Determined to Come Most Freely

Some Challenges for Libertarian Calvinism

in Journal of Reformed Theology
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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.

Determined to Come Most Freely

Some Challenges for Libertarian Calvinism

in Journal of Reformed Theology



  • 1

    Richard A. MullerDivine Will and Human Choice: Freedom Contingency and Necessity in Early Modern Reformed Thought (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic2017) 19–22.

  • 3

    Oliver D. Crisp“Libertarian Calvinism,” in Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press2014) 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.

  • 7

    See e.g. Peter van InwagenAn Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Clarendon Press1983) 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.

  • 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 Philosophyed. Christoph Lumer and Sandro Nannini (Burlington: Ashgate2007) 243.

  • 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).

  • 20

    David Baggett and Jerry L. WallsGood God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (Oxford: Oxford University Press2011); 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

  • 21

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

  • 22

    Van Asselt Bac and te VeldeReformed Thought on Freedom15 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. FrankfurtThe Importance of What We Care About (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1988) 95.

  • 51

    Dana Kay NelkinMaking Sense of Freedom and Responsibility (Oxford: Oxford University Press2011) 99.

  • 52

    David Copp“ ‘Ought’ Implies ‘Can,’ Blameworthiness, and the Principle of Alternate Possibilities,” in Moral Responsibility and Alternate Possibilitiesed. David Widerker and Michael McKenna (Burlington: Ashgate2006) 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.

  • 54

    FrankfurtThe Importance of What We Care About1–10. 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.

  • 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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