Blogging the Institutes | 2.1.7 | Free Will is Prone to Misunderstanding

We can define free will this way: free will is not the ability to freely choose good or evil, but rather the fact that people can voluntarily and not under compulsion. Such a definition seems almost self-evident. Why should such a small matter be given such a profound title? This is an admirable freedom that people are not forced to be servants of sin but voluntary slaves! Their will is bound by the chains of sin. I hate debates which merely quibble over definition which causes division in the Church for no purpose. But I also think that we ought to diligently eschew terms and definition which imply accepting absurdities, especially when getting things wrong can have terrible consequences.

When most people hear the term “free will,” they immediately imagine that people are the masters of their own minds and wills so that they can choose to do good or evil by their own power. Now, some Christians argue that such misunderstandings of the term “free will” can be alleviated through careful explanations and teaching. But the human mind goes astray so easily that it will quickly twist one little term than learn anything from a long lecture. Because of this reality, the very term “free will” provides an easy cover for misunderstanding. The explanation given by ancient Christian writers has been largely lost and many who came after them have indulged in misunderstandings.

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

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