LOVE, FREEDOM, AND EVIL – Thaddeus Williams (2011)

The debate over free will has raged ever since Pelagius recoiled at the prayer of Augustine: “Grant what thou commandest and command what thou doest grant.”  Thaddeus J. Williams enters into the discussion with his excellent book, Love, Freedom, and Evil.

Williams show graciousness and charity throughout as he refuses to caricature his opponents, namely – theologians who embrace the notion of libertarian free will, i.e. the power of contrary choice. The author refers to libertarian free will as the “Axiom of Libertarian Love,” which he defines at the outset: “Any agent, A, must possess libertarian free will to love or refrain from loving another agent, B, if A’s love for B is to count as authentic.”  The central aim of William’s work is to dismantle this argument.

Williams cuts through a wide range of philosophers, theologians, and Christian writers – from Pelagius and Cassius to Norm Geisler and Rob Bell.  He is to be commended for keeping an extremely complicated topic accessible for readers willing to put forth the effort.

In part one, the author argues the notion of libertarian free will actually militates against authentic love: “Libertarian free will, which seemed like a requirement of authentic love from a pre-analytical perspective, turns out to be a significant threat to authentic love.”

Part two examines whether the idea of libertarian free will has the theological endurance when subjected to deep biblical insight, what Williams refers to as “depth capacity.”  The old Pelagian argument that “ought” implies “can” is addressed with the full weight of biblical authority.

Finney’s flawed anthropology is exposed, namely – that sinners have “the natural ability to obey God.”  Williams unravel’s Finney’s argument by making an appeal to John’s gospel.  He adds, “Can the notion that ‘ought implies can’ breath at the depth of John 6:44?”  The contextual answer is a resounding no!

The author turns to Luther to expose the erroneous views concerning liberty in Erasmus:  “For Luther, imperatives do not lead to the libertarian conclusion that ‘ought implies can,’ but rather: Ought exposes cannot, and cannot exposes the need for radical grace.” 

Williams insight is something akin to Luther’s: “From this ‘ought exposes cannot’ perspective, God is not like a bully commanding a blind man to behold the Sistine Chapel for sadistic pleasure.  Rather, the picture of God comes closer to that of a compassionate optometrist who commands a blind patient to behold the Sistine Chapel before restoring his sight.  The impossible command serves the vital function of demonstrating who deserves all credit once the patient marvels at the painted ceiling with clear eyes.”  The remaining chapters deal with the tension between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Finally, part three focuses on “the scope of divine action in human love.”  This section is arguably the most helpful section of the book.   The author alerts the reader to several models of divine action in human love.  He presents the Pelagian, Semi-pelagian, Arminian, Augustinian views and also includes a view that could be construed as Pantheistic.  The tension is presented between divine giving and human coming, divine unifying and human loving, and divine raising and human remaining.

The author succeeds in roundly refuting libertarian free will.  He stands in a long line of godly men who have done the same including Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, and John Owen.

4 stars

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