Ability And Desire: Reframing Debates Surrounding Freedom And Responsibility -- By: Scott C. Warren

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 52:3 (Sep 2009)
Article: Ability And Desire: Reframing Debates Surrounding Freedom And Responsibility
Author: Scott C. Warren

Ability And Desire: Reframing Debates Surrounding Freedom And Responsibility

Scott C. Warren*

* Scott Warren resides at 56 Chauncey Rd., Middletown, CT 06457.

Theological history is full of discussion and debate about the nature and limits of human freedom and its relationship to such matters as the origin of sin, the helplessness of sinners, and moral responsibility. This article suggests a straightforward way to conceptualize critical ideas involved, and their interrelationships, that can shed helpful light on the matters at stake in these historical and contemporary debates, and can resolve some of the related issues, in order to refocus the dialogue between the broadly Arminian and Calvinist schools of theological thought on the essential differences between them.1

Perhaps the doctrine that most evidently distinguishes an Arminian theological framework from a Calvinist framework can be found in the ordo salutis—specifically in the question of whether faith precedes or follows regeneration. Here, we avoid the difficulties of nuanced definitions and subtle distinctions. Instead, we have a clear-cut question regarding which of two conditions precedes, and precipitates, the other. In an Arminian framework, some combination of natural humanity and common grace provides sufficient conditions for faith, upon which regeneration is conditioned. In a Calvinist understanding, on the other hand, natural humanity is fundamentally depraved so as to certainly preclude genuine faith apart from a prior, special, and personal work of regenerating grace. When faced with the question of the likelihood of unregenerate human sinners embracing the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, traditional Arminian theology says that some will and some will not; Calvinist theology claims that certainly none will.

The question of personal freedom is commonly seen as closely related to this matter in the ordo salutis. In response to the question of whether natural humans are able to repent and believe the gospel prior to regeneration, or whether they are free to do so, Arminians have commonly responded affirmatively and Calvinists often negatively. So it is that many in both

schools have characterized the Calvinist understanding of natural humanity as “not free” in this way. It is my thesis here that this is an unnecessary inference—that the typically Arminian response that unregenerate sinners are free to respond to the gospel is correct, even though I hold to a clearly Calvinistic theological framework as reflected by, among other things, an ordo salutis in which regeneration ...

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