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 2! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.
My main takeaways were:
- science has not definitively shown that we are nothing more than our minds - we still cannot explain human consciousness and it is reductionistic to insist we are nothing more than our brains
- determinism robs us meaning and morality
- we can appreciate or spiritual heritage without being bound by it
- John Lennox is thankful for the reformation
- free will is fundamental to the Biblical narrative, beginning with the Garden of Eden where God intentionally put Adam / Eve in a situation that required them to exercise free agency
Questions for Discussion
- What is the causal nexus? In what way is it insufficient to explain human consciousness?
- In what ways does naturalistic determinism fall victim to reductionism?
- How does determinism make morality meaningless?
- Did all of the leaders of the reformation teach theological determinism?
- Can we appreciate our spiritual heritage while still disagreeing with some of the conclusions of those who have gone before us?
The Oxford Handbook of Free Will cheerfully tells us that there are ninety different kinds of determinism. We shall have to be content with very few.
In its general form theistic determinism does not lay down how God does the causing, only that he does so.
The most famous living theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, is a physical determinist. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behaviour is determined by physical law, so it seems we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.
Leading German neuroscientist Wolf Singer, co-author of the so-called “Manifesto of Brain Researchers”, thinks that, since the mind will eventually be completely explained naturalistically in terms of physical states and processes in the brain, we should give up all talk of freedom of the will.
there is a close connection, particularly on the atheist side, between determinism and reductionism
In a much cited paper that appeared in Nature, John-Dylan Haynes and colleagues argued that our “subjective experience of freedom is no more than an illusion”.
human freedom is connected in most people’s minds with morality and human dignity. Do we really wish to leave morality behind, to say nothing of the concept of love?
Sam Harris insists that anyone examining their own life will “see that free will is nowhere to be found”.
Causal determinism, whether genetic or otherwise, overreaches itself. It not only destroys morality, it destroys all meaning. The supreme irony of all of this is that many of the atheists quoted are precisely the people who think that Christianity oppresses people, demeans them, and removes their freedom. Now they tell us that we have no freedom at all – such logic is wonderful to behold!
Philosopher of science Tim Lewens of Cambridge argues that this argument is not weakened by quantum indeterminacy…It is chance, not control, that dictates which of these futures will materialize.
One of the most useful books on the whole topic is Mythos Determinismus (The Determinism Myth), subtitled “How much does brain research explain?” by Brigitte Falkenburg…She says that: “In the end, brain research cannot show that neuronal behaviour determines the contents of our consciousness.”
God is not constrained by the causal nexus, and he has created human beings in his image who are not completely constrained by it either.
The key question is: just what does God’s sovereignty involve?
This passage (Garden of Eden) is crucial for understanding what Scripture itself means by God’s sovereignty. It is clearly to be understood not in terms of absolute control over human behaviour but as a much more glorious thing: the devolving of real power to creatures made in God’s image, so that they are not mere programmed automata but moral beings with genuine freedom – creatures with the capacity to say yes or no to God, to love him or to reject him.
human freedom in this sense is fundamental to the biblical narrative.
inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign.
The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against his goodness, for he could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.
The very fact that I am writing this book may well, from the perspective of history, be at least in part traceable to the phenomenal energy, ability, and courage of Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers
God’s guidance is never purely and simply the kind of micro-management that leaves the individual no choice.
The issue, I emphasise, is not whether the Bible teaches the sovereignty of God – it does. The issue is what it means by that teaching. For there are different ways of understanding the concept of sovereignty.
God is not the irresistible cause of human behaviour, whether good or bad – otherwise our actions and characters would be deprived of moral significance and it would make no sense to talk of us doing or being “good” or “bad”.
Richard Muller persuasively argues in his recent book, there is great variety among seventeenth-century theologians in the reformed tradition, many of whom even opposed determinism.
whatever conclusions we come to about what Calvin and his successors actually believed about determinism and free will, it is surely reasonable to say that these theologians were at least instrumental in leading many people then and now to become determinists
It is this prior question of what Scripture teaches that will principally concern us here.