Determined to Believe: Chapter 11 - The Gospel and Human Responsibility

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 11! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • God treats humans as responsible moral agents
  • We should trust in God and use our minds
  • The fact that Jesus reasoned with people suggests He believed they were capable of responding to rational argument

Questions for Discussion

  1. What do you think the relationship is between human moral responsibility and divine sovereignty?
  2. How does God’s reasoning with us suggest our capacity to respond?
  3. Other thoughts?


whether we human beings can render ourselves less able to respond to God through our own sinful behavior and attitudes. The answer to that is undoubtedly in the affirmative.

Consciences can become seared to such an extent that men and women no longer hear its voice.

It is apparent from Scripture that, by their own behavior, human beings can irreversibly damage their capacity to repent and believe.

Trusting the mind and using God is tantamount to idolatry: trusting God and using the mind is Christian.

Jesus was speaking to unregenerate people, yet he expected them to follow his logic and understand exactly what he was saying.

Christ treated them as responsible moral agents who were capable of making moral decisions.

He invites them now to make a moral judgment on the comparison between his making a person whole on the sabbath and their activity of circumcising infants on the sabbath. He points out, as a matter of simple logic, that their anger against him is misplaced.

Even though they are unregenerate men and women, the fact that the Lord himself is asking these people to use their moral sensibilities to make a right judgment indicates that he believes they possess the capacity to do so.

You only enter into discussion with people if you expect them to understand what you are saying. He was arguing with them as a witness to them…


Even though this chapter is quite long, I won’t say much about it because John Lennox doesn’t really introduce any new arguments. He goes through chapters 7-10 and provides his own commentary and there are only a few paragraphs that he actually devoted to talking about total depravity, original sin, etc. I guess the purpose of this chapter is to show how Jesus witnessed to the Jews of his time and how he presupposes their ability to respond to his message. That is why they are guilty; they reject Jesus’ message of salvation in spite of all the evidence.

I’d like to pick up to where John Lennox begins to give his introductory thoughts on John 9. Here he is talking about the continuous theme of Jesus calling himself the Light of the world:

The theme of the Light of the world is continued now in chapter 9 – obviously so, since it is concerned with the healing of a blind man. It will help therefore if we begin by thinking about light at the physical level, and recall what is involved in being able to see.

First, there must be a light source that illuminates; secondly, there must be something to be seen; and thirdly, we must possess the faculty of sight. All three of these ingredients must be present simultaneously. The same is true at the moral and spiritual level: if no light had ever come into the world, if there was nothing to be seen, and if people were in capable of seeing in the first place, it would surely be unjust if they were condemned for loving darkness instead of light. But the light did come, there was something to be seen, and they were capable of seeing it. They did see it and then rejected it. Therefore they are culpable and God’s judgment of them is just. (p 222)

This is a brilliant insight by Lennox! I was shocked at how common sense this seems after you think about it for a moment. If this doesn’t undermine the Calvinist position of being so dead in sin that you can’t respond to Christ’s message of salvation on your own, I don’t know what will. Honestly, this makes too much sense, in my opinion. How else could a Calvinist reinterpret this? Is Christ just the Light to the preordained elect? Or are the non elect so blind that even if you shined a light onto their eyelids, they’d still only perceive darkness out of their own moral corruption? I have no clue they would try to get around this. He continues:

If there had been no message, no one could have been held guilty for not believing it. Just as you cannot blame people for failing to see what they cannot see. You cannot blame people for not leaving a message they have never heard. But the message had come; they had heard it, it was backed up by powerful evidence…If Jesus the Son of God lays down the principle that people cannot be held guilty for not seeing what they cannot see, and not believing what they have never heard, then we need to accept it – whatever Calminius or anyone else has taught!

This quote is based off of his reviewing John 15: 22-24. I’m in total agreement with him here. Even Jesus taught that people can’t be held responsible for what they haven’t seen or heard. It’s very clear. When Jesus compares himself to a door, he understands that people have the free will to enter in or to not enter in. God does not choose who goes through that door like a puppeteer pulling on the strings all for his glory. Free will is a gift from God.


I liked this chapter because a lot of discussion was spent on working through 4 chapters of John. It was interesting to read the background of the two feasts (and reminded me of theBibleProject how they show the literary design of the Biblical books). I especially enjoyed how it would have been quite shocking for Jesus to stand up, right after the Jewish religious leaders had completed their ceremonial pouring out of water; saying ‘Anybody that thirsts, come to Me’.

I Really enjoyed how Lennox provided a commentary as you could see the tension building between Jesus and the Pharisees.

It culminated in the earth shattering (to the Pharisees) claims that Jesus was God. ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’.

We must consider the position of these men who were standing before Jesus. As a result of a lifetime’s theological training, they found his words shocking in the extreme. Never having heard anything like it before, they were probably terrified. Jesus was claiming that his voice was that of a Good Shepherd; but they heard it as the voice of a dangerous apostate.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 231). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

One thing that stuck with me after reading the chapter was that we are to come to God humbly with our minds. We are not to think and reach the end of our capacity first, then go to God second when we get stuck. I thought this was an interesting point; ‘Trusting your mind and using God is tantamount to idolatry’.

This reminded me of the verses ‘Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you’, and ‘God resists the proud and gives Grace to the Humble’.

Yet we sometimes meet people who hold that reasoning about the gospel is useless. “You cannot argue someone into the kingdom of God,” they say. As we saw earlier, this line of reasoning is sometimes used on the basis of an incorrect understanding of what it means to be dead in trespasses and sins. There is, however, another aspect to this.

Many of us, especially those who have had the privilege of higher education, are sometimes tempted to trust our minds first and only turn to God when we get into difficulty. That is certainly not what the apostles did; their attitude was the very reverse. They trusted God, and used their minds, their talents, and gifts in God’s service. Trusting the mind and using God is tantamount to idolatry: trusting God and using the mind is Christian. Once we get this clear we can see that our intellect is no different from our other talents. It is a gift of God to be used in his service with his help, and not to be trusted as an idol or God-substitute. It is bordering on the irreverent to suggest that Christ and his apostles were “wasting their time” teaching, arguing, and reasoning with people in the meeting places of the ancient world.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 204). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

as to your questions for discussion.

  1. I think that somehow God, in His Sovereignty, has created a ‘finite moral space’ in which my free will sits. In the same way I occupy a finite space physically and am free to make physical movements, I occupy a finite moral space. God reaches into this moral space and I respond freely. Keeping in mind Hebrews 1:1-3 All things are upheld by Him and the Word of his Power (verse 2).
  2. As Lennox points out, Jesus was appealing to the Pharisees, even towards the end of these chapters and still appealing to them in their hostility. Jesus was not mocking them - He was genuinely appealing to them to believe.

Christ had said earlier that these same people were not his sheep. Nowhere had he suggested that they could never become his sheep. This is the fundamental flaw in the deterministic argument. They were not his sheep yet, but if they did what he told them, and started by considering his works, they would come to understand who he was and could then become his sheep. Christ had said earlier that they were not his sheep. If this meant that there was no hope for them eternally, he would never have continued to offer them a way of coming to believe in him, effectively mocking them. When Saul of Tarsus was assenting to the stoning of Stephen (note the similar situation) he was certainly not one of Christ’s sheep; but he became one on the Damascus road.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 231). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

  1. @SeanO, I’m still not clear about John 10:34; Where Jesus quoting from Psalm 82:6…, says ‘ye are gods’. What is Lennox saying here about a ‘fortiori argument’? I’ve read the GotQuestions article about this but it’s still not clear. I’m also not clear at all as to what this verse is about at all, let alone how it ties into Jesus train of discussion with the Pharisees. Love to hear your thoughts.

Jesus referred once more to the many works he had done in the name and authority of the Father. But they retorted that they were stoning him, not for a good work, but for blasphemy. Their objection was theological. It was not substantial. Our Lord pointed out to them that in the Psalms God is recorded as having said to certain people: You are “gods” (Psalm 82:6). Now if God can in some sense address humans who have received his word as “gods”, why should it be thought blasphemous if he claimed this? He is the Son of God, the one who had been consecrated and sent into the world by God the Father. This is an a fortiori argument – if it applies to the one case, how much more does it apply to the other!

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 230). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.


@matthew.western A fortiori argument is one that argues from an accepted proposition or statement to another statement that is implicit within this accepted premise. The idea is that if people accept your first statement, they will naturally accept the latter, weaker premise.

Example Argument: If driving 10 mph over the speed limit is punishable by a fine of $50, it can be inferred a fortiori that driving 20 mph over the speed limit is also punishable by a fine of at least $50 (take from Wikipedia)

In this case, Jesus is saying that if those who heard God’s word were called gods, how much more should He be called the Son of God… Also, see following thread.


thankyou for explaining and linking to that thread, I’ll do some further reading. :slight_smile:

I was intrigued by Jimmy’s post in that thread regarding Mormon doctrine; as my wife and I are currently trying to share Jesus with a couple of young Mormon missionaries… I think this may be one of the verses used to support pre-mortal existence… unsure. I won’t try to address it with them unless they do. :slight_smile: I did find this page ( as well so I’ll do a little further reading and come back to you if i get stuck. thanks. :slight_smile:


May the Lord grant you wisdom. You may have already read it, but here is a relevant thread.


Trusting the mind and using God is tantamount to idolatry: trusting God and using the mind is Christian.

If I could pick a quote that sums up Lennox’s position thus far it would be the above.

After reading chapter 11 I think that Lennox gives enough of an argument for any fence sitter to recognize not just the ability for human moral choice but the need to exercise that choice, particularly as it pertains to Jesus and his claims about himself. I have always thought of the book of John as the book of “Believe”, and when it’s all said and done this is what Jesus invites us to do,

“Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom that one sent.” (Jn 6:29LEB).

In these chapter (John 7-10) we see Jesus engaging with the full spectrum of human intellect from his unbelieving family and neighbors to the religious elite. I couldn’t help but think how strange it is to see a technicality keep a person form excepting what to many made sense. In a lot of ways, the more you knew about the law and scriptures the more difficult it was to except the work and claims of Jesus.

To be fair I think that it would benefit everyone to try to relate to the Pharisees. The road to be a Pharisee was a lifelong commitment to study the scriptures both written and oral and to live them out. (think Saul). They believed that they were the keeper of the keys to the scriptures. The chain of authority was clear, God to the angel to Moses to a long line of leaders of which they were included. Add to that the idea, in their case the belief, that the written law was also complemented with an oral law given at the same time and you have hierarchy that is hard to reason with. (As a side bar, in a lot of ways the treatment of the Torah and the Oral laws by the Pharisees reminds me of the way Islam treats the Quran and the Hadiths. The later imitating the former.)

I thought that I would share these seven rules of Midrash that were used throughout the Gospels. I think that if you look at them you will see them being used by Jesus and his detractors in these 4 chapters of John.

Rules of Midrash. According to early rabbinic tradition midrash could be practiced following seven rules (or middôṯ) of Hillel the Elder (cf. t. Sanh. 7.11; ʾAbot R. Nat. [A] §37). All of these rules are utilized in the Gospels:

(1) Qal wāḥômer. (“Light and heavy.”) According to this rule, what is true or applicable in a “light” (or less important) instance is surely true or applicable in a “heavy” (or more important) instance. This rule is plainly in evidence when Jesus assures his disciples (cf. Mt 6:26; Lk 12:24) that because God cares for the birds (light), they can be sure that he cares for them (heavy).

(2) Gizērâ šāwâ. (“An equivalent regulation.”) According to this rule one passage may be explained by another if similar words or phrases are present. Comparing himself to David, who on one occasion violated the Law* in eating consecrated bread (1 Sam 21:6), Jesus justifies his apparent violation of the Sabbath* (Mk 2:23–28).

(3) Binyan ʾāb mikkāṯûḇ ʾeḥād. (“Constructing a father [i.e., principal rule] from one [passage].”) Since God is not the God of the dead but of the living, the revelation at the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham …” (Ex 3:14–15), implies that Abraham* is to be resurrected. From this one text and its inference one may further infer, as Jesus did (Mk 12:26), the truth of the general resurrection.*

(4) Binyan ʾāb ʾāššenê keṯûḇîm. (“Constructing a father [i.e., principal rule] from two writings [or passages].”) From the commands to unmuzzle the ox (Deut 25:4) and share sacrifices with the priests (Deut 18:1–8) it is inferred that those who preach are entitled to support (Mt 10:10; Lk 10:7; 1 Cor 9:9, 13; 1 Tim 5:18).

(5) Kelāl ûp̄erāṭ ûp̄erāṭ ûḵelāl. (“General and particular, and particular and general.”) When Jesus replies that the greatest commandment (the “general”) is to love* the Lord with all one’s heart (Deut 6:4–5) and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self (Lev 19:18), he has summed up all of the “particular” commandments* (Mk 12:28–34).

(6) Kayyôṣēʾḇô bemāqôm ʾaḥēr. (“Like something in another place [or passage].”) If the Son of man* (or Messiah; see Christ) is to sit on one of the thrones set up before the Ancient of Days (Dan 7:9, which is how Rabbi Aqiba interprets Daniel’s plural reference to “thrones,” cf. b. Ḥag. 14a; b. Sanh. 38b), and if Messiah is to sit at God’s right hand (Ps 110:1), it may be inferred that when the Son of man comes with the clouds (Dan 7:13–14), he will be seated at the right hand of God and will judge his enemies. This is evidently what Jesus implied in his reply to Caiaphas (Mk 14:62).

(7) Dāḇār halāmēd mē‘inyānô. (“Word of instruction from its context.”) This rule is exemplified in Jesus’ teaching against divorce (Mt 19:4–8). Although it is true that Moses* allowed divorce (Deut 24:1–4), it is also true that God never intended the marriage union to be broken, as implied in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 (see Marriage and Divorce).

Evans, C. A. (1992). Midrash. In J. B. Green & S. McKnight (Eds.), Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (pp. 544–545). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.


@Jimmy_Sellers Thank you for sharing :slight_smile: That is neat - I had never seen a list midrash rules with examples. I imagine Jesus did speak in such a way as to relate to His audience effectively. I would be curious to see if Jesus’ teaching also differed from midrash in any ways.

Regarding the Pharisees, some did believe. But I wonder - if we read the Gospels I’m not sure we’re meant to sympathize with them too much??? Jesus’ critique of the religious leaders is the harshest of all his critiques. He basically says they had gotten everything wrong and uses them as a foil for what true religion looks like…

  • they were blind guides
  • they thought they were well, when in fact they were white washed tombs
  • they sought their own honor rather than God’s and feared men rather than God
  • they neglected the widow and even their own parents in order to keep their man made traditions
  • they looked for life in the letter of the law rather than in God Himself

Jesus did not imply that their problem was a rational one, but a heart problem. I guess what I’m wondering is - if Jesus did not give them any room for excuses, perhaps neither should we?

Now, I don’t think we should ever assume we know the heart condition of a living person and we must guard our own hearts as well. But I get the idea Jesus, who knew the heart, did not think they were at all justified in their sins.

John 5:39-40 - You study[a] the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Matthew 15:3-9 - He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, k‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, l‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,”1 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have mmade void the word2 of God. 7 nYou hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:

8 o“ ‘This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

9 in vain do they worship me,

teaching as pdoctrines the commandments of men.’ ”


Have no fear I am not advocating for a “save the good name of the Pharisees” apologetic but for me it is helpful to try to understand the why of people’s actions and conclusions. I would ask the same questions of the Nuremberg Trials or any other event(s) that pitted to opposing views on the same subject (think Islam and Jesus). Half the world can claim a belief in Jesus but which Jesus? The Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of the Quran?

As to the Pharisees I have been wandering around in Jacob Neusner’s book, The Rabbinic Traditions About The Pharisees Before 70 (AD) . I have read a lot of NT Wright’s books and he references Neusner a number of time in PFG along with a number of other modern scholars who have differing views of 2nd Temple Jewish thought and practice. I thought I might as well hear it from the horse’s mouth so I started to poke around Neusner’s stuff. I also took a several courses on 2nd Temple Judaism on the Logos mobile Ed that have help me fill in the blanks about the who and maybe the why of the Pharisees. Add to that that Jesus revealed himself to Saul a zealot first class and I am hooked. As a point of reference the sum total of what I was taught about the Pharisees could be summed up in the this thought that Pharisees were the enemy of Jesus and particularly Southern Baptists.:grinning:

I found it interesting that the Festival of the Tabernacle was the event that likely triggered a great revolt during the latter years of Alexander Jannaeus’ (103-76 BC) rule during the Hasmonean dynasty. Jannaeus had a distain for the Jewish Temple practice and during one of these times while acting as high priest he deliberately poured the holy water on the ground and not on the altar. This caused the faithful to riot and pelt him with lemons. Jannaeus responded with overwhelming force and killed 6000 of the faithful. This event likely fueled a much larger revolt lead by the Pharisees, who had considerably grass roots support, and who enlisted the aid of the Seleucid King to over throw Jannaeus. He obliged them and invaded Jerusalem. As the battle was unfolding the Pharisees had a change of heart and returned their loyalty back to Jannaeus. His response after the revolt was put down was to round up 800 of Pharisees and crucify them and while they were in anguish on the crosses he slaughtered the families before their eye as he banqueted with his concubines. Something tells me that this would be an event that likely would be remembered for many years to come. Now fast forward to 30ish AD and hear a man interrupt the most symbolic part of the Temple ritual and if he didn’t interrupt he certainly challenged the symbolism. I wonder how many Pharisees and rulers connected the two events. Certainly, I believe that God intended that someone make the connection.

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees—hypocrites!—because you shut the kingdom of heaven before people! For you do not enter, nor permit those wanting to go in to enter . (Mt 23:13 LEB)


@Jimmy_Sellers Whenever I read about the ancient world I remember how much we owe to Jesus’ teaching here in the West. Even though we do not always get along, we generally understand being unspeakably cruel to those you do not like is not okay. Those simple words - love your enemy - spoken by One who lived such a life, truly altered the course of history.

Tom Holland mentions in this talk that what shocked him most when he read the ancient Greeks and Romans is that they showed no remorse for enslaving entire groups of people or butchering people. It’s hard for us to understand how Jesus changed the course of human history.

Glad you’re having a blast studying history :slight_smile: