More on Sovereignty and Free Will

Last week I wrote a brief post discussing the seemingly contradictory doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Today I want to flesh that out a little further with the help of a few books on the subject ( I would recommend both for further reading, by the way).

Chosen But Free

The first book, authored by Dr. Norman Geisler, is entitled Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. In chapter 4 (“Why Blame Me?”) he addresses the fact that God’s sovereignty and complete control does not negate man’s responsibility. His basic premise is this: just because God is in complete control does not mean man can blame God for all of his shortcomings. He asks, “If God is in control of everything, then why should we be blamed for anything?”[1]

This chapter traces possible answers to the question, “Who made me do it?” Was it God? Was it the Devil? His ultimate answer is that you made you do it.

“The biblical answer is that I did it. That is, the ‘I’ or ‘Self’ is the cause of evil. How? By means of the good power of free choice that God gave me.”[2]

He explains this by way of a helpful analogy. Follow the logic:

  • The government issues a driver’s license to someone.
  • That person drives irresponsibly and crashes, causing someone to die.
  • So who is responsible for that person’s death?
    • The government (for issuing the license)?
    • The driver (for driving irresponsibly)?

Geisler states, “Those whose irresponsible driving kills others are responsible for what has happened. Remember: The government that gave us the permission to drive has also informed us how to drive safely.”[3]

Now follow as the same logic is applied to free will:

  • God gives all mankind free will.
  • Man uses his free will to commit sinful acts.
  • So who is responsible for the sin?
    • God (for giving free will)?
    • Man (for using his freedom to sin)?

“God is credited with giving the good thing called free will, but He is not to be blamed for the evil we do with our freedom.”[4] No one made this more clear than the apostle Paul did in Galatians 5:13—

For you are called to freedom, brothers; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.

God, in His sovereignty, gave us free will. But it is up to each individual how that freedom is used. The Bible is clear as to how God expects us to use it.[5]

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Whosoever Will

The second book I would like to introduce is one edited by Drs. David Allen and Steve Lemke entitled Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. This work includes a series of eleven articles by various authors. The article I would like to turn your attention to is Dr. Richard Land’s “Congruent Election: Understanding Salvation from an ‘Eternal Now’ Perspective.”[6]

Following the acronym T-U-L-I-P, Land’s article addresses the “U,” Unconditional Election. Land posits that “The key to a new and more comprehensive understanding of salvation election is a deeper and more complete understanding of God’s relation to and experience of ‘time.’”[7] To explain this relationship, he uses a C.S. Lewis term, the “Eternal Now” (from Lewis’s Miracles). God does not exist within the time-space continuum; God exists in eternity. This means that “God has always experienced the totality of time and everything before time (eternity past) and after time (eternity future) as the present” (italics added).[8]

What does this mean for man’s free will and election to salvation? According to Land, it means that God already knows the decisions people will make, and in fact in eternity He has already experienced them! He asks and answers,

“What if the Bible is telling us in the concept of ‘foreknowledge’ that God does not just know all things that have or will ever happen as if they are the present moment to Him, but that He has, and always has had, the ‘experience’ of all things, events, and people as a punctiliar present moment? That, I believe, is precisely what is suggested by the biblical concept of foreknowledge.”[9]

His further explanation of God’s experiences regarding both the elect and non-elect is helpful. He states that “there has never been a moment in eternity when God has not had the experience of every elect person being convicted, accepting God’s completion of their faith, conversion, sanctification, glorification, and their eternal praise and worship in the new heaven and the new earth.”[10]

He continues, “Conversely, God has always had the experience of the ‘non-elect’—their rejection of the Spirit’s conviction, their rejection of Him, their increasingly hardened heart, and their ultimate condemnation and eternal judgment.”[11]

Seeking middle ground between conditional and unconditional election, Land terms this “congruent” election, a view he believes “harmonizes the largest number of Scripture passages” and “allows its adherents to preach all the Scriptures on the subjects of foreknowledge, calling, election, and whosoever will.”[12]

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[1] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, Third ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2010), 31.

[2] Ibid., 36.

[3] Ibid., 35.

[4] Ibid.

[5] A rabbit that cannot be chased fully here, but must be mentioned, is the issue of God’s knowledge. Did God know from the beginning how each and every person would use their free will, especially in regard to the issue of salvation? Absolutely! Why can I answer this question so easily? Because if we deny God’s foreknowledge of man’s decisions we become open theists.

[6] Richard Land, “Congruent Election: Understanding Salvation from an ‘Eternal Now’ Perspective,” Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, eds. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2010), 45-59.

[7] Ibid., 55.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 55-56.

[10] Ibid., 57.

[11] Ibid., 57-58.

[12] Ibid., 59.


4 thoughts on “More on Sovereignty and Free Will

  1. Kudos for wading into such a dense and potentially divisive topic! I’d be curious to hear if you’ve looked at alternative views of God’s relationship to time, like that proposed by William Lane Craig (who argues against the “eternal now” view in favor of seeing God as “entering into” temporality after creating). It’s a subject that’s been on my “to study” shelf but I haven’t quite found the time for it yet (pardon the pun!).


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