This question is related to What is the difference between hard determinism and compatibilism, under the assumption of physicalism?, but I'm looking for the Reformed/Calvinism understanding of this topic.

From what I understand, both Compatibilism and Hard Determinism deny freewill. Although Compatibilism is an attempt to reconcile freewill with determinism, it completely denies the idea that the will is free. Rather, as Arthur Schopenhauer said, "Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills."

According to ReformationTheology.com:

Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism. It simply means that God's predetermination and meticulous providence is "compatible" with voluntary choice. Our choices are not coerced ...i.e. we do not choose against what we want or desire, yet we never make choices contrary to God's sovereign decree. What God determines will always come to pass (Eph 1:11)...

According to Reformed Theology, how is Compatibilism different than Hard Determinism?

  • I'm not sure Reformed Theology addresses this. Compatiblism and hard determinism are defined terms and any difference between them is a matter of definition, not theology. Perhaps this is better asked at philosophy.stackexchange.com . Maybe asking which is closer to Reformed theology might work, but that might be too opinion-based.
    – bradimus
    Aug 18, 2017 at 17:14
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    Compatibilism does not deny freewill; regardless of what Schopenhauer says, the definition simply states it a a body of beliefs that attempts to reconcile both concepts. Aug 18, 2017 at 17:43
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    Man I really don't like reformation theology .com's stance on compatibilism :\ I feel like they're throwing out the nuance and reducing the complexity. @Abstractioniseverything is right when he says there aren't any simple answers - and I feel like that linked site is trying to provide a simple answer /framework. Aug 18, 2017 at 20:01
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    I want to upvote this because Reformed Theology's view of providence+will does seem at least on the surface like determinism, but I can't because of your complete mischaracterisation of Reformed compatibilism.
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 19, 2017 at 1:12
  • @curiousdannii I quoted a Reformed website that I think says the exact same thing I did. I've read through several Reformed websites over the years, and I believe they all agree. They add other things like total depravity and God's foreknowledge, which hinder freewill even more, but I'm very certain the physical world works the exact same way in Determinism and Compatibilism.
    – Cannabijoy
    Aug 19, 2017 at 3:48

2 Answers 2



  • Libertarianism= everything free will.
  • Hard determinism= no free will at all.
  • Compatibilism combines these and says they are compatible with each other.

Your question assumes that Reformed Theology has a view of compatibilism. My reason for agreeing that it does is that A.W. Pink, W. Grudem, D.A. Carson, J. MacArthur and J.I. Packer for example would all agree with D.A. Carson's explanation of compatibilism: I'm sure of this but I only mention their names so that others can check out the details for themselves. If I included quotes from all of these then this answer would be over long, I guess.


  1. God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility [ and freedom] is curtailed, minimized,or maligned.
  2. Human beings are morally responsible creatures- they significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions, and so forth, and they are rightly held accountable for such actions; but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.

A. W. Pink in "The sovereignty of God" puts that more simply [P9], "God is sovereign, man is responsible".Pink continues on page 9 to say:" To emphasize the sovereignty of God, without also maintaining the accountability of the creature, tends to fatalism".

"Fatalism" then, is something Pink is trying to avoid. I am confident that Pink's "Fatalism" just about = your "hard determinism". Let's try and look at- Reasons against Fatalism. It just reduces man to being a puppet. We are free to choose. [ But what if we are puppets and God holds all the strings, doesn't John 3v35 say, all things are in His hand]. Hard determinism is, man is what he is, sinful, fallen, in need of redemption if he is going to go to heaven, but everything that occurs is dictated by God and man's fate depends upon God's will alone. Can puppets love God? "Yes they can if that is the way their strings are pulled. Or, in Bible terms, if the Holy Spirit chooses to come upon them to make them born from above". This is, I think, the reply of the hard determinist. ["born from above" is literal translation of "anothen" John3 v7 and emphasises initiative taken in heaven rather than "born again" which might be result of human initiative]. Why translate it as born again unless one is trying to keep compatibilism alive? That last sentence is my own comment but the fact that I made it at all shows how important this question is.

In reformed theology compatibilism reigns and hard determinism is not usually thought about. But that does not mean that hard determinism has nothing to say. "The lives we give back, apodo 1 Pet 4v5, an account of, are first given to us. We first give to God nothing, for from Him are all things Rom 11v35/36", is as I understand it, the cry of the hard determinist.

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    Will you break this into paragraphs so it can be more easily read and digested? Anything to get away from a paragraph blob. Oct 27, 2018 at 2:03
  • Alex Strasser. I tried to put in paragraphs but to no avail.
    – C. Stroud
    Nov 3, 2018 at 18:07
  • I don't think "everything free will" is quite accurate, as I don't think most libertarians would maintain that all human choices are nondeterministic. Rather, we claim that some are. And compatibilism therefore is not the belief that some choices are nondeterministic, but rather that a choice which is deterministic may still be a free one. Or at least, that's my understanding - please help me out if I'm missing something. Thanks! Oct 7, 2020 at 15:06

I mentioned it in the comments, but I might as well post an answer. As @bradimus brought up though, this might be better for the philosophy QA site.

Compatibilism does not deny free will. Although, as the wikipedia page says:

Compatibilists are sometimes called "soft determinists" pejoratively

Reformed theology doesn't have anything to do with this - reformed theology denies free will and do not adhere to Compatibilism. And by free will I simply mean total autonomy and agency - ie, when this article says:

has it in his power to either do good or evil toward God

As an side - I am not necessarily reformed (but I think lots of their ideas have biblical and logical merit), and I would identify as a Compatibilist. I think God basically does what He wants, as He is Lord - which I can prove by citing.. well.. the entire Bible I guess.

I don't think this conflicts with His gift of agency to us though. Sometimes God 'hardens hearts' - and we have to deal with that. But at the same time, so often we pray for guidance on things, and He doesn't seem to give us answers, perhaps because either way is fine with God.

Or perhaps He is more interested in what we decide on our own. There are precedents for both in Scripture. (Pharaoh in Moses' time, Saul choosing to disobey God, David's adultery and subsequent repentance, Paul/Barnabas split and their ministry decisions, Peter's Vision and subsequent teaching/lifestyle changes... etc. etc.)

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    A couple of things: 1. Reformed theology is only a subset of the wider theology of "the reformers" (eg Luther is included in the latter, but not the former) 2. The linked article actually contradicts what you assert: It describes Calvinism as believing "...Humanity possesses "free will",but it is in bondage to sin, until it is "transformed"." Aug 18, 2017 at 18:43
  • 1 - fair enough I suppose. I think Luther helped move people into what we now call Reformed Theology though, but sure. Aug 18, 2017 at 19:48
  • 2 - Calvinists do not think people, in this age, have free will as it is generally defined by having total autonomy and agency. For example, this article also creates some ambiguity by saying "depends on the meaning [of free will]" - that seems like nonesense to me :\. Free will has a pretty unambiguous meaning: see agency and free will. Aug 18, 2017 at 19:54
  • mmm I think your first post warrants me editing the answer to not bring in the phrase reformers. And I'll go ahead and provide a definition of free will too while I'm at it. Feel free to downvote if you still feel like it's contradictory/bad - fine be me c: Aug 18, 2017 at 19:55
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    If you think that is nonsense, maybe you aren't the best person to answer this question. Although I am not a Calvinist myself, I can quite confidently assert that there are many Calvinists (perhaps even a vast majority of them) who happily identify as compatibilists. It looks to me like you are defining free will from a libertarian perspective rather than a compatibilist one. Aug 18, 2017 at 21:39

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