“Human Freedom”

My comments interspersed below.

JOHN S. FEINBERG, academician, theologian, and author (Contemporary):

“…Scripture surely teaches human freedom, [but] it does not state what kind of freedom is in view. Thus, one must turn to the philosophical discussion for an explanation of the ways in which human freedom can be understood” (Feinberg).

Scripture certainly DOES state what kind of freedom is in view. The multitudinous passages that teach God’s sovereign control over man’s thoughts, words, and actions clearly show that God is actively turning, causing, and controlling His creatures. Thus, the “kind of freedom” in view is absolutely no human freedom whatsoever relative to God.

As for the assertion that “Scripture surely teaches human freedom,” it depends on whether one is talking about human freedom relative to God or relative to something else. As Vincent Cheung has written:

“Note that freedom is relative – you are free from something. The compatibilist wants to affirm that we are not free from God, but at the same time he wants to make freedom applicable to our action in some sense, so he sets the standard by which freedom is measured down from God to man. That is, instead of measuring freedom by whether our thoughts and actions are free from God, now we are ‘free’ as long as we are free relative to other created things, and then we build moral responsibility on that. They just changed the reference point.

But this is narrow and arbitrary. I can just as well change the standard or the reference point to whether we are free from a particular particle of dust on Neptune. If that particle of Neptune dust does not determine my thoughts and actions – if I am ‘free’ from it – then in this sense I have “free will,” and therefore I am morally responsible. Hooray!” (taken from his section on “Augustine and Compatiblism” in The Author of Sin).

I am not blanket-endorsing Cheung as a true Christian, but what he says here is correct and very insightful.


There are…”two kinds of causes which influence and determine [human] actions. On the one hand, there are constraining causes which force an agent to act against his will.

Feinberg is a self-proclaimed adherent to the incoherent doctrine of compatibilism. [1] The vast majority of Calvinists are compatibilists. A “compatibilist” wants to maintain that things like God’s freedom and man’s freedom are compatible. But of course, one needs to explain what exactly they mean here.

If I didn’t already know that Feinberg held to heterodox views of God’s sovereignty, I would think he was (at least on the surface) expressing orthodoxy here – here’s what I’m getting at by saying “on the surface”:

God’s unconditional and active hardening of Pharaoh did not force or constrain him to act against his will. Pharaoh was determined to not let the people go. As we know, to “force” implies that the forcer (i.e., the one doing the forcing) lacks complete control over the “forcee” (i.e., the one being forced). On a very superficial level I would agree with Feinberg that Pharaoh was “free” in the sense that he did what he wanted to do and thus was not forced or coerced. BUT the relevant point is whether or not Pharaoh is “free” from God’s omnipotence, and NOT whether Pharaoh is “free” from someone or some power that is less-than-omnipotent.

[1] This fellow articulates quite well the incoherent and tortuous windings of the perniciously unbiblical philosophical construct of “compatibilism”:

“Like the Arminians, most Calvinists will say that God is IN control of everything, but not that He CONTROLS everything. And they concoct all kinds of theories to try to have a god who is IN control of everything while not CONTROLLING everything. Try figuring that one out – how God can be IN CONTROL without CONTROLLING. As we’ve seen so many times before, the lie is much more complicated than the truth.”

Another excerpt from a different sermon:

“But did you know that most who call themselves “Calvinists” or “Reformed” who say they believe in the absolute sovereignty of God do NOT believe this? They say that God is IN control of all things but does not actively CONTROL all things. Now how’s that possible? Well, to anyone with common sense, it’s NOT possible. It’s a contradiction. But we have Calvinist authors and seminarians who make up all kinds of theories in order to justify their view of their god who doesn’t cause everything while remaining sovereign, and none of these theories has any basis in the Bible. They just had to concoct these fables, these fictions, about God, in order to make all their preconceived notions fit into the Bible’s clear teaching of God’s sovereignty. And they really don’t do a very good job of it. They use a lot of seminary-type words and phrases to try to impress people and get people to think they have this special knowledge of God, so we’re supposed to just defer to them, because, after all, they’re smarter and more well-read and have gone to highly-esteemed seminaries. But if you look at what they’re really saying amidst all the rhetoric, you’ll see that their house is built on sand. They have no biblical basis for their fabrications.”

More Feinberg:

“On the other hand, there are nonconstraining causes. These are sufficient to bring about an action, but they do not force a person to act against his will, desires or wishes. According to determinists such as myself, an action is free even if causally determined so long as the causes are nonconstraining.”

Romans 9 says that God raised up Pharaoh in order to display His power and wrath in him. It also teaches that God actively and unconditionally hardened him for destruction. This indeed was more than sufficient to bring about Pharaoh’s rebellious action, and it was not a forcing or compelling of Pharaoh to act against his desires or wishes. Since God’s causative power is a display of omnipotence, then it obviously is “nonconstraining.” But compatibilists like Feinberg wish to assert that God “causally determines” in some kind of “permissive” or “passive” way. Obviously, that goes contrary to the story of Pharaoh in Romans 9, which is said to be a display of power and wrath. Another quote from Cheung:

The compatibilist may answer, “The point is that the cause for an action is within me, so that I am not forced, and therefore I am free and responsible.” But this use of “forced” and “free” is misleading, since if God is the cause of the cause of this action (as I affirm, and as many Calvinists admit), if he completely determines every detail of our very thoughts, desires, motives, and willingness…or to use the expressions in our quotation, if God is the external cause of the internal cause of our actions, so that the internal cause itself is not free even in the compatibilist sense, then the action is more than forced. It is so determined, caused, and controlled that it cannot even be described as forced, since to be “forced” at least leaves room for an internal conscious reluctance to perform the action that one is externally caused against his will to perform. But God has such a comprehensive control over all of our thoughts and actions that “forced” would be too weak to describe it.

Thus, of course our actions are not “forced,” because the word suggests that the one doing the forcing lacks complete control over the one being forced, so that there remains some resistance in the one being forced against the one doing the forcing, only that the one doing the forcing exerts greater power. Since “forced” implies such a scenario or relationship, it is far too weak to describe God’s control over us; therefore, our actions are not “forced” even though we are not free. In fact, God’s control over us is so exhaustive that the compatibilist seems oblivious to it, so he thinks that he is free because he does not feel forced, when the truth is that he is much less free than if he were forced” (“Augustine and Compatiblism” in The Author of Sin).


“…God is absolutely sovereign, and thus possesses absolute self-determination. This means that God’s will covers all things and that the basis for God’s sovereign choices is not what God foresees will happen nor anything else external to his will. Rather, God’s good pleasure and good purposes determine what he decrees. Since God’s decree covers all things, it must include both the ends God envisions as well as the means to such ends. God includes whatever means are necessary to accomplish his ends in a way that avoids constraining the agent to do what is decreed. Human actions are thus causally determined but free.”

Since Feinberg’s view of “sovereignty” is the Calvinistic consensus, then we know that by the phrase “causally determined” he does not mean the active efficiency of a woodsman swinging an Assyrian axe (Isaiah 10), but rather he means “causally determined” by means of a (so-called) “passive” or “permissive” decree. One last quote from Feinberg:

“Unfortunately, some Calvinists, because of their [mis]understanding of God’s sovereignty, have denied that humans are free” (God Ordains All Things, PREDESTINATION & FREE WILL, p. 20).

Perhaps Feinberg is referring to professing Calvinists such as Vincent Cheung or the late Gordon Clark. I don’t know. Cheung says rightly that God is sovereign and man is not free.