Determined to Believe - Chapter 8: The Human Condition

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 8! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • People are aware of God’s laws
  • People will be held accountable for rejecting the knowledge of God
  • We can stray from God both by being pagan and by being religious

Questions for Discussion

  1. In what ways have you experienced the knowledge of God in nature?
  2. In what ways have you seen evidence of the moral law written on the human heart?
  3. How has sin distorted the human conscience?

Quotes

God has built a signature message into the created universe. This is part of what is often called his “common grace” to mankind.

Men and women are not intellectually blind and so will be held accountable if they refuse the evidence of creation. But there is more evidence than that supplied by the created world. There is, in addition, the evidence of our human moral sense.

He gives a devastating indictment of the sinfulness of human beings, be they pagan or religious, and shows that no one has any excuse for their sin because of the evidence God has given them in creation, in conscience, and in his revealed word.

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John Lennox points to a specific passage from Romans 1 to back up his claim that sin doesn’t completely blind us from God like the T in TULIP suggests. Romans 1:19 says:

Romans 1:19 NIV
[19] since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

I agree with Lennox that this does seem to show that sinners are “perfectly capable of seeing what God has taken the initiative to show them” (p 149). God has created this world and has left his fingerprints all over it. To me, this is obvious. I heard a story from William Lane Craig on his podcast where a woman who was a staunch nihilist gave birth to her first child, and strongly questioned her nihilism until she abandoned it because she couldn’t accept that her child’s life was meaningless. That existential evidence was stronger than any philosophical argument for meaning could ever do.

Total depravity means that there is no possible way we could ever respond to God’s creation unless God himself gave us the means to do so (he regenerated us so that we could have faith). But, as Lennox points out, we cannot be “intellectually blind” because we are “without excuse” if we reject the evidence. We will be held accountable. Lennox is right when he says that “God’s judgement is right just because it has been deserved” (p 151). As Romans 2 expounds, we have the moral law written on our hearts. I believe this is very strong evidence that we can’t be so spiritually dead that we are without a moral pulse whatsoever. I could go a lot deeper on this subject but I need to move on with my review of this chapter.

He goes on to criticize regeneration before faith with this important logical problem:

If a person is regenerate by an act of God, are they not there for a member of the kingdom of heaven and already in recipient of salvation? (p 154)

This is a fair question. The Spurgeon quote backs up his point. Isn’t Spurgeon a Calvinist (excuse the label)? I thought he was. Anyway, from my experience, when a person receives Christ, the changes don’t always come right away. Here’s an example: say that a person was a heavy drinker, and their life is completely in shambles. Then one day they go see a Christian speaker, and after the event there is an alter call and he is one of the many that go to the front and commit their lives to Jesus. After that, he joins a church and after a year or so is completely over his addiction. His regeneration in that area obviously came after his commitment of faith, not before. Maybe you could parallel this with pride, anger, lust, etc. Those spiritual sins that poison the heart take time to overcome. If God preordained that a person would have faith in Jesus after visiting a certain speaker, how come his pride, anger, lust, or addictions were still apart of his daily routine before he listened to the speaker? Wouldn’t it be consistent if those sins were all gone before he visited the speaker and had faith is Jesus, not after? Is this a fair thing to ask those who believe in regeneration before faith? I think so.

I love Lennox’s next argument using the Story of Adam and Eve. He begins by giving the theistic determinist view of the Fall:

Some theistic determinists put a confusing gloss on what happened in Eden. They said that, yes, Adam fell into sin by using his freedom, but what they mean by freedom is not what most people typically understand by that term. They mean only the freedom of spontaneity. They hold that Adam was free to do what he wanted to do, but they believe that he was not free to do anything other than he actually chose to do, since he was predestined to disobey God’s command. (p 155)

Even Calvin believed it to be “a horrible decree.” I don’t see how 1 Corinthians 10:13 supports libertarian free will, though. Can’t God determine to “not let you be tempted beyond what (he predetermined) you can bear”? That’s how I see it. Anyway, back to Genesis. Lennox points out Adam and Eve must have had free will in the garden because 1) God explicitly commanded them not to eat of the one tree in the garden, and 2) once they disobeyed God, “they experienced a sense of shame, unease, and alienation from God that impelled them to hide from God. (p 157)” this brings up the response that God has two wills (the contradicting narrative that God’s “prescriptive will,” where God openly tells Adam not to eat from the tree, is not the same as his “decretive will,” where Adam was determined by God to disobey his prescriptive will). If this “two wills” interpretation is true, why then does God punish Adam and Eve for disobeying a command they were set up (by God) not to obey? This reminds me how much I dislike any kind of determinism. Reading the quote Lennox pulls from a book by Calvinists on Adam struck me as weird (bottom of p 157). How could Adam not have sinned if he didn’t have free will? Then he quotes a sentence that is he says is just two paragraphs later:

God sovereignly decreed that sin would enter the world, and Adam was responsible for freely sinning. (p 158)

How does that make any sense? If Christianity is true, you wouldn’t think one has to bend the rules of logic to fit it into reality.

Lennox points out in Genesis that when Adam and Eve sinned, they became spiritually dead because they’re relationship with God was broken. Yet they were still aware of God in the garden and hid from him. They could even could hear him speak to them and reply back. According to Calvinism, they shouldn’t be aware of God in any way. They would have ignored God or be completely unable to hear God in the garden. This is a very good insight by Lennox. He points out that Adam wasn’t even morally dead in this new state. I loved the CS Lewis quote on pages 161-2:

Or could one seriously introduce the idea of a bad God, as it were by the back door, through a sort of extreme Calvinism? You could say that we are fallen and depraved. We are so depraved that our ideas of goodness count for nothing; or worse than that – the very fact that we think something good is presumptive evidence that it really is bad. Now God has in fact – our worst fears are true – all the characteristics we regard as bad: unreasonableness, vanity, vindictiveness, injustice, cruelty. But all these blacks (as they seem to us) are really white. It’s only our depravity that makes them look black to us…

Finally, if reality at its root is so meaningless to us – or, putting it the other way around, if we are such total imbeciles – what is the point of trying to think either about God or about anything else? This knot comes undone when you try to pull it tight.

I never knew that Lewis talked about Calvinism! How cool! Like most quotes from Lewis, this one is profound. I believe he is on point when he says that if Calvinism is true, our idea of goodness counts for nothing. Throughout the book, Lennox has made similar statements when he says that if divine determinism is true, morality would have no meaning. These problems are some of the strongest reasons why I am not a Calvinist (along with different interpretations of key passages like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1 that are coherent with the rest of scripture).

I do disagree with Lennox, though, when he says that regeneration before faith can be an excuse to stop evangelizing to unbelievers. I think most Calvinists would agree that God can use their efforts in Evangelism to help with a person’s regeneration. That seems pretty straightforward to me.

Lastly, I’d like to mention John 3:14, which Lennox goes through himself.

John 3:14 NIV
[14] Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, [15] that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Isn’t this verse straightforward? It’s not like Jesus said all whom he predetermines to believes will look at the Son of Man. I remember when I read the passage Jesus refers to from Numbers 21. If anyone notices, but the snake symbol has been a defining characteristic on the side of ambulances for awhile. It’s called the star of life.

Overall I think John Lennox did a great job critiquing this view of regeneration before faith (to be fair not all Reformed folk hold to this view as Greg Koukl said on his podcast earlier this year that he he believes scripture teaches otherwise).

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great post, I really enjoyed it.

This stuck out at me; I wonder if the mother felt a deep love for her child, and really questioned her nihilistic worldview because it didn’t match up with what she was experiencing. After all, what exactly is love, if humans are just meaningless star dust and nothing else. :slight_smile:

interesting that God is love, God created all humans in his image, we know and can experience love from others and give love to others. as you say God’s fingerprints are on His creation (us).

Reminds me of Psalm 8…

great post, enjoying reading them… :slight_smile:

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@O_wretched_man Terrific post! You are really engaging with Lennox’s arguments. I agree that saying Calvinism leads to a lack of evangelism is a straw man, but that on the whole this was a well written chapter on how the fall has impacted human nature.

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On pages 157 and 159 ( Kindle) of the book, I am wondering if the book quote from ‘14 of the reformed tradition’ and also A.W. Pink are using the the terms “sovereignly decreed” and Pink’s words “its determined course” are more to mean God foreknew yet allowed sin to take it’s course? Meaning He created and allowed it to happen, while maintaining Adam’s free choice for having sinned, and God sovereignly allowed it proceed.

Otherwise I can make no sense of these quotes from these fine teachers. Maybe I am trying to find a reason to not believe they mean what Lennox is pointing out.

I am perplexed about D.A. Carson and Tim Keller (eds), of the book quoted “The Gospel as Center” And a little disturbed as I had not really understood these things about the reformed tradition until these last few weeks.

sigh…

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@mitwit I disagree with D. A. Carson and Tim Keller on this particular topic, yet I am still very thankful for their teaching. I think what you have to understand is that when someone becomes part of a particular theological tradition during their formative years (seminary, in Keller’s case, if I understand correctly) then it becomes a part of their identity and their mental canvas is filled with good images of / logical arguments for that position. A strong Biblical case can be made for their position - so I hope you can move from being disturbed to understanding the limited nature of our humanity :slight_smile: I wouldn’t want you to miss out on all the great things from these teachers.

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This I am learningto do. And you help me. I am thankful for their work and listen to them and read their writings. I just do not think I even understood really what “ determined” in this subject even really meant. This is a growing experience for me and makes me very much more thoughtful and prayerful and also puts me in a place to truly love and not be rejecting or spurning fellow believers in Christ. But also to really know what it is I truly do believe before God. Thanks for your encouragement Sean.

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@mitwit So glad we are learning together :slight_smile: I find that every time I study this topic I learn something new about how to respect and honor our brothers and sisters with whom we disagree.

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