A surefire way to find yourself in a heated debate with a mainline, evangelical Christian is to assert that God is sovereign over everything, even the sinful actions of mankind and the salvation of believers.
Undoubtedly, if you have stood up for God’s complete sovereignty over all things, you have heard a variation of the following rebuttal: “But if God chose us, then our choice of him wasn’t free! God wants his followers to love him freely, otherwise it isn’t truly love. That’s why he gives us the free will to accept or reject him!”
This mindset, that humans have a free will that is entirely independent of God’s sovereignty and that God has purposely limited his sovereignty in the name of upholding absolute human freedom, is called libertarian freewill. It dominates the evangelical landscape and to argue against it is to commit a cardinal sin.
As a Calvinist, I uphold a view of God’s sovereignty that asserts his absolute control over creation. I believe that he works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11) and that all things work together for the good of his people and his own glory (Rom. 8:28). I think that view is summarized well in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith:
God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;1 yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein;2 nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established;3 in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree (2LBC 3.1)
This becomes an issue to mainline Christians for a number of reasons. First, it shatters the notion that human beings are completely free from the control of a higher power. Second, it asserts that God is sovereign over all things, even sin. Compare that to libertarianism, which insists that our decisions are free of any outside coercion and that God was helpless to prevent the Fall of man due to his insistence on upholding human freedom.
While I can understand the desire to uphold human freedom (due to its relation to human responsibility), to assert that God was not sovereign over the Fall is to question the very plan of redemption. I have heard some people go so far as to say that in the Garden of Eden, God lost to Satan.
That is absurd.
John Frame offers an extensive critique of this position in The Doctrine of God. I found it helpful and insightful in understanding (and refuting) the libertarian position, particularly his section concerning the underlying reasoning behind it.
Frame explains that, “the freewill defense against the problem of evil…argues that God places such a high value on human free choice that he gave it to creatures even at the risk that they might bring evil into the world (The Doctrine of God, 140).
Sound familiar? The argument is that God places such value on human freedom that he quite literally risked his creation in order to preserve it. The problem with that?
That concept is completely foreign to Scripture.
Listen to Frame again: “One would imagine, then, that Scripture would abound with statements to the effect that causeless free actions by creatures are terribly important to God, that they bring him glory. But Scripture never suggests that God honors causeless choice in any way or even recognizes its existence” (The Doctrine of God, 140).
Rather, the overwhelming testimony of Scripture is that God is sovereign over everything – from the Fall of man to the crucifixion of Jesus - and that all human decisions have at their root the sovereign purposes of God. There is nothing in history that is free from the sovereignty of God.
Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3 ESV).
If you would like to research this topic more, I recommend the book I referenced in this article: The Doctrine of God by John Frame.
Have you encountered resistance to the doctrine of God’s complete sovereignty? Why do you think the church as a whole has seemed to reject this concept? If you have answers to those questions, or just want to say hello, leave a comment below or hit me up on Twitter @1689Millennial. And don’t forget to hit that subscribe button below! You’ll get more content like this delivered right to your inbox!
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Sources: The Doctrine of God by John Frame, The 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith