Determined to Believe: Chapter 9 - All People Free to Respond to God's Call in Christ

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

My main takeaways were:

  • the call of God is not coercive
  • not all reformers ascribed to limited atonement
  • the Biblical text suggest that all people are capable of responding to God’s offer of salvation

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is it important that all people are able to respond to God’s call?
  2. What is the Biblical evidence that all people are capable of responding to God’s call?
  3. How would someone who believed God’s call is irresistible still maintain human responsibility for sin?


The text does not say that those who live will hear, but that those who hear will live.

Hearing and believing come together: I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life… (John 5:24.)

Whatever it means to be “given by the Father”, we cannot argue that it eliminates human responsibility, since such responsibility is exactly what Christ affirms three sentences later.

However, some theologians ascribe to the term “draw” a compelling, if not coercive, dimension. That is, they regard the drawing as irresistible (the I of TULIP). But this cannot be, for Christ uses the same term later in John’s Gospel in this way: … I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself. (John 12:32.)

That is, none of these statements imply that all will be saved, but that the offer of salvation is there for all – and not just for a special class chosen by God without reference to their faith.

In fact, not only Luther but many of the other reformers, including Calvin, did not subscribe to limited atonement.


I’m glad to get to this chapter, because I’d like to raise a question that has bothered me for a long time, the only “evidence” I can see to justify believing in Calvinism. Here it is: I think we all know people that had a sudden and dramatic conversion experience, where they encountered Christ when they would not have said they were seeking, similar to Paul’s Damascus Road experience. Then we know people who really seem to be searching for God, but never seem to get assurance. I really can’t figure this out. On the surface, it would seem that God “chooses” some and not others. But I also realize that these examples are experiential and not based on Scripture, which is problematic. Still, I’d like to hear what people think regarding this. I’m not a Calvinist, so don’t need to be convinced, but, like I said, this has always bothered me.


Very good question! I’ve thought similar things in the past, so this will be great to discuss. The way I thought about those two groups were:

  1. people encountering Christ when they aren’t seeking doesn’t take away responsibility. Encountering Christ doesn’t save you, but accepting that risen Christ and putting your faith in Him. You still have a choice to make.

  2. those who are seeking and aren’t finding assurance might not be seeking after the Christian God. I’m not saying everyone, but just in what I’ve seen its been clear that they didn’t want God, but something he can offer.

How do you think about those two groups you mentioned? Has these thoughts perhaps helped in any way?


John Lennox uses most of this chapter to address the sixth chapter of John’s gospel, which is one of the key chapters Calvinists usually point to. I love how Lennox approaches this chapter within context. He begins at verse 26 and almost goes verse for verse up to verse 40. His commentary is invaluable. One problem i had, though, was with his analogy on page 173 where he tries to explain verses 37-40, and specifically the phrase “I shall lose none of all that he (the Father) has given me.” Here is his analogy:

And analogy may help. Suppose a shepherd asks me to look after his sheep for an hour with the instruction, “ Please don’t drive away any sheep that come to you.” He comes back and finds me alone. “what has happened?” he says. “Well, I did what you said. I didn’t drive any sheep away – they went on their own.” It would be an entirely different matter if the shepherd had said, “Don’t lose any sheep that comes to you.”

I believe this analogy actually works against the point he is trying to make. Here’s why. Lennox gives this analogy in the context of salvation and if it is possible to lose it or not. Lennox believes that we cannot lose it because of Jesus saying he will “lose none of all that [the Father] has given me.” The purpose of the analogy is that once we have salvation, Jesus (the Shepherd) will make sure not to lose us. We cannot walk away once we accept the free gift of salvation. But this analogy gives a different picture. First, God is depicted as the shepherd who gives sheep to Lennox. That means he chose the sheep beforehand. The sheep did not freely choose the shepherd. He can’t be talking about the whole world of “sheep” because that would point to everyone being saved, which isn’t Biblical.Plus, the instructions are oddly worded. “Please don’t drive away any sheep that comes to you” seems unnecessary strange. Why not say instead, “please look after all my sheep”? He could definitely have at least improved it. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know.

I don’t think Lennox’s case for John 6 would be convincing to your average Calvinist. He says that the “giving” of the Father means giving through salvation. God has paid our debts through Jesus Christ, so now we belong to Christ only if we accept the the free gift. That’s how I understand his case in this chapter. Verse 8 from chapter 17 of John’s gospel also reinforces this point (which Lennox quotes):

John 17:8 NIV
[8] For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.

Lennox also pushes back of the I in TULIP (irresistible grace), because if this is true (that the term “draw” in scripture means something completely against our free will), then all would be saved because the same language used in John 12:32: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” That’s a great point by Lennox. There is a better interpretation:

A more reasonable understanding of the situation is that, on the one hand, no one comes to Christ unless the Father draws him (God always takes the initiative in salvation), but on the other hand his drawing is accessible to all who are willing to listen, learn, and trust. (p 176-7)

We have to be prepared to listen, because it is so easy to ignore the voice of God in our lives. That is why it does not take much to be a staunch naturalist, even though there is little evidence for it at all.

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@donnagremillion Thanks for sharing your questions about peoples’ experience of God and its relation to assurance :slight_smile: The first thing I would say is that I think your description of the situation is too simplistic. For example, there may be people with radical conversion experiences who still struggle with assurance and I know there are people with less radical conversion experiences who are confident in God’s love because I am one…

I think the best way to approach this question is to first to consider what statisticians call confounding factors. What are some other possible explanations for why some people have assurance and others do not besides their experience of conversion? I can think of a few reasons someone might struggle with self-doubt that are unrelated to their conversion experience.

  • they have experienced many broken relationships in their life and struggle to trust anyone at all. This emotional struggle from their past is then translated into their walk with God.
  • they feel that the Church or God has let them down in some major way in their life
  • their view of God is distorted and they constantly live in fear of God cutting them off from Him. Either because of how Christians behaved towards them in the past or poor teaching they view God as angry and always on the verge of letting them go.
  • they are wrestling with a besetting sin and are not repenting regularly. Sin can cause confusion, self-doubt and a sense of separation from God.
  • they are in a dark season of their life for reasons of which we are unaware
  • their personality tends towards pessimism and they need to do some heart healing work in their own life

Would you agree that there is room for alternative explanations other than conversion experience? Can you think of anyone you know whose conversion was not dramatic who trust wholly in God’s love and has a vibrant faith? Christ grant you understanding :slight_smile:


@O_wretched_man Good thoughts! I think you misunderstood Lennox’s point with the Shepherd analogy. Lennox is saying that Jesus is the Shepherd and the Father is the One who gave Jesus us - the sheep. Lennox is making the point that we can have assurance of salvation because Jesus has committed to lose none of those who come to Him for healing.

What I think Lennox is trying to do is say that even though we must freely choose God, we do not need to live in constant fear of losing our salvation because Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is committed to keeping all who become His sheep in the fold once they are there - via intercession before the Father, discipline and the gift of the Spirit.

Does that make sense?


@c3vanzyl @SeanO Those are both great answers. I would like to go a little further because my questions was more about the experience itself, not so much about the assurance it gives afterwards. It’s great how asking questions of others makes you think about it more deeply yourself. Like most questions, this one is personal since I don’t feel like I’m a person who has supernatural experiences like I hear frequently other people do. I have to admit this led me lack assurance for a long time, but I’ve since learned to rely on the Word rather than emotions. Still, it made me wonder why this is common for some, but rare for others. I agree that it’s not a simple answer.

From my own past, my sister, who led me to Christ, had a very supernatural conversion and many encounters with God early on. I didn’t have the same experience when I answered the altar call, so immediately thought that she was somehow more “favored” by God. Looking back, 40 years later, I can see that her life has been much more difficult, still enduring a very tough marriage. Right after his encounter, Jesus told Paul how much he would have to suffer for his name’s sake. Perhaps these encounters are strength for the journey. I’m just speculating here.

The only reason I brought this topic up here is that I’ve heard it used as an example of how God chooses some but rejects others. I didn’t really know how to answer that, since I’d wondered about it myself!


@donnagremillion Thanks for sharing more of your story :slight_smile: Honestly, I’ve never heard a voice either. In terms of emotions, I think we each process life differently and that there is a journey in learning how to connect our head knowledge to our heart. I definitely believe the Holy Spirit plays a role in that process, but I think that we also must understand what activities touch us - writing, music, reading - and try to engage with God in those ways. There is a beautiful dance between the reality of Christ in us and our creaturely status.

You might find some of these threads helpful:


I agree, because I was in the same shoes. Thank you for bringing it up and posting the questions.


One takeaway I took from this chapter was the paragraph:
“If “what was historically agreed” refers to the central claims of the New Testament regarding the person and work of Christ, and the authenticity of the Scriptures, then I support the authors’ desire to combat this trend wherever found. However, if “what was historically agreed” refers to times subsequent to the New Testament, and includes theological determinism, then it needs to be questioned, because it is a real issue as to whether it does or does not belong to the core of Christian belief.” pg 158.

When there are huge divisions in the body due to interpretations established long after the scriptures were written, I believe we should look carefully to both arrive at a proper understanding that is true to scripture and that can establish unity. And peace in the body as much as possible. Would not the One Spirit give the same message to all? But sometimes we must search for it. We cannot give in to " I am right, you are wrong" and walk away divided. I can do that really well! ask my husband. But it is never the way of the Lord.

I think the ability to have discourse that honors God that leads to mutual edification, love and even peace should be a real goal in our search for understanding the scripture.

I am finding this book to be a very helpful aid in thinking, and at the same time can reveal a desire to divide, with puffed up-ness. Spirit vs flesh…

I am thankful that the ones who post here, those ones who have a gentle spirit and respect.

I am learning.


Yes I see what you mean. I know that technically Lennox is working off of a metaphor that Jesus uses throughout the gospels where he is the shepherd and we are his sheep.

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It’s been a while since I’ve been able to follow this thread, but it’s great to be back and read up on the discussion.

As a “free willer” I am convinced God uses a million ways to draw people to Himself, and people respond in a million ways!

God spoke to Abram, and he quietly obeyed, picking up and leaving without much fuss. God wrestled with Jacob and patiently “argued” with him until he submitted. God picked Saul to be King, and in a real sense have the opportunity for an intimate relationship with Him. Saul started by following, but then abandoned God for self. God called Judas to be one of the 12, but he was looking for a different type of savior. John the Baptist, the greatest prophet (and called by God before birth) still had his doubts about Jesus (Matt 11). God called Paul in a miraculous way on the road to Damascus, and he responded in a miraculous way. We have no idea how Stephen was saved, but know that he was sure of his salvation unto death.

The Bible is full of stories describing very different ways God and “man” have related. This convinces me we have free will and that God patiently draws all people to Himself, even if they debate or struggle with His Lordship/Existence. Some people struggle with Him and never bend the knee. Others struggle with Him, even after bending the knee. To some people God seems to engage conversationally, while to others He seems to lead through circumstances or some other still small voice.

My encouragement to you, and all of us, is to press in to God as He has revealed Himself to us through His Word AND through our personal experiences. Let’s not wish we had someone else’s experience, but just enjoy our own…and seek Him for more!

God is Awesome,