What is Compatibilism?

What is Compatibilism?

This point was debated by Calvinist, James White, and non-Calvinist, Dave Hunt, in the book, Debating Calvinism. Let’s begin with White’s own definition of the term:

In other words, Compatibilism is an attempt to reconcile polar opposites, Determinism & Free Will, in a way where both can “coexist” together, without the one completely eliminating the other. In other words, if God “ordained whatsoever comes to pass” (Determinism) via a predetermined Script, penned before the foundation of the world, whereby all events in history unfold according to this alleged Script, how can there be any sense of Free Will? Wouldn’t it merely be an illusion of Determinism?

Not all Calvinists agree that the two can be reconciled:Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)” (Monergism.com, emphasis mine)

In contrast to Calvinism, Arminianism is able to reconcile God’s predestination & Free Will, simply by invoking what the Bible says at Acts 2:23: “The predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” The idea of God’s foreknowledge grants the logical basis whereby an omniscient Being, dwelling independent of all time and space, may foresee the will of man, and then work His own will:

Calvinist, D. James Kennedy, writes: “For that is what predestination is--a decision that our sovereign, gracious, loving Almighty God made from all eternity when He looked ahead to a world of lost and rebellious sinners. It’s a decision He made to save a vast multitude of them through His Son, Jesus.”  (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.31, emphasis mine)

However, most Calvinists deem “foreknowledge” to be “predetermined counsel,” which Arminians object is merely an attempt to read foreordination into foreknowledge:

Laurence Vance writes: “What the Calvinists have done is to turn an attribute of God, foreknowledge, into an act of God, foreordination.” (The Other Side of Calvinism, p.393, emphasis mine)

Wikipedia: “Compatibilists hold that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive.”

If Compatibilists wish to make this assertion, they have a reasonable duty to explain how two seemingly mutually exclusive concepts are actually not mutually exclusive. Yet, often you will find that they will simply insist that both concepts are biblical, and therefore since the Bible does not contradict itself, neither therefore should these two concepts be contradictory. However, this line of reasoning is circular because it assumes that Calvinistic Determinism is biblical. Then when pressed to explain how the two concepts are not mutually exclusive, you may receive this kind of dialogue:

Ben Henshaw explains concerning the paradox defense: “The problem, of course, is that it is not paradox or mystery, but contradiction. Contradictions reveal error. If Calvinism wants to affirm contradictions then they have no right to attack opposing systems on logical grounds. Calvinism sits pretty because it cannot be falsified. Whenever contradiction is pointed out they just appeal to ‘mystery’ and do so as if they are just trying to be true to the Bible. In other words: ‘So what if Calvinism doesn’t make sense, neither does the Bible.’ Ha! God’s word is truth and it certainly makes sense. If Calvinism leads to contradictions (and it surely does), then it simply cannot represent Biblical theology. The best the compatibilist can do is redefine ‘free will’ in a way that makes it meaningless. It essentially becomes the ‘freedom’ to do what one cannot avoid doing, or the ‘freedom’ to do what God determined for you to do, etc. So free will is not compatible with determinism in any way. A redefinition of free will that essentially takes away the ‘free’ and the ‘will’ is compatible with determinism, but that is little more than saying that determinism is compatible with determinism.” (The Incapatibility of Compatibilism)

So in other words, nothing is being “reconciled.” Determinism & Free Will really are mutually exclusive, as Free Will is simply being redefined in order for the two to “coexist,” as James White states, which really takes us back to Hard-Determinism.

Ben Henshaw adds: “You can't reconcile contradictory concepts. All you can do is change them but then you are not ‘reconciling’, but ‘changing’. For example, a person cannot be a bachelor and a married person at the same time. By definition they cannot co-exist. The concepts are irreconcilable. All you can do is change one of the definitions. If you can convince someone that bachelors are actually married then you can say that there is such a thing as married bachelors. You would not, however, prove that being a bachelor and being married is compatible, you would instead be changing the meaning of ‘bachelor’ to something that it is clearly not, by definition, in order to make contradictory concepts seem compatible. Of course, Calvinists will just say that the normal use of ‘free will’ is not Biblical, and so they are just working with the proper Biblical definition, etc. But there is no way to prove that from Scriptures without begging the question and you are then working against the normal use of the word. So, to be honest, they need to come up with a new word since ‘free will’ just does not properly define the concept they wish to define, or just deny free will altogether.” (The Incapatibility of Compatibilism)

Here is a link to a Blog discussion on this topic.

Calvinist, James White, explains: “The belief that God’s sovereign decree and man’s creaturely will coexist (compatibilism) and that since God judges on the basis of the intentions of the heart, there is in fact a ground for morality and justice.” (Debating Calvinism, p.320, emphasis mine)

Dave Hunt responds: “Yes, God judges ‘the intentions of the heart,’ but Calvinism falsely says that He causes the intentions He judges. ... Compatibilism is double-talk.”  (Debating Calvinism, 327, emphasis mine)

White responds: “He has the temerity to say it is double-talk.’ I might assign some weight to his assertion if I could bring myself to believe that he understood what it is.”  (Debating Calvinism, p.331, emphasis mine)

Hunt explains: “...God turned into good what Joseph’s brothers intended for evil. But if God caused the brothers to do evil, compatibilism is double-talk.” (Debating Calvinism, p.333, emphasis mine)
Determinism cannot coexist with the “power of contrary choice.” The two repel one another.
Question:  If God causes the intentions of the heart (from the womb to the tomb), then what happens to the purported basis for judgment?

Answer:  God would be judging His own sin that He decreed to cause.
Calvinists who subscribe to Compatibilism, attempt to make it work by revising mans Free Will downward in such a way where it can fit within the framework of Determinism, which really just overthrows Free Will completely. On the other hand, Arminians who reject Compatibilism, reconcile Gods will and mans will by overthrowing Determinism completely, insisting that predestination is merely a predetermined plan which operates with, rather than running over, Free Will.
Arminian: Ok, how are they not mutually exclusive?

Calvinist: Sorry, it’s a paradox. Just take it on faith that Calvinistic Determism is “Scripture” and remember never to pit Scripture against Scripture.

Arminian: Well how is that not circular logic?

Calvinist: I don’t ask that you to understand it. I ask that you believe it.

Arminian: What about foreknowledge at Acts 2:23?

Calvinist: You’re understanding of it is wrong.

Arminian: Should I take that on faith too?