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I just finished reading Mere Christianity and was blown away by some of the statements Lewis makes. He mentions "even [God] cannot produce [a changed heart] by a mere act of power...It is something they can freely give Him or freely refuse Him ." (Mere Christianity Book 3 chapter 10)

This brought up an interesting point in my mind: if you believe in the idea of Free Will with regards to Salvation or a changed heart, you indirectly believe that there is something God cannot do. This directly contradicts the scriptures including Matthew 19:26 and Luke 1:37 ( as well as many others, see http://www.openbible.info/topics/omnipotence) that talk about Gods omnipotence.

I grew up in a Calvary Chapel church where Free will was pushed ad nauseum and I was wondering how these Christians as well as other Arminians reconcile free will with something God cannot do.

  • You might be interested in this interesting lecture by Jerry Walls. – Dan Feb 4 '14 at 23:54
  • Mod Notice: I have removed long series of comments that were theological debates. That is not what comments are for. Please reserve them for asking for clarification in order to see posts improved. Comments on SE are ephemeral and not intended for hashing out issues. – Caleb Feb 6 '14 at 20:57
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    Also based on the comments I deleted, it appears that this was asked as a bit of a "stump the chumps" question. Rather than wanting to learn about a position, your reaction in comments makes me think you were here to try to see it disproved. That isn't how we want to see this site used. Please be careful about that and only ask things you really want to learn about. Whether you agree or not is nobodies business here. As you saw here you don't even have to hold a position to explain it, but were not here to frame attacks on different positions. – Caleb Feb 6 '14 at 21:01
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Because some things cannot be accomplished by the application of power.

Suppose I asked you to draw a 4-sided triangle. You would presumably reply that this is impossible, because a triangle by definition has only 3 sides. Suppose I then say, Well, what if you had 10 really strong men to help? Then could you do it? Of course the logical reply is that it doesn't matter how much strength or power is available. It is not a question of power, but of logical impossibility.

When we make statements like, "God can do anything", we don't mean that literally. At least, not if we are thinking logically. I remember when I was a kid another kid once asked our Sunday School teacher, "If God can do anything, then can God sin?" The teacher replied, "God does not want to sin." So the kid asked, "But could he sin if he wanted to?"

God cannot make 4-sided triangles. God cannot sin and remain holy. One could come up with many things that God cannot do because they are logical impossibilities, and no amount of power makes them possible because power is irrelevant.

Lest you say, "But the Bible says God can do anything" ... May I point out that the Bible itself says that words like "all" are not always intended absolutely literally. 1 Corinthians 15:27 (NIV), "Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him [Christ], it is clear that this does not include God himself". I presume when Paul wrote, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me", by "all" he did not mean that he could fly or see through walls ... or wave his hands in the air and magically cause everyone in the world to come to Christ.

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    Pertinent CS Lewis Quote: "His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power. If you choose to say, 'God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,' you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prifex to them the two other words, 'God can.'" – Eric Feb 4 '14 at 5:49
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    And BTW, note that you asked for a logical argument from an Arminian point of view, and that is what I tried to give. I do not say that I fully agree with this view. Personally I think that the Bible clearly teaches predestination, and also clearly teaches free will, and my inability to fully reconcile these things is my problem and not God's. But a discussion of that would be a different question. :-) – Jay Feb 4 '14 at 13:38
  • I would like to just add that free will was something given to humanity, not all men. Adam and Eve sinned, and sold off their freedom to sin. Also, as Jesus said in John 8:34 'Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.' The mark of a slave is precisely the absence of freedom, and in this context, the freedom of the will. So, God gave us free will, and we traded it for slavery to sin. So we no longer have free will. – Raphael Rosch Apr 17 '14 at 15:42
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    @RaphaelRosch A slave experiences a limitation to their freedom not a total negation - they can choose to resist or accept their condition, work heartily or drag their feet, plot insurrection or pray for God's blessing on their master, to cry out for a deliverer or spurn Him as one proffering false hope when He comes. The will is impaired, but not destroyed. – bruised reed May 2 '14 at 18:21
  • Exactly. We have a will, but it is not free. – Raphael Rosch May 4 '14 at 3:16
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Arminians and other varieties of non-Calvinists reconcile the all-powerful nature of God with His allowance of free will to men, within the limits of physics he has given them, as God constrains Himself to His own purpose and character. In so keeping, it is God's character and not His power that is the 'limiting factor' in why, though it is His desire that all men be drawn to Christ (Jn 12:32) and that all men might be reconciled to Him through Christ and believe (Jn 1:7), He made the only way to Salvation the free choice of placing one's faith in Christ and not some other method of universal salvation (John 14:6.)

This, in many ways, is like unto a sovereign king who does not remove the will of his subjects or force their every action into compliance. Rather, he sets up boundaries/limits in which people can act. If they disobey, they are punished. The king does not even force the actions of his military or servants. Rather, the soldiers and servants have even stricter discipline and rules binding them than the civilians. If they disobey, they are court-martialled or punished. If they obey and do good service, they are promoted or rewarded. The king also delegates authority; his authority even over his highest ministers to guide, punish, and reward is a mark of his sovereign power.

As such, there is no contradiction between an all-sovereign King who is technically powerful enough to force his way in all regards, and a people that are capable of free volition.

As summarized in an extensive article by Jack Cortell explaining how the Arminian view of man's free will does not limit the power and sovereignty of God, "We have affirmed that the will of man is free, and that this very freedom is a part of God's all-inclusive, sovereign decree" http://www.dabar.org/SemReview/sovfrwill.html

Scripture shows in detail how God's supreme sovereignty and power plays out, and how in many cases He simply sets limits or boundaries according to His will rather than continually micro-managing the cosmos or people.

  • He puts boundaries and limits on nature. (Jer 5:22, Job 38:4-41, Job 9:4-9, Psalm 104:1-13, Lev 26:3-5, II Chron 7:11-16, Jer 8:7, Jer 10:13)

  • He puts boundaries and limits on the life and history of man and the nations (Job 14:5, Acts 17:26, Num 34:1-12, II Chron 13:4-18, I Kings 9:5, Psalm 2:1-12, Jer 45:4, Luke 12:25, II Kings 7:1-20, Gen 22:8-14, Isaiah 45:9-13, Dan 4:34, Dan 2:21)

  • He makes provision for nature and man (I Chron 29:12-15, James 1:17, Psalm 84:3, Psalm 104:14-23, Psalm 104:27-30, Psalm 12:5, Matt 6:26)

  • He tasks us as His servants to perform His will (Acts 1:8, Rom 12:2, II Cor 10:13-15, Matt 14:13, I Thess 5:12-18, I Pet 2:15, Heb 10:36, I Cor 4:1, Rom 2:13)

  • He gives us power to perform His will (Ex 10:1-20, Rev 11:6, Acts 1:8, Heb 11; Phil 2:12-13, Ezra 6:1-12, I Peter 4:10, Mark 16:15-18, Isaiah 45:1-7)

  • He sets the standard of righteousness (Rom 1:17, Psalm 18:30, Eph 2:3, Psalm 119:3, Deut 32:4, PSalm 145:17, Isaiah 5:16, Isaiah 51:6, Dan 9:14, Jer 9:24)

  • He punishes the wicked and is the final judge of the fate of man (I Pet 3:10-12, Rev 20:11-15, Isaiah 13:11, Rom 6:23, Psalm 145:20, Rom 2:6-10, II Thess 2:8)

  • He sets the rules by which deliverance, forgiveness, and pardon are obtained (Num 25:22-29, Jer 26:1-6, II Chron 7:14, John 3:16, Heb 10:11-18, Luke 4:14-21, Heb 9:22, Matt 5:29, Isiah 45:22-25)

  • He makes righteous laws and decrees (Ex 19:12-23, Lev 20:8, Psalm 93:5, Num 23:19, Deut 6:1, Rom 1:32, Rom 5:18, Rom 10:4)

  • He appoints others to carry out His decrees [God delegates] (Heb 1:14, Matt 25:14-30, Hab 1:6, Zech 11:16, Amons 6:4, Acts 3:26, Gal 4:6, John 3:31-36, II Chron 18:21, I Kings 14:14, I John 4:10)

  • He punishes the servants that do not follow his decrees (Matt 25:24-30, II Pet 2:4-22, Mal 3:17-18, Matt 18:21-35, )

  • He binds even time and space to subject to His eternal plan (Heb 4:7, Rom 16:25-27, Rom 8:22-25, Rev 21:21, II Pet 3:3-10, I Cor 2:7, I Pet 1:20, Isaiah 46:9-10, Acts 2:23)

  • His kingdom is eternal and cannot be destroyed by man or Satan (Dan 7:13-27, Eph 1:15-23, I Chron 29:10-13, Rev 1:18, II Pet 1:10-11, Psalm 145:13, Dan 6:26, Dan 2:44, Matt 6:19-20)

Arminian scholar Roger Olson summarizes how God's own character and sovereign plan limit God's own actions or control in this way,

“CLASSICAL Arminianism goes far beyond belief in general providence to include affirmation of God’s intimate and direct involvement in every event of nature and history. The only thing the Arminian view of God’s sovereignty necessarily excludes is God’s authorship of sin and evil. Faithful followers of Arminius have always believed that God governs the entire universe and all of history. Nothing at all can happen without God’s permission, and many things are specifically and directly controlled and caused by God. Even sin and evil do not escape God’s providential governance in classical Arminian theology. God permits and limits them without willing or causing them.”

A fine example of authority and willful obedience working together is from Matt 8:5-18.

A centurion approaches Jesus and asks Him to come heal his servant. Jesus asks "shall I (personally) come heal him"? The centurion says no, but asks for "Jesus' word" instead. The centurion is a man under authority (the king, higher officers) but is also over other soldiers. He tells them "Go", and they go. They do not go because they are forced by the centurion, but because they having willingly submitted themselves to the authority of the centurion. As such, the centurion has faith that if Jesus merely commands it, then it will be done (and it is!).

In short: The two aspects (God's ultimate power, and God giving the choice to man whether to place faith in Christ) are not seen by Arminians and many other non-Calvinists as being at odds, as the ability for man to act in obedience under God's commands, or rebel and disobey and God's authority to punish, is actually a mark of God's supreme sovereign power and not a detraction from it. Believing that man has a free will to act and choose obedience is not viewed as contradicting or minimizing God's power and kingship - quite the opposite, it is viewed as enhancing it.

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE, and thanks for taking the site tour. Thanks also for writing a clear and relevant answer. For more on writing good answers here, please see: What makes a good supported answer? And for more on what this site is all about, please see: How we are different than other sites. – Lee Woofenden Oct 7 '16 at 22:40
  • Welcome! Thanks for contributing. If you'd like to strengthen your answer, I'd recommend adding sources to show that these are typical Arminian arguments (and not just your own). – Nathaniel Oct 8 '16 at 1:43
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God is not bound by time, and before He created the world, knew who would accept Him, and selected those to be partakers of eternal life. Destined by Him, because of our free will which repented and believed in Him.

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    Welcome to c.se! When you get the chance, please check out our tour and specifically How we are different than other sites. This answer basically states the definition of post praevisa merita predestination, which is specifically not what the questioner was asking about (Arminianism.) It is thus a good answer to a different question. – Affable Geek Jun 5 '14 at 23:37

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