Man is Free. Man is Not Free.

From Doug Wilson citing Whatever Happened to the Reformation?:

“If we were maintaining that man is free and that man is not free, and we were using the word free unequivocally, then that would be an actual contradiction. We would be trying to square the circle. But if we say that God determined, for example, the treachery of Judas, and that Judas, in an entirely different sense, determined in his own heart what he would do, where is the contradiction? There is mystery, certainly, but no more contradiction than when we try to understand how God created the universeĀ ex nihilo. We do not understand it, but our lack of understanding is very different from our lack of understanding round squares. Hamlet cannot do what Ophelia does; that would be a contradiction. But he can do what Shakespeare in a different way does, and when we come right down to it, cannot be found doing anything else” (FromĀ Whatever Happened to the Reformation, pp. 67-68).

Is this a good way to frame the issue? I think it captures the heart of Calvinism well. Man is free. Man is not free. Contradiction? I say no. God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom are compatible with one another. Mystery? Absolutely.



About Les

Executive Director for the Haiti Orphan Project.
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8 Responses to Man is Free. Man is Not Free.

  1. parsonsmike says:

    Man’s freedom is limited. “Man is free”= man’s freedom. “Man is not free”= limited freedom.
    What limits man’s freedom? In what way is he not free?

    Man has spatial limitations.
    He has time constraints.
    He has physical limitations.
    He has spiritual limitations.

  2. Ken Hamrick says:


    I’m right there with you. Both are true, and there is no contradiction.

  3. Les says:

    Parsonsmike @1,

    I’m not sure what you mean, but if you are saying man is not free, I agree. But then I will say he is free in one sense as well. That’s the point of the quote. Ultimately regarding moral and spiritual choices, man is not free to decide against his nature. He is free to decide consistent with his nature.

  4. I don’t think that man is very free to choose. At least not me. Might not want to speak for all of you.

    I certainly have a real ‘perception’ that I can think and choose anything I want. However:

    I don’t know all the choices that are possible. I can only think of one thing at a time.
    Every time I finish a sentence of thought, I am again faced with an infinite amount of things I could think next.
    Yet I can only think one thought at a time. I cannot weigh the value of all the thoughts I could think and then choose a noble course.

    I get distracted by random events, random sensations and the people around me; whether human, angel, demon or Holy Spirit.

    I have no real idea where my desires come from. I spend very little time meditating on the scope and sequence of my desires.

    I am a hopeless mess. For a Holy God to be Just, he must elevate my pathetic ability to choose to a responsible level. And I may or may not recognize it at the time.

    Thank God I did recognize Him once! Jesus Christ is my Lord, my Master, my King. He is my Savior from daily sin and so I am convinced He will eventually save my from wrath.

  5. parsonsmike says:

    Les> We are in agreement. Man is a slave to sin, yet retains some freedom to not sin.
    Jerry> Good points, I especially like the one about our perceptions. As fallen beings, we tend to think that our own perception of reality is to be the most trusted. Yet as Christians, we know that because we were fallen, our perception has been distorted. Thus we are told:

    Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

    Our minds are in the transition between fallen man and glorified man. The more we study the Word of God and put it into practice, the more we will see with God’s eyes [a true perception of reality].

  6. Parson,

    1 Corinthians 2:12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

    1 Corinthians 2:16b But we have the mind of Christ.

    The word of God and the Spirit of God give us a great advantage over our fallen state. They combine to give us insight, inspiration, awareness, creativity, and of course, humility. Man’s perception is incomplete without such divine fellowship. It would be trite to call it a “sixth sense”, but there is a divine sensitivity that gives this spiritually blind man the perspective of God. I am still a little annoyed though, that I see through a glass darkly.

  7. parsonsmike says:

    Call me Mike. i go to Parsons Baptist Church.
    Good Scriptures.
    As you say, our perspective is not 100% clear.
    As we study the Word and live it, the glass will be less dark.
    We have the Spirit to guide us and the mind of Christ to understand, but we still are maturing in Jesus.

    Ephesians 4
    And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

  8. A Museum is a wonderful place where one can learn a great deal. Curators and docents can teach us lessons about the past and help us to think. But a Museum is about the past, not today, and not the trials of today.

    I really appreciate this comment stream because the Scriptures are referred to instead of some Museum author, no matter how relevant their ministry might have been in ‘their time’. The Scripture is always relevant. Kind of like, the flower fades and the grass withers, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.

    And “Mike” it is.

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