Suspending The Debate About Divine Sovereignty And Human Freedom -- By: David M. Ciocchi

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 51:3 (Sep 2008)
Article: Suspending The Debate About Divine Sovereignty And Human Freedom
Author: David M. Ciocchi


Suspending The Debate About Divine Sovereignty And Human Freedom

David M. Ciocchi*

* David M. Ciocchi is associate professor of philosophy at Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639.

The debate about divine sovereignty and human freedom is a series of competing attempts to reconcile two apparently conflicting components of Christian belief. Each of these attempts, or reconciliation projects, offers an account of how it can be true both that God is sovereign (omnipotent and omniscient) and that human beings have the sort of freedom necessary for moral responsibility. This debate continues despite longstanding objections to it. I maintain that these objections fail, but that there is another, and better, way to object to the debate. Rather than taking the line of the traditional objections by rejecting all future work on divine sovereignty and human freedom, I argue that we should suspend this debate until we solve the logically prior problem of determining what it is about human beings that justifies God in treating them as morally responsible agents.

I. Objections To The Debate

When an intellectual debate persists for centuries, there are likely to be thinkers who question not the standard positions defended by participants in the debate but the legitimacy of the debate itself. This has been true of the debate about divine sovereignty and human freedom (DSF debate). In this section I consider three objections to the DSF debate, two of which are long-standing objections that reject the debate outright, and one of which is a contemporary objection that views the debate as logically premature, and calls for its suspension.

1. Rejecting the debate. The first traditional way to reject the DSF debate may be termed the “impiety objection.” This objection has its roots in the clash between the monasteries and universities in the Middle Ages, when pious monks grew suspicious of the practice by theologians of applying logical arguments to the mysteries of divine revelation.1 A classic example of the impiety objection appears in this passage about predestination and election from The Formula of Concord:

For, in addition to what has been revealed in Christ concerning this, of which we have hitherto spoken, God has still kept secret and concealed much concerning this mystery, and reserved it for His wisdom and knowledge alone, which we should not investigate, nor should we indulge our thoughts in this matter, nor draw conclusions, nor inquire curiously, but should adhere entirely to the revealed Word of God.2

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