In the latest edition of Philosophia Christi[1], Jerry Walls argues that no Christian should be a theological determinist.  What is a theological determinist?  It’s someone who believes that God’s sovereignty extends meticulously to every aspect of the world, including human “choice.”  The problem with determinism is that it eliminates human freedom since there are factors external to humans sufficient to determine our choices, such that we could not do otherwise (or even want to do otherwise since even our desires are the product of God’s sovereign acts).

Most theological determinists are compatibilists.  Compatibilists think determinism can be reconciled with free will: If one acts according to their desires, then their choices are free.  But this is a veneer.  At best this shows that we may feel like we our will is free, even though it is not.  The fact remains that both our desires and our choices are determined by God wholly independent of our own volition.  It should be no surprise when our desires match our actions when God has determined both.  Given theological determinism, there can be no freedom of human will, despite attempts by some to evade the obvious.

Walls outlines several problems with theological determinism/compatibilism:

  1. It would make God the author of sin and evil since all of our acts are determined by His will.  In order for person X to rape person Y, God had to determine that person X do so.  That makes God the cause of X’s rape of Y.
  2. God could have created a world in which all persons freely did only good, but He did not.  Why would God purposely create a world in which so much evil and suffering occurs, when He could have made a world in which there was only good?
  3. It makes nonsense of the notion of moral responsibility. As Wells describes, “When the actions of a person are entirely determined by another intelligent being who intentionally determines (manipulates) the person to act exactly as the other being wishes, then the person cannot rightly be held accountable and punished for his actions.”  How can we be held accountable for thoughts and actions that we never chose, but were chosen for us by God?  This is like taking a child’s hand, forcibly using it to hit another child in the face, and then punishing the child for hitting someone.
  4. Only an evil being could manipulate another being to do evil, and only an even greater evil being could then hold that individual morally accountable for their actions by punishing them.Why didn’t God determine that all men do good if He is in sovereign control over each and every one of our acts?  Why did He determine that some people will do evil, and that He will punish them for “their” evil in an eternal hell?  Some Calvinists respond that while God could have made a world without sin, or could have chosen to save all sinners rather than punish them, He chose not to do so because it is only by exercising both judgment and mercy that God’s full glory can be displayed.  But Walls rightly points out that if “God must display justice by punishing evil in order fully to manifest his glory, then sin and evil must occur for God’s full glory to be demonstrated.  The disconcerting consequence here is that God needs evil or depends on it fully to manifest his glory.  This consequence undermines not only God’s goodness, but his sovereignty as well.”

J.W. Wartick recently wrote a nice post on this topic as well: “A Denial of Theological Determinism.”  He lists a few other problems with theological determinism that are worthy of note:

  1. It is a philosophy that cannot be lived.  People, even theological determinists, act as though they are free.  When bad things happen, they pray to God for help as if it may change the course of history, even though history was foreordained to be exactly the way God wanted it before the world ever was.  Indeed, even the fact that one is praying about it was determined by God.
  2. Theological determinism cannot be rationally affirmed.  Even if theological determinism were true, I could only know it to be true if God determined for me to know it.  And the reason I would know it would not be due to my examination and weighing of the evidence in favor of theological determinism, but because God determined for me to believe it.  Likewise, if I think it is false, it is only because God has determined me to think it is false.  God’s sovereignty, not our own rationality, is responsible for what we believe about theological determinism.

For these 6 reasons—not to mention the Biblical data—I think theological determinism/compatibilism is incompatible with Christian theism.


[1]Vol. 13, No. 1, 2011.  Jerry L. Walls, “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever be a Compatibilist.”

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