In an article I posted about a year ago (After the Fall, Is the Human Will Free or Fettered?), I presented a positive argument and explanation for my view of human volition after the fall of Genesis 3. In my research, I found Dr. Leighton Flowers to be a good example of an opposing perspective on the will of man, so I quoted him a few times in peripheral sections of my text. His quotes were used as a brief articulation of a philosophical concept called Libertarian Free Will.
Dr. Flowers has recently discovered my essay and written an extensive rebuttal of it. I will let the reader decide if my argument stands against his critique. I believe that any honest evaluation of Dr. Flowers’ article and my own essay will reveal that Dr. Flowers has failed to interact with the substance of my essay, much less successfully counter it.
Furthermore, Dr. Flowers merely gave disapproval of my view and offered no positive argument from the Scriptures for his own view. It is one thing to cite a verse here and there, and use these as pretexts for a presupposed theological critique. It is quite another to walk through a didactic passage of Scripture to demonstrate biblical harmony with your own theological system.
That said, I wanted to take just a moment to address what I believe to be Dr. Flowers’ fundamental error. I do not presume that I will change Dr. Flowers’ mind on this matter (though one can certainly hope), but I sincerely pray that this may serve as an opportunity for consideration among those who might follow his ministry.
Dr. Flowers repeatedly affirmed his belief that fallen humanity is enslaved to sin. The biblical concept of sin-slavery is well attested in the Scriptures and easily understood from a passage like Romans 6:16-22. There the Apostle Paul explains sin-slavery and gives the reader hope for belonging to a new and better Master.
However, I shall return to the passage I used in my theological essay to address Dr. Flowers’ error. I cited and explained Ephesians 2:1-3. The Apostle Paul is here addressing Christians, but he confronts them about their former (fallen, unregenerate, sin-slave) volitional status. Rather than using the metaphor of slavery, Paul here speaks of spiritual death, but both metaphors refer to the same sin-slave status (simply compare Rom. 6:16-22 and Eph. 2:1-3). He wrote,
“you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1–3).
In verses 2-3, there are at least two ways in which the Apostle Paul explains the form and substance of spiritual death (v1). Paul describes spiritual death as (1) following a worldly course and a powerful prince; and (2) living in fleshly passions and carrying out fleshly desires. Let us consider each of these aspects of spiritual death and how such things should shape our understanding of the sin-enslaved human will.
Following a worldly course and a powerful prince. A “worldly course” and a “powerful prince” are both examples of language not uncommon to the Bible or the Apostle Paul. In fact, Paul uses similar language in Galatians and Colossians. To the Galatian Christians, Paul wrote of their having been “enslaved to the elementary principles of this world” (Gal. 4:3). To the saints in Colossae, he wrote of their “deliverance from the domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13). The imagery is clear: devilish dominion enslaves all those who are spiritually dead, and these walk according to the dark course or path of their evil prince. This imagery may be unenjoyable to our eyes, but it is not difficult to observe or recognize. The picture is one of fettered bondage.
The imagery is clear: devilish dominion enslaves all those who are spiritually dead, and these walk according to the dark course or path of their evil prince. This imagery may be unenjoyable to our eyes, but it is not difficult to observe or recognize. The picture is one of fettered bondage.
Living in fleshly passions and carrying out desires. These “passions” and “desires” are also frequently found in the biblical text. Paul says that Christians are to renounce “worldly passions” (Titus 2:12), and Peter says Christians are to resist conformity to the “passions” that accompany a “former ignorance” that characterizes unregenerate humanity (1 Peter 1:14). Jesus made a scathing remark against fallen humanity, summarizing all of this, when He said, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44).
In each case, “passions” and “desires” refer to lustful cravings and preferences of the will. When such cravings and preferences are qualified by the term “fleshly,” it always conveys the idea of sinful passions and desires.
Therefore, according to Scripture, fallen man is not in bondage unwillingly, but he gladly wears his chains and even pursues heavier and lengthier ones.
This, in my view, is Dr. Flowers’ error. He simply does not understand or does not allow for the biblical concept of willful slavery to sin.
Dr. Flowers said, “There is nothing about being in slavery that makes one incapable of recognizing their chains and accepting God’s help to be freed when it’s offered.”
But what if the slave does not want to accept God’s help? This would necessarily make the slave incapable of freedom; not because it is not an option, but because he does not want it.
Dr. Flowers said, “Marc [has] simply conflated the concept of bondage to sin (addiction) with a moral incapacity to humble oneself and confess that enslaved condition so as to receive the help that is being offered (responsibility).”
Hasn’t Dr. Flowers omitted the reality that prideful rebellion is an expression of sin? Can the arrogant narcissist humble himself? Not without contradicting the label! An arrogant sinful rebel is by definition incapable of humbling himself, precisely because he is in bondage to the sin of pride, which will not allow him to grab hold of God’s offering of help.
Dr. Flowers said, “Slavery to sin IS NOT EQUAL to the moral inability to confess our enslavement in response to God’s loving provision and powerful Holy Spirit inspired appeals for reconciliation.”
Here again, in my view, Dr. Flowers has not understood or is flatly denying the fact that sin-slavery is a willful bondage. Confession and reconciliation are the results of godly repentance and faith, but such things are utterly repugnant to the unregenerate sin-slave.
This is why the sin-slave is in desperate need of a powerful and effective Savior! I needed God to give me more than an offering of help; I needed Him to give me spiritual life, new affections, and the desire to know and love Him. This is exactly what God does for unworthy sin-slaves, and I am grateful for amazing grace.
Dr. Flowers is the Director of Apologetics and Youth Evangelism for Texas Baptists and the purveyor of the website Soteriology 101. His ministry actively opposes a large swath of Southern Baptists, advocating a view of the doctrine of salvation (Traditionalism) that is hardly traditional Southern Baptist soteriology (see Tom Nettles’ explanation HERE or my own article HERE).
I am the pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana Texas. I have no official apologetic ministry, and little time to engage in this kind of exchange. I will gladly refer the interested reader to other ministries and resources for further inquiry.