Thanks to Tony Jones for pointing out this link to Greg Boyd's blog where he defends free will. Again, this is an issue being talked about a lot right now as human freedom is doing a lot of heavy lifting in the theology of Rob Bell's book Love Wins, as it does in a lot of Boyd's own work. For example, free will does a lot of work in Boyd's thinking about theodicy as he posits that a lot of the evil in the world is due to the free will of Satan and his minions.
Generally speaking, you see free will do theological work in the following areas:
Theodicy:So free will does a lot of theological work for people. And if I'm not mistaken (but I could be), Greg Boyd leans heavily on free will in each of the areas noted above. It plays a huge part in how he thinks about God, evil, and salvation.
A lot of evil in the world is due to the free will of humans and Satanic forces.
God's Foreknowledge and Openness:
A lot of openness theology, where the future is unknown to God (and thus "open"), uses free will to argue for its position.
In both conventional and unconventional views of salvation and damnation, human free will is implicated in if God can "blame" you (and, thus, send you to hell) for your refusal to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
As I've repeatedly said, I'm pretty skeptical (as, it seems, is Tony Jones) about the whole notion of free will. But unfortunately, the whole free will versus determinism debate gets quickly bogged down. So I like to frame the debate around two less extreme models of human volition: Weak versus strong volitionalism. Greg Boyd, by believing in free will, is, at the very least, a strong volitionist. He feels that human volitional capacities are so robust and strong that they can override all genetic, sociological, behavioral, and biological factors. That is, you can choose yourself clear of the causal flux. Your innate personality traits, the fact that you've had a bad night's rest, the fact that you were raised a Muslim in Iran, all your childhood experiences...all of it. You can just "choose" and break free from it all. That is a strong view of human volitional capacities.
By contrast, weak volitionists, like myself, see human volitional capacities as, well, more modest. We make choices but these choices struggle mightily to escape the orbit of genes, learning history, cultural context, and even your blood sugar level. It's just very unlikely (empirically and philosophically) to think that you could choose your way out of all this. Is that determinism? No, because a weak volitionist is willing to grant that some extraordinary people seem to have accomplished this feat. She is the Muslim in Iran who converts to Christianity. Or he is the Christian who converts to Islam and goes to fight with the Taliban. It seems that a few people can make radical breaks from their life matrix. And these are heroic tales. Think of Oprah. Her early life was awful, and yet, through force of will it seems, she escaped the early orbit of her life.
And many of us are successful in this attempt in greater or lesser ways. And yet, as just noted, achieving full escape velocity is very, very rare. Being raised in a loving American Christian family biases the mind. Chronic poverty has ruinous effects. Traumatic life circumstances, like suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a clergy member, can be hard to overcome. And so on. This is not to say that our lives our pre-determined, just that positing a radical notion of free will seems very naive and overly simplistic.
So here's what I don't get about Greg Boyd (and Rob Bell). And to be clear, Greg Boyd is a thinker whose work I truly admire and have used in bible study classes. I come from an Arminian tradition so I see myself in Greg's camp rather than with the Reformed (whom I find very strange, theologically speaking). But as a psychologist my understanding of human volition--about what it is really capable of (e.g., work in a psychiatric hospital has taught me that minds can become ruined and change is very, very hard)--prompts me to push back a bit on all the free will-based theological work out there.
If I could ask him, here's the question I'd ask Greg Boyd: Why would you build your entire theological system upon a non-biblical, philosophically contested, scientifically disputed, and perennially controversial anthropocentric abstraction?
For it seems to me that for Boyd's theology to come out right free will has to come out right. (Which is why he'll never agree with me on this as he'd have to start over, theologically speaking. Back to square one. And who would want to do that?)
But the need to get free will right seems odd to me. Personally, I'd like to see a theology that comes out right because we get God right. Why base your theodicy, theology of Providence, and soteriology on a dubious and hotly contested theory about human anthropology? It makes your theology so fragile and open to critique. Worse, your evangelistic efforts have to focus on humans. That is, for Boyd to convince me about, say, this theodicy I have to first be convinced about the existence and coherence of free will. Humans come first. When we agree on the humans, once I accept the axiom of free will, we can proceed onto God and other related issues (evil, salvation). Boyd has to convince me about this philosophical abstraction before even getting to his theology. And given that people have always and will always question the notion of free will, well, how much long term success can one expect from this approach? Why reduce Christian theology to an apologetics for free will? Do Christian have to go out there and convince their neighbors about free will? Is that the Great Commission?
I mean, if free will exists, great. But why put so much weight, the entire credibility of the Christian faith, upon such a shaky and contested foundation? Why go out on that anthropological tightrope and put everything at risk?