Monday, July 11, 2011

Edwards was... well, you decide

Hello everyone,

I don't have anything terribly profound to say today, but I was on the computer and I figured I'd start writing and see what would happen. I've been reading a book by Jonathan Edwards called "Freedom of the Will." Actually, since it's a book from the 1700s, it has one of those crazy long titles: "An Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of the Will which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame."

Part of me is tempted to fill you in on the crazy philosophical stuff contained in it, but I'm having trouble processing it all myself. All I can say is that Edwards is exploding my former presumptions on how the will should be thought of. As a dying Armenian, a strong case for Calvinistic thought is always an interesting place to go for me. It turns out that both Armenians and Calvinists believe in free will, but few on either side dig into just what free will really is. At least I've never seen anyone dig into it quite like Edwards does. Just to give you a flavor of the book, here's a few of the rather pointed questions the book raises:

What do Armenians mean when they say "Free Will"?

Do they mean "The freedom to do what we desire?" Well, so do Calvinists.

But what is it that determines our desires?

Do we choose our desires?

If our desires determine our choices, then to say we choose our desires is to use circular reasoning.

If we always follow our strongest inclination (which seems undeniable), then to say we choose our inclinations raises the question, what "inclined" us to choose one inclination over another? This simply pushes the question back into eternity.

It seems far more Biblical to say that our desires spring from our nature, but "nature" by definition is clearly not something we choose. We are born with it.

So, how is it that God holds us responsible for a sinful nature we didn't choose? Choice is necessarily the effect of our nature, not the cause.

Perhaps a better question is, what else could God hold us responsible for other than our nature and still be just? If our desires are not concretely grounded in our nature, then they do not ultimately come from us. They come from causes outside of ourselves. If we do not side with our strongest desire, resulting from our nature, then what have we sided with? Ultimately our choices would spring from what Edwards calls the "liberty of indifference." How could anything be commendable or condemnable if it is not grounded in our very own "desire for good" or "desire for evil"?

If ordinations, commands, rewards, threatenings, or requirements from God are not the direct causes of our obedience or disobedience, then truly He would do better to not say anything at all. It would seem, with this idea of freedom, that we could only prove our freedom by proving our will is, in the end "indifferent" to God's influence. For our nature to "necessarily" obey or disobey direct commands would show that we are not free in the Armenian sense of "self determination.

So why is it that Armenians are willing to say we're "depraved" when such logically undeniably "Calvinistic" ramifications result from such a belief? A depraved heart, even if it is not "totally" depraved, but only "mostly" depraved is by definition, not "indifferent" or "neutral." It would still "necessarily" cause the person to side with his "strongest" desire, which is sinful.

Wouldn't this lead us to the conclusion that God MUST act upon the nature of someone in order for them to desire him and then freely choose Him? This may sound Armenian, but wait a moment. In order for God to make it possible for someone to choose him, then He must bring the person to a place where God Himself is the greatest desire. Anything short of this would leave them in a place where they will side with their sin nature... either that, or they would be left in a place of complete neutrality, or indifference. Before you side with neutrality, you must realize that if it is even possible to make a decision in complete neutrality, there would be nothing commendable or condemnable about it because commendable or condemnable decisions only come from a true leaning of desire in the heart "toward" good or evil.

Therefore, in order for God to bring a person to choose him, wouldn't he HAVE to make grace irresistible? Wouldn't he HAVE to be the prior and decisive "cause" of our belief even though the belief itself is our own?

This is where I am in the book right now. Edwards is currently getting into the issue of where sin originated from with a God who is as sovereign as the Calvinists say. Before you decide that the issue of the origin of sin is a game breaker for the Calvinists, you need to realize that Armenians have just as much trouble answering the question. If you're tempted to say "free will," read this post again.

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