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The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 1)


Reconciling God’s sovereignty with man’s ability to choose is one of the perceived “contradictions” in the Christian faith. Skeptics attempt to use this alleged problem to support the claim that Christianity is false, and Christians are often confused by the fact that both teachings, while clearly perceived, seem to be unreconciled in the pages of Scriptures. Commonly, many evangelicals tend to think that Calvinists posit a deterministic answer to this problem that belittles man’s choice, while Arminians possess an answer that sacrifices God’s sovereignty. It is important for Christians to have a balanced approach that does not sacrifice either doctrine. Skeptics may never be satisfied, but they should at least know that a resolution does exist. Addressing this contradiction lies at the heart of apologetics and is vital in our understanding of God’s nature. Every major theologian has had to come to terms with this paradox—some devoting lengthy famous works to the topic: Martin Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will, Jonathan Edward’s Freedom of the Will, all the way up to such modern classics as Norm Geisler’s Chosen But Free, and James White’s The Potter’s Freedom all attempt a reconciliation. The modern controversy between Calvinists and Arminians will continue leaving many “meat and potatoes” evangelicals wondering how to understand any of the philosophical sounding arguments being made. My attempt in this work is to, without sacrificing the concepts, provide an understandable and clear reconciliation between God’s sovereignty and man’s choice.


In order to be clear about the subject at hand we must first establish what is meant by the terms that will be used. There are certain words commonly thrown around concerning the discussion pertaining to God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom that are easily redefined based on the theological background of the individual using the term. To avoid confusion, we will first, as best as we can, accurately provide biblical definitions for each of the theological terms used. The term “sovereignty of God” refers to “The biblical teaching that God is king, supreme ruler, and lawgiver of the entire universe.” As one author put it, “There are no random, renegade molecules running loose.” God is in complete control of “whatsoever comes to pass.” His kingly authority extends over everything that exists including time itself. Foreordination describes the aspect of God’s sovereignty in which He ordains, or “plans beforehand” what will take place within His decree—i.e. The inner-workings of His ultimate purpose for the consummation of all things. In other words, God has an active control over His creation—including the volition of man. Arminians would tend to favor a more indirect foreordination in which God passively knows what will take place, while Calvinists tend to favor a more direct foreordination in which God actively plans every detail of His decree from eternity. The word predestination concerns God’s specific foreordination when it comes to the issues of election (whom God chooses to send to heaven) and reprobation (whom God chooses to send to hell). Some theologians such as B.B. Warfield make no distinction between the terms predestination and foreordination, but for the purposes of this book we will assign a broader meaning to the former and a more specific meaning to the latter. Predestination is therefore concerned with God’s choice to save some and not others from the vantage point of eternity. Once again, Arminians tend to focus on God’s passive knowledge of humanly actions in making this decision, while Calvinists tend to focus on God’s active involvement in making such a choice. An important distinction that must be made for the purposes of this article is the difference between “free will” and “free choice.” Although the term “free will” can and has been used by good theologians such as Augustine to refer to something closer to the definition of “free choice,” its definition is commonly understood as, “the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies.” The problem with this definition is that it renders decisions as being uninfluenced by outside forces whether they be in divine or human categories. To give an example for the sake of clarification—if an individual is given the simple choice of eating an ice cream cone or running a marathon there are a plethora of influences that go into determining what course of action to take: from the time it would take to run a marathon, to the weather on that particular day, to the physical effects of each decision, to the personal pleasure derived from each experience, etc. Biblically, man’s fallen nature is a very strong factor that (at the very least) influences him towards evil. Therefore, I find it better to use the term “free choice” to refer to man’s ability to choose from a range of options, considering the outside influences that affect his disposition. That is to say, the decisions man is responsible for are not made in a vacuum.

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