Amongst his other writings, the nineteenth century American Presbyterian theologian John Girardeau (1825–1898) composed a book-length critique of Jonathan Edwards’ doctrine of free will. In the place of Edwards’ unrelenting determinism, Girardeau appealed to an older Reformed tradition which allowed that in mundane actions human beings often have liberties of choice. This forms the basis of an argument for a circumscribed libertarianism consistent with the confessional standards of Reformed theology. Although there are problems with Girardeau’s account, his position is an important confirmation of a sort of minority report in the Reformed tradition that has been largely overlooked by modern thinkers for whom Reformed thought is synonymous with the kind of theological determinism beloved of Edwards. The paper offers a critical exposition of, and interaction with, Girardeau’s views on this matter of human free will as a piece of retrieval theology.
See, e.g. Paul Helm, “Synchronic Contingency in Reformed Scholasticism: A Note of Caution”, Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift57 (2003), 207–222and reply by A.J. Beck and Antonie Vos “Conceptual Patterns Related to Reformed Scholasticism” Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 57 (2003), 223–233 and a rejoinder from Helm, “Synchronic Contingency Again” Nederlands Theologisch Tijdschrift 57 (2003), 234–238; Paul Helm, “Reformed Thought on Freedom: Some Further Thoughts” Journal of Reformed Theology 4.3 (2010), 185–207; and Paul Helm, “‘Structural Indifference’ and Compatibilism in Reformed Orthodoxy” Journal of Reformed Theology 5.2 (2011), 184–205. See also the commentary by Dolf te Velde,The Doctrine of God in Reformed Orthodox, Karl Barth, and The Utrecht School: A Study in Method and Content (Leiden: E.J. Briill, 2013), 670–676, and the other papers in this symposium.
In this regard see Paul Helm, “Jonathan Edwards and the Parting of the Ways?” in Jonathan Edwards Studies4.1 (2014), 21–41, and Richard A. Muller, “Jonathan Edwards and The Absence of Free Choice: A Parting of The Ways in the Reformed Tradition” Jonathan Edwards Studies 1.1 (2011), 3–22. For an helpful account of the influence of Edwards’ arguments about free will, see Allen C. Guelzo, Edwards on the Will: A Century of American Theological Debate (Eugene, OR.: Wipf and Stock, 2008 ).
Ibid, pp. 18–19. This claim is also argued for by Richard Muller in “Jonathan Edwards and the Absence of Free Choice”.
Institutes 1. 15. 8, p. 195. Compare TWTR, 150–151.
Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 161. In the sequel to this volume, Helm writes “Calvin’s doctrine of the bondage of the will … has no necessary connection with the issue of the metaphysics of agency.” He goes on to say, “When Calvin and Luther deny free will, therefore, they chiefly have in mind not the metaphysical issues being discussed in this chapter, but a spiritual disposition stemming from sin which is, logically speaking, neutral on the question of determinism and libertarianism.” Paul Helm, Calvin at the Centre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 228–229. A very useful resource on the wider debate about Calvin and the Reformation understanding of the bondage of the will can be found in Kivin S.K. Choy “Calvin’s Defense and Reformulation of Luther’s Early Reformation Doctrine of the Bondage of the Will,” PhD dissertation, Calvin Theological Seminary, January 2010.