject it (see Deuteronomy 30:15-19, Joshua 24:15). Hence, in the case of Israel, the God who loves all and works for the salvation of all says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:21).

Richard acknowledges prevenient/resisible/overcoming grace as an answer to the problem of depravity offered on the part of the non-Calvinist. But he argues that it doesn’t solve the problem. He says “First of all, if God were to offer prevenient grace to everybody, then why is it that everybody does not turn to him in faith? Is it that one person is more righteous than another? Is one person more wise than another? Obviously not, because salvation is not a matter of how righteous we are, lest we be guilty of salvation by works. We are left to think, then, that God grants more prevenient grace to one person than he does to another”

First of all, just because I can’t explain why some people choose to receive Christ and why others don’t is irrelevant. Just because I can’t explain why some make a certain choice while others make the opposite choice, it does not follow that therefore we’re justified in inferring that the choices both sets of people make is causally determined. For the record, as a Molinist, I can’t explain how God knows counterfactuals, but I believe He knows and believes all true counterfactuals anyway because I think a truly omniscient Being would have such knowledge. In fact, I can’t even explain how God created the universe without using any pre-existing materials. But does that mean I should abandon the doctrine of creatia ex nihilo? I’m content with these things simply remaining mysteries. But Richard is certainly right in saying that whatever the answer is as to why some come to Christ and why others don’t, in light of God’s resistible grace being offered to all mankind, it is certainly is not because some are more righteous than others.

Richard’s conclusion, therefore, that “We are left to think, then, that God grants more prevenient grace to one person than he does to another. But this leaves us with monergism, rather than synergism.” Is a non sequitor, and an argument from ignorance.

Besides, we have powerful scriptural evidence for resistible (as opposed to irresistible) grace such as what I’ve sighted above.

Richard then brings out the old tired argument that if salvation isn’t a causally determined, unilateral decision on God’s part, then the only other option is to believe that we’re saved by works. I’m stunned that he actually thinks this a good argument against synergism. It’s just such a silly argument.

I’ve adhered to an Arminian theology my entire life. It’s the soteriology I held when I came to Christ. Only recently did I modify it with middle knowledge and started calling myself a Molinist. But yeah, I’ve always held to that sort of theology. When I came to Christ, I believe I chose to receive Him, but I did not believe that I saved myself. In fact, I knew that I could have done none of the requirements for my salvation. I knew then as I know now that it was God who pursued me with my stubborn and rebellious heart until I submitted to Him.

I don’t think I can take any credit in my salvation not at all. I praise God every day for saving me. Here’s what God did: God created the universe, became incarnate in the womb of Mary, grew up, willingly submitted  Himself to scourging and crucifixion, by being crucified, He took the wrath of God on Himself so that I wouldn’t have to. God then finished the job by raising Christ from the dead 3 days later. Fast forward 2,000 years, God enabled my heart to believe by prevenient grace. He tried to woo me over to His side by His grace. We all know that without grace of any kind, repentance would be impossible (see John 6:44, John 6:65). God has to unbound our hands so that we can choose other than damnation. Without grace, we would only choose Hell, because we are spiritually dead in sins (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 2:13) and are slaves to sin (Romans 6:17-20).

Here’s what I did: I made a free decision to place my faith in Christ. That’s it. That’s all. That doesn’t seem very special to me, or anything like I should receive any praise over.

Here’s an analogy Jerry Walls often gives: The electric company harnesses the water, stores the power, converts it to electricity, builds a network to transfer the electricity to your home and manages it’s strength through the electrical lines, monitors the entire system, somebody else invents and builds the light bulb and the lighting mechanism …. you walk into a room and think, “it’s a little dark in here – I can’t see.” You decide to merely flip the light switch- everything was done for you to receive the light – all you did was say yes. Would anyone seriously say that you “worked” for your electricity merely because you flipped a switch? Please. If you said that to someone they’d laugh at you. So why don’t we laugh when Calvinists make the same type of argument?

God did so much to win my salvation. All I did was stop resisting. I can hardly boast in that. Did I create the universe? Did I carry Jesus’ cross? Did I raise Jesus from the dead? Did I send forth The Holy Spirit to draw me to repentance? No. I did none of those things. God did, but if He chose not to,I would still be in open rebellion against Him. In other words, if God didn’t choose to save anyone, nobody would be saved. He must choose us so that we can choose Him.

Moreover, the choice to be saved and the choice to be condemned are vastly different. While I don’t believe a man can work his way into Heaven, I certainly believe that you do have to work your way into Hell. In fact, you have to work very hard  at being condemned. You have to resist God’s Spirit (Acts 7:51) and suppress the truth of God’s existence as seen in nature (Romans 1:18-20). A man must work very hard not to believe in spite of the inner witness of God’s Spirit coupled with the overwhelming evidence for the truth of Christianity. By contrast, a man just simply has to stop resisting for faith to come.

It’s like the difference between two men in a powerful river current. One man swims upstream. The other man just simply let’s the current of the river take him downstream. One actually worked to get to his destination, the other one simply chose not to do anything.

Kenneth Keathely uses an ambulance analogy. Imagine you wake up and discover that you are in an ambulance being transported to the emergency room. You clearly require serious medical help. If you do nothing, you will be delivered to the hospital. However, if for whatever reason you demand to be let out, the driver will comply. He may express his concern, warn you of the consequences, but he will abide by your wishes. You receive no credit for being taken to the hospital, but you do receive all the blame for getting out.

I actually kind of like Keathely’s analogy and Brenden Paul Burnett’s river analogy better than Walls’ analogy. On Keathley’s analogy, if a person ends up in the hospital, it’s because he didn’t make any choice at all. But if he ended up not going to the hospital, it’s because he fought the paramedics and won. So the paramedics get all the praise if the injured person ends up at the hospital and gets healed, but the individual gets all the blame if he doesn’t end up there. It’s simply a lack of resistance in both the ambulance and river analogies that the person ends up at their destination. Their choice is technically the absence of choice. The same can be said of our salvation. Choosing God is actually just choosing not to resist His advances.

You know, I cannot for the life of me figure out how freely assenting to a gift equals a meritorious work. If someone offered me a present and I freely chose to accept it, and then claimed that I worked for it merely because I made a free choice to accept the gift, people would laugh at me. They would point out all of the work they did to get me the present and proceed to tell me that I didn’t work for my gift at all. Yet when monergists say things like “If you could freely choose God, you’d be saved by works, not grace”, people don’t immediately recognize the absurdity in that like we would in the case of freely assenting to gifts given by humans. But it is absurd nonetheless. It’s absurd to think that merely because you assented to a gift on your own choice that you somehow “worked” for it.

Then Richard argues that we are either slaves to sin, and slaves to righteousness. Richard said that people who are slaves may be able to choose some things, but only within a very limited scope. They may be able to choose some things, but only within the confines of their slavery. He says that they cannot choose their freedom. In the case of sin slavery, he says, that a younger man might be choose to be a slave to partying, drinking, smoking, and lust. An older man might be a slave to money, wealth, power, and comfort. So they can choose what they’re slaves to, but not whether they get free.

Richard goes on to list several scriptures that affirm that we’re slaves to sin. Now, I don’t at all disagree with Richard on this. Nevertheless, I think that he is taking a biblical illustration and is stretching it like Calvinists (and Calvinistic Molinists) usually do with biblical metaphors.

In fact, I’ve used the example of a slave (actually a hostage) in other writings to illustrate the point that we can’t choose our freedom, but that if a hero comes along, we’d be able to choose freedom. I said Let’s say that your hands were tied behind your back and tape was covering your mouth, because you’re a hostage to a man named Mr. Sin Nature. A hero comes along and offers to take you out of the dungeon this evil man is keeping you hostage in. He offers you to lead you to the exit, but you cannot possibly respond to him because you’re bound and gagged. So what this hero does is to untie your hands and remove the tape from your mouth and then offer to lead you to the exit. If He didn’t untie you, you wouldn’t even be able to respond. Fortunately, He does untie you and then offers to lead you to the exit of the dungeon. But suppose you, for whatever reason, don’t want to leave? You’re comfortable in this prison you’ve been in for so long. You’ve got Stockholm Syndrome. This hero now, in addition to enabling you to leave, has to persuade you to leave. Time is running out though. Mr. Sin Nature is a mad man and has threatened to blow up the dungeon with dynamite! Mr. Jesus has a limited amount of time to persuade you to leave the dungeon before you are destroyed! You can exercise your libertarian free will to either go with this hero or to accept your own demise. This is akin to how God saves people on my view. This is an analogy to total depravity and prevenient/resistible grace.

Now, whether you use the illustration of a slave, or a hostage, it’s clear to everyone that you can’t choose your freedom apart from outside help. However, if someone comes to rescue you, you can either choose to go with him, or you can fight with him. Jesus said “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. “ – John 8:34-36

But I believe people have the freedom to say “To heck with you, Jesus! I’m happy with the way things are!” or “Thank You Lord, I will follow You all the days of my life.”. In other words, people can “resist The Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51). In fact, now that I think about it, in the Old Testament Jewish law, slaves were to be released every 7 years. It was called a Jubilee. However, the slave had a choice whether or not he wanted to go free. If he had grown emotionally attached to his master, he was allowed to stay.So I guess there’s a real life example of a slave being able to choose his freedom after all!

Why do some choose to follow Him rather than others, given that God’s resistible grace is extended to all people? I don’t know. But that doesn’t shake my confidence that resistible grace is true. Especially considering all of the places in scripture that affirm it (as I cited above) as well as other places where we can infer it (see my post “Something For Calvinists To Chew On” for a few of those).

The Bible’s claim that we’re slaves to sin in no way warrants the conclusion that salvation is a causally determined, unilateral, irresistible type of thing. People can choose to remain in their cages even after a hero opens the door.

The final argument against synergism that Richard makes in the article is the argument that if God is laboring to save everyone, and yet not everyone is saved, than God is a failure. I’ve heard this argument from several Calvinists in the past, and I’m never persuaded by it. I’m extremely surprised that Richard would buy into such a terrible argument. The flaws seem obvious.

God is not a failure simply because some aren’t saved. God could unilaterally move everyone into Heaven if He wanted to, but He doesn’t want to. Space does not permit me to go into God’s reasons here, but I believe that there are several good reasons why God preferred to actualize a possible world with libertarian free will rather than causally determined creatures. But one thing would be that without free will, our love for God would not be genuine. Genuine love must be given freely. God wants our love for Him to be genuine, and if it were determined, it wouldn’t be. It would be like programming a robot to show you affection. Would you feel loved, or would the robot seem just as cold as before?

Christ allows people to perish because He would rather people love Him because they choose to rather than being programmed to. God wants children, not robots. He doesn’t fail. We’re the failures! God holds his power back on purpose when He draws people to repentance to preserve their freedom. If God were to determine them, their love for Him wouldn’t be genuine (as argued above)

So God doesn’t fail. Human beings fail. In fact, human beings couldn’t fail unless God permitted them to fail. God permits humans to fail because He didn’t want a bunch of programmed robots mechanically saying “I love You, Jesus! You’re the best!” for all eternity. God cannot, however, force someone to freely choose Him. God cannot do the logically impossible, and forcing someone to freely do something is as logically impossible as creating a square circle. So if God is a failure because He can’t force people into Heaven freely, you might as well call Him a failure for not being able to create married bachelors and square circles.

God succeeds in saving everybody who chooses to place their faith in Christ. Whoever chooses to place their faith in Christ WILL BE saved (see Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9). God will never fail those who place their trust in Him (see Deuteronomy 31:8, Hebrews 13:5). Whoever believes in Jesus Christ will be saved (see John 3:16, Mark 16:16). This is something we can have confidence in (see Hebrews 11:1, Jude 24-25).

God does not fail anyone who places their trust in Him. The people who do not place their trust in Him cannot even say that God has failed them. For God has done everything apart from overriding their free will to save themIn fact, I believe that this is precisely what renders the unbeliever without excuse on judgment day. Because God has done everything in His power [1]except overriding their free will to save them, they are rendered completely unable to point any finger at God. For whatever they say, God can respond with something like “What else did you want me to do? I provided overwhelming evidence for my existence throughout nature, I died on the cross for your sins, I extended my grace to you every time the gospel was preached to you and every time a Christian apologist debated you, I gave you many decades worth of opportunities to change your mind, yet you still insisted on living a life of open rebellion against me! For that, I am condemning you.”

I find the failure argument very weak. I think the reason this argument is prevelent in monergist circles is because of its emotional appeal, but it doesn’t have much substance to it than that. There is a lot more that could be said about it, but since this blog post is getting lengthy, let me just point out one more thing. Let me cite one of many biblical passages that show God intending something that does not happen, such as the passage cited below

Neh 9:28-31 —

‘And many times You rescued them according to Your compassion, And admonished them in order to turn them back to Your law. Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to Your commandments but sinned against Your ordinances, By which if a man observes them he shall live. And they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck, and would not listen. *However, You bore with them for many years,* And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.”

Now notice that God instructed them by his Spirit; this is the Spirit’s action upon them for the divine purpose of getting the people to turn back to God Almighty. Here’s the kicker; the word translated “bore” is actually the same word used in John 6 for “draw”. The same Greek word that Calvinists insist must refer to irresistible dragging is used in the LXX, which the early church generally used for its Bible to refer to God drawing Israel to repentance by his Spirit, but such drawing was clearly resisted. As one member of the Society Of Evangelical Arminians once remarked to me; this word should really be translated in the English of both the Hebrew and Greek, “But you drew them”. Alrighty then, now let me ask you something; was God a failure because he purposed to turn Israel back through his admonition, yet they refused? God’s purpose was not fulfilled. Does that make him a failure? No, because he allowed his purpose to be rejected. He allowed the people to freely choose. Again, the people failed, not God.

God’s not a failure for sovereignly permitting people to live without Him. To think that God is a failure just because He sovereignly allows people to reject Him is absurd.

In conclusion, Richard’s argument does nothing to undermine syngergism. All of these are bad arguments against synergism.

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1 except overriding their free will

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Silent Reader

    A very wonderful article, Evan. I’ve read many articles from your blog silently, but this one made me want to really comment on this.

    A good analogy for salvation would be being stuck in the middle of nowhere. A car passes by and offers to give you a ride. You can say no and be stuck in that place. You can also, accept the offer. You cannot credit yourself for the drive. The only one to be credited here is the driver who did all the driving! Your choosing to accept the driver’s offer does not make you the one who did the work/driving!

    This is just an analogy I came up with as I read your post, but I like the gift analogy you wrote the most. I think that it perfectly captures how God saves us.

    1. Evan Minton

      That is a good analogy. Indeed.

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