Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology

There’s considerable confusion today, even among Reformed Christians, about the implications of Reformed theology for human free will and moral responsibility. A large part of the problem is that often those who are well read in historical Reformed theology are not so well read in contemporary philosophy, and vice versa. Paul Manata is an exception and he has done us all a service by writing an excellent primer on the relationship between confessional Reformed theology and contemporary theories of human freedom and responsibility. Check it out and pass it on.

5 thoughts on “Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Reformed Theology”

  1. Thanks for the link. However, I was very disappointed to find that Manata doesn’t spend any time explaining how he reconciles his evidently contradictory positions that, on one hand, God voluntarily and knowingly ordains that evil events come to pass, and that innumerably many conscious creatures shall suffer unimaginably, yet on the other hand God is not morally culpable for any of these horrible consequences. Instead he devotes his paper to defending the moral culpability of human beings. That’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor, but I was really hoping for the other.

    Oh well.

  2. Hi Ben,

    That wasn’t the focus of the paper, I state twice that that is different paper and argument. That’s a paper on theodicy. I do plan to write on that subject. In any case, if compatibilism obtains, that goes some way—though not all the way—to getting God “off the hook.”

    I don’t spend any time defending the culpability of human beings, I take that as datum. I do spend some time exploring various models of *how* one can be culpable given determinism, pulling from two models atheists hold to (e.g., Daniel Dennett is a classical compatibilist and John Fischer is a semi-compatibilist).

    The paper is meant to *introduce* the contemporary discussion primarily to *Reformed* Christians, explaining what their confessional commitments commit them to. I also briefly cover libertarians views on free will and some problems this view faces.

    I am sorry you’re disappointed, but I sense you were thinking the paper different than what I explained at my blog or even the blurb James gave here.

  3. Paul M.,

    Sure. I didn’t mean to suggest that it is a deficiency of your paper that it doesn’t address the topic I had hoped it would! It’s just that when I think of the two ideas “moral responsibility” and “Reformed theology” at once, what springs to my mind is the moral responsibility that God must have on the Reformed view. So it was disappointing for me to later realize that this is not, in fact, the subject matter of your paper.

    Oh, and when I say that you defend the moral culpability of human beings, I mean that you’re trying to show (or at least suggest ways of showing) that human beings can be morally culpable *on a certain Reformed view*.

    But anyway, I probably shouldn’t have commented about my disappointment. I don’t want to be overly negative, especially when it has no bearing on the quality or content of your paper. It deserves some substantive feedback which I cannot provide at this time, and so until that changes I should have stayed quiet. My apologies.


  4. Ben, Typically, discussions of “moral responsibility and Reformed theology” have to do with how man can be morally responsible of his actions have been determined. In the paper I admit in the paper that God is morally *responsible* for all the evils that occur. What you want is an argument that he isn’t morally *culpable*. So for future reference, virtually ever paper you see on MR and RT have to do with issues of determinism and compatibilism.

    Anyway, no worries about chiming in about your disappointments! Like I said, at some point I’d like to do a lengthy paper on he problem of evil for Reformed theology.

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