Must we be free to truly love?
Evil is a problem for all Christians. When responding to objections that both evil and God can exist, many resort to a “free will defense,” where God is not the creator of evil but of human freedom, by which evil is possible. This response is so pervasive that it is just as often assumed as it is defended. But is this answer biblically and philosophically defensible?
In God Reforms Hearts, Thaddeus J. Williams offers a friendly challenge to the central claim of the free will defense—that love is possible only with true (or libertarian) free will. Williams argues that much thinking on free will fails to carve out the necessary distinction between an autonomous will and an unforced will. Scripture presents a God who desires relationship and places moral requirements on his often-rebellious creatures, but does absolute free will follow? Moreover, God’s reforming work on the human heart goes further than libertarian free will would allow.
With clarity, precision, and charity, Williams judges the merits and shortcomings of the relational free will defense while offering a philosophically and biblically robust alternative that draws from theologians of the past to point a way forward.
Simultaneously rigorous and sympathetic in its engagement with contemporary defenders of libertarian free will, Williams contributes fresh insights of his own to a debate in which ‘nothing new under the sun’ is often the rule. Especially among those of us who think we've already made up their minds on this question, God Reforms Hearts not only deserves but demands a serious reading and evaluation.
—Michael Horton, Westminster Seminary California
The analytical rigor of his exposition, the way in which the argumentation has been structured to progressively sharpen and deepen the focus of the critique, the compelling clarity of his thought and the almost blistering style of his writing, his ingenious ability to invigorate the discussion with metaphor, thought experiments, and examples from ordinary life, and his evident mastery of the relevant literature are only some of the outstanding features of what can rightfully be described as a tour de force.
—Willie van der Merwe, Stellenbosch University
The manuscript provides a well-written, critical analysis of the Relational Free Will Defense and is a significant and original contribution to current scholarship in philosophical theology. Even those scholars who (like myself) do not agree with the author's preferred solutions cannot merely dismiss his arguments, but will be necessitated to provide adequate counterarguments in order to uphold their alternative views. In this way the manuscript is a worthy contribution to the current debate. Even his opponents can learn much from his argument.
—Vincent Brümmer, Utrecht University
Thaddeus Williams has written a sharp, concise, and original study in the fields of biblical studies and theology. His study is on one of the most central issues of Christian theology: how Christians come to love God. It combines the methods of analytical philosophy with thorough biblical exegesis. He has an exceptional mastery of the relevant literature and has proven to be able to integrate discussions of important authors in his own exposition and argumentation.
—Hendrik Vroom, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
“Is this pervasive claim of the Relational Free Will Defense philosophically credible? Does it stray from biblical insights into the nature of love, freedom, and evil? Does the claim that love requires free will clash with a robust relational response to evil in its concrete (rather than abstract) forms?” (Page 5)
“Church history has had its share of detractors who view libertarian free will as hazardous to the Christian faith” (Page 25)
“Biblically, God’s contributory causation, motivated by the vast love within the Trinity, is efficacious.” (Page 192)
“real libertarian choice entails the possibility of saying ‘no’ to love” (Page 21)
“ I suggest three criteria for responses to abstract problems of evil:” (Page 12)