In 2017, Paul Manata and I co-authored an article published in the Journal of Reformed Theology that offered a critique of two versions of “libertarian Calvinism” proposed by Oliver Crisp. Taking the Westminster Confession of Faith as representative of the Reformed tradition, we argued (1) that the WCF affirms theological determinism (and thus rules out libertarian free will for creatures), and (2) that even if the WCF doesn’t affirm theological determinism, it makes other assertions that conflict with the idea that we have libertarian free will (LFW). In our introduction we made mention in passing to the work of Richard Muller on the Reformed tradition and views on human freedom.
In his most recent book, Grace and Freedom: William Perkins and the Early Modern Reformed Understanding of Free Choice and Divine Grace, Prof. Muller cites our article a couple of times. On both occasions he makes critical comments to which I would like to respond. (Note: I am speaking only for myself in this post, not for my co-author.)
On pages 3-4, Muller writes regarding the debate over whether the Reformed tradition represents a compatibilist view of human freedom:
One line of argument assumes that an identification of the Reformed as compatibilist is mistaken—as would be an interpretation of Reformed theology as libertarian. This reading of the historical materials posits a significant continuity between the early modern Reformed writers and the argumentation of medieval scholastics, at the same time that it identifies a shift of argumentation toward philosophical determinism in eighteenth-century writers like Jonathan Edwards. A line of counter-argument views the Reformed tradition as unequivocally compatibilist and tends to assimilate the scholastic argumentation of a theologian like Francis Turretin to the compatibilism of Jonathan Edwards. (Muller, pp. 3-4)
Note also James N. Anderson and Paul Manata, “Determined to Come Most Freely: Some Challenges for Libertarian Calvinism,” in Journal of Reformed Theology, 11 (2017), pp. 272-297, which argues against Oliver Crisp’s notion of “libertarian Calvinism” but oddly assumes that the argumentation in Reformed Thought on Freedom and various other studies is libertarian, despite the authors’ clear statements to the contrary. The fundamental mistake in Anderson and Manata’s approach is that they assume that modern theories of libertarianism and compatibilism are the only two options for arguing free will. This also leads them to misread the Westminster Confession (Anderson and Manata, pp. 285-285 [sic]) on the issues of contingency and freedom. On the Westminster Confession, see John V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards: Historical Context and Theological Insights (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), pp. 101-111. (Muller, p. 4, fn. 4)
There are a number of things to say in response.
First, we have never suggested that the Reformed tradition is “unequivocally compatibilist.” There have been some Reformed theologians who have affirmed something like LFW (Girardeau appears to be one, as Oliver Crisp has noted). Our argument, rather, is that the Reformed tradition affirms certain theological claims (e.g., about divine sovereignty, divine providence, and the nature of conversion) that rule out LFW and thus commit that tradition (whether acknowledged or not) to some form of compatibilism. That’s certainly the case for the Westminster Confession, as we argue in our article.