A Calvinistic Theological Determinism: Review of Theodore Zachariades’ Hard Determinism

by | Jan 17, 2018 | Adult Christian Learning | 0 comments

My interest in Dr. Zachariades’ view of theological hard determinism lies in a debate that he and I will be involved in later this spring in Charlotte, NC. He and I will be on opposing debate teams as we take up the question, Is Arminianism Heresy? The issue concerning theological hard determinism is somewhat related to this question in my opinion. What we are attempting to do as theologians and Christian philosophers is to ensure that our understanding of God accurately reflects the God that is revealed in Scripture. In particular, we are attempting to make sure that our view of God as sovereign ruler over all that exists, is compatible with our view of God as good or just or righteous. Furthermore, we are attempting to synthesize these doctrines within the framework of a reality that undeniably involves evil. God is good. God is sovereign. Evil exists and is judged by God. How do we square our view of God with the state of affairs that has obtained in the world?


In a recent post directed at James White, Theodore Zachariades provides us with a glimpse into his view of free will and human responsibility. The aim of this blog article is to help you think a little more clearly about these issues.


Dr. Zachariades admits that he affirms a view of determinism called “theological hard determinism.” It is theological because it is derived from his view of God and of Christian theology. It is hard determinism because it denies any definition of freedom whatsoever. What makes Zachariades’ position interesting is that hard determinism in the philosophical literature denies human responsibility. This is because it is generally accepted that a necessary condition for human responsibility is free will in some sense. Zarchariades must affirm human responsibility, but he wants to harmonize that view with theological hard determinism.


Zachariades claims that “Free will in a compatibilist-determinist worldview is only free in name. Libertarians, of all stripes, renounce these arguments by compatibilists, and thereby they win the argument by the definition.” I confess that I am not at all sure what he means when he says they “win by definition.” I think they would only win by definition if their definition was indisputable. But that is the point. That is why there is a definition of free will called compatibilistic free-will. This version of free will rejects the libertarian definition. Hence, winning by definition is not open to the libertarian side as far as the compatibilist is concerned. It assumes what it has failed to prove. Zachariades then asks the question, “If free will is compatible with determinism, why not claim that libertarian free will is compatible with determinism?” This question seems to me to reveal that Dr. Zachariades is out of step with the literature on this subject. He does not appear to understand libertarian free will or compatibilistic free will, or both.


Libertarian free will is defined as contra-causal free will, meaning that regardless of the circumstances, the decisions of the will are uncaused by anything external to the will itself. Since determinism holds that everything, including decisions of the human will are caused, determinism is incompatible with libertarian free will. Hence, one cannot hold to libertarian free will and determinism, not if they care about being rational. Zachariades does not seem to understand that libertarian free will is only one kind of free will found in the literature. Compatibilistic free will is compatible with determinism. That is why it’s called compatibilistic free will. And that is why this form of determinism is called compatibilistic determinism. It rejects the idea that determinism is ipso facto incompatible with human freedom.


Christianity teaches that human freedom is a necessary condition for human responsibility. We see this throughout the Scripture. In Luke 12:47, Jesus makes this very clear: And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. The servant freely chose to act contrary to his master’s will. Two things at a minimum seem to be necessary in this text. First, the servant knew his master’s will. Second, the servant chose to act contrary to his master’s will. These combine to form the basis for the servant’s judgment. This theme appears everywhere in the NT. Another location that is worth mentioning is Romans 1 and 2. Romans 1:18 tells us that the ungodly suppress the truth of God with their unrighteousness. In other words, their behavior, their actions, their choices are the basis for God’s righteous judgment. Again, in Roman 2:15, Paul argues that the Gentiles are condemned by the works of the law that are written in their heart because of the choices they make regarding that law. They know the law and they act to either do what is right or to do what is forbidden. They are fully aware of the law in their conscience, but it is the act of the will that produces the condemnation and guilt. This will come into play below.


Hard Determinism denies human responsibility. To reinforce what Steve Hays has already said, “Hard determinists are incompatibilists who take a harder line: since determinism is true, free will does not exist in the sense required for genuine responsibility, accountability, blameworthiness, or desert. Robert Kane, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Free Will (Oxford 2002), 27.” See the Hays article here: Triablogue on Determinism


It seems pretty clear to me that Theodore wants to ignore the literature already in place regarding the definition of hard determinism and to come up with one of his own. This is not surprising since he does the very same thing with free will, ignoring the literature and forcing his own definition on the rest of us.


Now, one might ask, if human responsibility is not grounded in some sense of free will, then what does Theodore ground it in? He grounds responsibility in knowledge: “The criteria for judgment is knowledge, and that based on the explicit prescriptive will of God.” Theodore tells us that Adam’s choice was inevitable. And he seems to be using ‘inevitable’ in the strongest possible sense. In so doing, Dr. Zachariades finds himself opposing Augustine and every other church father for that matter,  from Luther to Calvin and even the great reformed confessions and catechisms, not to mention, the overwhelming majority of reformed theologians and philosophers on this question. That Adam was free to obey the command and ratify eternal life had he chosen to do so has enjoyed a place of prominence in Christian history from the beginning. But that doesn’t seem to bother Dr. Zachariades because he has Gordon Clark on his side, or at best, apparently, on his side. I am not convinced that Clark would agree with Zachariades.


Gordon Clark writes, “Free will Is not the basis of responsibility. In the first place, and at a more superficial level, the basis of responsibility is knowledge.” But Clark went on to say, Responsibility, therefore, must be so defined as to make room for imputation, as well as to account for our everyday voluntary actions.” What are voluntary actions if they are not human beings acting without coercion, manipulation, or force? Clark seems somewhat vague here. However, he does go on to define responsibility as follows: a person is responsible if he can be justly rewarded or punished for his deeds. Now, Clark argues that God, being sovereign, by definition can always punish someone for their deeds and that is the end of the matter.


Clark says, “God is sovereign. What he does is just, for this very reason: Because he does it.” Clark offers no additional qualifications for this view. Clark says that if God punishes a man, the man is justly punished; and hence the man is responsible. Well, this is really not the end of the matter. What this argument does is make it impossible for anyone to challenge this particular understanding of the divine nature. First of all, the basis for God’s moral actions is not God’s sovereignty. It is logically possible for a god to be sovereign and infinitely immoral. God’s goodness is not subsumed under his sovereignty.


The Bible uses human language to reveal God to us. God has accommodated us in that he has stooped down in order to speak to us in a way that we can understand. When the Bible talks about God’s infinite power, we understand that God’s power has no limitations. When the Bible talks to us about God’s goodness, his justice, his righteousness, we understand what it is communicating because we understand what it means for something to be good. This is where the concept of analogical knowledge must come into play. We know that God is good in a way that we can know and understand but his goodness is also different, both qualitatively and quantitatively, but not in a way that makes it impossible for us to understand. Human knowledge is analogical, not univocal and certainly not equivocal. When we say that God is good and just, we have something in our minds to which he can be compared. Because this is the case, we understand that God is good and know what it means to say that God is good.


Whatever God does is not good simply because it is God doing it. Yes and no, sort of. It is good because God is a perfectly good God and would not do anything that is evil. If Theodore is understanding Clark rightly, then God could create a group of women and a group of men and then have the men brutalize and rape those women for eternity and that would be right simply because God did it. And the women would deserve the torture simply because it is God doing it. I find such a hypothesis to be outrageous and far removed from the biblical revelation of God. Now, I am not convinced that this is the sort of Argument that Clark is really making. There is room to understand Clark as saying the same thing I am saying, but in a different way. I can say that it is right because God does it. But that only means that God has revealed himself as being good and only does what is good. It does not mean that rape becomes sanitized if God is doing it. That is a complete distortion of biblical truth. However, it does seem to me that Theodore’s argument actually turns on this point because of his openly avowed theological hard determinism.


The reformers from Augustin to Calvin to the great confessions and catechisms were all very careful to caution us about not making God the author of sin. The language they used repeatedly concerned itself with not making God the author of sin. But this makes no sense if Zachariades is right in his theological hard determinism. If whatever God does is right just because God does it, then why do we need to bother with insisting that human beings are responsible? Why make knowledge the ground of responsibility if God could damn to hell without knowledge and still be a good God? When Scripture tells us, there is no injustice in God, it isn’t telling us that God behaves badly but because it is God acting, it is actually good behavior. Nonsense. When Scripture says that there is no injustice in God, it is saying something meaningful. It is saying something we can understand.


Knowledge is not enough to ground human responsibility. While knowledge is a necessary condition for responsibility, it is not sufficient. The Scriptures mentioned above clearly ground responsibility in the choices of agents who are in some sense free to choose as they do. Responsibility is grounded in the acts of the agent, not just facts that one knows. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)


Theological hard determinism is incompatible with all stripes of free will. This is not only true for the fallen will, it is just as true for the will of our first parents. Christianity has always taught that human beings are responsible for their actions before God. Any view that leads to a denial of human responsibility should be rejected as incompatible with Christianity. If it is the case that human freedom is a necessary condition for human responsibility, then it seems to me that hard determinism of any kind, including theological, is incompatible with Christianity and as such, it should be rejected.


Compatibilistic free will defines free will as the ability to act according to one’s desire, one’s nature, without force, coercion, or manipulation. Free will is essentially doing what you choose to do. It is compatible with determinism because it does not see the divine decree as a causal agent. It views the divine decree as the blueprint for the state of affairs that is to obtain. The idea of causality turns on the doctrine of analogical knowledge, never making God the immediate cause of immoral actions, contrary to Theodore’s view where he actually argues that God creates moral evil. Such teaching should be repudiated. Imagine the blueprints for a house and then think about all the causes that have to actualize before the house is complete. James 1:13-16 locates sin within human desire. John tells us that evil or sin is a privation, a lack of law. Reformed theology has a long history of affirming divine sovereignty and human responsibility without making God the author of sin. It has a long history of claiming that men are responsible for their choices. Dr. Zachariades is in the slim minority of reformer thinkers who affirm a hard determinism. It makes me wonder if he is really a hyper-Calvinist who has just not come out yet.

Please Share...

Latest Posts

A Review of Andy Stanley’s Apologetic

In this episode, I deal with the incoherence in Andy Stanley's apologetic method and theology. It is impossible to separate "the Bible says" from what Matthew or Luke or Paul says. What the authors of the Bible say, the Bible says. Moreover, if one of the authors of...

What Say Ye? Q&A with Chris Soules

https://open.spotify.com/episode/5UnZdud5qySD8L8OH366u4?si=0093033b8a8b4715 In this episode, I have a special guess on to do my very first Q&A. Chris Soules is both a Christian brother as well as a Jiu Jitsu brother. On this episode, Chris asks about the doctrine...

Homosexuality Comes to the SBC – Part 2

https://open.spotify.com/episode/0b69xRFb8Taf9L43bFJmny?si=b4cccb6b8ff947ea In this episode, I continue to deal with the invasion of homosexuality into the evangelical churches, especially, the SBC. The "Same-Sex-Attraction" strategy that I amd dealing with in this...

Homosexuality Comes to the SBC

This is part one of a two-part series of episodes I put together to talk about the path by which homosexuals are entering even the most conservative SBC churches. Christopher Yuan is an admitted homosexual who was recently invited to Hickory Grove Baptist Church in...

The Christian Franchise

In this episode, I rant about the Christian Franchise. Modern Christianity has adopted the franchise model in the 20th and 21st centuries. The Christian Franchise’s top service is affirmation. Everything she says and does is geared toward affirming people in the...

Share This