Incompatibilism and Compatibilism
There are two mutually exclusive ways to answer the question, What does free will mean? and those two ways are incompatibilism and compatibilism. Stay with me here. I’m comparing incompatibilism as typically held by Arminians and compatibilism as typically held by Calvinists.
According to incompatibilism, God’s meticulous sovereignty and human freedom are incompatible, and according to compatibilism, God’s meticulous sovereignty and human freedom are compatible. That’s why they’re called incompatibilism and compatibilism.
For incompatibilism, God’s sovereignty is general. God’s in charge of everything, but he does not ordain everything. Specifically, God did not ordain the eternal destiny of each individual. For compatibilism, God’s sovereignty is meticulous. God is in charge of everything, and he ordains everything. Specifically, God ordained the eternal destiny of each individual.
Regarding human freedom, both views agree that we have a free will in the sense that we are morally responsible for what we choose. But here’s where they differ. Incompatibilism says that we have a free will in the sense that we can choose differently. That is, we can equally make alternative choices in the same circumstances.
In this addition to the Short Studies in Systematic Theology series, Andrew David Naselli carefully examines the doctrine of predestination and encourages believers to respond in worship.
Compatibilism says that we have a free will in the sense that we always choose what we most want. That is, we voluntarily choose what we most want in any given circumstance as long as our choices are not constrained. So according to incompatibilism, I’m just as able to choose Christ as I am able not to choose Christ.
As a radically depraved sinner, I’m able to choose Christ because God’s special saving grace, his prevenient grace, which is universal and resistible, enables me to freely do so, if I decide. That’s incompatibilism. According to compatibilism, I’m unable to choose Christ until God changes my heart. I choose whatever my heart desires. I always choose according to my nature.
So a tomato plant can’t produce apples, and I can’t choose Christ unless God changes my wanter—my nature, my heart. According to incompatibilism, a God-ordained choice is not a real choice. According to compatibilism, a God-ordained choice is a real choice.
My heart, or my nature, determines what I want. And my nature is either unregenerate or regenerate.
In my book Predestination, I give ten reasons for compatibilism—that God’s meticulous sovereignty is compatible with human freedom, particularly the God-enabled freedom to believe in Christ and the moral responsibility for not believing in Christ.
The Heart Issue
The core issue here is our heart. It’s our nature. I always choose what I choose because I want what I want because I am who I am. So let me unpack that sentence.
I always choose what I choose. Think of a big circle. Choices are the outermost, superficial level.
I always choose what I choose because I want what I want. I choose according to my strongest desires, what I think are most to my advantage. I’ve got choices, desires.
I always choose what I choose because I want what I want because I am who I am. At the core is your heart. My heart is the core or essence of who I am. It’s my innermost being, and I have a heart problem. I have a heart that is evil continually. And another way to refer to my heart is my nature—which is a complex of attributes. My heart, or my nature, determines what I want. And my nature is either unregenerate or regenerate. And that’s the core reason I either do not or do have the moral ability to glorify God. And I’m responsible for my desires and choices because I’m responsible for my sinful heart.
Andrew David Naselli is the author of Predestination: An Introduction.
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It is pitiful how we can take the Bible teaching about predestination that should result in humility, praise, and comfort and instead talk about it with sinful pride, divisiveness, and anxiety.
Predestination is crucial for our serious joy in God, and it directly affects how we make disciples. It affects what and how we preach and teach and sing and pray and counsel.
Andy Naselli talks about what he considers to be the greatest letter ever written: Romans 8.