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Monday
Feb092009

Theological Term of the Week

compatibilism
In theology, this is the view that God’s exhaustive sovereignty (or his predetermination and meticulous providence*) is compatible with morally responsible human choice.

  • From scripture:
    Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:22-23 ESV)
  • From The London Baptist Confession, Chapter 3: Of God’s Decree:

    God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

  • Dr. Greg Bahnsen in Cross-Examination: Foreordination & Free Will:

    Question: But if God predetermines the choices that men make, then they are not truly free choices since men cannot help but do what God has ordained — in which case men are merely puppets without moral responsibility for what they do. How can you reconcile God’s sovereign foreordination with man’s free will?

    Answer: The first thing we have to admit about this pattern of reasoning (viz., God ordained it, so man is not free and responsible) is that it directly contradicts the teaching of God’s infallible word. The Biblical logic says that God’s foreordination does not deprive man of freedom or responsibility. Who can credibly claim to correct God for such an alleged error? Obviously we need to go back and find out what is wrong in our own way of thinking.

    It seems that many people make the mental mistake of thinking that God’s sovereign plan and control over the things in this world somehow changes the very character and operation of those things. Thus if God sovereignly predetermines how a man will use his volition (his free will), then man’s volition is no longer really his volition (his free will is not actually free). But such reasoning is fallacious.

    When we hold that God predetermined that the wind would turn a particular windmill, we do not thereby deny the reality of the wind. When we hold that God predetermined that a glass of water would quench your thirst, you cannot infer from that fact that the water is not truly water. Take for an example the bones of Jesus. We know from Biblical teaching that Jesus had a genuine human body; thus his bones were real human bones — made of the same material as anybody else’s bones and capable of breaking. He did not have steel or super-divine bones. Yet the Bible declared in advance that his bones would not be broken (John 19:36). God predetermined that the bones of Jesus would not be broken, but in so doing God did not alter the nature or those bones as bones. They did not mysteriously become unbreakable material. They still were regular bones.

    Similarly, when the Bible teaches us that God foreordained the free decisions made by men, we should not infer that those free decisions were not really free after all. Man’s volition remains just that — his volition. God is able, according to Biblical teaching and reasoning, to determine in advance that a man will exercise his free will in a particular way — and the man freely does so. Without force or compulsion, the man genuinely chooses to do what God had already foreordained.

Learn more:

  1. GotQuestions.org: What is compatibilism?
  2. Theopedia: Compatibilism
  3. John Hendryx: Compatibilistic Determinism
  4. John Frame: Free Will and Moral Responsibility 
  5. Matt Perman: The Consistency of Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility
  6. Scott Christensen: Comparing Libertarian and Compatibilistic Beliefs on the Human Will (pdf) 
  7. John Piper: If God Is Sovereign Over What We Do, How Can He Get Angry at Us?

Related terms:

*Wording taken from Monergism.com’s page on compatibilism.

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

I’m also interested in any suggestions you have for tweaking my definitions or for additional (or better) articles or sermons/lectures for linking. Credit will be given for any of these suggestions I use, too.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms organized in alphabetical order or by topic.

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Reader Comments (3)

What a term. I have never heard it.

The concept is one that I have pondered often, and is nearly as easy to comprehend as the doctrine of the Trinity. Yet I believe it anyway.

February 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

I love it. Fire in the belly. Reading Bahnsen articulates for me something that until now I understood and yet had a really difficult time defining.

February 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Bahnsen was a very smart man.... :)

February 10, 2009 | Registered Commenterrebecca

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