Five Theological Models Relating Determinism, Divine Sovereignty, And Human Freedom -- By: Steve W. Lemke

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 10:1 (Spring 2013)
Article: Five Theological Models Relating Determinism, Divine Sovereignty, And Human Freedom
Author: Steve W. Lemke


Five Theological Models Relating Determinism, Divine Sovereignty, And Human Freedom

Steve W. Lemke

Steve W. Lemke is Provost and Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Several of the statements in “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation” involve the interrelation of divine sovereignty and human freedom. This question is addressed in several articles of this commentary on the “Statement,” but this article provides an overview of different perspectives on this important subject. Although there is a broad spectrum of views on this question, there are five basic perspectives held by evangelicals to describe the relationship of divine sovereignty to human freedom – hard determinism, soft determinism, Molinism, soft libertarian freedom, and strong libertarian freedom. This article seeks to survey each of these perspectives, particularly because each of them has its own vocabulary that can be confusing or misunderstood. These topics are controversial, and are discussed in many settings, both in person and online. All Christians should be able to articulate where they stand on this important subject. It is very important for church leaders to understand these terms and be able to discuss them intelligently. I will also provide some commentary on the viability of each of these models from a traditional Baptist perspective.

Hard Determinism/Causal Determinism -- The strongest challenge to personal human freedom is hard determinism or causal determinism, the view that everything we are and do is determined or caused by prior events. So, though we think that we have a choice in what we eat for lunch or whom we marry, in fact we are deceived. These apparent choices are but an illusion. We had no choice but to eat a particular lunch or marry a particular person – it was imbedded in our DNA or brain cells. In fact, all of what we call “choices” are just an illusion – everything is determined by prior events and causes. Determinism is popular among many materialists, New Atheists, and postmodernists because it portrays the world as a closed system in which everything is completely determined by natural causes. For example, note how postmodernist thinker Richard Rorty’s determinism is expressed in his view of the radical contingency with which each person’s life is shaped by previous events and causes: “Our language and our culture are as much a contingency, as much a result of thousands of small mutations finding niches (and millions of others finding no niches), as are the orchids and the anthropoids.”1 So, for Rorty, “for all we know, or should care, ...

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