Christian apologists use it to help explain the problem of evil in a world created by a loving, all-powerful God.
Christian evangelists use it to hone their craft, explain their work, and encourage others to join them.
Christians pugilists use it to oppose other Christians who believe in the priority of God’s grace in matters of salvation (sometimes called Calvinists).
But in all of the discussions involving free will, especially relating to Christian conversion, there seem to be two questions no one is asking.
Please allow me.
1. What do you mean by “Free Will?”
In any profitable debate or discussion, participants should define their terms. Otherwise, great energy is wasted arguing about something that might be a simple misunderstanding. Sometimes two people might actually agree and not know it. On the other hand, without defining terms, two people might think they agree but be worlds apart.
I have rarely heard someone talk about free will and pause to explain what the term means. (By “rarely,” I mean twice, and I didn’t actually hear one of them, because he has been dead for a very long time.)
Contrast this with Jonathan Edwards, who, in 1754, wrote An Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of the Will which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame. This is often shortened to The Freedom of the Will, and in this work Edwards wrote pages upon pages defining what was meant by “will.” He then wrote pages more explaining what was meant by “free.”
(Just as rare as those defining “free will” are those I’ve met that have both read and disagreed with Edwards’s treatise.)
So, when you say “free will,” what do you mean? Do you mean the ability to make real, significant, morally responsible choices? If so, then I really don’t know anyone – Calvinists included – who would disagree with you, which means it may not be as valuable a point as you hope.
Or do you mean something different? And if so, where do you get your definition?
2. Would you ever pray for God to violate someone’s free will?
I realize I haven’t defined the term myself, so I’ll let you answer the question with whatever definition you’ve adopted. It doesn’t affect the point of my question, which is to determine if the value of a human soul is greater than that of his free will.
Which would you prefer: the salvation of a sinner or the preservation of his free will?
That’s an unfair question, so let me ask it differently.
Would you pray for God to save someone whose will was opposed to being saved?
I would. And I do. Often.
In fact, when it comes to Christians, I really don’t know anyone – Calvinists included – who doesn’t.
(OK. Hyper-Calvinists don’t, but I don’t actually know any of them. They are the theological descendants of the man who told William Carey, “If God wants to save the heathen, he’ll do it without your help or mine.” It was in opposition to this thinking that Carey and Andrew Fuller – both Calvinists – initiated the modern era of Christian missions.)
I only raise the question because I’ve seen some people wave the flag of (undefined) “Free Will” in matters of salvation, and I wonder how far their commitment to this presupposition goes. Supposedly, the offer of God’s grace is only legitimate if a person freely chooses to receive it.
But if a loved one freely chose to run away from God, wouldn’t we be on our faces asking God to change their heart, to change their will, to cause them to choose what they presently reject?
Is that consistent with free will?
I don’t know, because I don’t know how you define it.
But I know that I would be praying.
And I’m pretty sure you would be too.