What is Libertarian Free Will and is it biblical?

by Matt Slick
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In my opinion, Libertarian Free Will is not biblical.  But, before I tackle the reasons why it's not, we must first define what it is. 

"Theologically speaking, Libertarian Free Will (LFW) is the view that people's choices are free from prior cause and that our fallen, sinful nature does not constrain moral choices.  In other words, human free will is completely free to choose to receive or reject Christ as well as to choose to do anything among options and that such choices are in no way determined by circumstances or our nature or our desires.  Therefore, Libertarian Freedom is the ability to choose to act contrary to circumstances, prior causes, one's desires, and one's fallen nature" (carm.org/what-is-libertarian-free-will).

As you may have noticed, that definition is from CARM. It is the result of research into what Molinist's and philosophers assert is libertarian free will. But, just to be fair, let me quote Molinists:

  • "By definition, the ability or power to choose or to refrain from choosing is what is called libertarian freedom. So a proper understanding of God’s sovereignty requires the corresponding concept of contingency, and this necessitates understanding God’s freedom in libertarian terms." (Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty,  (p. 26). (B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, TN, 2010, Kindle Edition p. 26)
  • "...God has libertarian free will and is not determined by any one or anything else nor is he determined to act via himself." (God Andrews, Max. An Introduction to Molinism: Scripture, Reason, and All that God has Ordered (The Spread of Molinism Book 1) (Kindle Locations 143-144). Kindle Edition).
  • "For our purposes, when we use the term “free will” we mean what is called libertarian  freedom: Given choices A and B, one can literally choose to do either one, no circumstances exist that are sufficient to determine one’s choice; a person’s choice is up to him, and if he does one of them, he could have done otherwise, or at least he could have refrained from acting at all. One acts as an agent who is the ultimate originator of one’s own actions and, in this sense, is in control of one’s action." (Moreland, James Porter; William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, p. 240. InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)

Is Libertarian Free Will Biblical?

As you can see from the above quotes, libertarian free will is the ability to choose or refrain from choosing: that is, choices are not determined, and a person can make choices that are up to him where, if he "does one of them, he could have done otherwise."

Of particular concern is the third quote. Let me reference it again.

"...libertarian  freedom: Given choices A and B, one can literally choose to do either one, no circumstances exist that are sufficient to determine one’s choice; a person’s choice is up to him, and if he does one of them, he could have done otherwise" (Moreland, Porter, Craig, Philosophical Foundations, p. 240).

The problem with this definition is that it is man-centered. The quote says libertarian freedom means that a person with libertarian free will, could have chosen and accomplished either of options A or B and that no circumstances are sufficient to determine one's choices.  However, this is not true. By the above definition, God is excluded.  You see, if either option A or B contains anything sinful, then this excludes God because he cannot sin. Furthermore, God must act in a manner consistent with his holy nature. He cannot violate his own purity, and all that he does is holy. 

So, at least in this quote, we see a man-centered definition. God is excluded. This is problematic since God is the standard of all that is true, proper, holy, and right.  Therefore, our definition of what free will is, ought to include God because we are made in his image (Genesis 1:26).  I see this as a philosophical blunder.

But let's go back to the topic at hand.

The position of libertarian free will states that a person's choices can be made independently of his fallen nature, desires, and cannot be determined by God's foreordination.  But Scripture speaks contrary to all of this.  Let's take a brief look at each of these three main categories.

The Bible tells us that the unbeliever has been negatively affected by the fall of Adam. Scripture, which is God's revelation and not man's wisdom, clearly says that the unbeliever cannot freely choose to do that which is morally right, including choosing God.

  • Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick. Who can understand it?"
    • Comment:  This is speaking of the very nature of a person. Jeremiah is telling us that our fallenness has affected us and that our hearts are deceitful and sick. What else is the heart but our will, our desire, and even our essence?  We are fallen.
  • Mark 7:21-23, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness."
    • Comment:  Jesus speaks of the choices made by people which are consistent with our nature. Of course, he is speaking of those who are not regenerate, not trusting in him. These people in their very hearts possess evil thoughts of varying degrees. Can they then freely choose Christ?  It does not appear so.
  • Romans 3:10-12, "as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless. There is none who does good, there is not even one.’"
    • Comment:  Paul the apostle is quoting the Old Testament (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3). He is saying that all, both Jews and Greeks are under sin (v. 9).  And, he says that there is none righteous, none who understands, none who seeks for God and none who does good. According to libertarianism, under the right circumstances, people can seek for God and do good - the good of choosing Christ.
  • Romans 6:20, "For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness."
    • Comment:  Paul is telling his people that before they came to Christ, they were slaves of sin. If they are slaves of sin, how can they choose to follow Christ since that would demonstrate that they are not slaves of sin and that they can then do good, which an unbeliever can't do (Romans 3:10-12).  Can they act in a manner contrary to their enslavement? 
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14, "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."
    • Comment:  The natural man is the unregenerate person. Unbelievers don't accept the things of the spirit of God. They reject them. Therefore, they are not going to freely receive the things of Christ.  But the libertarians affirm that the unregenerate person is capable of accepting spiritual things.

According to libertarian free will, people can do morally good things such as receiving Christ. But, how is it possible for an unbeliever to exercise his "free will" and do morally good things, including choosing Christ, when the Bible says he has a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9), is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), can do no good (Romans 3:10-12), is a slave of sin (Romans 6:20), and cannot receive spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14)? I am honestly bewildered how any Christian could hold to libertarian free will in light of these scriptures.

Libertarian free will is not biblical since it appears to violate Scripture and excludes God as the standard of what free will really is. Therefore, libertarian free will is a philosophical position imposed upon Scripture.





About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.