Determined to Come Most Freely

Some Challenges for Libertarian Calvinism

In: Journal of Reformed Theology
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  • 1 Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte NC (USA)
  • 2 Calvin college, Grand Rapids, MI (USA)

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It is commonly held that Calvinism is committed to theological determinism, and therefore also to compatibilism insofar as Calvinism affirms human freedom and moral responsibility. Recent scholarship has challenged this view, opening up space for a form of Calvinism that allows for libertarian free will. In this article we critically assess two versions of ‘libertarian Calvinism’ recently proposed by Oliver Crisp. We contend that Calvinism (defined along the confessional lines adopted by Crisp) is implicitly committed to theological determinism, and even if it were not so committed, it would still rule out libertarian free will on other grounds.

  • 1

    Richard A. Muller, Divine Will and Human Choice: Freedom, Contingency, and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 19–22.

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  • 3

    Oliver D. Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” in Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014), 71–96; Oliver D. Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards on Free Will,” in Jonathan Edwards among the Theologians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), 80–106; Oliver D. Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” in Free Will and Classical Theism: The Significance of Freedom in Perfect Being Theology, ed. Hugh J. McCann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 112–130.

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  • 7

    See, e.g., Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), 13 ff.; Robert Kane, “Introduction,” in Free Will, ed. Robert Kane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 17; Derk Pereboom, Living without Free Will (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), xiv.

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  • 8

    Carl Ginet, “An Action Can Be Both Uncaused and Up to the Agent,” in Intentionality, Deliberation, and Autonomy: The Action-Theoretic Basis of Practical Philosophy, ed. Christoph Lumer and Sandro Nannini (Burlington: Ashgate, 2007), 243.

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  • 18

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 74. Our objections could be developed from other Reformed symbols of the same era, such as the Savoy Declaration (1658) and the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689).

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  • 20

    David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001); Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall, The Mystery of God: Theology for Knowing the Unknowable (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012); Thomas P. Flint and Thomas V. Morris, “Two Accounts of Providence,” in Divine and Human Action: Essays on the Metaphysics of Theism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); William Hasker, Providence, Evil and the Openness of God (London: Routledge, 2004); Paul Helm, The Providence of God, Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1993); Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006); Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004); Jerry L. Walls, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist,” Philosophia Christi 13, no. 1 (2011), 75–104; Leigh Vicens, “Theological Determinism,” ed. James Fieser and Bradley Dowden, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014,

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  • 21

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 96; Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 80.

  • 22

    Van Asselt, Bac, and te Velde, Reformed Thought on Freedom, 15, 38.

  • 23

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 96.

  • 24

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 85.

  • 25

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 88, 89.

  • 26

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 91.

  • 27

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 88.

  • 28

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 96.

  • 29

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 89.

  • 30

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 89.

  • 34

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 77.

  • 35

    Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 84.

  • 37

    Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 84, 86.

  • 38

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 91.

  • 40

    Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 84.

  • 41

    Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 85.

  • 50

    Harry G. Frankfurt, The Importance of What We Care About (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 95.

  • 51

    Dana Kay Nelkin, Making Sense of Freedom and Responsibility (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 99.

  • 52

    David Copp, “ ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can,’ Blameworthiness, and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities,” in Moral Responsibility and Alternate Possibilities, ed. David Widerker and Michael McKenna (Burlington: Ashgate, 2006), 265–300; David Copp, “ ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can’ and the Derivation of the Principle of Alternate Possibilities,” Analysis 68, no. 297 (2008), 67–75; David Widerker, “Frankfurt on ‘Ought Implies Can’ and Alternative Possibilities,” Analysis 51, no. 4 (1991), 222–224.

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  • 54

    Frankfurt, The Importance of What We Care About, 1–10. While Frankfurt cases have become increasingly sophisticated in response to challenges, we present here a basic “prior sign” case. Pat is at the polling station, deliberating about whether to vote for mayoral candidate Tannen or McFly. Black, an evil neurosurgeon, has implanted a device in Pat’s brain that allows Black to monitor Pat’s neural states. Black’s device allows him to alter Pat’s neural states if the situation requires it, and make Pat do whatever Black wishes. For reasons that need not concern us, Black wants Pat to vote for Tannen. If Black detects that Pat is about to vote for McFly, Black will activate his device and ensure that Pat chooses to vote for Tannen instead. As it turns out, Pat chooses on his own to vote for Tannen, and Black never has to activate his device. The proponent of the FSC claims that in this case Pat’s choice is free and Pat is morally responsible for making it, even though Pat could not have chosen otherwise than he did.

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  • 55

    Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 85.

  • 56

    Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 85.

  • 61

    Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 86.

  • 63

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 84; Crisp, “Girardeau and Edwards,” 84.

  • 64

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 84.

  • 67

    Crisp, “Libertarian Calvinism,” 2014, 89.

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