Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Creaturely Freedom.

"The clue it seems to me basically is getting our heads out of the idea that God's freedom and our freedom are antithetical. There are not inversely proportional, they are directly proportional. Therefore, the more God acts upon us, the more we ourselves are able to act. God's acting upon us is not the suppression of our agency but its the creation of our agency.

The difficulty we have is that most of the time when we think about freedom, we think in terms of spontaneity. So my freedom has to be the absence of external causality upon my acts. But the Christian tradition just doesn't think like that or at least it didn't until the later 17th century. For Augustine, God causes all that is and that is why we are free. It is not in opposition to our freedom, it is precisely the cause of our freedom. What we find difficult to get our minds around is the idea that there could be a freedom which is caused or given to us because we think that the only kind of freedom that we can have is either pure spontaneity or what is sometimes called contra causal freedom. In other words, our freedom to act against a cause acting upon us. And that picture is not, it seems to me, part of the way that Scripture and the Christian tradition has thought. It is that which is often at play in debates about open-theism or whatever - the fear that if we talk about God's sovereignty we must therefore be talking about something which is a subtraction from creaturely freedom to which the answer is no it isn't."

- John Webster, Kantzer Lecture #3, Question and Answer session


Tim said...


You state there is no conflict.

"For Augustine, God causes all that is and that is why we are free."

Please elaborate how that is Freedom.

If God causes everything then are my choices in fact His choices? So my choice to sin His choice?

Please, I mean no persoanl criticism, I just find it hard to contemplate how you can have an all controlling God and yet there be personal human freedoms.

Kait Dugan said...

Hi Tim,

i didn't take your comment as criticism. Unfortunately, the thoughts above are not my own but a quote by John Webster from his Kantzer lecture given at Wheaton College a few years back. Therefore, I'm going to have to try to fill in the gaps as to what Webster might wish to say in response to your question. These are my own speculations.

From everything he said in the lecture, Webster seems to be a compatibilist. Therefore, I think he would define freedom as the ability to act within one's own nature while remaining free from external compulsion. Under this definition, freedom is not defined as the power of contrary choice (the ability to choose between x and ~x - otherwise known as libertarian free-will).

Standing in the tradition of Augustine in his espousal of freedom through his debate with Pelagius, I would venture to say that some believe compatibilism is the only way to flesh out the notion of original sin (as found in Romans 5). Compatibilism also works from the notion that God defines creaturely freedom rather than vice versa. As such, if the power of contrary choice is necessary for a genuine notion of freedom to exist, then God certain is not absolutely free since He can only choose that which is according to His nature (holiness, perfection, etc.).

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