Chosen But Free? : Norman Geisler’s Search for Logical Coherence


By Stephen C. Marcy © June 2020


Synopsis

First, I seek to demonstrate that in chapter 1, that although Geisler wants to avoid the “strong Calvinist” view of God’s sovereignty, he actually falls into it. Geisler defines sovereignty as God ordaining “whatsoever comes to pass,” which is the Westminster Confession’s wording according to which the Calvinist insists that the future is determined by the will of God alone and therefore God is the cause of all that happens. Once Geisler embraces this deterministic view of divine sovereignty, he has rendered his alternative claim – that humans are free – an impossibility. This Calvinist definition of God’s sovereignty contradicts the claim that humans can act in a self-determining manner and have genuine free will as causal agents.

Nevertheless, in chapter 2 Geisler states the case for the free will of man against what he called the “strong Calvinist” position on sovereignty which he claims does not allow for free will.  But in doing so he contradicts his own view of sovereignty he laid out in chapter 1 which is the same as Calvinist determinism. And although we are anticipating how Geisler will demonstrate to us that there is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility, at this point he merely tells us it is a “mystery.” According to Geisler, and Calvinists, we just cannot understand how deterministic sovereignty and free will go together, but nevertheless, both are taught in Scripture. This is baffling because the claim of his book is to show us that there is no contradiction between sovereignty and free will, which would presumable demonstrate how they are compatible. If it can be shown that these propositions are not in contradiction, then there would be no “mystery” here. And to claim that they are a “mystery” strikes us as an unsubstantiated way to avoid what certainly seems to be the case – that they are in real contradiction.

And yet, even though Geisler claims the matter is a “mystery,” he quotes Stephen Charnock to introduce God’s foreknowledge into the discussion. And from within Geisler’s classical theological and philosophical context he argues that God’s foreknowledge, in some sense, requires the future to be “determined.”  Since God is a perfect being, he cannot be mistaken in his knowledge of the future, therefore what God knows must come to pass as he knows it, even the free decisions and actions of his creatures.  Therefore, Geisler concludes that because of perfect divine foreknowledge the future is “determined.” Even though Geisler understands that foreknowledge does not equate to necessity, he still insists upon stating that because God’s foreknowledge is perfect, what God knows cannot be wrong and therefore the future is “determined.” Geisler will employ this way of thinking to demonstrate how we can be “determined” or “chosen” but also “free.”

Continuing to use the word “determined” with reference to God’s foreknowledge, Geisler then attempts to show by flawless syllogistic logic that we can be “determined” but still free.  But Geisler fails recognize that the word “determined” used with reference to foreknowledge does not carry the same meaning or weight as it does in the context of God’s sovereignty defined deterministically.  Therefore, Geisler equivocates on the word “determine.”  In that Geisler believes God’s foreknowledge is not causative he can states that humans are free, but in the sense that God knows what we will do in the future without mistake or change he concludes that the future is also “determined.”  So we are determined but free.  So all things are “determined,” but only in the sense derived from foreknowledge, which does not carry the same import that “determined” does in the context of the determinism that is integral with Geisler’s Calvinist definition of God’s sovereignty. The import of this determinism Geisler avoids.

So we have been told that the relation between sovereignty and free will is a “mystery,” and also, inconsistent with that, given a fallacious logical argument due to its equivocation on the word “determined” based on divine foreknowledge about how sovereignty and free will are not in contradiction.  Yet Geisler still feels compelled to resolve what appears to be a continual problem for him, that is, his Calvinist determinism. This time he employs a doctrine about God’s simplicity.

Geisler proposes that because God is a simple being there is no logical or chronological order to God’s foreknowing and predetermining.  Geisler states that we should speak of God as knowingly determining and determinately knowing. I argue that this is not helpful at all in that this doctrine and the “reasoning” derived from it only preserves Geisler’s Calvinist determinism and leads to more incoherence.

In the end I fail to see what difference it makes to pronounce that God is sovereign and humans are free by claiming that God’s knowing and determining are “simultaneous, eternal and coordinate acts.”  This does not help us either comprehend God’s ways better or resolve the problem of human freedom in the context of a deterministic sovereignty.  Predetermination is still predetermination. And that has been Geisler’s Achilles heel from the start when in chapter 1 he embraced the Calvinist deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.


The title of Dr. Norman Geisler’s book, Chosen But Free, refers to a topic that he says over the past thirty-five years his students have asked more questions about than any other.[1] That’s significant.  What topic is this, and why so many questions?

            The word “chosen” in the title refers to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election which teaches that God has chosen, by his will alone, before he created the world, who would be saved and who would not.  God has predestined a limited number of people to salvation.  All others cannot and will not be saved.  Calvin defines predestination as follows,

               “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man.  For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.  Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.”[2]

            The word “free” in Geisler’s title refers to human freedom or what we commonly call “freewill.”  This involves what we typically know and experience with regard to our choices. That is, that we have a will of our own, and it is by the exercise of that will that we make decisions and choices.  And as such, we are responsible for those decisions and choices, especially our choice to accept or reject God’s salvation offered to us in Christ.

            We can now see why Geisler’s students have had questions about this topic more than any other.  And rightly so.  What these students recognize is the contradictory nature of these doctrines.  And they realize that as contradictory, one or the other cannot be true.  They certainly appear to be logically incompatible and that has profound implications for biblical inspiration and interpretation along with the intellectual warrant for being told that unconditional election is a biblical teaching while also believing the Scriptures affirm that we have genuine free will regarding our decision to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation in Christ.  It certainly seems that both of these doctrines may be false, or, one or the other of these doctrines may be true, but they both cannot be true.  So when the word “chosen” in Geisler’s title is defined as unconditional election things become quite perplexing.  It suggests that Scripture teaches what appear to be mutually exclusive or contradictory doctrines.

            Now, in the Calvinist doctrinal system, unconditional election goes hand-in-hand with a deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.  The Calvinist’s deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty logically includes unconditional election to salvation.  If God has preordained all things, then he has also predetermined who will be saved.  This is contrasted with human freedom of the will which includes personal and moral responsibility.  Expressed more fundamentally, it is the problem between divine sovereignty/determinism and human freewill/responsibility.

            These doctrines certainly seem incompatible with each other.  Belief in one seems to logically exclude belief in the other.  In the former doctrine it is God who chooses who will be saved and who will not.  Therefore, every person’s eternal destiny is unalterably predetermined.  In the latter doctrine it is the person themselves who through their own choice and decision determines their eternal destiny.  Each person’s salvation is not predetermined by God but is a choice they make with regard to Christ; whether or not they choose to believe or remain in unbelief.

            So, what are we to make of these doctrines?  Is God’s sovereignty to be defined as him having predetermined all things, including each person’s salvation?  Is election to be defined unconditionally as God’s choice of who will and who will not be saved which does not involve any conditions other than God’s will?  And on the other hand, is there such a thing as free will, and do people think and act of their own wills such that they are not predetermined by God’s will to do what they do?  Are people, because they are free moral agents, morally responsible for their decisions, whether good or evil?  Are people able to accept or reject Christ and therefore responsible for their faith or unbelief?  Do they believe freely as a choice that springs from their own will which is under their own control, or are they irresistibly and effectually called by God to salvation because they are among those chosen to eternal life?  Quite literally, these doctrines have to do with matters of life and death.

            Geisler’s students are right to ask questions about these doctrines.  And they would be right to raise the issue of their logical incompatibility because they would be right in thinking that for a theological position to be true (or any other position for that matter), it cannot contain a contradiction.  And if the claim is that both sovereignty and freewill – as defined here – are the biblical teaching, and these are truly in contradiction with each other and the Bible does not contradict itself, then one or the other (or both) of these doctrines is not what the Bible teaches.  So, is there a real contradiction here?  To show us that there is no contradiction here is the task Geisler has set out for himself in this book.  Let’s see how he goes about it and whether or not he is successful.

 “Chosen But Free” – A Real Contradiction?”

              Some Calvinists attempt to deal with this problem, not by amending their deterministic definitions of sovereignty and election, but by merely resorting to mystery and incomprehensibility.  They claim that the Bible teaches both and leave it at that.  Other Calvinists, like Geisler, seek a remedy to the contradictory nature of these doctrines.  They offer explanations as to how these doctrines, even as deterministic, can be logically consistent or compatible with each other, that is, how deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election are not in contradiction with human freedom and responsibility.  Geisler maintains that,

               “No one has ever demonstrated a contradiction between predestination and free choice.  There is no irresolvable conflict between an event being predetermined by an all-knowing God and it also being freely chosen by us.”[3]

Geisler will attempt to convince us that there is no contradiction between these doctrines by the use of syllogistic logic

            Geisler labels himself a “moderate Calvinist.”  These Calvinists hold to the deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty but also believe this does not present a problem with human free will.  In contrast, the “strong Calvinist” also holds to a deterministic definition of sovereignty but is inclined to deny human free will.  The “strong Calvinist” concludes that there is a logical contradiction between the two and will deny human freedom rather than deny their deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.

            I will argue that Geisler’s view on sovereignty set out in chapter one of his book is clearly in accord with what he calls the “strong Calvinist” view, that is, he presents a deterministic view of God’s sovereignty.  Yet, he is wants to distance himself from the “strong Calvinist” view because he believes he has a way to reconcile this theistic determinism with human freedom of the will. Geisler believes he can demonstrate how his understanding of sovereignty as God’s predetermination of all things, including the predestination of some to salvation and others to damnation, is not in logical contradiction with human freedom and responsibility.  Geisler attempts to explain the compatibility of his deterministic sovereignty and free will by presenting what he labels a “moderate Calvinist” position.

            Dr. Geisler introduces the problem at hand with the following questions,

               “If God is sovereign, how then can we be free?  Does not divine sovereignty make a sham of human responsibility?  Is not a sovereign God a Giant Puppet Master, pulling the strings of human “puppets” at His will?  If God is in complete control of everything, including human choice, then how can we be truly free?  Are not sovereignty and significant free will mutually exclusive?”[4]

            These are questions that presuppose a deterministic definition of sovereignty.

In addition, as I stated previously, the title of Geisler’s book refers to the doctrine of election understood as unconditional.  God being “sovereign,” he therefore has also chosen those who would be saved.  The number of those predestined for eternal life and those predestined for eternal damnation is fixed and unchangeable.  This being the case, how can it be said that we are free to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation when each individual’s eternal destiny is already determined by God himself?  The concepts appear to be logically incompatible.

            Also, note that the logical problem of sovereignty and free will is accompanied by the moral problem inherent in a Calvinist understanding of election.  The difficulty lies not only in trying to understand how if God is sovereign and predetermines all things, including our salvation, we still retain any meaningful human freedom, but also how it is that God is not the author of evil and how it is just to those who reject God’s offer of salvation to be held responsible and culpable when God has willed that they could not do otherwise.  Other problems arise from the doctrine of unconditional election.  One is that if God has chosen those whom he will save solely based upon “the good pleasure of his will” and nothing outside of himself,[5] and since we are all sinners, it may be asked what is it in God that caused him to distinguish between sinners and decide to save one sinner and not another, and this even before they ever existed?  Also, if election to salvation is unconditional, what is the nature of personal, individual faith in God and what part does it play in appropriating salvation?  The Bible seems clear that faith is a condition for salvation.

            Epistemological and ontological concerns also surface.  Our moral intuitions are confounded by God’s action in unconditional election.  God’s standard of moral thought and action seems to be so different than ours, to the point that we cannot recognize God as just or loving in the way we understand justice and love.  This being the case, how can we with truth and surety know anything about the nature and character of God and his disposition towards us?  Also, given that only a limited number of persons have been chosen by God to salvation before he made the world, and this decision of God is unknown to us, how is it that one can know assuredly whether or not they are among the “elect” and can or will be saved?

            In large part, whether these questions are even raised, and if so, how one answers them, rests upon one’s definition of God’s “sovereignty.”  In light of the overwhelming biblical evidence for significant human free will, these problems arise only when one defines God’s sovereignty as his fixed predetermination of all things from eternity past.  It appears that the Calvinist definitions of sovereignty as deterministic and election as unconditional lead to an inescapable determinism that is incompatible with any credible claims to any free, independent, genuine human willing and acting.  Dr. Geisler labels such understandings of sovereignty and election, along with a certain understanding of man as “totally depraved” which precludes one’s ability to exercise faith, as “extreme Calvinism.”

            In this section I will explore Dr. Geisler’s theological “line of thought” to see whether his definitions of God’s sovereignty and election logically lead to and are the same as what he calls “extreme Calvinism” which he states is incompatible with human free will.  If his definitions of sovereignty and election are the same as the Calvinist’s definitions, then we would have to look into whether Dr. Geisler convincingly explains the compatibility of these doctrines with free will that the title of his book, Chosen But Free, implies.

            In summary, I will attempt four things:

  1. To point out that Geisler’s view of “the sovereignty of God” is the same as that of “extreme Calvinism” and is therefore ultimately deterministic.
  2. To demonstrate that by dismantling the arguments Calvinists give for maintaining their definition of sovereignty in light of free will, Geisler successfully argues for human free will but against his own view of sovereignty. As such he is inconsistent.
  3. To show that Geisler’s argument that the foreknowledge of God provides for coherence between his deterministic view of sovereignty and human free will ultimately fails on a non-analogous use of the word “determined.”  He commits the fallacy of equivocation with the word “determined.”
  4. To inquire as to whether or not the nature of God as a “simple” being and proposing that we should “speak of God as knowingly determining and determinately knowing from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts,” provides coherence between his deterministic view of sovereignty and human free will.
  5. To show that due to the determinism inherent in the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty and election as unconditional, Geisler cannot establish logical and moral coherence between these doctrines and human freedom and responsibility. He does not logically or biblically establish that we can be Chosen But Free.

Assessing Geisler’s Definition of the Sovereignty of God in Chapter 1

            The title of Geisler’s first chapter is “Who Is In Charge?”  Making the point that what we think about God is the most important thing about us, Geisler begins his book with a discussion of the attributes of God.  He wants to lay out for us a portrait of God that is biblically based to demonstrate that his conclusions come from Scripture.  His discussion of the characteristics of God is geared towards outlining and defending a biblical definition of “the sovereignty of God.”  He backs his way into a full definition of sovereignty by expounding the characteristics of God, which taken as a whole, allow God to be sovereign over all things.  He states that God is “before all things,” “created all things,” “upholds all things,” “is above all things,” “knows all things,” “can do all things,” and “accomplishes all things.”[6]  These are all sound biblical truths, but given that the problem of sovereignty and free will largely depends upon one’s definition of God’s “sovereignty,” we need more clarity as to Geisler’s precise definition of “the sovereignty of God” and what he means by “accomplishes all things.”

            Geisler begins by noting the Bible’s emphasis on God’s sovereignty and hinting at its meaning,

               “When anyone who is thoroughly acquainted with the Bible thinks about God, one of the first things that comes into mind ought to be God’s sovereignty.  God’s sovereignty is deeply rooted in his attributes.  Several of them are crucial to His ability to reign over all things.”[7]

            In the last sentence above he mentions something of what the sovereignty of God entails.  It is “His ability to reign over all things.”  Given only this description of God’s sovereignty we would be left wondering why this creates a problem with human free will.  We can understand a king “reigning” over his kingdom while still allowing his subjects substantial freedom to exercise their wills.  We can think of those who successfully preside with authority over others without determining, threatening or eradicating the reality of their free decisions.  So more precisely, we need to ask what Geisler means by “His ability to reign over all things” in light of this problem of sovereignty and free will.

            In discussing the various attributes of God that together allow God to be sovereign, the last attribute Geisler mentions is that God “accomplishes all things.”[8]  This provides more clarity on what Geisler means by God’s sovereignty.  In that the Calvinist’s deterministic definition of sovereignty creates the problem with free will, I am curious to see whether Geisler’s final definition of sovereignty is deterministic, or, what he calls “extreme Calvinism.”  This is the view he wants to avoid.  But does he do so?  Does Geisler fall prey to the determinism he is seeking to avoid?  Will he, in the end, embrace a deterministic “extreme Calvinist” definition of sovereignty, thereby excluding any possibility of genuine human freedom?  Or, if he does embrace a Calvinist definition of sovereignty, and he also argues for free will, will he be able to show us how a person can be “Chosen But Free?”  In other words, will he be able to logically reconcile a deterministic sovereignty with human freedom and responsibility?  Can he provide logical coherence between such a view of sovereignty and human freedom?  Let’s continue to examine Geisler’s thinking and argument here.

            Geisler adds further definition to the truth that God “reign[s] over all things” and “God accomplishes all things” when he states that,

               “God’s sovereignty over all things implies also that He accomplishes all things that He wills.”[9]

            Here he has included the phrase “that He wills.”  We can agree with this sentence if we take it to mean that whatever God wills to do he can certainly do without fail.  Nothing and no one can thwart God when he has decided to act or has willed that something should take place.  He will always accomplish what he desires to accomplish.  But we must ask – and this will be the crux of the matter going forward – whether or not by “God accomplishes all things that He wills” Geisler means “God wills all things” in the sense that “He has predetermined all things to happen as they do.”  The key words at this point are, “that he wills.”  What is the precise definition and scope of this phrase?  The difference is whether “sovereignty” is going to mean that “God accomplishes all things that He wills” in the sense that God can do those things he wills to accomplish in and among a world inhabited by creatures granted significant freedom of will by a God who is himself free to do so, or, in the sense that He has willed, planned and predetermined “all things” to occur as they do so that God remains in “control” of his world.  By saying “He accomplishes all things that He wills” does Geisler mean “God alone ultimately wills and predetermines all things?”  I don’t think so.  He has not necessarily imposed an unlimited scope on the word “wills.”  We need not take “that He wills” to be comprehensive; that is, to mean “that God predetermined all things to happen by directly and determinately willing them and therefore causing them himself.”  Obviously such an idea would extinguish the reality of human freedom.[10]  Rather, by using this phrase Geisler seems to be emphasizing the certainty of God accomplishing particular specific things in this world, that is to say, “God certainly accomplishes all those things that He wills to accomplish.”  They are those things that He desires to accomplish in a world where things also occur that He does not desire nor has he directly predetermined should occur.  It seems an incontrovertible fact that many things occur in our world that God does not desire to see happen and in this sense are not “the will of God” in either the sense of His desire or predetermined activity. They occur through the will of the creature and are therefore allowed by God to occur.[11]

            Therefore Geisler has not left us with the ambiguous “He accomplishes all things,” but has further qualified it with the phrase “that He wills.”  We take this to mean that God has not predetermined every particular thing that ever occurs, but that He is perfectly able and certainly will perform all of those things he wills to accomplish.

            So, up until this point Geisler has not made it clear that he believes in the “extreme Calvinist” deterministic view of sovereignty.  We certainly can agree that God reigns over all things and can accomplish whatever he wills.  The question is going to be whether Geisler’s definition of “the sovereignty of God” is going to require theistic determinism, that is, that God alone has predetermined all things to occur as they do and is therefore the efficient cause for everything occurring as it does.  This would equate to the “extreme Calvinist” position on God’s sovereignty.  And it seems that Geisler pushes us every closer to this position.

Ephesians 1:11 – “The Purpose of His Will”

            As an example of God unfailingly accomplishing what he wants to do in the world Geisler quotes Ephesians 1:11,

               “Paul adds, ‘In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (Eph. 1:11).”[12]

            If Geisler is using this verse to confirm that “God accomplishes all things that he wills” in the sense discussed above, we can agree with this interpretation of Ephesians 1:11.  God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will.”  What this does not say is that God has from eternity past predetermined by his own will all things to occur as they do.  The “purpose of his will” here is not the comprehensive willing and determining of all things.  Paul wants to stress that “in him” (Christ) God’s plans and purposes have their center and are being unfailingly worked out.  “In Christ” defines “the purpose of his will” towards which he “works out everything in conformity.”  Everything else, even the will of the creature, is subject to conform “with the purpose of his will.”  God can cause anything to conform to and serve that purpose.

            The broader context in Ephesians adds specificity to the matter being addressed by Paul’s discussion of “the purpose of his will.”  Paul’s words, “having been predestined according to the plan of him…” tells us about “the plan” in the mind and heart of God.  That plan centers “in Christ.”  Whatever God is doing for us is done in reference to Christ.  The phrase “In him we were also chosen…” brings the concept of God’s gracious election of Israel to be His people into new focus and a new application to those who believe in Christ.  The “people of God” are now those who believe among both Jews and Gentiles.  All that comes to those who believe comes to them “in Christ,” the “Chosen One.”  Paul is not proposing an individualistic, limited, unconditional election or predestination to salvation.  In the context of Ephesians, to be “chosen” is the expression of one’s participation in the purpose of God’s will which always has been according to his promise which was brought about by divine choices for the purpose of inclusion of the whole world in his saving work not exclusion from it.  Also, to be “chosen” harkens back to the purpose of the election of Israel to bring into history the “Chosen One” (Christ); a term which is now applied to those in the Church which is also chosen by God by virtue of the individual’s faith “in Christ.”  Now, both Jew and Gentile are the recipients of God’s salvific purpose “in him.”  “Having been predestined according to the plan” indicates that both Jew and Gentile have received the “good news” of salvation in Christ by faith, which is the central plan and purpose of God.  To “work out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” assures us that there is salvation for all “in Christ” and indeed that world events are not capricious.  Yet the verse also implies that all things are not the predetermined will of God, for if it is that “all things” are being “worked out in conformity to his will,” that would include the evil in the world.  Now the performance of evil is certainly not God’s will.  Therefore this verse cannot be used in support of Calvinist determinism.  Rather, Paul is saying that we have the assurance that even evil will serve God’s purposes which cannot be thwarted.  He is not stating that even evil is predetermined by God to occur by his own will.  This is not the meaning of Eph. 1:11.  “The purpose of His will” implies both a specificity and surety.  It cannot mean that He has willed all things.  It means that whatever occurs due to the free will of the creature is subject to being conformed to the purposes of God which are centered “in Christ” and thus contain blessing and salvation by faith for each individual.[13]

            Professor James Daane writes,

               “Paul’s assertion that God ‘accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Eph. 1:11) is statically reinterpreted by decretal theology to mean that God determines whatever comes to pass.  God’s accomplishment is not an action in history, but a determination from above history that determines every event.  But the very context in which Paul makes this assertion is a discussion of God’s making known to us the mystery of his will, ‘according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and the things on earth’ (1:9, 10).  God’s will and purpose are in no sense equated with whatever comes to pass, but with his action achieved in and through Christ to unite all things in the Son.  When this uniting is finally accomplished, the mystery of God’s eternal purpose in Christ will be realized in and through Christ.  God works in and through all things to bend them to the realization of this eternal purpose.  Paul reminds the Ephesians of what God has done in Christ, and of what God will yet do through Christ. Paul does not direct their eyes and fix their hope on whatever comes to pass, but on what is coming to pass through all things, namely, the divine positioning of Jesus, who will subject all things to himself.  God is realizing, not the decretal resolve of his essence, but the free resolve of his will in the exercise of its freedom.  When Paul declares to the Romans that all things work together for good to those who love God, he is not saying that whatever comes to pass is good, but that God sovereignly and graciously works on all things to make all things serve the good of those who love God.”[14]

            Geisler also references Acts 4:28.

               “Peter confirms this, saying of Christ’s crucifiers that ‘they did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.”[15]

            I would also agree that this verse can be interpreted in this same sense – that “God accomplishes all things that he wills.”  God had decided upon a certain course of action regarding man’s redemption and it was unfailingly and perfectly accomplished.  God indeed accomplishes all things that he wills.  The subject matter and context does not sanction the extrapolation of this verse to mean that God has predetermined from eternity past, and therefore causes, everything that ever occurs.

Geisler’s “Extreme Calvinist” Position: His Fall into Determinism

            If Geisler has not yet clearly articulated the scope and definition of God’s sovereignty in speaking about his attributes, he does so in his next major section titled, “The Sovereignty of God.”  This section is divided into sub-sections.  The first is titled, God rules over all things.  In it he emphasizes the biblical theme of God’s kingship.  This means that God as the heavenly king is “in charge of His creation.”  In the next section, God is in control of all things, he states, “Not only is God in charge of all things, He is also in control of them.”[16]  But what is the difference?  By distinguishing between “God rules over all things” (“in charge”) and “God is in control of all things” we can’t help but sense that Geisler is moving in the direction of God’s predetermination of all that occurs as understood by what he calls “extreme Calvinism.”  Geisler states,

               “A God who is before all things, beyond all things, creates all things, upholds all things, knows all things and can do all things is also in control of all things.  This complete control of all things is called the sovereignty of God.”[17]

            Geisler has introduced a new word into the discussion – “control.”  He says that the “sovereignty of God” is his “complete control of all things.”  But what is meant by “complete control?”  Is it different than “His ability to reign over all things” or “He accomplishes all things that He wills?”  Does “complete control” require God to have predetermined all things, or only that He exists and acts as the God with the attributes Geisler has delineated above?  If it is that God “predetermines” all things to occur, this would certainly assure that God is in “complete control” of the world, but then such “complete control” would logically make God out to be the “Giant Puppet Master” as Geisler described the “extreme Calvinist” God, and that human affairs, choices and decisions would all be just Him “pulling the strings of human ‘puppets’ at His will.”[18]

            We would expect that Geisler wants to avoid this conclusion if he is to convince us that we are “Chosen But Free.”  Therefore, perhaps Geisler means “complete control” in the sense previously discussed; that God is able to accomplish his plans and purposes in the world which nothing and no one can thwart.  This wouldn’t necessarily mean that God has anything less than “complete control” of His world, yet it would allow for the presence of significant human freedom.  Is God in “complete control” because he “preordained” everything that would happen, or, is God in “complete control” by virtue of all that it means to be God?  We want to know clearly whether Geisler thinks about God’s sovereignty from within the context of an eternal decree by which he predetermined all that occurs.  And if so, how God actually brings about the predetermination of all things while maintaining human freedom.

            If there has been doubt about whether Geisler defines God’s sovereignty as the determinism of the “extreme Calvinist” position, Geisler makes his position clear when he states,

               “As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it, ‘God, from all eternity, did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass’ (chapter 3)…All things come to pass as He ordained them from all eternity.”[19]

            We have here the Reformed Calvinist definition of God’s sovereignty as “absolute control” based upon the fact that from “all eternity” God did “unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass.”  We take this to clearly mean that all things are predetermined by God to occur as they do; past, present and future.  Also, the phrase “whatever comes to pass” rightly means “all things” and encompasses the minutest details of all history including the thoughts, attitudes, decisions, actions and eternal destinies of every individual.  Thus, this definition of sovereignty is absolutely comprehensive and inevitably deterministic.  God has already unfailingly determined all that has occurred, is now occurring and ever will occur in every detail.  Calvinists understand these words in their confession to mean just that.  In affirming this section of the confession we must conclude that Geisler himself holds to this Calvinist theological determinism.  He has just embraced what he has called “extreme Calvinism.”

The Problem of Reformed Decretal Theology

            To be more theologically precise, the definition of sovereignty Geisler is expounding is rooted in the Calvinist doctrine of God’s eternal decree.  The section Geisler quoted in the Westminster Confession of Faith is titled, “Of God’s Eternal Decree.”  It is this section that sets out that “God, from all eternity, did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass.”  It is this all-encompassing eternal decree that shapes the meaning of other Calvinist doctrines such as total inability (“depravity”), unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the preservation and perseverance of the saints, along with the meaning of grace and faith.[20]  Two of these doctrines – total inability and limited atonement – Geisler argues against in their “extreme Calvinist” form, and rightly so.  But his deepest problem lies in a deterministic definition of the sovereignty of God that is based upon a single, eternal decree of God that ordains “whatsoever comes to pass.”

            Below I will discuss the insurmountable difficulties this doctrine presents with the biblical witness to human freedom, the nature of God and history.  Suffice it to say here that such a decretal theology does not allow God the freedom to create a world into which he can enter as separate from his world; a world into which he becomes a part of real historical action where time, movement and personal response are all possible; where all is not predetermined from within himself.  It also lacks a biblical perspective on the nature and purpose of God’s election of Israel, Christ and the Church and thus has fallen into an unbiblical understanding of election that is pre-temporal and exclusive, that is, the exegetically insufficient view that election is simply God’s predestination of certain individuals to salvation.

            Now, in that Geisler holds to a deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty, he has the formidable task of convincing us that human free will, with its decisions and choices, is logically compatible with that determinism.  How can human freedom and responsibility logically fit within a universal divine causal deterministic view of God’s relation to the world and the people in it?  I submit that such theological determinism is irreconcilable with any meaningful claim of human free will and moral responsibility. [21]

Geisler’s “Extreme Calvinist” Position: His Fall into Unconditional Election

            Given that Geisler has affirmed the Calvinist’s deterministic definition of the sovereignty of God, what is left for Geisler to explain is precisely how this can be coherent with human freedom.  And with respect to our salvation, how is it that we are Chosen But Free?

            Geisler goes on to say,

               “God not only controls the hearts of kings, He is in charge of all human events.  He ordains the course of history before it occurs…”[22]

            Although in this statement we can interpret the words “control” and “in charge” in a non-deterministic sense, and can agree that God ordains the course of history before it occurs, we suspect that Geisler is reiterating his Calvinist understanding of sovereignty – that God has predetermined the course of history in the minutest details.

            But it is difficult to maintain that sovereignty means that God predetermined the minutest details of all history, that is, every action of all persons at all times, and still hold to human free will.  Geisler will confirm this difficulty when he argues for the free will of man in chapter two.  He will also argue against the “extreme Calvinist” attempts to maintain their deterministic view of God’s sovereignty in “coherence” with human freedom.  But I hope to show that in doing so Geisler is arguing against his own deterministic view of sovereignty, and, that his suggested approach of maintaining this view of sovereignty as coherent with human free will by leaning upon the foreknowledge of God and his nature as a “simple” being ultimately fails.

            Geisler continues to work out the implication of his definition of sovereignty, admitting to its deterministic nature.  He writes,

               “Perhaps the most difficult thing to understand is that God is in sovereign control of everything we choose, even our salvation.”[23]

            Does Geisler mean that our capacity to choose and any of the choices we make are subject to God’s control to bring about his purposes?  With that we could agree.  We saw that such a view was in accord with the meaning of Eph. 1:11.  Human freedom is not absolute.  This would also affirm a God who is personally and effectively involved in his creation.  He is not the exhaustive determiner bound within his own knowledge and essence, but the sovereign, personal God marked by active freedom.

            But after Geisler’s affirmation of the Westminster Confession on this matter I do not think this is what he means.  Consistent with his agreement with the Confession, Geisler means to say here that it is a “difficult thing to understand” that God is sovereign in the sense that he has predetermined “everything we choose, even our salvation,” and yet we should still be considered free beings.  This means that God has predetermined who will be saved by somehow causing them to “choose” to receive the salvation he has provided, and God has also predetermined who will not be saved by somehow causing them not to “choose” the salvation he has provided.  This is the Calvinist definition of unconditional election.  This is the “Chosen” element in Geisler’s title, Chosen But Free.  But this being the case, how are we free?

            “Election,” for the Calvinist, refers to the positive status of some with respect to salvation; they are among those chosen by God to receive salvation.  And “unconditional” refers to the fact that the realization of this salvation in a person’s life has nothing at all to do with that person themselves or with respect to any other conditions whatsoever.  It is a decision and act of God alone.  Geisler obviously means this, otherwise why would this be a “most difficult thing to understand?”  Other interpretations of God’s sovereignty and the doctrine of election do not present such insurmountable difficulties.  Also, it wouldn’t require a whole book, the purpose of which is to examine the coherence between this view of God’s sovereignty and human free will.  Geisler states clearly that “God is in sovereign control of everything we choose…”  So it is this idea of our choices being predetermined by God – even the “choice” regarding our salvation – that certainly seems to present a real contradiction.  If Geisler also wants to affirm free will as most of us understand it, the contradiction in his view is that God determines all things, yet we determine some things.  Another contradiction is that God determines our eternal destiny, but we determine our eternal destiny.  Now these contradictions have to be addressed.  These contradictions are generated by Geisler’s deterministic definition of sovereignty that states that all things are fixed beforehand by God’s will alone.  Therefore any claim that humans act freely of their own wills, which entails that their wills and actions are not fixed beforehand is in contradiction with that determinism.  This “sovereignty” extends as deep as God having predetermined every choice of every person for all time.  The minutest details of all that exists and occurs, including our thoughts, desires, decisions and actions have been predetermined by God alone.[24]  Geisler says, “God is in sovereign control of everything we choose.”  But in what sense then do “we choose” if everything is predetermined by God’s choosing and he causes us to choose what he predetermined for us, including the fact that some of us will “choose” salvation and others will not?

            Hence Geisler is confirming the doctrine of unconditional election as a necessary entailment of his doctrine of deterministic sovereignty.  Here we see the inevitable results of such a position.  In order to be consistent with his doctrine of sovereignty, Geisler must embrace the doctrine of unconditional election.  But in doing so he generates an inconsistency with his description of “choosing” salvation which implies at least a degree of genuine free will.  Yet, even given this definition, Geisler will seek to maintain human freedom in his second chapter titled, “Why Blame Me?”

            Geisler now clearly states his belief in the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  He writes,

               “Indeed, only those who are elect will believe…Other verses affirm God’s actions on the human will, even in matters of election…God has destined the ‘vessels of wrath’ who were ‘prepared for destruction’ (Rom. 9:22 NASB) as well as the ‘vessels of mercy’ (Rom 9:23 NASB) – each according to his will.”[25]

            Romans 9 is a standard text by which Calvinists defend their understanding of unconditional, individual election.  Again, where has the choosing gone with respect to an individual’s will?  It is God who has chosen each person’s eternal destiny by the exercise of his will alone.

            It is now clear what Geisler means by the sovereignty of God and election.  They are the “extreme Calvinist” definitions.  It seems that Geisler finds himself in the very position he has been trying to avoid.

The Biblical Witness and Interpretive Coherence

            If the Biblical witness on the relation between God and man will not endure an exhaustive determinism, as Geisler himself will argue in chapter two, then this Calvinist definition of the sovereignty of God which is inevitably deterministic does not accurately reflect Scripture.  Geisler quoted many Scriptures to show that God is sovereign.  But it is difficult to see how the Scriptures Geisler quotes in his section on “The Sovereignty of God” and the subsection “God is in control of all things” support Geisler’s conclusion that divine sovereignty equates to the Calvinist view of theistic determinism.  And this seems to be where Geisler goes wrong.  Once he has bought into the Calvinist’s deterministic interpretation of these “proof-texts,” there is no way to speak of human free will or responsibility in any meaningful way.

            What this demonstrates is the powerful influence the Calvinist interpretations have in the minds of Christians when it comes to “God’s sovereignty.”  Calvinism seems to be the default view despite the incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction it creates with the biblical witness to contingency, human freewill and responsibility.

            The point to note here is that the verses Geisler quotes do not suggest divine determinism.  Rather they refer to God being able to accomplish anything he desires to accomplish (Job 42:2) and God being able to do whatever he pleases without being thwarted (Ps 115:3, 135:6; Dan. 4:35).  We can agree that these verses certainly teach that God is “in control.”  But there is nothing here that requires the Calvinist definition of “control” as God having eternally ordained “whatever comes to pass.”  Rather than confirm the Calvinist definition of sovereignty, these verses seem to stay within the bounds of Geisler’s previous point that “God’s sovereignty over all things implies also that He accomplishes all things that He wills.”  They do not say that God predetermined all things to be as they are in their minutest details.

            There is a profound difference here.  Nowhere is it said that for God to “rule,” “reign,” “be in charge,” “be in control” or be “sovereign” that he must have decreed from all eternity “whatsoever comes to pass.”  In fact, the biblical, logical, moral and epistemological problems inherent within such a proposition are insurmountable.  These are sure indicators that something has gone awry.  If such a position is not biblically accurate and creates incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, we wonder why Geisler feels compelled to embrace it.  If he wishes to make a more compelling case for such a position on the basis of Scripture, a more careful consideration of the biblical texts are in order, giving due consideration to the logical, moral and epistemological concerns raised by any alternative interpretations.  A due consideration of all these concerns will help insure the validity of any proposed interpretations.[26]

            We must at this point remind ourselves that Geisler has set out as his goal to “examine God’s sovereignty in coherence with human free will.”[27]  But once Geisler embraces this deterministic definition of sovereignty we do not see how he will be able to do so convincingly.  He has a formidable task.  Yet let us follow his line of thought in chapter two to see if given this definition of sovereignty we are really Chosen But Free.

The Implications of Calvinist Sovereignty: Divine Causality, Responsibility and Determinism

            We have seen that the Calvinist definition of the sovereignty of God is deterministic.  We have also seen that Geisler has embraced this definition of sovereignty.  Yet Geisler is also claiming that human beings are also “free.”  Therefore, he is going to attempt show that there is no contradiction between these two claims.

            It seems obvious that determinism is in contradiction with any meaningful talk of human free will.  Calvinists attempt to reason around this contradiction but they fail in overcoming their universal divine causal determinism.  If God’s sovereignty is defined in terms of his absolute control by virtue of an eternal decree by which he predetermines and predestines all things in the minutest detail, then he is also the sole cause of all that happens.  Arguments that state that God has chosen to create a particular world in which every individual’s personality would be such that they would “freely” perform what God has determined to occur and hence he does not “force” or “coerce” persons, thus maintaining their “free will,” or that He performs his will as the “primary cause” through “secondary causes” are all attempts to distance God from being the ultimate and sole cause of all that occurs and retain some semblance of human freedom.  But they all fail under the scope and weight of this monolithic, deterministic doctrine.[28]  Ultimately, all persons will be moved by God himself to choose and act as He wills and has predetermined.  Hence, there is no such reality as a human free will which has the ability to act independently of the will of God, whether in obedience to his revealed will (which is not in conflict with any “secret” or “decretive” will), or in disobedience to that revealed will of God.  On Calvinist determinism there is just the will of God being done through all that exists.  And as we will see below, Geisler himself contends that,

               “Minimally, free will is the ability to do otherwise.”[29]

Thus, this understanding of God’s sovereignty as deterministic completely overwhelms and dictates everything that is happening.  Regardless of how things may appear, there is no genuine human free will.  As such, God is ultimately responsible for all that happens.

            But is this expression of the will and ways of God, his being and creative action, and his dominion over creation, biblically accurate?  How can it be the accurate teaching of Scripture if it is the cause of logical contradictions, moral incoherence and practical difficulties with other biblical teachings and texts?  Is this view an accurate, biblical witness to God’s sovereignty when constantly before us lies the hard, practical evidence of a reality consisting of substantially free human decision and action, let alone the biblical testimony to such realities?  

            As I have already shown, with respect to the sovereignty of God Geisler has positioned himself squarely in the theological camp he calls “extreme Calvinism.”  This conception of sovereignty is precisely what makes “extreme Calvinism” extreme, and I suggest that its biblical support is lacking.

Geisler’s Argument for Human Freedom in Ch. 2 Contradicts His Determinism in Ch. 1

            Geisler begins chapter two by introducing the issue of responsibility raised by his definition of God’s sovereignty.  Chapter two is entitled, “Why Blame Me?”  Geisler states the issues as follows,

               “If God is in control of everything, then why should we be blamed for anything? …Or to put the problem another way, if God is in control of all events, then how can I be responsible for anything that happens, even my evil actions?  It would seem that His sovereignty eliminates my responsibility.”[30]

            Note that this statement is confirmation that by “control” Geisler does mean the “strong Calvinist” definition of sovereignty as deterministic.  For Geisler, “sovereignty” means God’s predetermination of all things which includes that fact that God causes all things.  If this were not so, this question of responsibility or blame would not arise.  There would be no problem between sovereignty and free will.  This concern about blame and responsibility implies that God is controlling everything and causes everything that occurs down to the minutest detail.  That determinism creates the problem of responsibility Geisler points out here.  Geisler continues,

               “Some believers have been known to excuse their sin, claiming: “The devil made me do it!”  But the problem here is even greater, because logically one cannot stop at this point.  For if God is in sovereign control of all things, then instead it would appear that, ultimately, God made me do it.”[31]

            Geisler has correctly identified the logical and inescapable conclusion of his deterministic position on sovereignty.  “God made me do it.”  Note that this also confirms that causality is also entailed by determinism.  God is the cause of all that occurs.  Geisler is also confirming God’s universal causality.  On Calvinist determinism, “God made me do it” is exactly correct.  It is what is entailed by Geisler’s determinism.  In other words, Geisler’s definition of sovereignty is that God is the ultimate cause and mover of everything and all things and all people do what his will has predetermined will happen down to the minutest detail.

            So, if this is the situation regarding God’s sovereignty, even if He does not “force” or “coerce” people to do what he has predetermined, simply by virtue of a universal divine causality it cannot be said that persons are in any sense genuinely free.  Neither are they free in the minutest degree.  And just because they are not “forced” or “coerced” does not mean that they are free.  To define human free will to merely the absence of force or coercion on God’s part is not convincing as to the loss of freedom on a universal determinism.  A comprehensive predetermination is all that is needed to annihilate free will, for it is solely the will of God that is done.  There are no other wills to describe or designate as meaningfully free.  Geisler himself has told us what is required for us to meaningfully talk about free will.

               “Minimally, free will is the ability to do otherwise.”[32]

            With this we agree.  But given Calvinist sovereignty there is no “ability to otherwise.”  God’s will is always done in all things.  Actually, “otherwise” has no meaning.  The Calvinist doctrine of an eternal decree, or God’s sovereignty, eliminates any possibility of a self-determined action.  Things cannot happen “otherwise.”  If they were able to happen “otherwise,” they would have to be a real departure from God’s will, which is an impossibility on Calvinist determinism.  Since there are no self-determined actions “the ability to do otherwise” is gone.  You, me, and everyone else have done, are doing and will do what God has willed.  Period!  This is the meaning of the Westminster Confession when it says, “God, from all eternity, did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass.”  Hence, God, having predetermined all things, must somehow make “all things” actually occur in the way he has predetermined.  Where then is the human will?  How does another’s “will” function in a genuine fashion in competition with God’s all-encompassing, irresistible will?  It is God who has ordained whatever comes to pass and brings it about.  How he does this has no impact upon the issue at hand.  Whether through loving, or wooing or through his Word, etc.  However he does this does not change the fact that it is God who makes it occur as God has willed and predetermined.[33]  On Calvinist determinism, there is no other will that exists in any meaningful sense of the word.  The determinism, in and of itself, is the problem.

            Therefore, Geisler’s deterministic view of sovereignty faces an insurmountable contradiction.  That is, he holds to a position that states that everything is predetermined by God to occur as it does (“Chosen”), while also holding to the position that some things are not predetermined by God  because they occur as the result of another’s will as self-willed actions (“Free”).  These claims are surely mutually exclusive.  They are in contradiction with each other.  To embrace one will exclude the other, and to attempt to hold to both is to embrace a contradiction.

            Geisler defines a determinist as follows,

               “A determinist, as opposed to a self-determinist, believes that all moral acts are not caused by ourselves but are caused by someone (or something) else.”[34]

            We fail to see how Geisler’s Calvinist definition of sovereignty does not fit this description of a determinist.  The “someone else” causing all moral (and immoral) acts is God.  Therefore, there are no moral acts that are caused by ourselves.  No one else but God is that cause of all our actions.  In that Geisler embraces the Calvinist’s definition of God’s sovereignty, we must therefore conclude that Geisler is a determinist as he defines it here

            Now as I indicated previously, Calvinists attempt to explain how their determinism is compatible with human freedom.  But in chapter two, Geisler does a fine job critiquing these “extreme Calvinist” explanations.  One way Calvinists do this is to redefine “free choice” so that it accommodates determinism.  For instance, Calvinists will say that “free choice is simply doing what we desire, but that no one ever desires to do anything unless God gives him the desire to do so.”[35]  Hence persons make “free” decisions but God is still sovereign as defined deterministically.  This is supposed to provide consistency between human freedom and the sovereignty of God.

            What is interesting here is that Geisler rightly disagrees with this compatibilist explanation.  He states that,

               “If all this were so, then it would follow that God would be responsible for all human actions.”[36]

            Precisely.  But in saying this he also falls under his own critique.  For he has embraced a definition of the sovereignty of God that requires him to conclude “that no one ever desires to do anything unless God gives him the desire to do so.”  For Geisler, the sovereignty of God means that “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”  Surely “whatsoever comes to pass” includes all human desires as the source of choices which issue forth in actions.  In fact, Geisler made this clear in chapter one.  He stated that,

               “God is in sovereign control of everything we choose.”[37]

            If our choices stem from our desires, which seems reasonable, then God must determine our desires too.  God somehow works what he has preordained to actually come to pass with respect to all things.  This include people’s desires.

            Now, Geisler continues with his critique of Calvinists who try to avoid the charge of determinism.  He states,

               “Many extreme Calvinists attempt to avoid this charge by redefining determinism.  Sproul does so by suggesting, “Determinism means that we are forced or coerced to do things by external force.”[38]  This is the fallacy of special pleading.  This particular reasoning admits there is an internal determination but denies that it should be called “determinism” because there was no external determination.  Yet a rose by any other name is still a rose.  The bottom line is, they believe that irresistible forces were exerted upon free creatures in order to get them to do what God wanted them to do.”[39]

            I agree with Geisler.  This Calvinist explanation is not convincing.  Yet, given Geisler’s position on God’s sovereignty laid out in chapter one, his “bottom line” is the same – “that irresistible forces were exerted upon free creatures in order to get them to do what God wanted them to do.”  Therefore, Geisler, who is also a determinist, has once again refuted his own position on sovereignty.  Neither has he shown us how his determinism is coherent with human freedom.

            Now, if God’s will could be resisted in any instance by an “ability to do otherwise,” [40] then Calvinist determinism would collapse.  When Geisler stated that, “Perhaps the most difficult thing to understand is that God is in sovereign control of everything we choose, even our salvation,”[41] he was in effect saying that “…irresistible forces were exerted upon free creatures in order to get them to do what God wanted them to do.”  Hence, Geisler was declaring his determinism.  Geisler also concludes,

               “If all of this were so, then God would be responsible for all human actions.”[42]

            Exactly.  And we must add that they would not be “free creatures.”  So, Geisler has drawn another correct conclusion from his view of sovereignty.  The “bottom line” is that God somehow gets everyone to do what he has predetermined that they do and therefore God is responsible for everything that occurs.  How can it be otherwise?  Geisler is correct.

            But in this chapter Geisler is arguing against the fact that God is responsible for all human actions.  He wants to show us that even though we are “chosen,” we are still “free.”  This is confusing.  He holds to Calvinist sovereignty, yet argues against its logical implications.  Again, we fail to see how Geisler can say God is not responsible for human desires and actions and hold to a position that claims God has preordained all human desires and actions.  That God is responsible for everything that occurs, even evil actions, is the very conclusion that must be drawn from his own position on sovereignty.  Again, Geisler is arguing against his own view of divine sovereignty.

            As one reads through Geisler’s book, one cannot help but think what might be driving him to embrace Calvinist sovereignty and ignore the incoherence and contradiction that results within his own arguments when he attempts to defend free will.  Up to this point his compulsion to argue two positions that contradict each other is very curious indeed.  I contend it goes back to his misapplication of the Old Testament verses Calvinists use to establish a deterministic sovereignty.  But there also must be something else at work here.  Perhaps a traditionalist “fear” of jettisoning that deterministic view of sovereignty as unbiblical?  But it certainly seems baffling why Geisler retains this determinism, especially given that he was a champion for the need for philosophical and logical thinking in theology.   It is strange that he seems to ignore the incoherence his determinism generates with other established biblical doctrines and teachings.

            Geisler’s determinism generates this same conflict with the problem of evil.  He asks, “Who caused Lucifer to sin?”  Well, if we were to go by what Geisler has established in chapter one about the sovereignty of God, the answer is obvious – “God caused Lucifer to sin.”  It is the answer that is logically required by Geisler’s definition of sovereignty.  But of course Geisler cannot accept this answer, and rightly so.  God would be the cause of the original sin and all the evil that springs from it that is against God himself.

            This reveals that up to this point Geisler cannot maintain his position on sovereignty and also retain a coherent concept of free will and self-determined desires and actions.  Since he will not give up either one, he proves to be inconsistent.  On God’s sovereignty he is clearly deterministic, and this limits his ability to logically incorporate what he knows to be true about the will of the creature as being substantively free – whether Lucifer, angelic beings or man.

            Finally Geisler concludes,

               “So, if for no other reason, the strong Calvinist’s position must be rejected because it is contradictory…He [God] cannot be for His own essential good and against it by giving Lucifer the desire to sin against him.”[43]

            Note the following about this statement.  This is an explicit admission that we have at least one instance in the history of the universe where a thing was not preordained by God, for as Geisler sensibly observes, “God cannot be for His own essential good and against it…”  And as Geisler correctly observes, on Calvinist determinism one must logically conclude that God gave Lucifer the desire to sin against Him.  Geisler therefore also concludes that the “strong Calvinist” definition of God’s sovereignty is absolutely deterministic and therefore is contradictory, for again, God “cannot be for His own essential good and against it by giving Lucifer the desire to sin against him.”  But this speaks against the Calvinist view of sovereignty that Geisler himself has adopted from the Westminster Confession.  What Geisler is now claiming is that God did not “from all eternity…of his own will ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”

            So Calvinist deterministic sovereignty fails as inconsistent and incoherent with the biblical witness to the source and nature of evil.  It generates its own problem of evil from which it cannot extricate itself.  Now I have already established that Geisler’s Calvinist position on God’s sovereignty in effect makes him a “strong Calvinist” – the kind of Calvinist he argues against in this chapter on free will.  We must therefore conclude that up until this point Geisler’s position is also contradictory and incoherent and is therefore to be rejected.

            Now, alternatively, if God did not “ordain whatever comes to pass” and therefore it is not true that God is the sole cause of all that happens, it would not be “contradictory” for Lucifer to have done what he did or be what he is.  The explanation would simply be that Lucifer’s attitudes and actions were self-determined.  But this is not logically consistent with Calvinist sovereignty.  Geisler observes and correctly notes this.  He writes,

               “If [Lucifer’s desire to sin] did not come from God, then it must have come from himself.  But in that case his original evil act was self-caused, that is, caused by himself – which is exactly the view of human free will the strong Calvinist rejects.”[44]

            But this “strong Calvinist” view is exactly the view of sovereignty that Geisler espouses.  Therefore, again, Geisler has just argued against his own “strong Calvinist” view of sovereignty laid out in chapter one.  Geisler is arguing against his own definition of sovereignty, that is, that God predetermined “whatsoever comes to pass.”  If Lucifer’s desire and original evil act were from and of himself, then what happens to Geisler’s definition of God’s sovereignty?  It needs to be amended.  A more biblically accurate definition of the sovereignty of God needs to be sought.  Given Geisler’s deterministic view on God’s sovereignty, Geisler would have to explain how it is that God is not the ultimate cause of Lucifer’s desires and actions.  He needs to explain how the act is both God caused and yet self-caused, which is clearly incoherent.  When Geisler argues for self-determined action in chapter two which he rightly says the “strong Calvinist” rejects, he is arguing against himself, for he too is a “strong Calvinist” with regard to God’s sovereignty.  That is his position on sovereignty that he laid out in chapter one.  By having already embraced the core elements of Calvinism – the eternal decree, sovereignty as predetermination and absolute control, along with unconditional election – Geisler has subjected himself to his own free will critique of “strong Calvinism.”  Geisler’s own deterministic sovereignty and unconditional election are shown up as unbiblical by his own defense of human free will.

            In effect, in chapter two Geisler shelves all he has said in chapter one on sovereignty and election to address a range of topics that contradict his deterministic doctrinal beliefs as presented in chapter one.  So what is Geisler doing?  In chapter two it appears he is switching theological gears and putting aside the determinism he staked out in chapter one.  In chapter two he wants to acknowledge the undeniable reality of substantial human freedom.

            Geisler of course does not see himself as a “strong Calvinist” because he believes he has a logical and theological solution for what at this point amounts to a logical contradiction. Geisler will seek coherence between his presently contradictory expositions of God’s sovereignty and human free will by employing God’s foreknowledge and the doctrine of God’s “simplicity.”  In doing this, along with his rejection of Calvinism’s “total depravity” and “limited atonement” he feels he can thereby label himself a “moderate Calvinist.”  More on this later.

            In the meantime, Geisler contradicts his view of sovereignty again in his section titled, “Free choice is the origin of evil.”  He writes,

               “In brief, God made the fact of freedom; we are responsible for the acts of freedom.  The fact of freedom is good, even though some acts of freedom are evil.  God is the cause of the former, and we are the cause of the latter.”[45]

            Note two things here.  First, we have a definition of God’s sovereignty more akin to the Arminian view.  God sovereignly creates his human creatures with wills of their own that are under their control.  They have wills that are free from the deterministic control of other people and conditions, including God himself.  The fact of freedom is sovereignly given, and therefore the act of freedom is our responsibility.  This accounts for more of the biblical witness in a coherent manner.  And also, God’s bestowal of free will on human creatures is no threat to his sovereignty.  Rather, it exalts it by not allowing for all the attributes that God has that contribute to what it means for him to by our Sovereign and enable him to rule and reign over his creation in love and with justice to be minimized and whittled down into a static theistic determinism.

            Secondly, here Geisler, in contradiction with his deterministic sovereignty, clearly states that God does not cause all thingsPersons themselves are the cause of their actions.  This is the position of libertarian freedom which is in contradiction to deterministic sovereignty.  As discussed above, if God from all eternity ordained whatsoever comes to pass, we fail to see how God is not the ultimate cause of those things.  God causes everything that occurs.  It is as Geisler states, “All things come to pass as He ordained them from all eternity” and “God is in sovereign control of everything we choose, even our salvation.”[46]  And yet Geisler can say, “God is the cause of the former [the fact of freedom] and we are the cause of the latter [the acts of freedom].”  So, for Geisler, in terms of sovereignty there is one causal agent – God.  But in terms of practical action there is another causal agent – us.  But this is a contradiction.  Therefore, at this point we still anticipate learning how Geisler will explain this contradiction in his own position.

            Here is another defense of free will argued by Geisler. 

               “But why do I do what I do?  Don’t my background, training, and environment affect what I do?  Yes, they do, but they do not force me to do it.  They affect my actions, but they do not effect (i.e., cause) them.  They influence but do not control my actions.  That I still have the power to make free moral choices is true…”[47]

            Geisler’s point here is well made and I think correct.  But the words that link his concepts are very revealing.  Recall that in chapter one he made it clear that God was in control of all things.  He stated that the sovereignty of God is his “complete control of all things.”[48]  Now, here, he says that to “control” an action is to “cause” that action.  “Control” equals “force” equals “effect” equals “cause.”  As I argued above, Geisler’s logic here also admits that since God “controls all things” then God is the “cause” of all our actions.  It is the logical conclusion of Geisler’s position that “control” implies “cause.”  Geisler is confirming here that anything that “controls” my actions therefore “effects” or “causes” them.  And since according to Geisler’s deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty God is in “control” of all things, God therefore “effects” all things” which is to say God is the “cause” of all things.

            Furthermore, even if God does not “force” people to do what they do, somehow they will do what He has ordained them to do.  To “cause” does not necessarily mean to “force.”  The key issue is who the ultimate “doer” is.  Who has “determined” the action to be what it is?  The issue in determinism is not the means by which one exercises their will over another, it is the fact that one will is done in all things at the elimination of all other “wills.”  Yet, by equating the word “control” with “force” above, Geisler confirms that God’s sovereignty, which is his “control” over all things, also implies some type of “force.”  Note that Geisler uses “control” in the above statement in an absolute sense, just as he used it in his definition of God’s sovereignty.

            The point is that according to Geisler’s Calvinist definitions of sovereignty, if God “controls” all things to happen as he has determined then He must also cause all things to occur as they do.  Note also that Geisler will not allow background, training, or environment to control a person’s actions because that would mean that those actions are not free moral choices that originate from one’s self.  The power of free choice and decision would be gone, and with it moral responsibility.  But Geisler has clearly stated that God is in control of all things.  He is not just an influence.  So why is it that when God is in “control” there is no loss of “the power to make free moral choices?”  Geisler is inconsistent here.

            So whether it is background, training, environment or God that “controls” my actions, the result is the same; loss of “the power to make free moral choices.”  Something or somebody else other than the individual is in “control” of that individual.  And we have learned that if it be God, as Geisler and Calvinists contend, it must be complete control, for that is what it means for God to be sovereign.  Hence, Geisler’s defense of free will is still inconsistent with his doctrine of God’s sovereignty.  He writes,

               “The bottom line is, [extreme Calvinists] believe that irresistible forces were exerted upon free creatures in order to get them to do what God wanted them to do.”[49]

            This is Geisler’s conclusion regarding “extreme Calvinism.”  Geisler’s view of sovereignty requires this same conclusion.  Again, Geisler is critiquing his own view of sovereignty.

            As long as Geisler maintains his Calvinist deterministic view of sovereignty and attempts to argue for human free will, examples of his inconsistency will multiply.  For instance, Geisler also writes,

               “Therefore, reason also demands that all moral creatures are morally free; that is, they have the ability to respond one way or another.  Whatever evil we do and are responsible for, we could have responded otherwise…Not only are evil moral actions ones that could have been otherwise, but they should have been otherwise….But here, too, logic seems to insist that such moral obligations imply that we have self-determining moral free choice.  For ought implies can.”[50]

            Geisler’s arguments in favor of free will are formidable.  I can agree with them, and I think he has done a fine job providing a condensed explanation of a difficult subject.  But again, he is arguing against his own view of God’s sovereignty.  Geisler has carried a sense of this conflict ever since he laid it out in his questions at the end of chapter one.  That is,

               “If God is sovereign, how then can we be free?  Does not divine sovereignty make a sham of human responsibility?  Is not a sovereign God a Giant Puppet Master, pulling the strings of human “puppets” at His will?  If God is in complete control of everything, including human choice, then how can we be truly free?  Are not sovereignty and significant free will mutually exclusive?”[51]

            These questions were of course somewhat rhetorical, but he certainly plans to offer a resolution to this mutual exclusivity.  So can Geisler actually reconcile the contradiction between deterministic sovereignty and human free will by some other means without rejecting one or the other as unbiblical?  We shall see.

            Obviously he believes that his views on deterministic sovereignty and human free will are the biblical teaching.  But to this point he has only stated the two sides of the problem separately.  He has made the case for Calvinist deterministic sovereignty while also making the case for libertarian human free will.  But so far we are only left with incoherencies and contradictions.  We still do not see how the claim that we are Chosen But Free is coherent.  As of the end of chapter two he has not reconciled his deterministic view of sovereignty with free will.  He will attempt to do so in chapter three.

            But before we go there, you might want to pause here and ask yourself the all-important hermeneutical question that is at the heart of this controversy.  If Geisler’s (or anyone else’s) interpretations of Scripture lead us into incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction, are these reliable indications that Geisler (or others) have misinterpreted the text at some point?  Are incoherence, inconsistency and contradiction sure signs of a misunderstanding of the text?

Chapter 3: Can Geisler Reconcile Determinism and Free Will?

The Predictable Flight to “Mystery”

            Before we examine Geisler’s argument for the coherence of sovereignty and free will in chapter three, we should note what he and other Calvinists “conclude” at this point.  They say that the Bible teaches both God’s sovereignty, as they have defined it deterministically, and human free will.  They claim that the logical conflict in this relation is a “mystery.”[52]  This amounts to a tacit admission that the views presented here are really contradictory.  If they were not, why claim “mystery?”  They cannot conceive of how their doctrines cohere so they flee to mystery.

            We experience this “mystery” again in the following statement which begins chapter three titled, “Viewing The Alternatives.”  The first subsection is titled, “The Twin Truths Of Sovereignty and Responsibility.”  Geisler writes,

               “The Bible emphatically declares that God has absolute sovereignty over all that happens, including the salvation of saints and the condemnation of unrepentant sinners (see chapter 1).”[53]

            Here Geisler once again confirms his “strong Calvinist,” absolute, deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.  But we must ask, what coherent meaning does the phrase “unrepentant sinner” have if God “has absolute sovereignty over all that happens” including every decision of all persons, even their eternal destinies?  Is it really the sinner who is unrepentant, or is it God who causes the sinner to be “unrepentant?”  We recall Geisler’s statement that “God is in control of everything we choose, even our salvation.”[54]  Now, repentance implies the ability to turn from one way and go another.  And if we are going to hold the sinner responsible for their unrepentance, then it must be within the sinners control to do otherwise.  Repentance implies the exercise of the will and a situation that lies open before the sinner.  If God has predetermined every one’s eternal destiny what could be the meaning of an “unrepentant sinner?”  Repent?  How?  And what kind of God condemns them for their unrepentance when they were predestined to it?  A more accurate Calvinist description would have read “…the condemnation of reprobate sinners,” or “the condemnation of non-elect sinners,” for there is no opportunity for repentance for the non-elect, that is, the reprobate.  Geisler continues,

               “Nevertheless, the same Scripture stresses that the moral responsibility for moral actions rests squarely with free moral agents and not with God (see chapter 2).  It has been said that on the outside of the door of heaven it reads, “whosoever will may enter,” while on the inside it is written, “I have chosen you.”  According to Scripture, both are true.  This is one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith, along with the Trinity, and the Incarnation. (See 1 Tim. 3:16).”[55]

            Since Geisler believes that the Bible teaches both as true and it is a theological “mystery,” we would think that he is not going to bother with attempting to reconcile the two views logically or hermeneutically.  If the relationship between sovereignty and free will is a genuine biblical “mystery,” and the Bible simply presents them as contradictory without resolution, is it really possible for Geisler to produce any explanation that will provide coherence between sovereignty and free will?  We would think not.  How then would it be a “mystery?”  By proposing that both are taught in Scripture as “mystery,” the key theological truth that would unlock the “mystery” would seem to be unknowable.  By the same line of thinking why can’t it be a biblical “mystery” that God predetermined and therefore gave Lucifer the desire to sin against Him?  This, for some reason, Geisler rejected as contradictory.  He rejects the idea that God could work against himself or against what Geisler knows of God’s nature and character.  But why couldn’t this too be a true biblical “mystery?”

            By claiming “mystery,” Geisler certainly seems to have introduced an incoherence with his other claim that,

               “…there is no incoherence in asserting that our free actions are both determined and free.  As far as the Bible is concerned, there is no contradiction between divine predestination and human free choice!”[56]

            So then why is there a “mystery” here?  And why does Geisler feel the need to present an argument to logically reconcile deterministic sovereignty with human freedom and responsibility?

            That the Bible teaches both and that “mystery” is the full and final explanation of the “apparent contradiction” between them is the standard Calvinist answer to the problem their determinism has created with the biblical witness to the reality of free will.  And this is another evidence that Geisler feels the pressure of this theological tradition.  By affirming that this is a “mystery,” he has just nullified his own claim above and in effect admits that there is no need or possibility of reconciling these two doctrines.  So we are left wondering why and how Geisler is going to proceed in the rest of this book to defend the claim he has made above.  But if we do not believe we have a “mystery” here, but rather a real contradiction, then this flight to “mystery” seems to beg the question as to whether the Scripture has been rightly interpreted.

Embarking on Chapter 3: Viewing the Alternatives

            Therefore, what Geisler does at the beginning of chapter three is provide select Scriptures that he believes teach that Calvinist sovereignty and human free will are both true.  Geisler is correct to do here as he has done throughout – attend to Scripture.  Since we believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, preeminence must be given to what the Scriptures reveal on this matter.  The best reason for holding to any doctrinal position is the conviction that the Bible teaches it.  But this is one of the important considerations involved in this controversy.  What does the Bible teach on these matters and how would we know it?  Geisler seeks to show that Scripture bears witness to both God’s deterministic sovereignty as understood in the Reformed Calvinist tradition and human free will even though they certainly appear contradictory.  The sense and conviction that there is a real contradiction here has been the catalyst for this controversy and Geisler’s book.  But Scripture cannot bear witness to a logical contradiction.  And in this commonly accepted interpretive principle we run up against a significant hermeneutical issue.  Are interpretations of Scripture that lead to logical contradictions valid interpretations?  What part should logic and moral intuition play in determining whether or not Scripture has been rightly interpreted?  If Geisler and others cannot relieve this “mystery,” then perhaps we need to conclude that the Scripture has been misinterpreted at some point.  As we saw above, Geisler himself rejected the Calvinist’s conclusions on the relation between sovereignty and the nature of Lucifer’s desires and actions on the basis of logical contradiction.  And that “reason also demands that all moral creatures are morally free” and “logic seems to insist that such moral obligations imply that we have self-determining moral free choice.”  We recall his statement,

               “So, if for no other reason, the strong Calvinist’s position must be rejected because it is contradictory…He [God] cannot be for His own essential good and against it by giving Lucifer the desire to sin against him.”[57]

            Although Geisler rests upon the unassailable law of non-contradiction to detect the error in Calvinist reasoning above, he goes on to make this remarkable statement,

               “…there is no contradiction in asserting that our free actions are both determined and free.  As far as the Bible is concerned, there is no contradiction between divine predestination and human free choice!”[58]

            Geisler may be right in saying “as far as the Bible is concerned, there is no contradiction…” but the problem remains that as Geisler understands the Bible on God’s sovereignty and human free will there is, as far as we can tell, a substantial contradiction here – both logically and morally.  If Geisler felt justified in using logical consistency as a foundational interpretive principle to reject a “strong Calvinist” view of sovereignty, he should employ it here also.  Why do the laws of logic apply in one instance but not in the other? How can a free action be a determined action?

            Geisler will attempt to explain this further, but surely there are contradictions here, otherwise there would be nothing to have “challenged the greatest Christian thinkers down through the centuries.”[59]  There would be no “mystery.”  The discussion would terminate at this “mystery.”  And if this “mystery” is inherent in Scripture without resolution through further revelation, nothing more could or should be said.  This claim that the Bible teaches both is problematic.

            I submit that due to the nature of the problems generated by the Calvinist’s definition of sovereignty as theistic determinism, other options need to be explored.  It is not only a matter of quoting Scriptures to defend sovereignty or free will, but inquiring into what makes for the proper interpretation of those Scriptures.  How do we know that Geisler’s claim that “as far as the Bible is concerned” there is no contradiction between divine predestination and human free choice is accurate?  It seems by valid exegetical reasoning, rules of logic and our moral intuitions there is a contradiction here.  Thus, violations of our logical, moral and epistemological foundations of thought and practical living generated by this proposed definition of sovereignty lead us to doubt its biblical validity.

            My only point here is to suggest that unless one is willing to conclude that at some point it is necessary to jettison the rules of logic, moral intuitions and epistemological assurances which all seem to be essential to a sound, biblical hermeneutic, we must entertain the possibility that inherent within Calvinism there is a grave misinterpretation at some point.

            Before we examine Geisler’s proposed reconciliation between deterministic sovereignty and free will, let’s examine statements he makes affirming that “the Bible teaches both.”  Geisler states,

               “Sovereignty and free will.  Is it one or the other, or is it both one and the other?  The Bible says both.”[60]

               “According to Scripture, both are true,”[61]

               “The Bible sees no contradiction in asserting that our free actions are both determined and free.  As far as the Bible is concerned, there is no contradiction between divine predestination and human free choice!”[62]

            These statements reveal Geisler’s hermeneutic.  Geisler does not think that coherence, consistency and non-contradiction are reliable and necessary for determining the validity of an interpretation.  But given a hermeneutic that takes coherence and non-contradiction on board as indicative of the validity of certain interpretive claims, the above conclusions reflect that the text has been misinterpreted. The Scripture does not teach that “both are true” precisely because of the contradiction between the interpretive claims.

            But suppose we are willing to entertain, as Geisler does, the possibility that the Bible teaches both.  Can that really be the end of the matter?  Why do our minds and hearts tell us something more needs to be said?  More issues need to be resolved because if we are left with “the Bible teaches both” proposition we have not answered the questions that still linger.  These are the questions Geisler’s student were asking about his topic.  Is the only sufficient answer “the Bible teaches both?”

            It is not likely that this is sufficient or correct because these are the very questions that many Christian’s would say that the Bible does have an answer to.  There are questions about the source and nature of logical reasoning.  There are the hermeneutical questions such as, “Isn’t logic essential to clear thinking and as such necessary in determining the truth or error of a suggested biblical interpretation?”  And there are the moral and theological questions such as, “What kind of God would create people and predestine some of them to eternal damnation and all others to eternal punishment?”  And there are also the deeply personal and relational questions of the assurance of God’s love for each of us such as, “If God has chosen only certain people to be saved and all others to be damned, how can I know I’m among the chosen and included in God’s salvation?”  “What is God’s disposition towards me personally?”  And then there is the crucial question about the content and proclamation of the gospel as “good news.”  “If God has chosen some and not others to be saved, what is the precise content of the gospel as “good news” to those who hear it?  What makes “the gospel” message truly good news?

            If we do not pursue the answer to these questions we are left with a portrayal of God and reality that simply does not cohere within itself nor with the Scriptures.  Something more needs to be offered by way of resolution.  Our intellectual, emotional and spiritual beings require it.  This is not simply an intellectual, inane philosophical or irrelevant theological matter.  The deepest questions about God, our relation to Him and therefore the meaning and purpose of life are at stake.  The content of the gospel message and therefore the mission and ministry of the church as “evangelical” are also at stake.

            So something needs to be said about the problematic position that claims that “as far as the Bible is concerned, there is no contradiction between divine predestination and human free choice.”  How so?  How can it be shown that this is the case?  How can we know that the Bible teaches determinism, unconditional election and free will?  Can it be convincingly shown that these are the teachings of the Bible?  Is there a real contradiction here?  Does the Bible contradict itself?  Is fleeing to “mystery” in the face of contradiction legitimate?  As we come to fully comprehend the troubling implications of Calvinist determinism and unconditional election and the contradiction these present with human freedom, we being to feel an intellectual, moral, spiritual and emotional cloud closing in upon us.

            Can we therefore simply affirm that “the Bible teaches both” as true and leave it at that?  Geisler is sending mixed messages in this regard.  He tells us it is a “mystery,” but he will now proceed to show us how the two cohere.  It is as if Geisler himself is not convinced of his own conclusion of “mystery” because he will continue to pursue a logical resolution in what follows.  This is interesting in that he, along with most of us, feels compelled to logically justify how it is that the Bible teaches both without contradiction.  Here we get closer to the heart of the mater.  What in every way appears to be an inescapable logical contradiction cannot be left to stand.  The credibility of the Bible, the gospel message and the Christian’s intellectual integrity is at stake.  To claim the Bible teaches what clearly amounts to an obvious logical contradiction is to cast doubt upon the inspiration, authority and credibility of Scripture.  But again, if Geisler and Calvinists really accepted the conclusion that “the Bible teaches both,” you would think all discussion would end.  But it appears that they too are not convinced of the “mystery” explanation.  Something more needs to be said.  Geisler seems bent on freeing the Bible from these contradictory interpretations which ultimately leave us bewildered as to the nature of reality, God, our eternal destinies and therefore the meaning and purpose of our lives.

            After arguing for the “extreme Calvinist” definition of sovereignty and the fact of human free will, Geisler must now attempt to demonstrate the logical compatibility of the two.  Therefore, he must believe that there is a genuine logical contradiction in his position if left as it is.  His mind needs to find resolution to this problem.  Moreover, it seems that Geisler knows that the position must be false unless it can be shown that there is some logical compatibility between Calvinist deterministic sovereignty, unconditional election and human free will.  One cannot violate the rules of logic and claim that their position is sensible and credible.  Granted some things can still be a mystery yet be free from logical contradiction.  But when they can be seen to be logically contradictory they cannot be an accurate interpretation of the biblical text.  Resorting to “mystery” here is inappropriate.  The problem between determinism and free will is not analogous to the mysteries of the Trinity or the incarnation.  Furthermore, such a declaration of “mystery” is premature given the nature of the problem at hand.  Much more can and needs to be said about how what is entailed by determinism, whether theistic or naturalistic, is in conflict with the biblical testimony to the nature of reality and its clearer teachings and doctrines.  Although it seems that Geisler rightly draws a line at the violation of logic, he has entered into a confusion here.  It is Geisler’s “extreme Calvinist” interpretation of God’s sovereignty (i.e., theistic determinism) that generates the essential contradiction.  Is he going to demonstrate no logical contradiction yet retain the “mystery” that the Bible teaches both?  Is he going to demonstrate no biblical contradiction when he claims the Bible teaches a contradiction?  What’s the difference between the two?  How is he going to demonstrate no logical or biblical contradiction when it is his biblical interpretation that has produced the contradiction he is trying to avoid?  I suspect that he will be unsuccessful unless he modifies his position on sovereignty and/or human freedom.  He therefore has a tough task before him in chapter 3.

Geisler’s First Attempt at Coherence: God’s Foreknowledge

            Geisler begins chapter three with a number of proof-texts that he interprets as indicating that “as far as the Bible is concerned, there is no contradiction between divine predestination and human free choice.”[63]   He then moves into a section titled “Sovereignty and Responsibility.”  He writes,

               “No one has ever demonstrated a contradiction between predestination and free choice.  There is no irresolvable conflict between an event being predetermined by an all-knowing God and it also being freely chosen by us.  Even the famous Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) makes this point when it says, ‘Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly, yet by the same providence he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.’”[64]

            It is important to note the task that Geisler has before him.  He must vindicate his position from formal logical contradiction in order for it to be credible.  It may still have elements of Christian “mystery” but it can’t be illogical.  Once he does this he can then claim that at least it is not logically contradictory, for if it were it would definitely be irrational and unbiblical.  If Geisler can prove there is no logical contradiction between sovereignty and free will he then can simply maintain that it is a “mystery” of the Christian faith and “beyond reason” but not “against reason.”  The important thing is to vindicate his view of sovereignty and human freedom as “reasonable” on logical grounds.  Can he do this given his view of sovereignty set out in chapter one?  He labels himself a “moderate Calvinist” precisely because he believes he can demonstrate that there is no “contradiction” or “irresolvable conflict between an event being determined by an all-knowing God and it also being freely chosen by us.”  He thus feels he will have avoided the “strong Calvinist” rejection of human free will which he maintains is contradictory with the determinism of “strong Calvinism.”[65]  But as I have demonstrated, Geisler’s view of sovereignty is precisely that of the “strong Calvinist.”  So we have already seen that his view is inconsistent and, according to his own words, contradicts human free will.

            Nevertheless, let’s think along with Geisler and see whether he can logically justify and maintain human freedom given his “strong Calvinist” view which he himself has argued is incompatible and contradictory to human freedom.  Let’s examine how he might go about this and see if it is credible.

            We must note the following.  First, by quoting the Confession Geisler introduces God’s foreknowledge into the issue.  Secondly, the decree of God is now mentioned plainly.  Thirdly, the Confession admits that “the foreknowledge and decree of God” are the “first cause” of “all things” by which they “come to pass immutably and infallibly.”  This is basic to a definition of God’s sovereignty for “strong Calvinists” and “moderate” Calvinists like Geisler and, as I have argued, it is this definition of sovereignty rooted in God’s decree which generates the inevitable determinism inherent within Calvinism.  And if this determinism is the fundamental problem here, which certainly seems to be true, then I just do not see how human freedom and responsibility can be made coherent with it.

            We should also note that simply by stating that God works out his predetermined will by “second causes” does not relieve us of the problem of incoherence.  If God is the “first cause” who ultimately determines all things, any “second cause” is subsumed under the “first cause” and therefore also determined by the “first cause.”  We are still at a loss to understand how such determinism is coherent with free will.

            Also it is not at all apparent how God can decree some things to “fall out” freely unless the Confession means to say that God decreed to give man free will.  But this is not in conformity with the Confession’s definition of sovereignty and the meaning of the Confession as a whole.  Here the Confession simply makes the unsubstantiated statement that regardless of God having decreed all things, some of them “fall out” freely.

            Geisler also seems to accept the idea of “second causes” as lending support to his argument.  Perhaps we can understand how God can foreknow a free will act (and this will be where Geisler’s argument is headed), but not that God ordained from all eternity “whatever comes to pass” and preserve what can genuinely be called “free will decisions” by simply labeling them “second causes.”

            The introduction of the concept of “second causes” seems a failed attempt to distance us from the fact that reality is already fixed by the “first cause.”  It is an attempt to inject some concept of “freedom” or “liberty” into an already determined world.  Although we are watching the marionettes perform on the stage we do not believe that because they are the “second cause” of what occurs on that stage that they are acting “freely.”  No one believes that what is “falling out” is at all done “freely” by the marionette.  But Geisler has already conceded all this in his arguments for free will in chapter two, so we are not sure how the Westminster Confession serves his attempt to demonstrate coherence between sovereignty and free will.  We don’t see how the Confession serves to relieve the contradiction before us simply by stating that “he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.”  Given Geisler’s conflicted position and the problems of determinism, it makes me wonder what is compelling him to affirm Calvinism and the Confession.

A Crucial Turning Point in Geisler’s Argument: The Use of the Word “Determined”

            Geisler will now attempt to incorporate the new element of God’s foreknowledge into his argument to show that there is no contradiction between sovereignty and free will.  He will do this by quoting “the noted Puritan Calvinist Stephen Charnock.”  By doing so Geisler will elaborate on and clarify his own position.  Charnock writes,

               “…[God] did not only know that we would do such actions, but that we would do them freely; he foresaw that the will would freely determine itself to this or that…and though God knows contingent things, yet they remain in the nature of contingencies; and though God knows free agents, yet they remain in the nature of liberty…

               God did not foreknow the actions of man, as necessary, but as free; so that liberty is rather established by this foreknowledge, than removed…

               Thus, man hath the power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do.  Adam was not determined by any inward necessity to fall, nor any man by any inward necessity to commit this or that particular sin; but God foresaw that he would fall, and fall freely.” [66]/ [67]

            We should carefully observe what Geisler has done here by quoting both Charnock and the Westminster Confession above.  It is a crucial turning point in his argument and we will be diverted from the essential issue if we do not pay careful attention here.

            Geisler has shifted the discussion into the area of God’s foreknowledge and away from the issues of God’s sovereignty as previously defined as His predetermination of “whatever comes to pass.”[68]  Geisler quotes Charnock who is not dealing with the issue of God’s sovereignty as defined by Geisler and “strong Calvinists” but God’s foreknowledge and whether foreknowledge requires the future to be fixed in such a way as to preclude human freedom.  You may have been struck by the stark contrast between Charnock’s statements and what we have identified of Geisler’s definition of sovereignty laid out in chapter one.  Charnock states that “Adam was not determined by any inward necessity to fall, nor any man by any inward necessity to commit this or that particular sin…”  This directly contradicts Geisler’s Calvinist position on God’s sovereignty as his predetermination of all things by his own will.  On Geisler’s Calvinist deterministic definition of sovereignty God predetermined and caused Adam’s fall.

            So why does Geisler quote Charnock?  What Geisler will attempt to argue is that in one sense God’s foreknowledge allows for human free will decisions, and in another sense God’s foreknowledge “determines” the future.  He will thus seek support for human freedom in foreknowledge but also seek support for his “determined” sovereignty by that same foreknowledge.  Hence, God is both sovereign and man is free.  Let’s see if this works.

            Charnock’s key points above are that “man hath the power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do” and that “Adam was not determined by any inward necessity to fall, nor any man by any inward necessity to commit this or that particular sin…”  Man has the power of contrary choice and so may will and act against God’s will although God knows what man will do in any particular circumstance.  Also, in the majority of situations, no one else, including God, inwardly moves persons to necessarily and ultimately do what they do.  Persons determine by their own wills what they will think and do.  God foreknowing the future does not determine that future in the sense of determining the thoughts and actions of men.  This is Charnock’s point.  Man is not predetermined by God foreknowing what he will do.  It is men who do what they do although God knows this beforehand.  Therefore God’s foreknowledge does not require the negation of free will.

            We can agree with Charnock’s assessment that even though God foreknows what we will do, it is we who do it and not God who determines by his will what we will do.  This allows for free will to be maintained, which is what Geisler argued in chapter two.  So Geisler quotes Charnock in support of human freedom.

            Since divine foreknowledge does not negate human free will, and human free will is contradictory with Geisler’s deterministic sovereignty, why then does Geisler argue that both are the teaching of Scripture?   Why does Geisler quote Charnock on the foreknowledge of God which does not support his “strong Calvinist” definition of God’s sovereignty?  He does this because even though these free will acts of men speak against Geisler’s deterministic definition of sovereignty as he laid out in chapter one, Geisler also attempts to claim that because God knows the future perfectly and without error, the future is therefore “determined.”  Geisler seeks to find in the foreknowledge of God, support for both human freedom and a “determined” future.  He will use God’s foreknowledge to confirm the “determined” nature of the future required by his Calvinist definition of sovereignty while also using foreknowledge to leverage room for human free will.  He will therefore conclude that there is no incoherence between his deterministic Calvinist “sovereignty” and free will.

            But how will he do this and will it be convincing?  I will attempt to show the inconsistency in the content of Geisler’s argument that invalidates this use of God’s foreknowledge to support his view of sovereignty.  Simply put, the use of the word “determined” with reference to the future in the context of foreknowledge is not the same as the sense and meaning of the word “determined” required by Geisler’s definition of sovereignty.  Geisler equivocates on the word “determined.”

            Regarding God’s foreknowledge, we can grasp the fact that God can and does foreknow the free will decisions of His creatures.  And as Charnock argues, they remain free even though God foreknows them.  If the creature would have done something different, that is what God would have foreknown.  God’s foreknowing doesn’t cause the action.  Hence, in the context of God’s foreknowledge Geisler seeks to maintain all he said in favor of human freedom.

            But Geisler will also argue that because God is a perfect being his knowledge is also perfect, that is, without error.  God foreknows all things without being mistaken in what He knows.  And since He knows all things and cannot be wrong in what He knows, He therefore knows precisely what will come to pass.

            But we must be careful to think accurately here and note Geisler’s use of language.  Geisler wants us to also accept the proposition that because God has perfect foreknowledge of the future then the future is “determined.”  He uses the same word “determined” that he used in chapter one with respect to God’s sovereignty.  He now states that the future must be as God knows it, therefore it can only be one way.  From the perspective of God’s infallible knowledge of what will be, those future events must be, and in this sense Geisler labels them “determined.”

            But this raises a crucial question and an important distinction.  That is, whether the sense and meaning of the word “determined” produced by God knowing and foreknowing is the same as the sense and meaning of the word “determined” produced by God predetermining and being sovereign as Geisler has defined sovereignty.  Does the word “determined” mean the same thing whether we are talking of God’s foreknowledge or His sovereignty?  We are inquiring into whether or not, “God foreknows (determined),” is the same as, “God preordained (determined),” with respect to the use of the word “determined.”  Does God’s foreknowledge carry with it the necessity of having caused the foreknown human action which Geisler’s definition of sovereignty requires?  In other words, is foreknowledge also causal as Calvinist sovereignty certainly is causal?  Is the sense of the one “determined” the same as the other and therefore they can be used interchangeably?  I think not.  And we know that Geisler thinks not, otherwise he would not have quoted Charnock who states that,

               “God did not foreknow the actions of man, as necessary, but as free; so that liberty is rather established by this foreknowledge, than removed…Thus, man hath the power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do.  Adam was not determined by any inward necessity to fall, nor any man by any inward necessity to commit this or that particular sin; but God foresaw that he would fall, and fall freely.”

            Both Charnock and Geisler believe that God’s foreknowledge does not place any necessity upon the will and acts of man.  God’s knowledge is knowledge of free will actions.  God’s sovereignty is God preordaining what is to occur and causing it to be that way.  Regarding foreknowledge, God knows what free creatures will do with their freedom.  They may choose to do one thing or another.  And history actually unfolds in this way.  Decisions are made each day from among many options, and they are the decisions of the persons themselves.  They are open situations yet to be determined by the will of the creature.  They are not predetermined by the will of God before the creation of the world and therefore caused by God to occur as he has willed and predetermined.   Rather, they are what the creature decided to do in that circumstance, and they could have done otherwise if they willed to do so.  Even though God foreknows the human act, he has not caused it.  It is not determined by God.  This is what Charnock is saying and Geisler agrees with him.  But according to Geisler’s definition of sovereignty, God has determined what everyone will do beforehand.  They do not choose to do one thing or another.  God brings about, that is, causes, to occur precisely what He has determined to occur.

            So why does Geisler agree with Charnock regarding foreknowledge not necessitating human choices and actions and yet maintain God’s sovereign predetermination of all things which does necessitate human choices and actions by the will of God alone?  He does so because he believes he can employ God’s foreknowledge in two ways.  One way is to point out that if God’s knowledge of the future actions of persons is infallible knowledge, that is, without error, then the future must unfold as God knows it to be, and to this proposition Geisler applies the term “determined.”  The other way is to point out as Charnock does, that God’s foreknowledge does not cause the choices and actions of people, hence, human beings have free will.  Geisler therefore can claim that all things are “determined” and yet humans are also free.

Equivocating on the Word “Determined”

            But we see that the word “determined” with regard to foreknowledge does not carry the same causal sense that Geisler’s Calvinist sovereignty requires and Geisler seemingly goes on to equate the “determined” future that comes from his discussion of God’s foreknowledge with that of his definition of God’s sovereignty.  Therefore Geisler’s use and association of the word “determined” from God’s foreknowledge to support the element of “determined” in his definition of sovereignty is misleading.  The perfect knowledge that God has of what will occur in the future – events Geisler describes as “determined” – is not the same as God predetermining and causing all things to occur that is required by Geisler’s definitions of the eternal divine decree and God’s sovereignty.  Geisler is using the word “determined” in the context of foreknowledge to claim that we are both determined and free.  But this is to apply a very different sense of “determined” to the result of God knowing the future than the “determined” that is the result of God having willed and decreed what will occur and causing it to come about precisely as he has willed.  Geisler is employing foreknowledge to establish that things are “determined,” but this use of the word cannot and does not carry the sense or weight of the determinism in Geisler’s doctrines of the divine decree and sovereignty.  There is an incongruent application of the word “determined” here.  In fact, according to Calvinists, God only foreknows the future because he has foreordained it.  His foreknowledge is the result of the fact that he has predetermined what will happen.  He has predetermined what will happen and causes it to happen, therefore he knows what will happen.  This is what the Westminster Confession affirms when it says in that very same section which Geisler quoted from above, “Of God’s Eternal Decree,” that,

               “Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.”[69]

            If God’s foreknowledge does not preclude the reality of free will in creatures that have “the ability to do otherwise,” then it does not produce a “determined” future in the sense that Calvinist sovereignty or “God’s Eternal Decree” demands.  God simply knowing what will happen beforehand is not the same as God preordaining and causing it to occur as it does.  It is a matter of the creature doing what they have willed to do and God knowing about it, as opposed to the creature doing what God preordained they do which is the basis upon which God knows about it.  Hence, if God is sovereign, that is, if He has preordained and therefore causes all things to occur as they do, this is a very different concept than God foreknowing the free will actions of the creature.  In the former man is not free.  In the later he is.  And it is an error for Geisler to think that foreknowledge provides both the determinism his sovereignty requires and the free will that the Scripture requires.  Foreknowledge need not imply causal predetermination, as Charnock argues, but an absolute causal predetermination, as Calvinist sovereignty states, does produce an infallible foreknowledge while also eradicating human free will.  Geisler’s use of Charnock’s exposition of God’s foreknowledge which only affirms free will, is in contradiction to Geisler’s Calvinist doctrines of the divine decree and sovereignty which are statements of divine determinism and are therefore in contradiction to human free will and responsibility.   

            Therefore, foreknowledge has not helped Geisler demonstrate how divine sovereignty and free will cohere.  He has only shown us that it is an error to think that God’s foreknowledge determines what people think, believe and do and everything that occurs in the future.  Rather, foreknowledge is an attribute of God by which he knows what his free will creatures with do and how history unfolds dynamically in connection with human freedom and responsibility.  Foreknowledge does not allow Geisler to escape the vortex of his “strong Calvinist” determinism.

            So Geisler is inconsistent here.  Even though God may know the future, if what he knows are the free will actions of people, then the causal agent is different.  In the context of foreknowledge it can still be the will of the person that determines the action.  In the context of deterministic sovereignty it is God who determines what the person will do.  And it makes no sense to say that both God and the person cause the act while maintaining that God’s causation is the “first cause,” absolute, comprehensive, immutable and infallible.  Geisler is attempting to shift to a sense of “determined” which allows for human causal agency while at the time and in the same sense maintain the use of the word “determined” to support his definition of sovereignty.  But this is just a semantic use of “determined” that has a different meaning and import in each case.  In his definition of sovereignty in chapter one, God has determined people’s actions.  With respect to God’s foreknowledge, the person’s themselves have determined their actions even though God knows what they will do.

            And here, of course, we still have the logical contradiction evidenced by the flight to “mystery.”  Geisler has found in God’s foreknowledge a sense of the word “determined” or “predetermined” that he can put to use in his logical arguments.  For remember, as long as Geisler can free his definition of sovereignty (“determined events”) from logical contradiction with human free will, he can feel free to maintain his position simply as biblical “mystery” despite any other difficulties it presents.  As long as his position is not a logical contradiction he can always claim it a “mystery” and insulate it from a knock-down critique.  Remember, if some argument or proposition proves to be a logical contradiction, it must be false.  But I contend that Geisler still has a problem on his hands.  Foreknowledge has not served the purpose for which he attempted to employ it, that is, to provide a sense of “determine” in the midst of human freedom.  He still has the logical contradiction he created in chapters one and two of his book.  Geisler still has not relieved himself of the problem inherent in the simultaneous claim that God, from all eternity, has decreed and causes “whatever comes to pass,” including all the thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions of all people throughout all history, and yet, man is free to choose what he will think, desire, believe and do.  Geisler has not yet shown us how it is that we can be chosen but free.

Geisler’s Logical Arguments Based on Foreknowledge

            I have shown above that foreknowledge will not give Geisler what he needs to reconcile determinism and human freedom.  But Geisler now wants to employ his newly introduced concept of foreknowledge and the sense of “determined” gleaned from it in a logical syllogism.  In that logical argument he will attempt to prove that “one and the same event is both determined and freely chosen at the same time.”  Let’s follow along to see if our observations above will be confirmed even by a logical syllogistic argument.

            When Geisler discusses the logic of this view he states:

               “God knows – for sure – precisely how we will use our freedom.”[70]

            Stop!  This statement is already incongruous with the definition of God’s sovereignty established by Geisler in his first chapter.  There, Geisler’s definition of God’s sovereignty was not that God knows for sure how we will use our freedom, but that God has predetermined what we would do thereby creating the contradiction with human freedom.  As I discussed at length above, foreknowledge of all things and preordination of all things are two very different matters with very different entailments.  Foreknowledge of a free will action does not determine the action.  This is obvious and comprehensible.  Even though God foreknows all things, there may be self-willed action on the part of the creature.  The creature actually chooses among options to do what they will to do.  And God has full knowledge of these facts.  But a universal divine causal determinism, which is Geisler’s Calvinist definition of sovereignty, unfailingly determines every action thereby nullifying human free will.  God’s will must be done and therefore he is the cause of all things that occur.  It is one thing to define “determined” as God being the “first cause” who effects all creatures so that his will is done in all things, but quite another to state that God foreknows all things infallibly and to portray this as the same type of “determined” as the former.  To employ foreknowledge to secure determinism is misconceived.  Foreknowledge leaves room for creaturely freedom, determinism does not.

            This is why Geisler has to substitute the “determined” of foreknowledge with the determinism of Calvinist preordination.  He has to use the same word, “determined,” but in a different sense and ultimate meaning to show how “one and the same event is both determined and freely chosen at the same time.”  But it is imperative that we be aware of what Geisler is doing.  It is important to realize that he has already switched from the determinism of sovereignty to the “determined” of foreknowledge to make his argument.  Here now is his argument.

               “It goes like this:

               (1) God knows all things, including the future (Isa 46:10; Ps. 147:5).

               (2) God knew from eternity that Jesus would die on the Cross (Acts 2:23; cf. Rev. 13:8).”

               (3) Thus, Jesus must die on the Cross.  (If he had not died on the Cross, then God would have been wrong in what He foreknew.  But an all-knowing [omniscient] God cannot be wrong in what He knows.)”

               (4) But Jesus freely chose to die on the Cross (John 10:17-18).”[71] (Bold emphases mine)

            Let’s examine these statements in light of Geisler’s Calvinist doctrines of God’s sovereignty and decree which ordains “whatever comes to pass.”

(A) First, upon what basis does God know all things, including the future?  The answer Geisler must give in order to be consistent with his Calvinist determinism is that God willed it and predetermined that it be so.  For the Calvinist, God does not predetermine anything because he foreknows it but he foreknows it because he predetermined it. 

(B) Second, upon what basis did God know from eternity that Jesus would die on the Cross?  Again, the reason God foreknew that Jesus would die on the Cross is that God predetermined it to be so.  The reason God foreknew that Jesus would die on the Cross is not that “God cannot be wrong in what He foreknows.” So we note here that Geisler is inconsistent with his view of sovereignty and has shifted the argument to different grounds – away from sovereign predetermination to foreknowledge.  Note that the argument is based completely on God’s foreknowledge and not God’s sovereign determinism as defined by Geisler in chapter one.

(C) Third, upon what basis must Jesus die on the Cross?  Jesus did not die on the cross because “if he had not died on the Cross then God would have been wrong in what he foreknew.”  In other words, Jesus did not die on the Cross because God knew he would die on the cross.  Rather, Jesus died on the Cross because he freely chose to die on the Cross.  He did not die on the Cross on the basis of God’s foreknowledge.  So God’s foreknowledge does not cause Jesus to die on the Cross.

      But, according to Geisler’s deterministic view of God’s sovereignty, Jesus must die on the cross according to whatever God predetermined and caused to be with respect to man’s salvation as integral with Jesus’ life and death. An all-knowing [omniscient] God cannot be wrong in what He knows because he has predetermined all things and that is the basis for him knowing them, and knowing them infallibly.  Whether God the Father predetermined that Jesus die on the cross because Jesus voluntarily chose to do so is another question.  On what basis did God the Father make his decree of salvation?  Jesus’ willingness to die?

(D) Jesus freely chose to die on the Cross.  If Jesus freely chose not to die on the Cross, then that is what God would have known.  So the original premises should read thus.

(1) God knew from eternity that Jesus would freely choose to die on the Cross (Acts 2:23; cf. Rev. 13:8).”

(2) God knows all things, including the future (Isa 46:10; Ps. 147:5).

(3) Jesus freely chose to die on the Cross (John 10:17-18).”

(4) Thus, Jesus died on the Cross.  (If he had not died on the Cross, then God would have been wrong in what He foreknew.  But if Jesus had freely chosen not to die on the Cross that is what God would have foreknown.  An all-knowing [omniscient] God cannot be wrong in what He knows, but what he knows are the results of the free choices of Jesus and all people.)” [72]

               Suppose Jesus chose not to die on the cross.  On Geisler’s original premises, premise three we would read “Jesus must not die on the cross.”  But the basis for that premise would not be what God knows about the future, but rather what Jesus freely decided to do.  We see that whether Jesus must die on the cross or not, was not determined by what God knows.  It was determined by what Jesus decided to do.     We see that none of the premises above which speak about God knowing the future establish the sense of “determined” that the same as the “determined” of predetermination.

            Therefore, the logic of Geisler’s argument is ultimately predicated upon the fact that “Jesus freely chose to die on the Cross.”  But this raises perplexing questions.  When did Jesus “freely choose” to die on the Cross?  At a point “in time” and of his own will?  If so, how is this coherent with Geisler’s determinism – that monolithic, eternal, single sovereign decree of God which determines “whatever comes to pass” based in his will alone – that he established in chapter one?

            The point to note here is that Geisler is avoiding his Calvinist deterministic sovereignty which explains why “Jesus must die on the Cross” and would be incoherent with “Jesus freely chose to die on the Cross.”  Rather, Geisler uses God’s foreknowledge to make the point about Jesus’ death being determined (“must die…”) while also stating that “Jesus freely chose to die…”  God’s foreknowledge allows for such freedom of choice along with proposing a sense in which the future is “determined” but in a non-causal relationship.  You cannot get a “must die” from mere divine foreknowledge.  And the God’s sovereignty as determinism does not allow for such freedom of choice in that it establishes a future that is “determined” in a causal sense and in every relationship.  Therefore, foreknowledge does not allow for the use of “determined” in the sense that Geisler has to have it apply here, that is, as a determinism.

            Why “must” Jesus die on the Cross?  Simply because God knew he would and God can’t be wrong in what He knows?  No.  For in point (4) Geisler says Jesus “freely” chose to die on the Cross.  The reason that God knew what he knew – that Jesus would die on the Cross – is that Jesus freely chose to do so.  The fact that God knew that Jesus would die on the Cross didn’t make it a must that Jesus die on the Cross.  What made it a reality is Jesus’ decision to die on the Cross.  That is the reality God foreknew.  Again, foreknowledge is not determinative or causative.  If Jesus had not chosen to die on the Cross – which was just as much a possibility if he really did freely choose to die on the Cross – this is what God would have known.

            So we see at least two options here dependent upon Jesus’ choice.  The point being then that if Jesus freely chose to die on the Cross then God did not determine that Jesus die on the Cross as required by the “strong Calvinists” deterministic sovereignty.  Did God’s foreknowledge determine the event of Jesus dying or not dying on the Cross?  No.  Jesus did.  Was God’s foreknowledge of the event the cause of Jesus dying or not dying on the Cross?  No.  Jesus’ freely deciding to do so was the cause of Jesus dying on the Cross.  But let us recall that according to Geisler’s definition of sovereignty, Jesus died on the Cross because God preordained, that is God decided, and therefore caused it to be so.  The only point we need to see here is that this is very different type of “determined” than claiming God foreknew what Jesus would chose and He cannot be wrong in his knowledge therefore the event is “determined.”  On the basis of foreknowledge it is wrong and misleading to conclude that the event was “determined” in the sense that determinism requires.

            Geisler’s argument amounts to God knowing what Jesus freely chose to do, not “determining” what Jesus would do.  So Geisler claims that Jesus’ death was “determined” on the basis of divine foreknowledge and not upon his view of deterministic sovereignty.  But then where has God’s deterministic sovereignty gone?  Again, Geisler is evading his deterministic view of sovereignty to maintain free will.  He would have to do so because determinism does not allow for human free will.  We are still faced with the contradiction between deterministic sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility.  We are still faced with the fact that it is Jesus who freely does what he does which is contradictory to Geisler’s Calvinist deterministic view of sovereignty.  I submit that Geisler’s syllogistic argument failed to achieve its goal.

            If we were to process Jesus’ death on the cross in light of Geisler’s determinism, we would end up with God predetermining by his own will what Jesus would freely do of his own will.  This is obviously incoherent.  This is what Geisler must avoid.  He must simultaneously avoid the implications of his definition of sovereignty and lean upon foreknowledge to achieve a sense of things be “determined” which his view of sovereignty requires.  So Geisler wants us to believe things are a “must,” that is, “determined,” but not in the causal sense required by his definition of sovereignty.  Therefore Geisler still has the problem of incoherence and contradiction between his deterministic view of sovereignty and free will decisions and actions.  The sovereignty of God and the determinism that resulted which Geisler established and maintained in chapter one was not rooted in “God knew from eternity” but “God predetermined from eternity.”  Geisler is substituting “God predetermined,” “God decreed,” “God preordained” with “God knew.”  But again, “God foreknew” is not the same as “God predetermined.”  Recall Charnock’s statements on foreknowledge,

               “…[God] did not only know that we would do such actions, but that we would do them freely; he foresaw that the will would freely determine itself to this or that…and though God knows contingent things, yet they remain in the nature of contingencies; and though God knows free agents, yet they remain in the nature of liberty…

               God did not foreknow the actions of man, as necessary, but as free; so that liberty is rather established by this foreknowledge, than removed…

               Thus, man hath the power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do.  Adam was not determined by any inward necessity to fall, nor any man by any inward necessity to commit this or that particular sin; but God foresaw that he would fall, and fall freely.” [73]/ [74]

            Given my assessment above, and Charnock’s statements here, I do not think Geisler can credibly conclude,

               (5) Therefore, one and the same event is both predetermined and freely chosen at the same time.”[75]

            Now, as I will continue to argue, these very different definitions of “determined” are affecting Geisler’s reasoning and dictating his theological conclusions. 

Who Determined the Action?

            Once Geisler re-establishes a different type of “determined” based upon God’s foreknowledge rather than upon God’s actively willing, preordaining and causing “whatever comes to pass,” he thinks he has relieved the contradiction between his deterministic view of sovereignty and free will.  But I have demonstrated that Geisler’s use of the word “determined” in the context of foreknowledge is not appropriate nor applicable to solving the problem of the contradiction between a deterministic sovereignty and human free will.  For the very issue between the two is who determined the action, not whether the action can simply be labeled as “determined” because it is foreknown perfectly by God and in that sense “must” occur as it does.  You cannot equate the sense of things being “determined” that results from God foreknowing free will actions with the determinism that results from a comprehensive, sovereign decree of the will of God that has preordained those actions.  This is exactly the problem that Geisler is attempting to solve, but it appears he has only run up against it again, only this time while traveling down a different theological pathway.  God’s foreknowledge is passive knowledge of the actions of others which does not cause those actions to occur.  God’s sovereignty is the willing and acting of God himself to cause whatever comes to pass.  And to use the idea that because something is foreknown by God therefore it “must” occur as if it were predetermined by God to occur is just wrong and misleading.  The incoherence of Calvinist sovereignty and free will still stands.

            Geisler offers up a second logical example in an attempt to show that predetermination and free will are both at work in salvation and condemnation.  It suffers from the same faulty association of “determine” that I pointed out above so I will not repeat the details here.  Geisler writes,

“Consider the following:

(1) God knows all things.”[76]

            Again, Geisler starts in the wrong place.  According to his deterministic definition of sovereignty, he needs to start at “(1) God has predetermined all things.”  But then again he would be smack up against the contradiction with free will that is produced by his definition of sovereignty.  So immediately Geisler starts his logical argument by shifting to God’s foreknowledge and avoiding the determinism of his “strong Calvinism.”  Geisler continues,

(2) “Whatever God foreknows must come to pass (i.e., is determined).”

            This is misleading for the equivocation on the word “determined” that I discussed above and demonstrated is the main flaw in his argument.  Yet, Geisler states,

“(3) God knew Judas would betray Christ.

(4) Therefore, it had to come to pass (i.e., was determined) that Judas would betray Christ.”[77]

            Again, the misleading equivocation of assigning “determined” to foreknowledge as if it were the same as the “determined” of determinism.   The core question and issue here is what is the cause of what comes to pass through human actions.  The cause is certainly not the fact that God foreknows what people will do.  Geisler agreed with that by quoting Charnock.  So it is either the will of God in determinism or the will of the creature in free will.  And if God does determine many things, Geisler still has to leave room for human free will – a freedom for which he also argues.  But such freedom is precluded by Geisler’s universal divine causal determinism which is his definition of God’s sovereignty.  Geisler wants to have his cake and eat it too!  But as soon as Geisler succumbed to a deterministic definition of sovereignty, this left no credible way to incorporate meaningful human freedom and responsibility into his theology.  Determinism, by definition, makes the two logically mutually exclusive.  Therefore Geisler’s view contradicts itself.  If there is any genuine free will of the creature involved here, as Charnock and Geisler maintain, then Geisler is contradicting his own Calvinist, monolithic view of the sovereign will of God that determines “whatever comes to pass.”  Geisler is stuck incoherently vacillating between his determinism and human freedom.

            Geisler goes on to state his main conclusion,

               “The logic is flawless.  If God has an infallible knowledge of future free will acts, then the future is completely determined.”[78]

            The formal logic may be flawless, but the informal logic is not.  He has not shown that God’s sovereignty, as he has defined it deterministically, is coherent with human free will.  The fallacy of equivocation is at work here.  The issue creating the problem of sovereignty and free will remains.  Geisler claims that “the future is completely determined.”  But that cannot be established on the basis of foreknowledge in the sense required by his deterministic sovereignty.  Therefore, the question and issue raised by his determinism is, if “the future is completely determined,” then by whom is it determined?  This is the aspect that creates the problem of determinism and free will.  There is no room for a human free decision-maker within determinism.  Geisler claims that “the future is completely determined.”  Now, according to Geisler’s “strong Calvinist” deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty, “the future is completely determined by God.”  And that being so, the future cannot, even in one small detail, be determined by the will of man.  And therefore, Geisler has failed to show how they are coherent.  Indeed, it appears that he has demonstrated that the real culprit in his definition of God’s sovereignty as a universal divine causal determinism.[79]

            With regard to from whom the decisions and actions that occur in the present which determine the future come, Geisler’s deterministic definition of sovereignty isolated these to God’s will alone, creating a contradiction with his defense of human free will.  Geisler quoted Charnock who says,

               “Thus man hath the power to do otherwise than that which God foreknows he will do.”

            But on Geisler’s “strong Calvinist” deterministic definition of sovereignty, man does not have the power to do otherwise than God has predetermined that he will do.  And we must say predetermined, not foreknows, for this predetermination of all things is the heart of the matter and the essence of Geisler’s definition of God’s sovereignty.  In fact, in Geisler’s critique of the Arminian view that states that because of God’s foreknowledge election is conditioned on foreseen faith, Geisler confirms his deterministic view of sovereignty and diverges from his own argument for free will when he states,

               “The Arminian view faces several difficulties.  First, the biblical data seem to say more than that God simply knew what was going to happen.  It appears that God actually determined what would happen and that He even assures its accomplishment by effectively working to bring it about.  As we saw earlier (in chapter 1), God’s sovereignty means He is in control of all that happens, even the free acts of human beings.”[80]

            This is a clear statement of universal divine causal determinism.  And here again Geisler is confusing.  First, when he states, “…the biblical data seem to say more than that God simply knew what was going to happen.  It appears that God actually determined what would happen,” he is now making a distinction that previously he argued were the same, that is, foreknowledge equals “determined” and deterministic sovereignty equals “determined.”  Therefore, here he seems to be confirming the fault in his whole argument about the foreknowledge of God making the future “determined.”  He admits that for God to simply know what was going to happen is not the same as God actually determining what would happen.  Foreknowledge is not predetermination.  But previously he made it appear as if foreknowledge was all that was needed for the future to be determined thus justifying his Calvinist definition of sovereignty.  Now here “the biblical data seems to say more than that God simply knew what was going to happen.  It appears that God actually determined what would happen and that He even assures its accomplishment by effectively working to bring it about.”  But on Geisler’s view that foreknowledge makes things “determined” then why isn’t foreknowledge sufficient for things to be determined?  What would a definition of sovereignty as deterministic add to the issue?  This seems redundant.  According to Geisler it is enough that “God simply knew what was going to happen” and therefore it would have been determined to happen.  Geisler’s statement reveals that his use of the word “determined” is not appropriate to foreknowledge in the sense he wants it to mean as supportive of both his deterministic sovereignty and free will.

            So Geisler vacillates between his “strong Calvinist” determinism and his foreknowledge “determined” and libertarian freedom. For instance, he maintains that “God actually determined what would happen and assures its accomplishment by effectively working to bring it about,” but then he adds, “even the free acts of human beings.”  Oops!  Now he has derailed once again.  He has gotten off the deterministic track and has stated an incoherence.  God determined the free acts of human beings!?  We thought Geisler maintained that God is the sole determiner and the one who causes all things, assuring their accomplishment by effectively working to bring them about, and yet, Geisler describes human acts as “free,” that is, acts that were not predetermined nor caused by God.  These are acts in which people could do otherwise.  With respect to God’s foreknowledge of future events this is a coherent concept.  And Geisler has played that card too.  God can foreknow the free will actions of people.  These are actions people perform from their own wills.  They are actions based in their free will which determines what they will do.  God’s foreknowledge does not affect or effect the freedom of their wills which play, for the most part, the decisive role as to what the person will do.  But then Geisler plays the foreknowledge card by which he reasons that all things are “determined.”  But this is playing with words.  What is “determined” by foreknowledge is not the “determination” of the future that results from God’s sovereign decree by which all things come to pass according to His will alone and for which he is the sole cause.  Obviously when Geisler resurrects his Calvinist deterministic view of sovereignty he shows us again that he has not steered clear of the contradiction between his determinism and human free will.  And foreknowledge does not avoid the contradiction either.

            Geisler continues,

               “The logic is flawless.  If God has an infallible knowledge of future free will acts, then the future is completely determined.  But what does not follow from this is that

               (5a) Judas was not free to betray (or not to betray) Christ. This is because there is no contradiction in claiming that God knew for sure (i.e., determined) that Judas would freely (i.e., with free choice) betray Christ.

               What is contradictory to affirm – and the Bible never affirms it – is the following statement:

               (5b) Judas was coerced to betray Christ freely.

               One and the same act cannot be both forced and free at the same time in the same sense.”[81]

            We agree, there is no contradiction in claiming that God knew for sure that Judas would freely betray Christ.  But there is a contradiction in saying that this foreknowledge determined that Judas would freely betray Christ, which is precisely what Geisler says above.  The fact that God foreknows that Judas would freely betray Christ creates no contradiction.  The contradiction is generated by Geisler’s view of sovereignty and claiming that Judas freely betrayed Christ.  For Geisler’s view of sovereignty is not the claim “that God knew for sure” what Judas would do, but that God predetermined and caused Judas to do what he did.

            Again, Geisler has left his definition of sovereignty behind due to the inevitably deterministic implications of that view upon free will.  We agree that “one and the same act cannot be both forced and free at the same time in the same sense.”  But this is precisely where Geisler’s position on sovereignty leads him.  We have seen that in chapter one Geisler maintains that God determines all things.  God is the cause of all that occurs and things cannot occur otherwise.  Thus even if Judas was not “coerced,” he surely was determined by God and therefore somehow caused by God to betray Christ.  This seems sufficient to annihilate any meaningful claim of free will.  We also saw in chapter two that Geisler argued for human free will defined by a lack of being determined in one’s actions.  Correct, the Bible never affirms 5b because 5b is a logical “straw man.”  In his view of sovereignty Geisler has already established the essence of 5b, that “Judas was coerced to betray Christ.”  Calvinist sovereignty certainly includes some sort of “coercion.”  That idea is already inherent in the Calvinist deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.  Calvinist sovereignty already established Judas’ lack of free will.  Judas was predetermined by God’s sovereign will and control to betray Christ.  Adding the contrast between the words “coerced” and “freely” is artificial and produces a logical diversion that is beside the point.  It was never the issue as to whether or not the Bible uses the words “coerced” or “freely” with respect to Judas’ action.  If the formal logic is flawless, and it well may be, I submit the informal logic of the sense and structure of the argument certainly is not.  It is based upon premises that avoid the essential issue. [82]

            We should observe here that as important as the logic of a formal syllogism can be in arguing a point, the syllogism must avoid logical fallacies.  If I am correct, Geisler’s equivocation on the word “determined” with the determinism of his Calvinist worldview, has made his argument invalid.

            In her book, The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, Linda Trinkhaus Zagzebski wrestles with whether or not God can have foreknowledge of human acts if those acts are genuinely free.  She comments on the difference between logical proofs and plausibility which have application to the theological controversy at hand.

               “…I have argued that we want the compatibilist view that God has foreknowledge of our free acts to be plausible, not just logically consistent.  If it is not plausible, it may not be rational to believe it, even if it is not logically inconsistent.  After all, there are many propositions that are not logically inconsistent that it is irrational to believe, and some of these may even have support in the religious tradition.”

Zagzebski continues,

               “It is not sufficient to be shown that God’s foreknowledge and human free will are not logically inconsistent.  Logical inconsistency is only the worst sort of incompatibility there can be between two states of affairs.  To show that the worst sort does not obtain is not to show that there is no incompatibility at all, and so reasonable people are not yet satisfied.  We still desire a positive solution, one that would show that divine foreknowledge and human free will are coplausible…Metaphysical theories gain the power to convince partly through scope, partly through simplicity, and partly through subtlety.  A position on the relation between God’s knowledge and human acts will not get very far unless it is part of a general theory of great explanatory power.  This means we ultimately need to tell a metaphysical story about the larger relation between God and creation within which divine knowledge and human choice both have their place.  The persuasiveness of the foreknowledge solution would be a by-product of the persuasiveness of the big theory.  I am confident that it is possible to do this.”[83]

            The point is that logical consistency is necessary for a theological view to be true, but it is not sufficient to claim truth for that view.

            This website is dedicated to presenting the various evidences that show that Calvinism fails on many different fronts, that is, logically/linguistically, morally, epistemologically, and biblically.  It is all this evidence viewed as a whole and as interrelated that establishes a formidable argument against Calvinist theology and soteriology being a proper interpretation of the biblical text.  And as far as I can tell, Calvinism is unable to provide a plausible account of all the biblical data.   Geisler states that “If God has an infallible knowledge of future free will acts then the future is completely determined.”  What he should say is, “If God has an infallible knowledge of future free will acts then the future is completely certain.”  There is a difference between certainty and necessity.[84]  Once Geisler uses the word “determined,” the contingency of the act being a free will act is taken away.  But Geisler wants to retain the act as free, but he cannot do so if the act is determined.  And he surely loses the nature of the act as free given his Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty which is deterministic.  On determinism or to use the word determined in relation to God’s foreknowledge both make the act necessary and not contingent and therefore not free

            The problem of the inevitable determinism inherent in decretal theology and the Calvinist definition of God’s sovereignty doesn’t lie in the means (coercion or otherwise) God uses to effect his preordained plan for all things, it lies in the fact that he alone has done so.  The problem of incoherence inherent in Reformed Calvinist theology lies in the contention that God has issued a single eternal decree which predetermines the minutest details of all things while attempting to affirm human freedom and responsibility which is pressed upon the Calvinist by the biblical data.  The nature and scope of Calvinist predetermination is the issue.  Even if God does not “coerce,” the problem still stands – it is his will and his will alone that is done in the minutest details of all human attitudes, actions, and decisions.  Free will is gone.

What about Our Salvation and Eternal Destiny?

            Geisler goes on to give another example claiming that the act of one who accepts Christ and the act of one who rejects him are both predetermined and free.  He uses an interesting phrase at this point – “God knowingly predetermined.”  In speaking about the Apostle John’s faith response he writes,

               “It is simply that God knowingly predetermined from all eternity that John would freely accept Christ.”[85]

            What could Geisler possibly mean by “God knowingly predetermined?”  Is it that God knew that John would freely accept him and therefore predetermined that John would freely accept him?  Not only does that not make sense, but would also a theologically incoherent position for Geisler who, as we have seen, maintains that both God’s foreknowledge and election of whom He will save are unconditional and therefore not dependent upon the free will decisions of the creature.  Perhaps it means that God predetermined that John would freely accept him?  But then we are back to the same problem.  If one can understand this at all, Geisler seems to be saying that free will actions are predetermined by God from eternity.  Again, we are back to square one with the same problem of sovereignty and free will.  How is it that a free will action is predetermined by God beforehand?  I can understand that God predetermined that John, as all human beings, would have free will.  I can also understand how God could foreknow what John would do with this free will with respect to accepting or rejecting Christ, I can also understand that God of course has the prerogative to overrule the will of specific persons in specific circumstances for God to accomplish his specific purposes.  But these do not conflict with the free will given by God to John in the way Geisler’s sovereignty as the predetermination of “whatever comes to pass” does.  We are back to the same problem, that is, how is it that a free will action can be determined by God?  Up until this point Geisler has suggested that since God foreknows John’s free will decision to accept Christ we are to believe that John’s decision was both determined and free.  We found that this is hardly convincing with respect to Geisler’s acceptance of Calvinist sovereign determinism and attempt to establish human free will.

            It is obvious that Geisler is struggling with the contradiction generated by his deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty.  He throws an interesting twist into his line of thought in a footnote on page 44.  At this point he decides to define what he has meant by the word “predetermined” that he equated with “foreknew” in his logical examples.  He writes,

               “By “determined” here we do not mean that the act is directly caused by God.”

            But this is inconsistent with his Calvinist definition of God’s sovereignty as a theistic determinism that he laid out in chapter one.  That determinism entails that all acts are directly caused by God.  Geisler has made this clear when he stated unequivocally that, “…God is in sovereign control of everything we choose, even our salvation.”[86]  Again, Geisler is attempting to distance himself from his own deterministic definition of sovereignty.  Geisler continues in the footnote to say,

               “It was caused by human free choice (which is a self-determined act).  By “determined” it is meant that the inevitability of the event was fixed in advance since God knew infallibly that it would come to pass.  Of course, God predetermined that it would be a self-determined action.  God was only the remote and primary remote cause.  Human freedom was the immediate and secondary cause.”[87]

            Here Geisler himself distinguishes between the two senses of “determined,” and yet previously he has conflated the two meanings as I have demonstrated above.  Here, Geisler characterizes the “determined” gleaned from foreknowledge as “inevitability.”  Note that things can be understood as “inevitable,” that is, certain, and still be due to the free will choices of the persons themselves.  They are “inevitable” or certain as foreknown by an omniscient being.  Geisler admits such “acts” are “self-determined.”  Therefore when Geisler uses the word “determined” in the context of foreknowledge it really doesn’t mean “determined” in the sense required by his deterministic definition of sovereignty.  For that definition requires that “acts” are “God determined.”  But Geisler quickly attempts to both acknowledge and distance himself from his deterministic view of sovereignty for he immediately adds, “Of course, God predetermined that it would be a self-determined action.”  Is Geisler now stating that sovereignty is limited to God predetermining that people would be endowed with self-determination?  He obviously cannot mean God predetermined a self-determined action.  That is nonsense.  (Although his determinism and claim to free will is also nonsense as I have demonstrated above.)  To say “God predetermined that it would be a self-determined action” in the sense that God granted human self-determination or genuine freedom of will and action, seems to qualify what once was an unqualified statement of the Westminster Confession – that “God, from all eternity, did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass…” and that “All things come to pass as He ordained them from all eternity.”[88]  Is Geisler now going to lean solely on his “determined” of foreknowledge?  Almost apologetically Geisler attempts to distance God from having predetermined “all things” and therefore having to be the cause of “whatever comes to pass.”  God is now “only the remote and primary remote cause” whereas “human freedom” becomes the “immediate and secondary cause.”  But this introduction of temporal distancing and sequence cannot free Geisler from his paramount commitment to a monolithic, all-encompassing, predetermined sovereignty of God.  Geisler’s struggle here admits what I have argued above, that his definition of “determined” in this context of God’s foreknowledge is not the same as the definition of “determined” in the context of his discussion of God’s sovereignty, and it is this deterministic definition of God’s sovereignty that prevents his reconciling sovereignty and free will.   Here God does not fix the event beforehand by decreeing “whatever comes to pass” as in Geisler’s definition of sovereignty.  Here the free will of the creature determines what occurs.  Geisler says, “It was caused by human free choice (which is a self-determined act).”  Geisler is also admitting that free will decisions, as known by God, are “inevitable” only as far as God’s foreknowledge is concerned.  But is this “inevitability” of foreknowledge the same as the “determination” of sovereignty?  As discussed in detail above, it is not.

            By “God knowingly predetermined” perhaps Geisler means to say that God “looks into the future” and sees what a person will choose and therefore elects them.  But this Arminian view of election (which is a mischaracterization of that view), is inconsistent with Geisler’s view of sovereignty in chapter one.  Geisler states,

               “The Arminian view faces several difficulties.  First, the biblical data seem to say more than that God simply knew what was going to happen.  It appears that God actually determined what would happen and that He assures its accomplishment by effectively working to bring it about.  As we saw earlier (in chapter 1), God’s sovereignty means He is in control of all that happens, even the free acts of human beings.”[89]

            Geisler is clear on the matter of our salvation.  He states, “God is in control of everything we choose, even our salvation.”[90]  Geisler must avoid saying that God’s choices are made with regard and in response to the choices of men.[91]  For the Calvinist this is an unacceptable definition of sovereignty.  For Calvinists, God foreknows because God predetermines, not vice versa.  Geisler has also said, “Indeed, only those who are elect will believe.”[92]  Given Geisler’s definition of sovereignty this clearly refers to God deciding, choosing and predetermining a limited number of people to believe and be saved.  He clearly means that God’s choice is prior to the historical event of a person’s believing and that only those persons who have been chosen by God will unfailingly believe.  This is the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  Geisler also stated that “Other verses affirm God’s actions on the human will, even in matters of salvation.”[93]   Yet in chapter three, pages 46ff. Geisler argues against this “extreme Calvinism.”  But we fail to see how it is different than what he laid out as the definition of sovereignty in chapter one.  Again, Geisler cannot disentangle his position from the implications of his “extreme Calvinist” view of God’s sovereignty as a theistic determinism that he laid out in chapter one.

            We would think this to be the end of Geisler’s concerns and argument.  He has made his case, albeit erroneously and unconvincingly, that actions and events can be both “determined” and free.  But it becomes evident that Geisler still feels compelled by his original deterministic definition of sovereignty to reconcile this with human free will.  Geisler still must steer a course between his absolute sovereignty and human freedom.  In the next section Geisler makes another attempt to free himself from his problematic “extreme Calvinist” determinism through his “moderate Calvinist” position.  Can he do it? 

Elect According to the Foreknowledge of God: Geisler’s Arguments Based on God’s Simplicity

            “Classical” theologians like Geisler hold that God cannot be dependent upon or affected by anything outside of himself with respect to what he knows, foreknows or decrees.  These theologians assure us that God’s foreknowledge as a “determiner” of events is free from dependence upon the will of the creature.  For Geisler, God cannot look into the future and then determine what is to occur based upon what man will decide with his free will.  And regardless of the fact that Geisler maintains a Calvinist view of sovereignty, neither can God simply predetermine what will occur beforehand because that would violate human free will which Geisler has ably defended.  A bare predetermination would be to force people to do what they do, and according to Geisler “what is forced is not free, and what is free is not forced.”[94]  And Geisler has also argued that God’s foreknowledge is not causative, for if it were it would eliminate free will.  But then he attempted to establish things as “determined” due to God’s foreknowledge.  But now Geisler contends that foreknowledge is decretive but not causative.[95]  How foreknowledge is “decretive” yet not determinative with respect to causing what is decreed is not clear.  Nevertheless, can Geisler navigate a position on the sovereignty of God that does not make God dependent upon human free decisions?  Can he maintain his definition of sovereignty stated in chapter one without reducing reality to the monolithic will of God imposed upon all creatures and all of history, having it determine the eternal destiny of every human being?  In an attempt to do so he proposes his “moderate Calvinist” viewpoint which states,

               “…God’s election is neither based on his foreknowledge of man’s free choices nor exercised in spite of it.  As the Scriptures declare, we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:2 NKJV).  That is to say, there is no chronological or logical priority of election and foreknowledge…In other words, all aspects of the eternal purpose of God are equally timeless…

               Hence, both foreknowledge and predetermination are one in God.  Whatever God knows, He determines.  And whatever He determines, He knows.

               More properly, we should speak of God as knowingly determining and determinately knowing from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts.  For if God is a simple Being, then His thoughts must be eternally coordinate and unified.

               According to the moderate Calvinist’s view, whatever God forechooses cannot be based on what he foreknows.  Nor can what He foreknows be based on what He forechose.  Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God.  Thus, our actions are truly free, and God determined that they would be such.  God is totally sovereign in the sense of actually determining what occurs, and yet man is completely free and responsible for what he chooses.”[96]

            Note first that surely election was presented by Geisler as something God does “in spite of” man’s free choices, for according to Geisler’s definition of God’s sovereignty God determined who would be saved before he even created anything.  Certainly that is something God did “in spite of” man’s choices.  The only other thing that he may mean is that God determined that his decision of who would be saved and who would not be saved would involve their “choosing.”  But such “choosing” is surely meaningless in the deterministic context here.  This would only amount to verbal gymnastics and not getting at the real sense and issue at hand.  And if Geisler again goes down the road that since God foreknew the free will choices of people therefore their salvation is “determined” we can return to the arguments given above.

            So what is Geisler doing here?  On the basis of the doctrine of the simplicity of God, he is taking the two concepts of election (based upon God’s sovereignty as his predetermination of all things) and foreknowledge (which allows for free will) and telling us that these happen in the experience of God simultaneously.  Let us ask why he is doing this and whether this really helps to resolve the problem before us.

            First, is it true that “Whatever God knows, He determines?”  We reiterate the original problem.  If human acts are genuinely free will acts, how then can they be said to be “determined” by God?  Does simultaneity of God’s foreknowledge and determination of all things somehow maintain the “freeness” of human decisions?  How so?

            Secondly, if it is true that “Whatever God knows, He determines” and God knows all things, then God has still determined all things.  How then are there any human free will actions?  We are back to square one.

            Thirdly, if God foreknows every evil act, did he therefore also determine those acts?  I think not, and Geisler would probably agree.

            Fourthly, Reformed thinkers generally define God’s “foreknowledge” not only as God’s knowledge of what is ahead in the future but to “choose beforehand.”[97]  If that is the case then Geisler’s proposition is reduced to a redundancy.  “Whatever God chooses beforehand, He determines.”

            And finally, in search of a possible meaning for the proposition that “Whatever God knows, He determines,” if it is maintained that God does not base what he determines upon the actions of the free creature or anything outside of himself, then the phrase must mean simply that “God knows what he determines.”  This seems obvious and unhelpful.  Furthermore, it would also seem to teach that God knows only limited possibilities, that is, what actually has been, is, and will be, and not what could be, for if “Whatever God knows, He determines” is true, then if he knows all possibilities, then all possibilities would have been determined by God and become realities.

            What Geisler is attempting to introduce as a solution to the problem before us is the timeless nature of God’s actions rooted in the essential unity of his being.  Theologians refer to this as the simplicity of God.  William Lane Craig writes the following which is applicable to Geisler’s use of the doctrine of simplicity to conclude that “all aspects of the eternal purpose of God are equally timeless.”

               “The doctrine of simplicity states that God has absolutely no composition in His nature or being…God is said to be an absolutely undifferentiated unity.  This medieval doctrine is not popular among theologians today, and even when Christians do give lip service to it, they usually do not appreciate how truly radical the doctrine is.  It implies not merely that God does not have parts, but that He does not possess even distinct attributes.  In some mysterious way His omnipotence is His goodness, for example.  He stands in no relations whatsoever.  Thus, He does not literally love, know, or cause his creatures.  He is not really composed of three distinct persons, a claim notoriously difficult to reconcile with the doctrine of the Trinity.  His nature or essence is not even distinct from his existence, an assertion which led to the very difficult doctrine that God’s essence just is existence; He is, Thomas Aquinas tells us, the pure act of existing…

               Similarly, if God is immutable, then even if He is not simple He still cannot be temporal.  Like simplicity, the immutability affirmed by the medieval theologians is a radical concept: utter immobility.  God cannot change in any respect.  He never thinks successive thoughts, He never performs successive actions, He never undergoes even the most trivial alteration.  God not only cannot undergo intrinsic change, He cannot even change extrinsically by being related to changing things…

               Thus, God’s timelessness can be deduced from either His simplicity or His immutability.  Is this good reason for thinking God is timeless?  That all depends upon whether we have any good reason to think that God is simple or immutable…the doctrines of divine simplicity and immutability as explained above find absolutely no support in Scripture, which at most speaks of God’s immutability in terms of His faithfulness and unchanging character (Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17).  Philosophically, there seem to be no good reasons to embrace these radical doctrines, and weighty objections have been lodged against them.”[98]

            We can see how that Geisler’s introduction of this proposition about God’s nature has not been very helpful.  How is free will maintained by claiming the simultaneity of God’s foreknowledge and predetermination of all things on the basis that God is a simple being?  The validity of this proposition for the purpose of establishing God’s predetermination of all things while maintaining human freedom is not at all clear and is suspect.  Its purpose in making God’s foreknowing and “forechoosing” “simultaneous, eternal and coordinate” seems to lead nowhere.  Geisler is attempting to explain historical, external, temporal realities that are not directly of God, that is, the result of the free will of his creatures, as if they were ontological realities that spring from God as the result of his decretive will alone.  Geisler must have God maintain control of his world, that is, remain sovereign by virtue of having determined “whatsoever comes to pass” and explain human freedom in that context.  But this view of sovereignty has not allowed for anything to exist as differentiated from God or occur apart from his direct willing and causation.  This has been the problem all along.  Geisler cannot explain the things that require independent, differentiated historical, temporal existence and action, such as human freedom or God’s genuine relationship, interaction and response to man, from within the context of a concept of sovereignty by which everything is explained by God’s will alone.  Geisler’s commitment to a deterministic definition of sovereignty cannot allow God the freedom to act in his world in an independent, differentiated and undetermined fashion, nor to create a world in which his creatures are characterized by such freedom.  With Geisler’s proposal that God’s foreknowing and “forechoosing” are somehow “simultaneous, eternal and coordinate” within God, he has God locked into his own simple essence without differentiation of attribute or action.  God “predeterminately foreknows” and “foreknowingly predetermines.”  This is obscure, nebulous and confusing.  It is the result of Geisler’s deterministic understanding of God’s decree and sovereignty.

            Such then is the nature of God’s eternal decree according to Geisler.  All things are enveloped in this one comprehensive happening that comes from the essence of God himself.  All things have to be as God predetermines them to be, therefore all things are of the essence of God, and God himself as essential, necessary existence in relation to the world and persons ultimately lacks any differentiation.      Given Geisler’s Calvinist monolithic, decretal theology he cannot allow God the freedom to create a historical reality of time, event and movement in which humans make real, genuine decisions that do not come from within God himself.  In Geisler’s scheme of reality God is not free to be the God who creates a reality as he wills to do so in which his creatures can act and respond freely to God and in which God can act and respond freely to his creatures and still be sovereign.  Geisler’s God is the God of his Calvinist systematic theo-logic and must conform to all the speculative elements of that Reformed systematic theology.

            James Daane evaluates this view of Reformed decretive theology.  He writes,

               “…if God’s decree is marked by the same simplicity that marks the being of God, it is indeed a simple decree, without parts, moments, or distinctions, and its realization is also without parts, moments, or distinction.  In other words, both the world and its history are a simple, indistinguishable mass, and our empirical experience of successive moments, discrete items, distinguishable parts and elements is unreal.  As the theologians of the single decree insist, our experience is merely the way things appear to our historically conditioned minds.  If this is true about our experience, not only are time and history apparitions, but there is no distinction between God as the cause of good and God as the cause of sin, between election and reprobation, between election and a generalized predestination.

               The same consequences follow if the strictly divine simplicity of the decree is urged, as Berkhof does, in terms of God’s knowledge.  The decree is simple as God is simple, because God knows its content immediately, instantaneously, all-at-once.  If God knows his decree in this fashion, Berkhof argues, it must be a distinctionless decree.  If so the world of space and time and all the varieties of nature and history as a single datum must be a reality without predicates, a temporality without moments, a space without measurement or content, a mass without distinguishable features.

               The freedom of God means that God is free, if he wills, to have a decree other than himself, and therefore neither eternal nor simple in the sense in which he is both eternal and simple.”[99]

            The “simplicity” that characterizes God’s determining will and his foreknowledge is precisely what Geisler is proposing as the solution of the dilemma of sovereignty and free will.  Geisler’s quote is worth repeating, for we sense the results of this “distinctionless decree” in the following words,

               “…we should speak of God as knowingly determining and determinately knowing from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts.  For if God is a simple Being, then His thoughts must be eternally coordinate and unified.

               According to the moderate Calvinist’s view, whatever God forechooses cannot be based on what he foreknows.  Nor can what He foreknows be based on what He forechose.  Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God.  Thus, our actions are truly free, and God determined that they would be such.  God is totally sovereign in the sense of actually determining what occurs, and yet man is completely free and responsible for what he chooses.”[100]

            This is indeed baffling!  It betrays a misunderstanding of the nature and content of God’s decree and sovereignty that requires imposing upon Scripture a deterministic philosophical construct foreign to the testimony of Scripture.  James Daane explains it well.

               “Decretal theologians admit that the decree is not described in the abstract in Scripture, but is rather set in its historical realization.  If they took this seriously, they would recognize that the actualization of God’s decree in history is also the revelation of the nature of the decree.  And in loyalty to the revelation of God’s decree one ought to seek the nature of the decree within its historical disclosure rather than deciding in terms of one’s own understanding of God’s nature, what such a decree must be!  Decretal theologians reason that since God is simple, the decree must be simple, and so forth.  But if the decree must conform thus to God’s nature, why not it’s actualization as well?  Naturally, if its actualization conformed to God’s nature, the created universe would also be divine and without parts or moments.

               Would it not be better to take more seriously the biblical record of the revelation and actualization of the divine decree?  Such an approach would not provide an a priori principle for interpreting universal history, but it does furnish a luminous insight in the nature and reality of the Lord Jesus Christ.”[101]

            Examining this a bit further, Geisler not only contends that, “Whatever God knows, He determines” but also that “Whatever He determines, He knows.”  The later seems to be self-evident and more readily understandable regarding the problem at hand than the idea “Whatever God knows, He determines.”  What could this mean?  Does this help Geisler’s predicament?  If, according to Geisler’s own definition of God’s sovereignty and attributes, God knows all things and has determined all things then all things are both known and determined by Him.  We fail to see the difference it makes to pronounce that God is sovereign and humans are free by claiming that God’s knowing and determining are “simultaneous, eternal and coordinate acts.”  This does not help us either comprehend God’s ways better or resolve the problem of human freedom in the context of a deterministic sovereignty.  Predetermination is still predetermination.  It is still what God does regardless of whether it is simultaneous with His foreknowledge.  How does God’s foreknowing affect God’s predetermination of all things?  How does it confirm free will in the creatures?  Even if God’s foreknowledge and predetermination are simultaneous, we have established that predetermining is not the same thing as foreknowing.  Geisler seems to have conflated the two concepts into one nebulous happening in God that clarifies nothing.[102]  What is there that God has not known and yet determined?  According to Geisler, nothing.  All things are known and determined by God.  So we are back to his definition of sovereignty which precludes free will.  What is there that God has not determined and yet has known?  A human free will act?  But this is inconsistent with his deterministic definition of sovereignty because then there would be things that God has not determined.  There would be human agents acting upon their own wills, not the will of God in the deterministic sense.  Hence, although God may be a simple being, His foreknowledge and determination function differently and their simultaneous relationship does not appear to provide the solution to the problem.  We still don’t see how we can be chosen but free.

            Again, Geisler’s definition of God’s sovereignty rooted in his eternal decree that ordains “whatever comes to pass” does not logically allow for any aspect of freedom, whether human or divine.  Only by changing the connotation of “determined,” that is, the causal element, can Geisler create a successful formal logical syllogism.  But the formal logic of the “determined” of foreknowledge is disqualified as non-analogous to the “determined” of God’s sovereignty.  Hence, his Calvinist’s deterministic definition of sovereignty is just too strong to allow for human free will.  This is why the controversy continues.  And when Geisler went on to present a logical syllogism, he nullified his flight to mystery as an explanation of the nature of this problem between determinism and human free will for a James Daane observes, “There is no mystery in a syllogism.”[103]  But being that Geisler’s syllogism was not successful in reconciling determinism and human freedom, he like all Calvinists, needs to fall back on mystery.

More on “Knowingly Determining” and Determinately Knowing”

            Recall that Geisler is attempting to show how Calvinist deterministic sovereignty and free will are coherent concepts.  He wants to demonstrate to us that we are “Chosen But Free.”  So let us see if we can comprehend the meaning of Geisler’s words when he writes,

               “…we should speak of God as knowingly determining and determinately knowing from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts…”[104]

            Geisler now suggests that we should think of God as “determinately knowing.”  We assume this to mean that the predetermination of sovereignty with the accompanying resultant foreknowledge is a unified simultaneous phenomenon in God’s thought and action.  But what does this mean?  Is this “knowing” coordinate with an active “determination” of God that issues forth in causing whatever comes to pass?  It would seem so, because foreknowledge is not the cause of free will actions in and of itself.  It must therefore be the “determining” element that determines what happens.  This seems obvious.  How then does a simultaneous foreknowledge insulate free will acts from this determining element?  To say God “knowingly determines” and “determinately knows” seems to only reiterate the fact that God is doing the determining of all things with the addition that he knows about it.

            When Geisler adds “He determines” to “Whatever God knows” it appears that God is now actively “determining” things by his will as opposed to “passively” knowing events that might be freely willed by the creature.  At some point Geisler must have God actively determine all things to accurately reflect his original deterministic position on God’s sovereignty.  So he is trying to hold onto God’s foreknowledge in the sense that foreknowledge does not imply determining human actions and therefore they can be said to be free, while also simultaneously trying to be true to his definition of sovereignty which has God himself determining “whatever comes to pass.”  Hence he suggests we think about God as “knowingly determining” and “determinately knowing.”  Does his help?  I don’t see how.

            It seems that Geisler wishes simplicity and simultaneity to aid his position rather than show us how they are true descriptions of what God is like and how he acts.  Eliminating the logical and chronological priority of God’s foreknowledge and predetermination of all things doesn’t seem to solve Geisler’s problem of having God alone determine “whatever comes to pass.”  Either God comprehensively determines all of history and reality or he doesn’t.  If he doesn’t, then according to Calvinists, he is not sovereign.  But is this conclusion either warranted or true?  I don’t see why.  Is it biblical?  Given the overwhelming presupposition of Scripture that God is absolutely free and man substantially so, yet, God remains sovereign in such a situation, I don’t think so.  Neither is it obvious or made evident how the simultaneous nature of God’s knowing and predetermining helps to resolve Geisler’s problem.  Suppose God’s foreknowledge of human free will actions and his predetermining them to be those precise actions is simultaneous.  So what?  Aren’t we still logically required to remove the words “free will” from that statement?  It is God’s will and only his will that is done in “whatever comes to pass.”  We just can’t declare simultaneity and have human free will magically maintained.  This is merely a slick use of words.  It has to be shown how this is so.  What could be the meaning of free will actions that are “knowingly determined” or “determinately known” by God?  What purpose does God’s predetermination serve and what is its meaning?  Is it God simultaneously “locking into place” the things we choose to do freely with his knowing about them?  Presumably Geisler is saying God knew free will actions from all eternity.  But how were they then also predetermined by the will of God from all eternity and still free will actions of the human person?  Was it by God’s knowing of them without His active participation in causing them?  If not, then in what sense are they predetermined or determinately known?  And in what sense predetermined by God himself?  Did he just create a world in which he knew what would occur?  If such predetermining is God’s knowing of free will actions without His active participation in causing them, then this is not the predetermination of Calvinist sovereignty.  It is not Geisler’s definition of sovereignty stated in chapter one.  All that exists springs from God himself.  With this we can agree.  But Calvinist sovereignty says that God is the source and cause of all that occurs, not only in the sense of the “primary cause” that gets all things moving, but also “The Cause” in the sense that all things must occur as He wills and predetermined them to occur.  Therefore it must be God that makes or causes them to happen accordingly.  It is this view that Geisler holds.  We sense that the phrase, “Whatever God knows, He determines” is Geisler’s attempt to make room for human freedom on the basis of foreknowledge.  We also sense that the phrase, “Whatever God determines, he knows” is an attempt to confirm his “strong Calvinist” position on God’s sovereignty.  This is confusing.  The two are incompatible.  Calvinist sovereignty and free will remain in conflict.

            Geisler has just told us that God foreknows all things and predetermines all things as a “simultaneous, eternal and coordinate act.”  We fail to see how he has made it plain that this solves the logical problem of sovereignty and free will.  Therefore we cannot accept Geisler’s stated conclusion on the matter and think it is still logically incoherent.  He still has not understandably explained the following conclusion,

               “God is totally sovereign in the sense of actually determining what occurs, and yet man is completely free and responsible for what he chooses.”[105]

            Geisler continues,

               “In Him knowledge and foredetermination are identical.  Hence, He had to predetermine in accordance with His foreknowledge.  And He must have foreknown in accordance with His predetermination.

               There is no contradiction in God knowingly predetermining and predeterminately knowing from all eternity precisely what we would do with our free acts.  For God determined that moral creatures would do things freely.  He did not determine that we would be forced to perform free acts.[106]

            “[God] had to predetermine in accordance with His foreknowledge.”  Foreknowledge of what?  The free will decisions of the creatures?  No.  For Geisler rejected the idea that God is dependent upon the free will creature for his decisions, election to salvation and determination of all things.  These are not dependent upon what God foreknows.  This is not the meaning of “according” to foreknowledge.  So what is?

            Again, we can understand what it means for God to foreknow the actions a free person will perform of their own free will.  We can also understand that if God’s foreknowledge is perfect and therefore unalterable, those acts must occur as God knows them, yet they were still freely performed.  Therefore, any mystery that is involved here is how God foreknows.  With respect to God’s foreknowledge, free will decisions are certain, but they are not “determined” or necessary by being foreknown.  It is a prerogative of God to know a future free-will act, regardless of who wills and determines that act.  But thus far we do not have God causing a “free will” act.  We have God “foreknowing” what the person will freely choose to do.  What then is “predeterminately knowing?”  What has been added to God’s “foreknowing” by describing it as “predeterminately knowing?”  What attribute of God has been introduced?  Apart from the aspect of simultaneity the phrase intends to convey God’s “predetermining” activity.  That is, the act of God deciding or choosing what is to occur regarding all things before they occur and these “determinations” are not based upon anything outside of God himself.  But how is it that a free human act can be an act determined to occur as it does by God himself?  Again, we are not simply speaking about God foreknowing it simultaneously, but predetermining it and actively causing it to occur as it does.  We still have our contradiction.

            It is more difficult to understand the phrase, “knowingly predetermining.”  What it might mean and what the implications are for God to be knowing and determining all things as a unified happening within himself is not clear.  It boggles the mind.  Hence, again, we fail to see how foreknowing and predetermining being simultaneous relieves the problem of sovereignty and free will.

            Finally, once again Geisler shifts theological gears in pointing out that “God determined that moral creatures would do things freely.  He did not determine that we would be forced to perform free acts.”  This is the same as saying God made man with free will.  With this we agree, but it is beside the point.  That “God determined that moral creatures would do things freely” is different than God determining precisely what moral creatures would do.  That is the issue.  And that is Geisler’s definition of sovereignty.  So Geisler contradicts his own view of sovereignty here.  And for Geisler to inject this very different idea at this point is confusing.  It obviously cannot mean God determined the free will decision of moral creatures.  We would still have our dilemma.  He must mean that God determined that man should have free will.

            Furthermore, although Geisler states, “[God] did not determine that we would be forced to perform free acts,” he still has the problem of explaining how it is that according to his definition of God’s sovereignty God gets people to do what He has predetermined them to do and this not be considered “forced.”  Of course you can’t be forced to do a free act, but you can be predetermined by another to do an act and thereby do not do it freely.  But again, whether or not people are “forced” by God to do what he has predetermined is not the issue.  It is the fact that those creatures that are supposedly “free” are predetermined to do what they do by the will of another, however that occurs.  They cannot do otherwise.  Again, how can a person’s action, predetermined by the will of God, be considered free?  Only through semantic wordplay, not through cogent, consistent reasoning.  Should we follow Geisler’s intellectually obscure “moderate Calvinist” explanation of sovereignty and free will?  James Daane suggests we consider the following,

               “Suppose that God does not have the kind of plan envisioned by decretal theology?  Suppose this decree is only the hypostatized image of human rationality imposed on God by a presumptuous scholasticism eager to explain everything?  Suppose that it is improper to postulate a divine plan constructed in term of the simplicity and rationality of God’s essence?  Suppose that it is unwarranted to attribute deity and divine eternality to such a plan?  What would be lost if such a decree were abandoned?  Every essential feature of it is humanly unknowable.  A decree without distinctions is by that fact not an object of human knowledge.  Decretal theologians themselves admit that we can know the simplicity of the divine decree only in terms of multiplicity.  So the assertion that God’s decree is as uncompounded as God himself means literally nothing.  What can it mean to assert that individual election stems from a decree that itself contains no such distinction?

               Furthermore, the deification of the decree achieved by grounding it in God’s essence and attributing the divine qualities of simplicity and eternity to it asserts that the decree is in effect God.  Within that assertion, it is meaningless to assert that God has a plan.  If the decree is not an “addition” to God, it truly is God.  But one does not say God has what he is.  God is love, for example, but the meaning of this statement is not expressed by saying that God has love.

               Again, suppose we reject the position that God is the ultimate cause and source of sin (as most Reformed theologians do).  What is left of the meaning of this all-comprehensive decree of God?  Without the principle of the divine causality of sin, the decree of decretal theology is empty and meaningless.  Since sin pervades all reality, an all comprehensive decree that determines whatever comes to pass must retain the divine causality of sin if it is to retain any meaning at all.

               What is left of decretal theology’s sin-determinative decree if its determination of sin is removed?  Its distinctive feature would indeed be lost.  What is secondary – by its standards – would remain.  But what is by its standards secondary is by biblical standards primary – God’s saving determination in and through Christ to employ sin against itself in order to triumph over it.  Decretal theologians will object that such a decree is quite unlike the traditional decree of decretal theology.  But the decree that triumphs over sin is quite like the one Paul discusses in Ephesians – God’s eternal purpose which he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord (3:11).  The disregard that decretal theologians have shown for this Pauline teaching stems from their theological methodology – the fact that they place the decree with their doctrine of God, in which Jesus plays no role.”[107]

Conclusion

            The phrase “elect according to the foreknowledge of God” (NKJV) is the very crux of Geisler’s whole argument defending the contention that we are Chosen But Free.  I find his suggestion that this should be interpreted as referring to the doctrine of the “simplicity of God,” and that this provides a solution to the contradiction generated by his deterministic definitions of sovereignty and election with human freedom to lack substance, clarity and relevance.  We fail to see how Peter’s use of the phrase “according to” provides for an interpretation involving the “simplicity” of God and thus simultaneity between foreknowledge and predetermination.  We need something more convincing than what Geisler provides in only half a page to persuade us that his suggestion that God “knowingly determining and determinately knowing from all eternity everything that happens, including all free acts” provides any logical coherence between his Calvinist deterministic sovereignty and human freedom.

            In the end, the only thing Geisler has told us is that God predetermined what he foreknew, which is inconsistent with Geisler’s Calvinist definition of sovereignty that bases God’s foreknowledge on the fact that he ordained “whatsoever comes to pass.”  Geisler also therefore has told us that God foreknew what he predetermined, which seems obvious, and that he did this within himself without logical or chronological order.  Along with the many problematic logical, moral and theological implications of Geisler’s view of sovereignty and election, we are still left wondering how it is that people are “Chosen But Free.”[108]

            Geisler holds resolutely to the “strong Calvinist” view of God’s sovereignty.  This creates insurmountable logical, moral, epistemological and theological problems that indicate there are exegetical and interpretive flaws in the Calvinist position.  These problems also that shed light on the more fundamental issue involved here.  Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell touch upon the heart of the matter.  I’ll give them the last word.  They write,

“In trying to read the Bible cautiously and on its own terms, we see a sovereign God who has freely chosen to create a world fully dependent on him yet different from him, a world open to divine causation but not comprehensively determined by its divine Sustainer, a world inhabited by God but not utterly overwhelmed by divine presence. We are not seeking to establish human freedom at the expense of divine sovereignty; rather we are seeking to affirm God’s freedom to create whatever kind of world he desired, even a world whose every movement is not to be traced back ultimately to specific divine determination. If God has in fact chosen to create this kind of world, we neither glorify him nor magnify his sovereignty by insisting that he has created a world of a different sort.”[109]


Home


[1] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1999), Dedication page.

[2] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 926.

[3] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1999), 42.

               In speaking of the doctrine of the Trinity, interestingly enough Luther maintained that syllogistic logic doesn’t apply.  He makes the very general statement that, “There is no form of reasoning (of syllogism) that holds with the things of God.  If the form of the syllogism could be applied to divine things, we should have knowledge and not belief of the article of the Holy Trinity.”  –  Martin Luther, from D’Aubigne, The Life and Times of Martin Luther, Chapter 10 – “Theses Against Pelagianism.”

               We saw how Luther was inclined to apply this mode of thinking as an excuse to dismiss the contradiction between his deterministic version of the doctrines of sovereignty and predestination and human freedom.  Geisler also included predestination among “the great Christian mysteries” in his section on “Logic” quoted in chapter 7.  There Geisler said, “Some object that the great Christian mysteries, such as the Trinity, the incarnation, and predestination, violate laws of human reason.  There is a difference between propositions that go beyond reason, such as mysteries of faith, and those that go against reason.  Those that go beyond human ability to reason do not go against reason.  Human understanding unaided by special revelation cannot reach them.  They can only be known by special revelation.  Once these truths are known, their premises do not contradict other revealed truth….”

               With these last statements I fully agree.  And that is why “predestination” doesn’t belong in the list of “the great Christian mysteries.”  It goes “against reason.”  Geisler attempts to argue on the basis of syllogistic logic that there is “no conflict between an event being predetermined by an all-knowing God and it also being freely chosen by us.”  But then in what sense does predestination remain a “great Christian mystery?”  Is Geisler going to take the “mystery” out of predestination?  As Luther understood it, doesn’t “the mystery” lie precisely in the contradictory nature of his deterministic definition of predestination and human freedom?  Wrongly dichotomizing “knowledge” and “belief,” Luther views these kinds of doctrines as leaving room for belief.  The point is that if Geisler is going to reconcile predestination and human freedom, then predestination no longer fits the category of Luther’s “belief” or that of Geisler’s “great Christian mysteries.”  I contend that Geisler cannot perform this reconciliation in a plausible manner while he maintains a deterministic view of sovereignty and predestination.  The point is that we must somehow reckon with the inevitable contradiction that Calvinist theistic determinism creates with other biblical teachings.  We certainly cannot view rational knowledge and faith as mutually exclusive as Luther seems to promote.  Is not the faith of Christianity, as a revealed religion, based on rational thought?  Geisler is correct.  Some things may be beyond reason to grasp in and of themselves, but they would not be in real contradiction with other things also divinely revealed.  They would not be “against reason.”  Real contradiction is simply unacceptable in any type of thought – theological, scientific, or otherwise.  This is my point about “two knowns” (i.e., deterministic sovereignty and human freedom) found to be in logical and moral contradiction which one’s theological tradition attempts to justify on “spiritual” grounds (i.e., “apparent contradiction,” “high mystery,” “the Bible teaches both,” “incomprehensible to sinful human reason,” “the need for faith,” “promoting humility,” etc.), as opposed to genuine Christian mystery which amounts to a single known, not fully revealed, that does not generate logical and moral contradiction with other biblical texts and teachings.  We are here trying to counter the assertion that the Bible itself is contradictory, which gets to the main point of this book.  If the Bible itself is not contradictory and we find that we have ended up in real contradiction among our theological propositions, then it is our interpretation of the Bible that is at fault.  This is precisely my contention regarding Reformed Calvinist soteriology.  The contradictions, incoherence and inconsistencies are various, real, substantial and extensive.  As such, if interpretive validity is a matter of establishing probability and plausibility, then Reformed Calvinist soteriology does not fair very well.

[4] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis : Bethany House, 1999), 11

[5] Calvinists refer to Eph. 1:5.  See also vss. 9 and 11

[6] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 11-14.

[7] Ibid. 11.

[8] Ibid. 14.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Here I maintain that any talk of human freedom that is coherent must include the reality that persons are, in general, the sole authors of their actions and have the ability of contrary choice.  The Scriptures cannot be read coherently without presupposing these two elements of human willing and action.  They are required for moral responsibility, just judgment, biblical warnings and commands to obedience as well as a rising to the performance of duty contrary to one’s strongest desires.  See C. A. Campbell, On Selfhood and Godhood, (New York: Macmillan, 1957), 158-179.

[11] Thus we need not require that there be “two wills in God” as John Piper contends.  Having to explain contradictory “willings” in God stems from Piper’s Calvinist divine determinism and yet his recognition that human freedom and responsibility are the inescapable teaching of Scripture.   So for Piper there has to be one “will of God” that has ordained from all eternity “whatsoever comes to pass” and another “will of God” that expresses God’s desire that men act in accord with his revealed will which they obviously do not do much of the time.  According to Piper, behind the scenes in eternity past all things were predetermined by the will of God to occur as they do, yet, God also expresses his will to his creatures in time and space, instructing them to act in accord with his will and not according to their evil desires and in resistance to him and his Word.  Hence, many of the very evil attitudes and actions that God has eternally willed and predetermined to occur, he also desires and wills not to occur.  Hence, two wills in God.  The problems with this view are that it makes God out to be duplicitous if not just confused.  It obscures obtaining any true and assured knowledge of what God is really like, what his disposition is towards us and whether he is immutable or not.  It also requires one to suspend their logical and moral common sense regarding God and experience.  Cf. John Piper, “Are There Two Wills In God,” in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, & Grace, eds. Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A Ware (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995), 107.

[12] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 14.

[13] Note the following considerations for interpreting this difficult section of Ephesians:

               1. The “we who were the first to hope in Christ” in verse 12 appears to make a distinction in persons being referred to and highlights the time in which God’s purposes are being progressively revealed.

               2. The shift in pronouns from the 1st person plural in verses 1-12 to the 2nd person plural in verses 13ff. seems to distinguish Jews and Gentiles.

               3. The major theme of the epistle – that the Gentiles are now partakers of all that was Israel’s privilege as the “chosen” people of God – speaks against an interpretation of election that is predetermined for a limited number of individuals and therefore exclusive.  Rather, the Old Testament terminology is now applied by Paul to Jew and Gentile alike because of the intervention of the person and work of Christ.  Paul is not establishing a new exclusivity of salvation based on a predestination of certain ones to salvation, but seeks to reveal the eternal heart and mind of God in terms of His formation and identification with His people which now includes the Gentiles.  The purpose of the exclusivity of the Old Testament people of God and Paul’s use of the election terminology which established that people was not to teach a new exclusivity of the New Testament people of God by election.  It was to serve God’s purpose of inclusive, universal salvation brought about by His plan and purpose in the Elect One – “in Christ.”  This is not a new phenomenon in the mind and heart of God.  The inclusion of the Gentiles was the “purpose of His will” from “before the foundation of the world.”  That inclusion happens by faith “in Christ,” God’s “Anointed” or “Elect One.”  As such this purpose of election reveals the love of God for all persons and places believers into this purpose of God.  They too are among “the elect” “in Christ.”  This is the “mystery of Christ.”  See 3:4-6 and 8-11.

               4. The whole scope and content of Ephesians, as also Romans 9-11, resists the theological reduction produced by concluding that Paul’s concept of election means some people are unconditionally chosen to salvation and others are not.

[14] James Daane, The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) 169, 170.

[15] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 14.

[16] Ibid. 15.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid. 11.

[19] Ibid. 15.

[20] This last doctrine of the “preservation and perseverance of the saints” or “eternal security” is held by many non-Calvinists but upon a different basis – that of the keeping power of God for those who believe (1 Pet. 1:5), not upon the eternal decree of God through which he has unconditionally chosen a limited number to be saved.  The former basis, which I submit is the more biblical basis for “eternal security,” coincides with the warnings in Hebrews and the nature of biblical faith.  These suggest the possibility that given a particular spiritual attitude, condition and response, that the saving relationship is not absolutely unconditional.  Of course, salvation as understood by Calvinists upon the basis of unconditional election makes eternal security a foregone conclusion for the elect.  But the presupposition of unconditional election forces an unconvincing “hypothetical” interpretation upon the warning passages in Hebrews and is a flawed theological doctrine that ironically, in the end, provides no assurance of salvation.  See I. H. Marshall, Kept By The Power Of God, (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995).

[21] For an insightful critique of Reformed scholastic decretal theology see James Daane, The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973).  I credit him for the ideas presented throughout this paper regarding the freedom of God to will things apart from them being of his eternal essence and the implications this has for His meaningful activity in history and for understanding human freedom.

               For additional discussion on avoiding the problematic conclusions of Calvinist sovereignty see Donald Bloesch, Essentials of Evangelical Theology, vol. 1, chapter 3, “The Sovereignty of God,” 24-50.  We especially want to govern our thoughts about God according to the distinctively Christian principle that is missing in so much of the discussions on God’s sovereignty.  It is the guiding principle that both Bloesch and Karl Barth affirm, that “…it is only in Jesus Christ that we know the living God and his sovereignty over the world.” Bloesch, Essentials, 32.

[22] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 16.

[23] Ibid. 17.

[24] The logical reason why this must be the case for the Calvinist lay in the doctrine of a single, eternal, comprehensive decree of God.  Below Geisler will reveal other philosophical/theological “tap-roots” that feed this viewpoint.  I will question whether there is sound biblical support for it.  Also, one can’t help reflect on whether this view actually trivializes the sovereignty of God.  To claim that God predetermined my choice of which flavor ice cream I ate yesterday or the fact that my pen would run out of ink today, or that I dozed off reading a favorite book, or that a bug splattered on my windshield while driving, etc., etc., seem quite frankly to be an irreverent application of Paul’s assertion that God “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11).

[25] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 18.

[26] For a thorough, clear and in-depth examination of the competing perspectives of Calvinism and Arminianism see Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will. Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism, (Nashville: Randall House, 2002.)

[27] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 11.

[28] For an example of a “moderate Calvinist” explanation of how God determines all things, including people’s choices, while claiming they yet remain free choices see Millard Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 345-363.

[29] Geisler, Chosen But Free, p. 29, footnote 19.

[30] Ibid. 19.

[31] Ibid. 19-20.

[32] Ibid. footnote 19, p. 29.

[33] Note again that there are those who claim God accomplishes his absolute preordination of all things through the free will of man.  He does this by choosing to create the exact world in which people are of the sort that “freely” choose to do his will.  But this is hardly, the kind of freedom we are referring to or perceive as genuine for free creatures made in the image of God.  And the more important question is whether this is the kind of world as described in Scripture?  See Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, Chapter 16, “God’s Plan,” 345-363.

[34] Geisler, Chosen But Free, footnote 22, p. 31.

[35] Ibid. 20.

[36] Ibid. 20.

[37] Ibid. 17.

[38] Sproul, Chosen by God, 59.

[39] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 29.

[40] Ibid. footnote 19, p. 29.

[41] Ibid. 17.

[42] Ibid. 20.

[43] Ibid. 21.

[44] Ibid. 21.

[45] Ibid. 23.

[46] Ibid. 15, 17.

[47] Ibid. 26.

[48] Ibid. 15.

[49] Ibid. 29.

[50] Ibid. 29-30.

[51] Ibid. 11.

[52] Ibid. 37.

[53] Ibid. 38.

[54] Ibid. 17.

[55] Ibid. 38.

[56] Ibid. 39.

[57] Ibid. 21.

[58] Ibid. 39.

[59] Ibid. 37.

[60] Ibid. 37

[61] Ibid. 38.

[62] Ibid. 39.

[63] Ibid. 39.

[64] Ibid. 42.

[65] Ibid. 21.

[66] Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1979,) 450.

[67] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 42-43.

[68] Note several things from the quotations of the Westminster Confession.  We have the clear statement that God is the “first cause” of “all things.”  In addition, they “come to pass immutably and infallibly.”  I have shown above that such a position is inevitably deterministic.  Also, let us reflect upon the fact that the way that “he ordereth them to fall out” does not change the fundamental determinism.  Simply by stating that they “fall out, according to the nature of second causes” or “freely, or contingently” doesn’t change the fact that they are ultimately determined by God himself.  The Confession simply states a proposition to incorporate some sense of human freedom, it does not support it.  It remains clearly self-contradictory.

[69] G. I. Williamson, The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1978), 30.

[70] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 43.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid.

[73] Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1979,) 450.

[74] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 42-43.

[75] Ibid. 43.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Ibid.

[78] Ibid.

[79] This is William Lane Craig’s description of Calvinism.  See his five-fold critique of Calvinism at “Defenders 2 Class, Doctrine of Creation: Part 10.”  Oct. 21, 2012.  https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-creation/doctrine-of-creation-part-10/  You can read the transcript or listen to the lecture at this link.  Last accessed April 22, 2020.

[80] Ibid. 51.

[81] Ibid. 43-44.

[82] For an excellent examination of the problems in Calvinist logic and language see Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), Ch. 5 “Calvinism and Consistency,” pp. 153 – 185.

[83] Linda Trinkhaus Zagzebski, The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 178-180.

[84] See Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will – Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism, (Nashville: Randal House, 2002), 36-43.

[85] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 44.

[86] Ibid. 17.

[87] Ibid. 44.

[88] Ibid. 15.

[89] Ibid. 51.

[90] Ibid. 17.

[91] Ibid. see bottom of 46 to the top of 47.

[92] Ibid. 17.

[93] Ibid. 17.

[94] Ibid. 54.  Yet, as I have demonstrated, we cannot escape the conclusion that Geisler’s Calvinist definition of sovereignty as a determinism which has all things being predetermined by God, must ultimately be causal of all things, even if not by “force” but certainly by God, such that every person does at all times what God predetermined they do.  The transformation of one’s desires so that one wills to do God’s will, still eliminates human freedom, as Geisler himself argues (pgs. 96-98).  It also does nothing to resolve the problem of evil.  Geisler’s Calvinist definition of sovereignty is the very heart of the cause of the contradiction between God being sovereign and human’s retaining free will.  Until he amends this he will never find logical coherence with what he knows of human willing and responsibility.

[95] See Norman Geisler and H. Wayne House, The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2001,) 25.  The statements here are confusing and conflicting.  It is said that, “…God does not simply know because man chooses to act.  Though His knowledge of man’s free acts is not causative, it is decretive.”  A. H. Strong is then quoted to affirm that “in eternity there could be no cause for the existence of the universe, other than God himself, since no other being existed.  Consequently, God’s determination to create involved also a determination of all the actual results of that creation; or, in other words, God decreed those results” (Strong 1907-9, 356).”

               What is being said here is that God’s foreknowledge of man’s free acts is not “causative” but it is “decretive.”  How God’s foreknowledge is “decretive” is not at all clear.  But it is also said that in God’s decree to create contains “all the actual results of that creation.”  Therefore, how all the results of the created world and history are decreed by God yet not caused by God is baffling – unless the nature of God’s decree was that there should exist creatures with genuine freedom of will which is no threat to God’s sovereignty or control.  This is baffling, especially when in a footnote Geisler writes, “God, of course, is the ultimate and primary cause of all things.  But He is not the immediate cause of our free acts.  Free agents are the immediate efficient cause of all their free acts.”  (It seems that Strong is offering up a way by which to think about how God actually does implement his absolute will in the world – by setting in motion a particular world which once God has initiated determines all that is done thereafter in it.)  Regardless, what Geisler and House are seeking to avoid of course is the inevitable determinism of their view of sovereignty.  Such a view leads to an impersonal God and his inability to involve himself in linear time and space because each moment and event is preordained.  Such a view leads to the destruction of meaningful historical movement and decision along with the freedom of man and the freedom of God to actively involve himself in his created world.  This is the logical result of a view of God’s sovereignty as rooted in a single, eternal divine decree that ordains “whatever comes to pass.”  Geisler and House are struggling to free themselves from the logical, moral and practical shackles that this understanding of the will and ways of God generates.  We feel the tension produced by their attempts to break free of those shackles by having God decree all things but not cause all things.

[96] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 52-53.  For the sake of accuracy, note first that Geisler speaks here of the doctrine of “election” not predetermination as in the previous discussions.  We will take it that the two are interchangeable for the purpose of the point to be made.  Secondly, we thought that the logical problem was between election and human free will, not election and foreknowledge.  This raises the question of what foreknowledge means for Geisler.  Is it to be equated with human freedom in this matter?  Is Geisler saying that God’s simultaneous knowledge and election maintains human free will?  How so?  Thirdly, the conclusion that “Thus, our actions are truly free, and God determined that they would be such” seems ambiguous and does not follow the issue at hand.  We would agree that God predetermined that his human creatures would be “truly free” in their actions; that the actions themselves are not predetermined by God.  But one wonders if this is what Geisler means because his next statement is clear.  He says, “God is totally sovereign in the sense of actually determining what occurs.”  But this is precisely the “strong Calvinist” position he has argued against.  We have only come full circle to face again the same problem of sovereignty and free will.  He cannot extricate himself from the absolute determinism of his position.  This is the nature of determinism.

[97] See Philip Graham Ryken, The Message of Salvation (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press, 2001) 72.

[98] William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 30, 31.

[99] James Daane, The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) 165.

[100] Geisler, Chosen But Free, 52-53.

[101] James Daane, The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) 194.

[102] We perhaps should raise the issue as to whether God has the freedom to create time and history and act in sequential manner within it if he chooses to do so for certain purposes.  The sovereignty of God would seem to include this aspect of the personal nature of God which is excluded by Geisler’s Calvinist decretal theology in which God had to ordain “whatever comes to pass” and is therefore bound by himself.  According to this scheme, which prizes God’s control over all else, God is not sovereign because he is not free to be the God he is.  Again, see Daane, James. The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973).

[103] James Daane, The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973.) 88.

[104] Ibid. 52.

[105] Ibid. 53.

[106] Ibid. 54.

[107] Ibid. 192-194.

[108] Geisler’s book, The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism, does not offer any more clarity here.  He reiterates that “God is a simple and independent Being.  Hence, His knowledge and being are identical.  Thus God’s knowledge cannot be any more dependent than His Being…God’s coordinate foreknowing and foredetermining (His decrees) together comprise His comprehensive plan for His creation.  His decrees are the basis for all that occurs in time and space (Isa. 41:22-27; Amos 3:7).”  Norman L Geisler & H. Wayne House, The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism, (Grand Rapids Kregel, 2001) 24.

[109] Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell, Why I am Not A Calvinist, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 65.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s