It has been an issue for centuries theologians acting as philosophers and using philosophy as the starting point for theology. Some do it on the broader scope, constructing theological frameworks out of philosophical tenets. This is true not only of the modern errors we know as Radical Orthodoxy and Open Theism, but of some older systems, such as the work of Charles Finney. There are times, unfortunately, when otherwise competent, and even great, theologians depart from their exegetical and historical approach and begin inserting certain philosophical assumptions into their construct.
The logical controls for developing theology are not the same as those determining the content of the theology. The work of David Clark, To Know and Love God, is a fine work that provides some excellent material for making certain that theological constructions are done well. But those are external controls which help us arrange our understanding better. It is not the same as when the controls become the framework.
And though I have developed a great appreciation for VanTil, the matter of determinism is where I would take issue with him. Rather than following his normal route of appealing to Calvin, coupled with some good exegesis, he sets up a framework that would seem to make determinism unavoidable.
The indeterminist may seek further comfort from the fact that, according to Buswell, God’s foreknowledge is made independent of his predetermination of all things in the universe. He speaks of the foreknowledge of God as including the “undetermined, free acts of moral creatures.”
The indeterminist, however, will not be satisfied. Nothing can satisfy him that does not ascribe to man the sort of freedom that consistent orthodox Christian theology ascribes to God. Even to ascribe so much freedom to man as Romanism or Arminianism ascribes to God is not sufficient in his eyes. For the God of Romanism and of Arminianism is partly (perhaps 1 percent) determined in his choices. And the indeterminist wants to be free without any limitation.
It is true, of course, that there are many inconsistent non-Christian indeterminists and irrationalists. But those who wish to hold to indeterminism consistently must reject every type of control over man. (Introduction to Systematic Theology, 289)
Determinism is easy to accept philosophically, but difficult to accept theologically. This seems confusing in understanding VanTil’s position. True, he is here confronting a particularist’s free will that it exists apart from the will of God. Yet, according to Frame (IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 35, August 28 to September 3, 2000), VanTil did not understand it as determinism if the cause is personal rather than impersonal. Frame’s use of the term “chance” to describe VanTil’s view of impersonal (mechanistic or materialistic) determinism might have been better represented with the term “contingency.” Yet in any sense we are left without much of a free will.
Of course not totally free as we are never able to either thwart, create, or materially contribute to the councils of God. But we have a will which, though fallen, is participatory in the works of God. We serve Him gladly since we have surrendered our will by the Spirit’s work, just as He did.
So I find in the Word a contrast that is challenging to reconcile. We have a God who cares for and guides his creation to its eternal ends. It is a providential eschatology, a matter of unilateral covenant with His chosen elect. Yet it is equally difficult to avoid the command to “choose you this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15) command or the ministry of the apostles to preach and persuade people to obey the command to repent. For the determinist it is a meaningless set of words that took place as part of a pre-established process. But for the traditional Calvinist there is a fallen will that may choose, but only as it is guided by the Spirit of God. Despite his statement to the contrary, even Arminians (proper ones, anyway) will recognize the providential work of God (a providential type of election) as he moves men and women into a right relationship with Himself. Though I believe Arminians are in error with respect to their understanding of election, it appears that VanTil did not really represent their view of free as fairly as he might have.
We live in a society is confused about persuasion and freedom. The Hegelians place a great emphasis on the community (e.g., government) as the solution to the human condition. (This represents their substitute for the church.) This is the axiom of Spock: The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. The attempt to create a Godless solution has, so far, only led to the great bloodshed of the twentieth century. And in this system the individual will is left to the whim of the state. It seems that both theologies (political and theistic) may have an issue with individual liberty and its theological equivalent, free will.
As we work to minister well in this world to make a difference that will affect the whole of society then we consider how well construct our theology so that it is more consistent with the Word.