Saturday, October 29, 2016

More from Lesslie Newbigin on free will

Here are three short quotes from Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in Pluralist Society, chapter 6, “Revelation in History”, pages 69, 71 & 73 (you can view the Google Preview here, or Find in a Library):

And yet everyone is conscious of exercising the power of personal decision expressed in action. All arguments designed to show that free will is an illusion break down into absurdity. The question how our consciousness of having the power to make personal choices is related to the operation of the cause-effect links which are studied by neurologists, physiologists, sociologists, and economists, of how the mind is related to the brain, is a matter of continuing debate. But no outcome of the debate can be accepted which simply denies our daily experience. Like every human being I know the difference between taking action as a personal decision, and being the victim of a force to which I did not consent.


Everything that I do is an expression of my mind except insofar as I am compelled by outside forces to act against my will. If, by definition, God is not under compulsion by outside forces, it would seem that everything that happens is an expression of God’s mind. Plainly the Christian tradition affirms that some things which have happened express God’s mind, but not all. God reveals himself in history, we would say, but not all history reveals God. How can these two things be affirmed? In part the answer lies in the subject of our next chapter, the logic of election. In part it lies in our belief about the relation of the world to God. In contrast to the monistic, pantheistic, and panentheistic thinking which is always present as an attractive option, we believe that in his creation of the world God gave it a measure of independence and to that extent limited his own freedom. Things therefore happen in history which are not in accordance with the will of God but represent a contradiction of his will.


The created world has been given a degree of autonomy, of independence from God’s will which is clearly other than the rapport which exists between the human mind and the body when the whole person is in proper health. Not only are there regularities of cause and effect within the natural world which appear to work autonomously, butmuch more significant for our argumenthuman wills have an autonomy which enables them to act in rebellion against the purpose of their creator.

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