The following is a paper originally submitted to Dr. Harold Netland in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course PR 6411 History of Philosophy of Religion II at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, April 2015.
Free-Willers in the Hands of an Angry Guy: Jonathan Edwards’ Philosophy of Human Freedom As Primarily Presented in Freedom of the Will
In the preface of his monumental work, A Careful and Strict Inquiry into that Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will, Which is Supposed to Be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame, Jonathan Edwards asserts that knowledge of ourselves, with particular reference to understanding the nature of human freedom, is next to knowledge of God as subjects of chief importance. Upon it rests all matters of religion, virtue, and the doctrines of grace (preface; IV.XIV). Therefore, against the backdrop of the “Modern Prevailing Notion” of human freedom (i.e., libertarianism), Edwards seeks to establish what he sees as a more sure and stable philosophical conception of freedom upon which such things can rest securely. He finds his answer in theological deterministic compatibilism.
This paper seeks to succinctly analyze that philosophy of human freedom as Edwards primarily presents it in his monumental work Freedom of the Will.
Alright, so I may have overstated things a bit in my title. There are of course subsequent debates on this issue, e.g., Erasmus v. Martin Luther, Arminianism v. Calvinism, and of course the frequent debates in Christian college dorm rooms. And don’t forget what may be Jonathan Edwards’ most famous book, Freedom of the Will. But, all of these can trace back in some sense and in some form to the “original” debate between Pelagius and Augustine in which the good side, the right side, won. (Yeah, I’m biased.) Augustine–the “winner” of the debate as opposed to Pelagius who was declared a heretic–settled the debate… kinda, sorta, …well, at least in my opinion. Augustine explained how human choice, human responsibility, called “free will” by many, is compatible or “fits” with God’s sovereignty (hence the typical “Free will versus God’s sovereignty” is not an appropriate way to describe the tension).
Ligon Duncan provides two quality video responses about a topic which always seems to be a hot issue among Christians: God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.
In the first video Duncan affirms that God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are not contradictory concepts but are assumed side by side in scripture. They are not mutually exclusive but are coordinate truths.
In the second video he defines human freedom (often called “free will”) from a correct understanding of the human condition in light of man’s utter sinfulness (total depravity).