Compatibilism vs. Libertarian Free Will…and Eternal vs. Everlasting

On Free Will and the Sovereignty of God

1. Explain the difference between a libertarian and a compatibilist conception of free will.

My study of compatibilism, will, free will and libertarian free will goes deeper than the readings from the textbook…and I believe that how a person defines these terms (and how that person feels about those definitions) affects how he or she views the sovereignty of God.

The simple word “will” indicates the function of choosing, whether or not there are outside forces that influence the choice. Free will indicates the ability to choose without constraining influences. For example, I may ride my bike to work, but walk home because somebody took my bike – I chose to walk instead of getting a ride, but my choice to not ride my bike was made under the constraint of the person who took my bike, using my will, but not libertarian free will.  Using the same situation of riding to work, at the end of the day I can choose to either ride home or get a ride home with a co-worker. That choice is made without constraining influences.

The theory of libertarian free will means that a person can choose between two actions or many actions, without the constraining influence of a sovereign God.

A compatibilist believes that a person’s will is constrained by a sovereign God, but that person retains moral free agency – the ability to choose along with the responsibility of that choice.

Two related terms are determinism and indeterminism; whether or not the end result of action has been determined by God. Those who hold to libertarian free will deny determinism; those who hold to compatibilism believes that human free agency and determinism are compatible – God determines the end result and influences human choices…but the human choices are real choices and they are responsible for those choices.

If a person comes with a presupposition of compatibilism, that person feels no need to chip away at the concept of a sovereign God. If another person has the presupposition of libertarian free will, that person must construct a concept of a God who is either unable or unwilling to intervene in the will of His creatures. This construct leads to the problem of “prophesy” in Scripture – how can God send a prophet with a prediction of a future, unless that God can influence His creation to bring about that future?  One answer to that dilemma is Wolterstorff’s distinction between “eternal” and “everlasting.”

2. Explain in brief Wolterstorff’s distinction between God is eternal and God is everlasting. The difference between “eternal” and “everlasting” is subtle but important – and the difference is philosophical, not Scriptural.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word, עוֹלָם (transliterated `owlam) is translated in Strong’s Lexicon both as “eternal” and “everlasting.”  In the New Testament, the Greek αἰώνιος (transliterated aiōnios) is also translated as “eternal” and “everlasting.” Wolterstorff’s distinction may be philosophical, but the distinction does not appear in Scripture.

Wolterstorff maintains that the term “eternal” indicates and existence without beginning or end, and that the subject of that adjective exists outside of time. The implication of Wolterstorff’s “eternal God” ends up being that whatever happens in the timeline of creation is experienced by God in His “present tense.”  The Father’s Son was crucified in creation’s timeline about 2,000 years ago…but that reality is being experienced by God now…and next week…and at all moments from before time began and will be experienced after time ends.

“Everlasting”, according to Wolterstorff, has the same existence without beginning or end, but an existence that shares creation’s gift of time – again using the example of Christ’s crucifixion, the Son died, was buried and rose on the third day. When He uttered His last words on the cross, “It is finished.” – it was finished.

Philosophically, I understand the difference. I do not understand how Wolterstorff’s “eternal” God is compatible with a Christ who had an existence prior to His incarnation, who lived His life as a man and who currently sits at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

A belief in God, who is sovereign over His creation and who is able and willing to intervene – along with compatibilism, which allows humans their free agency…, has no need to make a differentiation between “eternal” and “everlasting” – two words that have no Scriptural distinction.


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