Libertarian Freedom Is a Limited Power



(The FreeThinking Theist)


May 7, 2018

Some of my colleagues have jokingly referred to me as the epitome of a “libertarian freedom fighter!” Not only do I take freedom from “big government” seriously, I also take metaphysical and theological libertarian freedom even more seriously. That is to say, I am convinced that humans possess libertarian free will and I argue that we can use this freedom incorrectly, but that we have an ability to do otherwise and we ought to use our libertarian freedom wisely.

The Apostle Paul agrees:

“For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

Although, politically speaking, I am an “Independent,” many on the “left side” of the political aisle disagree with my views of freedom. With that said, however, many on the “right side” of the theological aisle also revolt against my views regarding freedom. In fact, many Christians reject the idea that humans possess libertarian free will (LFW) and point to the fact that it is obvious that we cannot freely choose many things as there are countless examples of issues beyond our control.

This is a confused objection. It is vital to comprehend that libertarian freedom does not require maximal autonomy — this is a common misconception of LFW. In fact, it just requires an ability to freely choose some things some of the time. This is simply the power to choose between a range of options, each of which are consistent with and in accord with one’s nature. As the philosopher Angus Menuge said,

“Just as I have the power to jump doesn’t mean I can leap tall buildings (it is a limited power) so my freedom to steal or not steal does not mean I have the unaided power to choose God.”[1]

Now, the latter is definitely debated in theological circles (in which I am quite active), but the salient point is that LFW does not have to be exhaustive. I merely argue for what is known as “soft LFW.” If soft LFW is true, then one is ultimately responsible for what they possess the ability to think about or physically act on (at least some of the time).

Contrary to popular opinion, libertarian freedom is not the ability to do things that are not within one’s nature. For example, if a human possesses LFW, they do not have the freedom to flap their arms and fly like a bird to the top of a skyscraper. However, they do have the freedom to choose among options consistent within their nature (they can choose to take the elevator, or to take the stairs, or to simply do nothing at all).

That is to say, libertarian freedom is a limited power.

Stay reasonable (Acts 17:2),

Tim Stratton


[1] Angus Menuge made this comment to me via personal email exchange. He gave me permission to share his quote.


About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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