The following are just a few brief responses to some things Dr. Greg Boyd has said concerning love and freedom with which I disagree. Any responses (especially from those who agree with him on this!) would be much appreciated.
(I feel a need to add that, although I have some pretty significant disagreements with Dr. Boyd on certain theological matters, I’m nevertheless a fan of his, and have been for years now. I enjoy listening to his preaching, have found a number of his books very helpful, and share his conviction that followers of Christ must reject all forms of violence and resist the temptation to use “power over” others. I especially love his books The Myth of a Christian Nation, The Myth of a Christian Religion, and The Jesus Legend, and highly recommend them to every Christian. I should also add that, since joining this forum, I have become much more sympathetic to the idea of libertarian free will. While I’m not convinced we possess it or that it’s even coherent, I nevertheless appreciate and feel the force of some of the arguments made in its defense!)
On his “Christus Victor” website, Dr. Boyd explains the first thesis of his “warfare worldview” as follows:
So according to Dr. Boyd, love “by definition” must be “freely chosen.” By “freely” Dr. Boyd means free in the libertarian sense - i.e., the freedom to do otherwise. To have this kind of freedom when making a decision means that a different outcome could have been effected given the same exact circumstances, influences and desires. In other words, if my decision to propose to my wife was “free” in the sense of which Dr. Boyd speaks, then I could’ve chosen not to propose to her. But how might the possibility that I might not have chosen to propose to my wife be explained or accounted for? What would have made the difference in outcomes? If everything leading up to my choice (i.e., the various influences and factors involved in the circumstances) remained unchanged, then it would seem that the only possible, non-deterministic explanation for a different outcome is that a truly random event took place and changed the outcome. So if love requires LFW, then what I believe it actually requires is the possibility that an inexplicable, random event could change the outcome of a decision. (This, of course, does not mean we don’t have LFW, or that LFW could serve no possible purpose in our existence. But I do think it somewhat undermines the argument that love could not exist without it.)
So what about God? It would seem that, according to the first thesis of Dr. Boyd’s warfare worldview, God’s love wouldn’t be genuine if it wasn’t “freely chosen.” But we are told in Scripture that “God is love.” And as Boyd himself believes, it is God’s eternal nature to be perfect love; just as God cannot lie, so he cannot cease to love and to be love. But if God’s love is genuine, what makes Boyd’s thesis that “love requires freedom” true for us but not true for God?
In his book God of the Possible, Boyd argues (p. 137):
So according to Boyd, the characters of created persons must be “freely chosen” because, unlike God, what they become is not built into what they are as a matter of necessity. But how does this follow? Couldn’t a non-libertarian agree that what we as contingent beings “ultimately become is not built into what we are as a matter of necessity” without, at the same time, affirming that it is we who must decide what we will ultimately become?
Boyd goes on to say,
But as before, I think a non-libertarian could agree with all of the above without also affirming what Boyd goes on to say:
Boyd’s conclusion (that we must freely choose our eternal nature) does not, I don’t think, follow from the premise that our existence is contingent rather than necessary. The eternal natures of contingent beings do not have to be “freely chosen” simply because they are contingent. It may be that this is the case (assuming LFW is even possible, and a coherent alternative to determinism), but their being contingent does not at all require that this be the case. It could just as well be the case that the eternal natures of contingent beings are determined by God, (or even some created being to whom God has given the power and authority to do so). Being contingent rather than necessary simply does not entail or require that one be “self-determining.”
One could thus modify Boyd’s words to instead read:
“This constitutes one major difference between God and all created beings. Regarding his character, God is who he is from all eternity (he is “necessary”), while the eternal natures of the personal beings he chooses to create must be determined by him (we are “contingent”). To participate in God’s eternal triune love that he has by nature, God must make our nature like his so that we will desire what he desires and love what he loves.”
So it will not do to appeal to the contingent nature of our existence to explain why we (unlike God) must “freely choose” to love in order to acquire a loving character. God could choose to give every contingent personal being he creates the same desires that govern his own decisions to love so that love springs just as naturally from their hearts as it always has from his. Thus, there is no reason why the statement “love requires freedom” should be true for us but not for God. Since it’s not true for God, there’s no reason why it has to be true for the personal beings he creates, either - for there’s nothing inherent to our nature that requires that it be true for us. The fact that our existence is contingent rather than necessary is, I believe, irrelevant in regards to how our character is determined, and by whom it is determined.
In response to a question about whether or not humans will have “free will” in heaven, Dr. Boyd says on a Q&A blog series (whchurch.org/blog/3355/ask-greg- … -in-heaven):
Thus, according to Boyd, in heaven we will still be “free” (i.e., possessing the libertarian freedom that Boyd thinks is essential to love), but we will never sin because we will “never want to” sin. Remarkably, Boyd even says that our being “free” to sin in heaven while never wanting to sin means that we’ll be “more free in heaven than we are now,” and that being a person who is “by nature loving” is “the greatest freedom there is” (emphasis his). But if this is the case, how then is LFW in any way essential to, or required by, love? Boyd’s position is that a “genuinely loving character” can only be acquired by the repeated free exercise of one’s will. But as we’ve seen, Boyd admits that God himself is an exception to this “rule,” and that it only applies to the contingent beings that God creates. But if God can possess a genuinely loving character without his having had to acquire it by “repeatedly choosing love over all alternatives,” why can’t contingent beings be brought into existence (or introduced into a new state of existence) with the same kind of solidified, genuinely loving character that God has, by virtue of his necessary existence, always possessed? It can’t be because they are contingent rather than necessary, because there is no reason why the nature of a contingent being has to be determined by itself rather than by God. I think even the libertarian would have to admit that, with the exception of human beings, the nature of every created thing on earth (whether animate or inanimate) is determined by something outside itself. And it is equally the case that there is much about our own nature and personal identities which isn’t determined by us. And if there are some aspects of our nature and personal identity that have been determined by something outside ourselves, it’s possible that every aspect of our nature and personal identity has been - or at some point will be - determined by something outside ourselves.
Conclusion: Contra Dr. Boyd, I do not think love has ever required libertarian free will. If LFW is in fact possible and human beings possess it, it’s not because love requires it. Without violating any kind of metaphysical law governing the nature and requirements of love, God could, I think, choose to create in every person who has ever lived the same kind of genuinely loving character/disposition that God has always possessed - and their complete lack of desire to sin would not make them less free but more free.