Augustine the Libertarian

Some refer to Calvinism as Augustinianism.  John Calvin took the teachings of the later Augustine and systematized them.  The only major difference between the later Augustine and Calvin’s theology is the doctrine of perseverance.  Augustine believed that one could be truly regenerated and yet not be granted the gift of perseverance.  Calvin denied that one who was truly regenerated could fail to persevere.  But what about the early Augustine?

The early Augustine had a theology that was little different than the theology which had dominated the church since apostolic teachings.  Augustine held to a libertarian view of human freedom and only began to move away from that view when embroiled in debate and controversy with the Pelagians.  In these debates his theology began to shift.

Calvinists might claim that this shift was due to theological maturity and greater insight into Biblical truths once overlooked.  Another possibility is that when trying to counter the Pelagian arguments regarding free will Augustine went too far in the other direction and began to fall back into some of the gnostic determinism which he had abandoned upon his conversion to Christianity from the Manichaean sect.  Augustine’s later redevelopment of much of his theology was the direct result this overreaction to the Pelagian controversy.  I prefer the latter explanation.

So what did the early Augustine believe concerning the will?  He agreed with the consensus of the chruch Fathers before him.  He held to a libertarian view of free will and argued for it along the same lines as many Arminians do today.

Compatibilists often tell us we are “free” if we are not coerced by external factors and do what we “want” to do.  The part that they often leave out of the conversation is that they believe that our “wants” are causally determined by internal factors.  Somehow, compatibilists think that if you make the shift from external to internal the problem is resolved and we can be truly free even if our will is controlled by internal factors (motives, desires, etc.).  And since we do what we want to do (i.e. we are not forced to do such things “against our [causally determined] wills” ) we are rightly held responsible by God and man for our actions.  What would Augustine think of such arguments?

Thomas Williams in his introduction to Augustine: On Free Choice of the Will writes,

A libertarian such as Augustine would not be convinced by this sort of reasoning.  These philosophers still insist that my choices are determined; the fact that they are determined by internal rather than external factors is inconsequential.  It is not better to be a hand puppet than a marionette.  Besides, to a libertarian, this view is just a dodge.  To see why this is the case, suppose that I have made a choice that was determined by my state of character at the time of the choice.  Call that state of character S.  How did I acquire S?  If we admit that determinism is true, we must say that, given the laws of nature and causal factors at work both inside and outside me, S is the inevitable result of some prior state R.  And how did I acquire R?  It was the result of some prior state Q, which in turn was the result of prior state P and so on.  And thus we trace the causal chain back in time, eventually reaching a point before I was born. But how can I be responsible for choices that are assured causal results of states of the universe [or eternal decrees if you will] that existed before I was born?  For obviously I have no control over things that happened before I was born.  The fact that this causal chain eventually wormed its way inside me, so to speak, determining my choices from within, no longer seems to guarantee my freedom.  It is with such considerations in mind that Augustine rejects the view (known as ‘compatibilism’) that determinism is compatible with human freedom and moral responsibility; and since he is convinced that human beings are in fact free and responsible, he must reject determinism as well. (pp. xii, xiii) 

Augustine, like Arminians, believed that if our choices were determined by factors which we could not control then we could not be held responsible for our actions (even if we did those actions “willingly” since the will itself has been causally determined by factors beyond our control).  If the will has been causally determined then it is not helpful to say that because we do things “willingly” we should be held responsible for those actions.  Augustine agreed with the consensus of the early church Fathers that such a view could not make sense of moral responsibility.

Calvinists tend to get hyped up when Arminians accuse them of making puppets of people with their deterministic view of the will.  Yet those same Calvinists will happily describe us as inanimate and helpless clay in the hand of the Potter who has the right to shape us however He pleases (which misunderstands what was being expressed in Jer. 18, Rom. 9, and related passages).  If we object to their determinism then we are sternly rebuked for being like pots who are talking back to the Potter.  And yet, the Potter apparently formed and shaped us just so that we would indeed talk back to Him.  Strange theology indeed.

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12 Responses

  1. Dear brother,

    I really, really, really want to understand what you mean and what you stand for when it comes to this topic so I have a question that perhaps will help me even if it is on the simple side for you. When you wrote-

    even if we did those actions “willingly” since the will itself has been causally determined by factors beyond our control

    How does that work seeing as we have been determined to be sinful in nature before we were ever born? It seems to me that we sin because we are sinners, for your view to be clearer to me the reverse would be the case i.e. we are sinners because we sin. Does that make sense? Also, who says that you cannot control your desires or motives? What I say is that our desires and motives are sufficient cause for making decisions and thus being judged. You would say that our desires and motives are not sufficient cause for making decisions and that we cannot be judged by them. Yet the Bible tells me that my desires and motives are what I am being judged on.

    I have a hard time with this and thank you for taking the time to interact with me on this.

    Praise be to God

  2. Mitch I have some questions for you based on your latest comments.

    “How does that work seeing as we have been determined to be sinful in nature before we were ever born?”

    If we are “determined to be sinful in nature before we were ever born” presumably you mean that each person is born with a sin nature that causes them to sin. Do believers still have this sin nature? If no, then why do we continue to sin? If Yes, why don’t we always sin then? You claim that our natures determine/necessitate our actions. So explain how this works out in the experience of the believer.

    “Also, who says that you cannot control your desires or motives?”

    And **who** or **what** is controlling these desires or motives? Is it **us**? And if it is **us** then if we control our own desires and motives then how can you claim that our desires and motives control us and necessitate our actions? Which is it?

    “What I say is that our desires and motives are sufficient cause for making decisions and thus being judged.”

    Do we always act upon every desire that we have? We would if our desires necessitated our actions. But in fact we do not always act upon our desires. And these times when we do not act upon our desires, are we not making a choice to do so?

    “You would say that our desires and motives are not sufficient cause for making decisions and that we cannot be judged by them. Yet the Bible tells me that my desires and motives are what I am being judged on.”

    Where does the bible say that? It says we will all be judged for the actions we do. It says that **we** will be judged not our desires and motives. Who/What is responsible for our actions, us or our desires and motives? Are desires and motives these free floating entities that operate independently of us, that control us, that make us do things? The bible speaks of individual persons being judged for their actions, “for the deeds done in the body.” Our souls, **us**, is the entity that will be judged by God at the final judgment.

    Robert

  3. Dear brother,

    If I were a believer in LFW then I would not need the Spirit to enable me to choose right over wrong, because I would have that ability to do it on my own. We act on our strongest desire or motives, why do you act or choose?

    Yes believers still have a sin nature and we continue to sin because there are now 2 natures working in us. BTW, if we did not act in a certain situation that would imply that that was our strongest desire at the time.

    I asked in the other thread for the exegetical proof of LFW in Scripture and also this ad hoc definition of LFW that you seem to be advocating. Just one reputable source will do for now.

    Of course we are judged because we are sinners that live in open rebellion to our Lord, we are rightfully judged because that is what we are “willingly” and we “freely” choose to do. We choose that because that is what we desire the most, could you choose Christ without desiring him first? You could if you are consistent in your LFW view. Again though Robert, why do you choose? The minute you say “I choose because…” you have left the confines of LFW theory. Yet you hold to something that is clearly false and nonsensical, strange. I think that if more people understood what LFW means less people would “believe” in it. To say that our choices do not have a sufficient condition and/or prior cause is nonsense, yet that is what LFW theory would have us believe.

    Praise God for His grace

  4. Mitch a couple times now and in a couple of different places you have referred to the “standard LFW”. Could you define what you mean by the “standard LFW”? According to you what is the “standard LFW”. And if you can cite this from a scholarly source that would be helpful.

    You are also using the term “sufficient condition” quite a bit, what do you mean by this term?

    I want to make sure that I understand exactly what you are suggesting.

    Robert

  5. Great post BEN!!! Awsome indeed.

    JNORM888

  6. Dear brother,

    Here are some definitions of the term-

    Libertarian free will means that our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God. All “free will theists” hold that libertarian freedom is essential for moral responsibility, for if our choice is determined or caused by anything, including our own desires, they reason, it cannot properly be called a free choice. Libertarian freedom is, therefore, the freedom to act contrary to one’s nature, predisposition and greatest desires. Responsibility, in this view, always means that one could have done otherwise. Theopedia An encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity

    Libertarianism=df the view that a person is free with respect to a given action if and only if that person is both free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing that action; in other words, that person is not determined to perform or refrain from that action by any prior causal forces. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    Here is one you may like, it is by one that you frequently site in your comments

    If a person is free with respect to a given action, then he is free to perform that action and free to refrain from performing it; no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine that he will perform the action, or that he won’t. Plantiga in God, Freedom, and Evil

    It involves the agent being free to perform o refrain from an action because no antecedent conditions and/or causal laws determine what the agent will do. No One Like Him pg. 729 by John Feinberg

    As you can see I am using a standard definition and view of LFW, that being said I do not see this kind of freedom in the Bible. I am open to correction though and if you could give me an exegetical argument for this type of freedom from Scripture I will gladly accept it with the help of the Spirit and by the grace of God.

    Praise God for giving us His Word

  7. Mitch,

    I think this has been well explained to you already but I will try to be crystal clear. I also would like you to finally address some questions that you have so far dodged with regards to your compatibilism.

    1) Arminians define LFW as the God given ability to make a choice in a given situation without that choice being necessitated. Arminians do not believe that there are never restrictions to our freedom, i.e. they believe that this freedom is limited. We can only choose according to the influences that are brought to bear on us. We do not make choices in a vacuum.

    2) Someone with a corrupt nature cannot choose that which is spiritually pleasing to God without the grace and influence of Holy Spirit. Before that divine influence is brought to bear on us we simply do not have that option available, and therefore have no real choice in the matter. However, when the influence of God’s grace is brought to bear on us, then we have the God given ability to yield to that influence or to resist it.

    3) The sufficient cause of our choices is “us”. It is the agent himself who is the sufficient cause. The agent himself uses the God given capacity of the mind to weigh his options (consider all influences and motives, etc.) and choose accordingly. The agent chooses according to his or her greatest desire but it is the agent himself who decides what that greatest desire will be.

    4) The agent can be held responsible for his or her actions because the agent determines his actions. If the agents actions are determined by forces that are beyond his or her control (i.e. the irresistible influence of certain motives in a given situation), then that agent cannot be held responsible for his or her actions since he was not in control of the motives but rather controlled by those motives. This is very basic to human knowledge and is everywhere assumed in Scripture.

    You are working with a definition of LFW that Arminians deny. It would be helpful if you began to adjust your arguments accordingly instead of wasting your efforts battling straw men.

    Questions for you:

    1) If our nature alone dictates our actions without respect to outside factors (like the influence of the Holy Spirit or temptation) then how do you explain Adam’s sin? Adam’s nature was declared good by God and yet he did that which was certainly not good by yielding to temptation and disobeying God.

    2) This one has been asked more than once. You claim that motives are sufficient causes for our choices and that without these motives we could not make choices because then we could be making choices without sufficient causes or conditions. The question I would like for you to address is how it is that you feel comfortable assigning the same causal power to motives that you deny to the agent himself? If motives can have casual power over the agent, then why can’t the agent have power over the motives, i.e. decide which motives will carry the greatest weight and act accordingly?

    3) You asked for Biblical evidence for LFW and JC has mentioned 1 Cor. 10:13. You have so far dodged the implications of that passage.

    4) Do you deny God the power and ability to endow His creatures with the capacity of self-determination?

    Regarding your definitions we can readily agree since the issue is clearly stated that such influences do not cause choices, which does not mean that those influences do not influence our choices (obviously). The question regards the nature of those influences. Are they irresistible (causation) or not. As I said before we do not make choices in a vacuum. The only definition I would disagree with perhaps is the one that says we can choose against our greatest desire. I would simply change that to say that the agent determines the greatest desire and acts accordingly.

    Hope that helps,
    Ben

  8. Dear brother,

    I will try to answer your questions to the best of my ability. I pray that the Spirit guide me in understanding and that I come across “crystal clear”.

    1) I never meant to say that our actions are not influenced by outside factors. I tried to make sure that I wrote that both internal and external conditions play a role in our actions.
    2) It seems that I answered that with my answer to 1, but to be “crystal clear” what I meant to convey is that our motives are sufficient grounds for us to make choices. I point that out because in my understanding of LFW our motives are never sufficient grounds for making choices.
    3) When it comes to 1 Corinthians 10:13 I see it as God being faithful and giving us a way out of the temptation or trial that we are enduring. I looked at a commentary on the verse and found this Common to man – Or, as the Greek word imports, proportioned to human strength. God is faithful – In giving the help which he hath promised. And he will with the temptation – Provide for your deliverance. (John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible) I also see that it is God that provides it for us and that this speaks more of His faithfulness towards us then any action theory about mans will.
    4) I do not deny God any power. He is creator and sustainer of all things. Without God nothing would exist and nothing would happen unless He upholds it and brings it to pass. It does appear to me though that you claim that God limits Himself when it comes to man and I just do not see that.

    You did not like my paraphrase of Ephesians 1:11, why? It tells me that God works all things according to the counsel of his will and while it does not say how, it would be you that would have to prove that He limits himself in some way. Yet the verse is “crystal clear” that it was God that deliberated and formulated the plan and now brings it all about, this seems pretty consistent with absolute sovereignty.

    I agree that we choose on our greatest desire and while you would add that the agent determines the greatest desire I agree to some extent. We do determine our greatest desire, but we are born with a corrupt nature and will – so our greatest desire in our natural state will always be sinful as it relates to our spiritual condition. This is what I see Scripture teach when it says that our natures are evil, and when it says that our lust births sin, etc.

    This will be it for me on this; we have beaten this horse long enough. I will continue to read your site and on occasion try to interact with you and your brothers in arms. If nothing else this gives me a deeper understanding of your view and how at times we may even agree.

    His will be done in all things

  9. Hello Ben,

    You and JC have made the point that Mitch evades answering our questions. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, Mitch has not been honest with us here. He tries to present himself as someone who does not know much about the topic and needs help to clarify his thinking, when in reality he has very firm and set views and is quite familiar with the topic. Second, he knows that by answering certain questions his view will be shown to be false. Instead of answering the questions then, he just evades them all. Here I will take your latest questions and stand his non-responses next to your questions so that everyone will see just how evasive he is.

    Ben writes:

    “1) If our nature alone dictates our actions without respect to outside factors (like the influence of the Holy Spirit or temptation) then how do you explain Adam’s sin? Adam’s nature was declared good by God and yet he did that which was certainly not good by yielding to temptation and disobeying God.”

    My comment – Ben is saying that of Mitch’s theory that our nature necessitates our actions, how does this explain how Adam fell into sin? Jonathan Edwards also argued that our nature determines choices and his theory breaks down at the same point with Adam.

    Mitch’s non-answer and evasion:

    “1) I never meant to say that our actions are not influenced by outside factors. I tried to make sure that I wrote that both internal and external conditions play a role in our actions.”

    My comment = absolutely no comment about Adam or how his nature caused him to sin. Complete evasion of the question.

    “2) This one has been asked more than once. You claim that motives are sufficient causes for our choices and that without these motives we could not make choices because then we could be making choices without sufficient causes or conditions. The question I would like for you to address is how it is that you feel comfortable assigning the same causal power to motives that you deny to the agent himself? If motives can have casual power over the agent, then why can’t the agent have power over the motives, i.e. decide which motives will carry the greatest weight and act accordingly?”

    My comment = Ben is saying that if Mitch is going to claim that motives cause our choices because they are the sufficient condition, then why couldn’t we also say that the person Himself, the agent, is the sufficient cause of his own actions?

    “2) It seems that I answered that with my answer to 1, but to be “crystal clear” what I meant to convey is that our motives are sufficient grounds for us to make choices. I point that out because in my understanding of LFW our motives are never sufficient grounds for making choices.”

    My comment = another total evasion. He does not deal with Ben’s question whatsoever. Does not talk about the person causing his action or not causing his own action, nothing. And he even says he is being “crystal clear” when in fact he totally evades the question. What **is** “crystal clear” is how Mitch completely avoids answering the question.

    “3) You asked for Biblical evidence for LFW and JC has mentioned 1 Cor. 10:13. You have so far dodged the implications of that passage.”

    My comment = the passage clearly speaks about a choice that the believer **has**, to resist temptation or give into temptation, a choice which is up to the believer to make. A situation where he can do one thing or do otherwise. A clear instance of the reality of having a choice, of LFW, presented in scripture.

    “3) When it comes to 1 Corinthians 10:13 I see it as God being faithful and giving us a way out of the temptation or trial that we are enduring. I looked at a commentary on the verse and found this Common to man – Or, as the Greek word imports, proportioned to human strength. God is faithful – In giving the help which he hath promised. And he will with the temptation – Provide for your deliverance. (John Wesley’s Notes on the Bible) I also see that it is God that provides it for us and that this speaks more of His faithfulness towards us then any action theory about mans will.”

    My comment = again total evasion of the question. We all agree that the verse speaks of God being faithful and providing a way out. The issue is whether or not the believer **has** a choice when facing temptation, a choice to resist or a choice to give in. If he does in fact face this choice and **has** this choice, then LFW is clearly being presented in scripture.

    “4) Do you deny God the power and ability to endow His creatures with the capacity of self-determination?”

    My comment = Ben is asking whether or not God could. if he desired to, based on His sovereignty, create us with the capacity for self determination.

    “4) I do not deny God any power. He is creator and sustainer of all things. Without God nothing would exist and nothing would happen unless He upholds it and brings it to pass. It does appear to me though that you claim that God limits Himself when it comes to man and I just do not see that.”

    My comment = He begins by declaring that he does not deny God the power to do things. OK, then does he have the power to create us with the capacity for self determination. He then shifts to the fact that God is creator (no disagreement) and sustainer of all that exists (no disagreement). He then adds his calvinism that nothing occurs unless God “brings it to pass” (where there is disagreement). Sins occur and God does not bring them to pass, he allows them. He then adds this notion of God **limiting** himself. Was there anything in the question about whether or not God limits himself? NO. The question was whether or not God could create us as a self determining being. And there is no discussion of self determination whatsoever in his “answer”. So we have four pretty simple and straightforward questions. All four are not answered, all four are completely evaded.

    And yet answers are given that make no attempt to actually answer the questions. It reminds me of how politicians sometimes answer questions. They don’t answer the questions they just state what they want to say and use it as an opportunity to declare their views. I don’t think that is honest and I don’t think that Mitch has been honest in his evasive maneuvers either. And he has evaded my questions, Ben’s questions and JC’s questions. While at the same time repeatedly caricaturing the LFW view of free will and repeatedly presenting his compatibilism. All in all then, Mitch is playing games and not having an honest discussion with us.

    Robert

  10. Dear Robert,

    I fail to see how you can accuse me of not being honest, I may not give answers that you like but is that sufficient grounds to call me a liar? I hope that I never gave the impression that I was completely lacking in this topic, I have read a great deal on it. Does that mean that I understand it all or that I have a firm grasp of the Arminian argument? No. As someone pointed out there seems to be several different definitions of LFW and not all Arminians hold to the same definition, so it would be wise of me to try and get clarification on what views one holds too, would you not agree?

    As for “evading” Ben’s questions, again you may not like my answers and find them lacking, but need I be accused of “evasion” or worse lying? While you have not come right out and said that I am a liar it is readily apparent that you imply it.

    In response to the first question I pointed out that I never stated that outside factors do not play a role in our decisions. Seems that is a crucial point that I felt needed to be addressed. You seem to think that I did not answer the Adam question, ok. The question then is why did Adam sin? All I know is what Scripture tells me, that the Serpent tempted them by getting them to “desire” to eat the fruit. It was this desire that caused them to sin and what brought death to them; kind of stated that by the lust, desire thing that I paraphrased from James.

    In response to the second question I pointed out that yes I believe our motives and/or desires are sufficient grounds for making choices, I also pointed out that that is not true in my understanding of LFW. It also would help me if you could show me an instance where you make a choice without any antecedent conditions or motives or desires. If you hold to LFW do actions just kind of spontaneously happen and decisions just come out of nowhere for no reason whatsoever?

    In response to the third question I pointed out that the verse is not addressing or giving an action theory for man’s will. Again in my thinking choices do not equate to LFW, it appears that for you if one has a choice then that proves LFW if that were true then much ink has been spilled for nothing. The verse also does not address how our choice is made so it does not disprove compatibilism.

    In response to the fourth question I pointed out that I believe God can do whatever He wills. I also hoped to convey that I believe God does not limit himself and if I were to believe in LFW then I would say that God limits himself in some capacity. Now you could say that it is God that “chose” to limit himself, but that is not the picture I get from Scripture.

    On a personal note though Robert, you come across as very arrogant, prideful and judgmental. Now you may be none of those things, but that is what comes across to me and that is one reason why I “choose” not to interact with you more. Nothing can be gained by accusing/implying that one is lying, deceiving or degrading each other. If I am in the wrong then I would hope that you correct me with Scripture and with a humble and loving heart. I hope that you have a good weekend and that the Lord blesses you in all things.

    Praise be to God

  11. Hey Mitch,

    In response to the third question I pointed out that the verse is not addressing or giving an action theory for man’s will.

    Agreed, though the focus need not be a specific thing for relevant facts to be gleaned. Christ’s prayer of “not My will but Yours be done” is not a direct commentary on the Trinity, but stands as substantial proof of as much from its implications.

    Again in my thinking choices do not equate to LFW,

    True, but the genuine possibility of a different choice does amount to as much.

    it appears that for you if one has a choice then that proves LFW if that were true then much ink has been spilled for nothing. The verse also does not address how our choice is made so it does not disprove compatibilism.

    It need not address the ‘how,’ simply the ‘what.’ What it says is that God will not let us be tempted beyond what we are able. Now given that Christians do sometimes fall into temptation nonetheless: if all of our choices, including those of yielding to temptation are predetermined (compatibilistic or otherwise), then a Christian has no ability in such circumstances to escape the snare, the only truly possible choice one can make in such a circumstance is to yield, meaning that when we sin it is due to us being tempted beyond what we are able to endure. The logical implication of determinism of any kind is that no other outcome is possible than that which is predetermined, thus the only tenable solution for the dilemma is contrary choice of some kind.

    I hope you have a good weekend too. God bless.

  12. […] was the belief that man was endowed with a measure of free will in the strict libertarian sense.  Augustine strongly defended the freedom of the will in many of his writings.  This was nothing novel as all of the church fathers before him also held that man was endowed […]

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