Compatibilism, sometimes called soft determinism, is a theological term that deals with the topics of free will and predestination. It seeks to show that God's exhaustive sovereignty is compatible with human freedom, or in other words, it claims that determinism and free will are compatible. Rather than limit the exercise of God's sovereignty in order to preserve man's freedom, compatibilists say that there must be a different way to define what freedom really means.

Basic beliefs

Compatibilism, in contrast to Libertarian free will, teaches that people are free, but defines freedom differently. Compatibilism claims that every person chooses according to his or her greatest desire. In other words, people will always choose what they want-- and what they want is determined by (and consistent with) their moral nature. Man freely makes choices, but those choices are determined by the condition of his heart and mind (i.e. his moral nature). Libertarian free will maintains that for any choice made, one could always equally have chosen otherwise, or not chosen at all.

God's involvement

God is said to influence our desires, and thus is able to have exhaustive control of all that goes on.

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Moral responsibility

In general, people agree that the one with uncaused action is held responsible for an action. Not the ball that was caused to roll, but the person who was not caused to push is held responsible for the rolling of the ball. However, according to this worldview, the same does not apply to humans. Although a man is considered unable to choose against his desires, which are caused by his sin nature or God's intervention, the moral responsibility of sin lies with him. He chose to do it, therefore he is held responsible. Not what caused him to choose, but he that chooses is held responsible.

This understanding of moral responsibility absolves God of authorship of sin; man, as caused by fall, is naturally "inclined to all evil" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q.7). Whether God decrees the fall of man or not, God is not thought to force this evil inclination upon man; but rather, He "gave [man] over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper" (Rom. 1:28; NASB). God "gave over" men who "suppress the truth in unrighteousness . . . For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God" (Rom. 1:18, 21). The evil nature of man was not created or caused by God, but is a corruption of God's good creation (cf. Gen. 1:31). The Biblical doctrine of reprobation teaches that the sinful man is condemned apart from God's saving grace. Scripture uses the phrase "gave over" to describe God's allowance of reprobation (rf. Rom. 1:24, 26; NASB). God allows, but is not the primary cause of, sin. The Westminster Confession of Faith teaches that God's will is necessarily efficacious, but is effected by means of "secondary causes" subject to His sovereign control.^[1]^

Scriptural support

  • Matthew 7:15-20

In this passage, Jesus states that healthy trees cannot produce diseased fruit. They will choose and produce according to what they are (their nature). Thus, if we are still in our sins we will choose and produce bad fruit accordingly. The same is with those who produce good fruit.

  • John 8:34
  • Romans 8:7
  • 1 Corinthians 2:14

Argument(s) against libertarian freedom

Compatibilists argue that if all of our choices are uncaused, they would then be completely arbitrary, unpredictable, and not really moral actions at all.

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  1. ? See WCF Chapter 5, "Of Providence", for thorough treatment of secondary causation.

See also