Reformed Theology Elevates Human Freedom And God’s Decree (A Review of Divine Will And Human Choice by Richard Muller)

The neat modern categories of libertarianism, determinism, and compatibilism all mis-describe early modern Reformed thought according to Richard Muller.

The Reformers believed in genuine freedom of choice. Yet like their forebears, freedom for them meant that one can freely do according to nature and according to potency. A human cannot fly (nature). And sometimes one person coerces another person to act (since this person has no potency to resist). 

 

Some criticize Reformed Theology because of its supposed suppression of human freedom. And on occasion, some Reformed thinkers do give that impression. Yet the evidence of reformation era writings tells a different story.

The Reformers believed in genuine freedom of choice. Yet like their forebears, freedom for them meant that one can freely do according to nature and according to potency. A human cannot fly (nature). And sometimes one person coerces another person to act (since this person has no potency to resist).

While the Reformed tradition has diverse expressions on this matter, the neat modern categories of libertarianism, determinism, and compatibilism all mis-describe early modern Reformed thought according to Richard Muller. For many early modern theologians, God’s divine will and human choice worked concurrently together.  And it is this thesis that Muller persuasively argues in Divine Will and Human Choice.

In his own words, he describes an important pattern within Reformed thought (despite all its variations) in this way:

“I hope to shed light on the concept of synchronic contingency as well as question somewhat its revolutionary character, to illuminate the relationship of the early modern Reformed to the older tradition, and to describe the nature of Reformed thought on freedom as something other than what moderns reference under the terms ‘compatibilism’ and ‘libertarianism.’ I also hope to demonstrate the resolution of the debate over the Reformed position and over synchronic contingency can only occur when the logical argumentation concerning freedom, contingency, and necessity is placed in its proper theological and philosophical context, namely, Reformed understandings of the divine decree and providential concurrence, a fundamental point not registered in the debate between Vos and Helm” (13).

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