Dialogue on the freedom of the will

Ok, this dialogue is all full of nerdy theological, historichal and philosophical humor – probably no one will get it but me 🙁 But, I laugh every time I read it! 😉

We were suppose to expand on a dialogue of free will in my philosophy class…

Augustine: Now that dinner is done; I would like to finish our meal with a prayer, if that is ok with you, Pelagius, John and Jacobus?

All: Fine by us.

Augustine: God, command us that which you desire, and grant that which you command. Amen.

Pelagius: I particularly liked the duck! But I have to admit that I’m not overly fond of your prayer there Augustine. You seem to be suggesting that God commands us to do what he desires for us to do. Correct?

Augustine: Yes, indeed, that is correct.

Pelagius: I have no problem with that, mind you; but I would like you to explain the other portion of your prayer. For it seems that you are suggesting that we can’t do what God has commanded us to do, unless he comes and gives us the power to do it? I do not like that one bit!

Augustine: Ah, so here we get to the heart of this whole discussion. Predestination versus Free will! I know, Pelagius how you feel regarding this conversation, and before we get started, I feel it important to point out that your position stands in opposition to all that has been considered orthodox in the Christian Churches from the beginning of Christianity. While God does command us to obey him, unless he gives us the power to obey him, we are unable to comply, and yet, God still holds us accountable.

Pelagius: Does that not make God unjust, Augustine? Can a just God tell us to fly, and not give us any wings? I believe that…

Augustine: Well, based on our letters that we have written back and forth, I can clearly see that you believe that deep down inside our hearts we have this protected portion of existence untouched by the curse of sin. Is that correct?

Pelagius: That is correct!

Augustine: And within this viewpoint, you also hold that mankind has the power within himself to choose to obey God; that within this self-contained power, there is no real necessity for the saving grace of God, and yet, you hold that grace is definitely helpful, but not necessary for one to be saved.

Pelagius: You have understood me correctly.

Augustine: Then I must pronounce on you anathema as you have denied the necessity of Jesus’ sacrifice for salvation. Let me draw to your attention a few scriptures that shall affirm your mistake in this matter.

Arminius: Augustine, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I too am interested in this conversation, because I also believe that we have the freedom to choose to obey God or not obey God, although I am in somewhat in a different place than Pelagius. While Pelagius believes that we don’t need grace, because we have this unbroken ability deep down inside of us, I believe in this concept of common grace. To me, God gives all men common grace, so that all men can come to Him, if they freely choose.

Calvin: Arminius, if I am to understand you correctly, you believe that mankind is indeed born radically corrupt (or as I would put it totally depraved), and that we are all tainted with the effects of original sin, is that correct?

Arminius: That is indeed correct, the bible affirms this.

Augustine: So we three are at least in agreement with that.

Pelagius: I don’t!

Augustine: We’ll get back to you in a moment, Pelagius.

Calvin: Arminius, you however, believe that while all mankind is born with original sin, after birth, God gives all humans what you call “common grace”, that is, a respite from Adam’s sin, until such time that a man (or woman) freely chooses to sin on their own, and then their potential sin becomes their actual sin?

Arminius: That is correct!

Calvin: Is it possible for someone to choose not to sin, Arminius?

Pelagius: I believe so! That’s why we don’t really need Christ!

Arminius: Hrm… I’m not quite sure, because if it was possible for a man or woman to not sin, then it would also mean that grace is not a necessary requirement for salvation, as humans could logically persist in a sinless state apart from Jesus’ sacrifice.

Pelagius: That’s what I’m saying!

Arminius: And yet, I know this is clearly spoken against in the bible.

Augustine: I was about to get to that point.

Arminius: However, if it’s not possible to not sin, then all men must sin, and then do we really have free will?

Calvin: Exactly!

Arminius: So my theory of common grace, which is intended to protect the freedom of men, is really a non sequitur?

Calvin: Precisely!

Augustine: Just a minute Calvin, because I haven’t said what I intended to say yet.

Calvin: Ok, please continue.

Augustine: You see gentlemen; the bible clearly affirms that the sinful man cannot submit to the law of God, as the mind of the sinful man is at war with God (Rom 8:6-10). In fact, a spiritually dead man can do nothing on his own accord, and we are spiritually dead apart from being made alive in Christ (Eph 2:1 & Eph 2:5). And, the bible clearly affirms that all men are sinful as a result of Adam’s sin (Rom 5:12-14)(Rom 3:23). Additionally, the bible affirms that no one even seeks after God on their own accord (Rom 3:11), and again it affirms that no one can understand and accept the teachings of God, unless God gives it to him to understand them (John 6:44, John 6:65).

Pelagius: I cut those parts out of my bible!

Calvin: We shall turn you over to the Geneva council!

Augustine: Gentlemen, let me finish! In final, we also see that God chooses whom He will save, for His own good purpose in election (and remember there is no shadow of turning in our creator) (Rom 9:11). So the bible says that it does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Rom 9:16). For it is only through His grace that we’re saved (Eph 2:8). And yet, in the end, if we do not choose God, God still blames us, for who are we to talk back to God (Rom 9:19-20).

Arminius: But, I don’t quite understand, how can God be in absolute control, but still blame us?

Augustine: Here is how I like to explain it. First and foremost, you must understand that Adam was the representative of all mankind (including man and woman) when he was put on this earth. He was the headship of the covenant between God and mankind. So, as our representative, what he chose to do had a lasting impact on all of humanity. This is not an uncommon scenario; Adam was, if you will, our ambassador.

Arminius: Ok, I follow you so far.

Augustine: So, Adam was created with the possibility to sin, and the possibility to not sin. I have some really nifty Latin words I use to describe this, but I’ll refrain from using them.

Arminius: Thanks, I’m having a hard enough time speaking English as it is.

Augustine: So, when Adam, as the representative of mankind, chose to disobey God, he lost the ability to not sin; and was left only with the ability to sin. This was the effect of the fall; and what we refer to as “original sin”. God, permitted this to happen (we call this his permissive will in my circle), so therefore it still happened within the sovereignty of God.

Arminius: But what do you mean Adam was left with only the ability to sin, do you mean he no longer had free will?

Augustine: By no means, what I mean is that because of the noetic effect of sin; we still have the freedom to do what we choose to do, but what we desire the most to do (apart from God’s grace) is to sin.

Arminius: So we are free to do what we desire the most to do?

Augustine: But what we desire the most to do is to act in a self-seeking way; you see, we have the freedom to choose, but we don’t have liberty to choose.

Calvin: And yet, if we can only do what we desire the most to do, we are therefore determined to do what we must do (based on our desires), and we don’t really have free will!

Arminius: I still have a problem with this idea though, because some of our contemporaries believe that if God chooses some to be saved (as you state that the bible shows He does), then the rest He chooses to condemn.

Calvin: Yes, that is sometimes referred to as double-predestination.

Arminius: Also, some of our contemporaries think that if God has already chosen us for salvation or reprobation, then there is no point in trying to do anything good or just, rather we should just do whatever we please to do.

Calvin: Yes, that is sometimes referred to as hyper-Calvinism, but I would also caution that to argue against predestination in light of this concern is a very slippery slope!

Arminius: You know, I wish someone could have explained this to me while I was still alive [sic] we could have perhaps saved a whole split in the reformed camp!

Luther: I couldn’t help over hear your conversation gentlemen, and I wanted to let you know, that I think this idea that you have been talking about represents the heart of the church, I think I’m going to go write a book on it, perhaps I will call it “The Bondage of the Will”!

Erasmus: I couldn’t help but overhear either; I also agree, the duck here in purgatory is really, really good!