God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will

I found these illustrations helpful. They explain two different ways of understanding God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. The illustrations and quotes come from the book Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology, by Mildred Bangs Wynkoop. Illustration “A” represents the Calvinist / Reformed view. With this view, any genuine freedom that man has takes away from God’s sovereignty. Therefore, free will must be rejected in order to protect God. Illustration “B” represents the Wesleyan / Arminian view. With this view, man has genuine (though limited) freedom. Man’s freedom is not a threat to the sovereignty of God.

“When a problem is encountered relative to God’s sovereignty and man’s will, it probably lies in thinking of man’s will as standing over against God’s will, challenging and defying God so as to constitute a threat to God’s will and purpose in His creation. No evangelical Christian would tolerate such an idea. And yet both the full measure of God’s sovereignty and a genuine moral responsibility in man must be accounted for and included in one system without absurd reasoning to explain it.”

“The unsatisfactory concept of man’s freedom in relation to God’s sovereignty could be likened to a set of balancing scales with the weights set against each other. In this view, God’s will is thwarted by man’s will or mans will is thwarted by God’s will. In either case, one of the two is victor, the other vanquished.”

“It seems to be more in keeping with biblical teaching to illustrate the proper relationship by a large circle typifying God’s sovereign will. The small square contained within the circle is the real though limited freedom which God has given to the man He created. In God’s sovereign love He has created morally responsible beings. But man’s freedom is strictly limited by God. God makes the rules. Man is
genuinely free within the limits set by God. God controls nature, the universe, the major lines of history. The natural order is absolute (God is Creator). But there is a vastly different kind of order in back of the natural order, namely the moral order-and the rules are moral rules. God has given man the power of discrimination and the ability to make decisions between alternatives. God’s will and mercy sustain moral freedom in man. In fact, God has made man in such a way the he is under constant necessity of making decisions. He is not free not to make constant moral decisions.”


Filed under free will, Sovereignty

5 responses to “God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will

  1. I’ve heard good things about this theology text. What do you think of it?Kyle

  2. Hey Kyle, I enjoyed it. It’s written at a layman’s level, so it’s a great read for the average Joe who wants to understand the issues at hand. It’s from a solidly Wesleyan perspective (which I appreciate), but “classical Arminians” might disagree with the author’s views on conditional security and holiness.

  3. I plan to pick up Wynkoop’s book. The illustrations are helpful I think.Quick Question: Although I know the “gist” of the post wasn’t just about God’s control, when mentioning the limited freedom, you said, “God controls nature, the universe, the major lines of history.” Could you explain what you think Wynkoop means or your view, especially in regards to this statement?Thanks Bro!Mike

  4. Hi Mike,Elsewhere she makes a distinction between election to a purpose (which she affirms) and individual election to salvation/reprobation (which she rejects). So regarding the “major lines of history” I think she would say that God has complete foreknowledge of the future, and He reserves the right arrange events in a certain way to accomplish his purposes. This could be individual or corporate.That sounds very Calvinistic, doesn’t it? :) At the same this view does not necessitate that God deterministically reprobates anyone, because the individuals still have free will and genuine decisions to make no matter what environment they find themselves in.As for my view, I think I would agree with the “election to purpose” concept.This also brings up the topic of Molinism / middle knowledge. I’m not firmly convinced that Molimisn is taught in scripture, but I’m also not hostile to the possibility that God could use such a thing if it exists.

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