Reconciling Divine Sovereignty And Human Freedom -- By: David M. Ciocchi

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 037:3 (Sep 1994)
Article: Reconciling Divine Sovereignty And Human Freedom
Author: David M. Ciocchi


Reconciling Divine Sovereignty
And Human Freedom

David M. Ciocchi*

For Christian theists it has long been a theological commonplace to say that there is an intellectual problem about the relation between divine sovereignty and human freedom. Variously described as an antinomy, a tension, or (most frequently) a paradox, this problem belongs to a set of seemingly intractable conceptual difficulties arising from such traditional claims as that God is both one and three and that Jesus is both divine and human. Responses to the problem fall into two categories: (1) the appeal to paradox, in which it is asserted that a reconciliation of divine sovereignty and human freedom is beyond our intellectual competence; (2) the appeal to reason, in which attempts are made to effect a reconciliation between sovereignty and freedom. There is something to be said in favor of each of these appeals but not enough to sustain the view that one particular appeal is clearly the right way to go. In fact a careful look at one of the options is likely to drive a thinker into seriously considering its alternative. Accordingly in this paper I argue that we must, however reluctantly, work with two distinct but closely related tensions: (1) the sovereignty/freedom tension itself, generated by the Biblical texts and Christian theological tradition; (2) the paradox/reason tension, generated by our efforts to respond to the first tension. The paradox/reason tension, which I will describe more fully below, leads me to adopt an agnostic stance about the possibility of reconciling divine sovereignty and human freedom.

The paper has two sections. In the first section I describe the appeal to paradox, paying particular attention to the various senses of the term “paradox” that are relevant to understanding how some thinkers have regarded the sovereignty/freedom tension. I conclude that the appeal to paradox probably fails due to its reliance on the dogmatic claim that a logical reconciliation of sovereignty and human freedom is known to be impossible. In the second section I describe the appeal to reason. I argue that this appeal permits two general reconciliation projects, each one employing a different, standard definition of “free will” and each one facing significant intellectual difficulties. I conclude that the appeal to reason may hold promise for a genuine sovereignty/freedom reconciliation but that this is far from certain. The upshot of all this is the paradox/reason tension: It is not certain that the appeal to paradox can be sustained, nor is it certain that the appeal to reason can produce a genuine reconciliation.

* David Ciocchi is associate professor of philosophy at Biola University, LaMirada, CA 90639.

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