Saturday, November 8, 2008

Human Freedom: The Debate Rages

I've recently finished two books...the first was "The Case for Faith" by Lee Strobel...the second was "Chosen by God" by Dr. R. C. Sproul. While they were both written with a different focus and purpose in mind, one thing struck me was the issue of man's freedom versus God's sovereignty.

Is man God sovereign...can the two be reconciled. I've heard some say that when they find passages that emphasize man's freedom they preach it...and when they come to passages that emphasize God's sovereignty they preach it. This is somewhat true but I really believe it's a theological copout. For the same reason we cannot view the love of God without considering the justice of God (and all His attributes for that matter!), likewise we cannot look at man's freedom apart from God's sovereignty.

I enjoyed and learned from both books. The biggest issue I have with "The Case for Faith" was the chapter that explains the doctrine of hell. In this chapter Strobel interviews J. P. Moreland, professor at the Talbot School of Theology, on his views on the doctrine of hell. This is a horrible chapter to say the least! First of all Dr. Moreland denies the literal flames of hell...he says they are figurative (p. 176). What really struck me were his thoughts on hell with regard to human freedom. His ultra-high view of human freedom is seen in the following quotes:

"If you were to force people to do something [go to heaven] against their free choice, you would be dehumanizing them...if God has given people free will...then there's no guarantee that everybody's going to choose to cooperate with him. The option of forcing everyone to go to heaven is immoral, because it's dehumanizing; it strips them of the dignity of making their own decision." (p. 182-183). He goes on to say "When God allows people to say 'no' to him, he actually respects and dignifies them" p. 183. He says, "I think people in heaven will realize that hell is a way of honoring people as intrinsically valuable creatures made in God's image" (p. 186). The statement that totally amazed me was this one found on p. 192..."Remember that hell will forever be a monument to human dignity and the value of human choice." WHAT?!

Human freedom is seen on such a high platitude that it almost transcends God's holiness and the sinfulness (complete) of man. Hell is NOT a monument to human dignity and the value of human choice...on the contrary, it is a monument to the completely depraved nature of man and the holiness and justice of God. Man is lost, undone and incable of being saved...he is doomed! God is holy, God is just and God rightly sends people to hell not as a monument to their dignity and their free choice but to His holiness and justice. The Bible is NOT about's about God! Isn't it sad when even the existence of hell is paraded as being man-centered and man-honoring versus being God-centered and God-honoring?

Chosen by God did a much better job! On page 27 Dr Sproul says the following: "Without sovereignty God cannot be God. If we reject divine sovereignty then we must embrace atheism...we must hold tightly to God's sovereignty. Yet we must do it in such a way so as not to violate human freedom." At first glance it would appear Dr Sproul agrees with J. P. Moreland. Not quite. What does it mean for a Calvinist to say he believes in the freedom of the human will? He then says, "The non-Reformed thinker usually responds by saying that for God to impose his power on unwilling people is to violate man's feedom" (p. 35). Dr Sproul denies that humans have autonomy (to be a law unto oneself, answerable to noone). To sum up the Bible's position on the human will is fairly is morally and spiritually bankrupt...his desires, will, emotions, his entire being is affected totally by the fall into sin and he is thus incapable of choosing Christ without God's sovereign work of regeneation. Doesn't Scripture teach this? See Genesis 6:5, 8:21; Isa 64:6; Jer 13:23, 17:9; Ecc 9:3; Psa 51:5, 58:3; John 8:31-34; 1 Cor 2:14; 2 Cor 4:4, 5:14-15, Rom 1:18-25; Eph 2:1-2, 4-5, etc, etc.

Here is a summary. Man was once morally free but the whole race fell completely into sin with the result that the entire human being is affected and controlled/enslaved to sin (mind, will, body, etc). Unsaved man is completely free to act according to his lost and sinful nature...but he is incable of choosing Christ or performing righteously because it is against his fallen nature. Calvinists do not deny a lost man's freedom...they simply restrict it (as the Bible does!) to freely act according to his fallen nature and it's sinful desires. It is God Who sovereignly rectifies this situation by opening his eyes to his lostness and granting him the gift of repentance and faith...and thus the lost person believes in Christ and chooses eternal life.

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> posted by Jim Leavenworth at


Blogger Trevor Hammack said...

Great post

November 8, 2008 at 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Nathan W. Bingham said...

You have raised an important issue. Hell is so often misrepresented, like in Strobel's book - unfortunately it is often done by those who claim to be Reformed and hold to God's sovereignty too.

I've been working through different aspects of the gospel and gospel presentations, and did a piece on hell that deals with what you observed here. It is encouraging to read someone else who has noticed this error.

I can think of one 'Reformed' gospel presentation that makes this mistake - but you'll have to wait till I review it at the close of my series.

On another note - I too have recently read Sproul's book and would encourage anyone new to or struggling to understand Reformed theology to have a read. It is written in a very accessible way.

November 9, 2008 at 1:04 AM  
Anonymous Jim Leavenworth said...

Thanks for the note- I'll definitely read your work on hell, appreciate the link. It's definitely sad when clear Scripture is ignored...that seems to be the norm these days.

November 9, 2008 at 8:19 AM  

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