Is there a difference between “free choice” and “free will”?

Woah, you have no idea how much I have been waiting for this, haha.

Thanks @CarsonWeitnauer.


Hi Alex,

I have a question which is a derivative of the question of Free Will vs Free Choice:

Is there a difference between “free choice” and “free will”?

This is still an interesting long standing debate between a close friend:

The summary is that:

Free Choice

  • God has set a fix no. of choices that man can do, and we are free to choose within these choices, but not free to choose anything outside of these choices.

Free Will

  • Man can will anything that they can imagine, since there is freedom of will.

I am quite clear that the argument of determinism is definitely self-destructing (especially with so many resources by Ravi Zacharias online already), but the only way I can think of is that Free Choice is a form of moderated determinism.

Not sure if you can share your thoughts on this matter. :slight_smile:

Appreciate much!


Hi Kenny,

Thanks for the question. I think you get points for having the question with the most qualifications! The background information you’ve given me is really helpful.

I must admit, I’ve just starting reading-up on the topics of free will and determinism again. One thing I find helpful to point out is that even the topic has two distinct parts to it:

  1. The first is the theological conversation about predestination. This conversations essentially asks about the relationship between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Typically, we’re pulled between Calvinism and Arminianism, with all the other options in between (molinism, corporate election).
  2. The second conversation is the philosophical conversation about human being in general. This conversation essentially asks about the relationship between libertarian freedom (moral and rational responsibility) and determinism (the idea that for every event which happens nothing else could have happened). Typically, we’re pulled between these two views or some sort of compatibilism - the idea that, somehow, determinism and freedom are necessitated by one another.

These two conversations overlap, obviously. But, generally (and I mean generally ), the first conversation seeks to make sense of salvation history and God’s revelation, whereas the second conversation seeks to make sense of lived experience, causation, and the logic of human activity. Respectively, I’ve been reading a book on the latter by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, titled Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview . It’s a huge book, but chapter 15, titled “Free WiIl and Determinism” is a helpful treatment of the topic. On the first conversation, I’ve just had two books delivered to my office which I intend to read:

  1. Why I Am Not a Calvinist, by Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell.
  2. Why I Am Not an Arminian , by Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams

I’ll let you know if they’re helpful once I am finished. I mention both of these areas of thought because it seems to me that your question sits across both, which makes it more difficult to tease out. Maybe I’ll share a few thoughts and then you can come back to me on them?

  1. On One Level

My initial intuition about the idea of free choice is that it seems pretty inconsequential to either framework: determinism or free will. If determinism says that “for every event which happens nothing else could have happened,” then free choice is not deterministic. Rather, it’s a more nuanced free will.

If free will says that “for every thing someone chooses they exert real moral and rational responsibility,” then free choice is just a more nuanced version of that. Nobody is free in the sense that they can act in any way they imagine: a fish can’t live outside of water; a train can’t be free from train tracks, so to speak. Libertarian free will is just the idea that humans are rational and moral agents whose choices are meaningful and not determined. In this sense, free choice just gives texture to that idea.

  1. On Another Level

However, if your friend is saying, “Humans have free choice amidst options that are determined toward reprobation as opposed to salvation ,” then that’s a distinct conversation, I think. That would be a type of determinism, as far as I can tell. If a human only has four options in life, and each of those options led to reprobation as opposed to salvation, then their eternal destiny would be determined. That is, following the logic where it leads.

Anyway, one thing you’ll have noticed - both in your conversation with your friend, as well as the way I’ve just been writing – is how quickly this can become a conversation about logic and experience alone . I think we can have the “free will/determinism” debate on this level, because it is not less than a question of logic and experience. But when we start trying to make sense of whether humans have responsibility for their own salvation or whether God himself determines each outcome, that’s when we need to go to the Scriptures and to Jesus. It becomes a question not simply of logic but of epistemology: From where does the Christian get their ideas of God? I imagine you know all this stuff, but it is helpful to reiterate it all.

The Scriptures are packed full of texts about God’s elect as well as texts about human free will and responsibility. I myself have enjoyed looking into other options by which to interpret the two ideas.

  • One philosophical view is called molinism - a view which essentially says that God has a type of knowledge which allows him to know all the possible responses an individual will make under all possible circumstances such that God can orchestrate those circumstances in such a way as to render their free choices suited to his predestined ends.
  • One exegetical view is called corporate election - a view which essentially claims that whenever the Scriptures speak of the elect, it is either referring to a group of people into which anybody can (by free will) enter (in this case, the church), or an individual elected for a specific task (but whose eternal destiny is not determined by God).

In short, I think the conversation is much more complex than the categories of free will and determinism. To me, this is liberating because it means that the pigeonholes into which we might slot one-another based on their views for these questions are actually much more nuanced than the more popular recitations we might hear about.

Thanks for the question, Kenny. Please do respond with any additional thoughts.