Predestination and Freewill: On the Freedom of the Will, Part II

This post is part of our ongoing series examining Romans, Predestination, and Freewill.

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Erasmus of Rotterdam

In addressing the relationship between divine foreknowledge and human will, Erasmus concludes that while Paul does not adequately address the question,[1] “the will of God, since it is the principle cause of all that takes place, seems to impose necessarily on our will…. God willed Pharaoh to perish miserably, and he willed it rightly, and it was tight for him to perish. Yet he was not forced by the will of God to be obstinately wicked.”[2] Erasmus says concerning Romans 9-11, that “All this shows clearly that Paul’s sole object here is to repress the arrogance at once of the Gentiles and of the Jews.”[3] Erasmus does not interpret the use of the Potter and the Clay to be entirely indicative of the roles of salvation, as he writes that “In these things we are to submit to God as a vessel to the hands of a potter. Yet in truth this is not to take away free choice wholly, not does it exclude our will from cooperating with the divine will in order to attain eternal salvation…. Here the word of Paul is not whether free choice is entirely excluded, but to repress the wicked murmuring of the Jews against God, who on account of their obstinate unbelief were rejected from the grace of the gospel, while the Gentiles were received on the ground of their faith…”[4] Erasmus argues that humanity cooperates with God in the process of salvation, that “What the architect is to his pupil, grace is to our will. Thus Paul in Rom. 8 (26): ‘Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.’ Nobody calls him weak who can do nothing at all, but rather him whose powers are insufficient to perform what is attempted; nor is he said to be a helper who does everything by himself.”[5] Ultimately, Erasmus seeks a balanced understanding of God’s grace and man’s grace endowed free choice that allows for human responsibility in choosing or rejecting salvation under the grace and power of God,[6] as he concludes by writing that, “Pelagius has no doubt attributed too much to free choice, and Scotus quite enough, but Luther first mutilated it by cutting off its right arm; then not content with this he thoroughly cut the throat of free choice and dispatched it. I prefer the view of those who do attribute much to free choice, but most to grace.”[7] Continue reading

Luther’s Two Kingdoms: Introduction

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

“Modern church people and theologians have sharply attacked [Martin] Luther’s attitude [concerning the relationship between the Christian and temporal authority] from two perspectives. On the one hand, Luther is accused of having indirectly contributed to the glorification of the orders of creation and to that extent at least making it difficult for Lutherans to take a critical attitude toward the Third Reich, the National Socialist Government from 1933 to 1945. On the other hand, Luther is also held responsible for the ‘conservative’ attitude of many Lutheran churches toward the political situations and the revolutionary movements for freedom in countries of the Third World.”[1] Thus scholar Bernhard Lohse summarizes the critique of Martin Luther’s theology concerning the relationship of the Christian to temporal authority, the paradigmatic critique of which concerns that role of Luther’s theology in forming the passivity of the German Lutheran church during the horrors of Nazism under Adolf Hitler.[2] In considering Luther’s theology and these concerns, we must remember that Luther wrote for a time and context that was very different than that of the modern American Christian. Yet the questions concerning the proper relationship of the Christian to temporal authority, as well as numerous considerations that Luther raises in his writings are worthy of consideration today, if for no other reason than to provide an additional perspective by which scholars may frame contemporary issues confronting the Christian tradition. While Luther’s theology could be constructed to support a ‘hands-off’ approach for Christians in their relationship with temporal authority, we will see that such a perspective does not constitute an entirely accurate interpretation of Luther’s ‘doctrine of the two kingdoms.’ Continue reading