The following, the second in a three-article series, was penned by a friend of the ministry, Dale. W. Decker. You can find him at the Theogineer. Thank you, Dale.
Total Inability: The Island of Dr. Moreau
In H.G. Wells 1896 book, The Island of Dr. Moreau, the doctor, in his secluded laboratory, uses vivisection to create semi-human creatures out of animals. The creatures he produces in attempting to mimic free and rational human beings inevitably succumb to their inherent instincts and revert back to animals. The Calvinist understanding of the workings of the human will attempts to do the opposite, turn free and rational (though fallen) human beings into creatures of mere instinct, capable only of following their strongest desires.
To explain theistic determinism in a way that preserves God from being responsible for the sin of humanity, Reformed theology defines freedom of choice as doing what you want to do without external coercion. According to Calvinism, the human will does not possess a libertarian nature with the power of otherwise choice, at least not since Adam sinned in the garden. Instead, the human will is controlled by its greatest desire. And, though a human being always compulsorily chooses according to his greatest desire, he is free, even though he could not have chosen differently given his theistically determined antecedent state. I am going to call these distinctions of will “libertarian will” versus “compulsory will”. The compulsory will is used to define human freedom as “compatible” with theistic determinism.
According to Calvinism, because human beings possess a compulsory will as well as a sin nature that desires only evil, then human beings are totally unable to come to God without a change in their desires. Constitutionally, one cannot respond to any offer of the Gospel unless one’s desire has been divinely changed first. This state of the fallen will, as it were, comes under the rubric of Total Inability in Reformed theology
However, whether humans currently possess the power of otherwise choice is not the most crucial question to ask, but rather how does the Calvinist understanding of the compulsory will affect the doctrine of the Incarnation? Let’s look again to the Westminster Confession and see its description of Christ The Mediator (Ch 8.2):
The Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature, with all the essential properties, and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin…
So, the Son of God took upon himself man’s nature with all its essential properties, yet without sin. What kind of human will did Jesus possess, libertarian or compulsory? I think we can agree that the human will is an essential property of being human. Some Calvinists maintain that humanity’s will was created libertarian and became compulsory and others say it has always been compulsory. However, both cases render human beings as now possessing compulsory wills, and each has a deleterious effect on the understanding of the Incarnation.
Taking the first case, that humanity was created with libertarian will and came to have compulsory will after the fall, is the essential human nature from pre-Fall to post-Fall the same or different? Pastor Ronnie Rogers answers this question this way:
If one proposes a change in this essential component from pre-fall to post-fall, it is to change the very nature of man. This to the point that the man who fell in the garden is not the same (essentially) as mankind after the fall; to wit, the being before the fall may be classified as human, or the being after the fall may be so classified, but they cannot both be so classified since they are essentially dissimilar. We can understand one of them as being human, but not both of them since their natures are mutually exclusive.Ronnie W. Rogers, Does God Love All Or Some, Eugene, Wipf & Stock, 2019, p. 32
If the essential nature of humanity is different pre-Fall to post-Fall, then which type of will, libertarian or compulsory, did the Son take upon himself? If libertarian, then he is essentially different from the ones he came to save. This would seem to call into question a crucial element of the Incarnation, that Jesus was like us in all ways, except for sin, unless one is willing to state that there is no essential difference between libertarian and compulsory wills.
However, the alternate view doesn’t solve things. If Jesus took upon himself a compulsory will, what does that look like? If all that Jesus did was because he could not do otherwise given his determined antecedent state, how would that change our understanding of just the following small sampling of scriptures?
For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. ~ John 11:17-18
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” ~ Mark 14:36
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ~ Philippians 2:8
[Jesus] gave himself for us… ~ Titus 2:14
I’m not sure anyone would be comfortable saying that Jesus only had the illusion of choosing obedience to his Father, the illusion of choosing to lovingly give himself as an atoning sacrifice, but all the while was really only acting in a pre-determined way without otherwise choice. As I see it, the Reformed understanding of humanity’s compulsory will creates severe problems for the doctrine of the Incarnation.