Home » Christian Dogmatics » Introducing a Series on: God’s Sovereignty & Human Responsibility, Reframing the Divide

Introducing a Series on: God’s Sovereignty & Human Responsibility, Reframing the Divide

I think I am going to try and do (as time suffices) a series of posts on human
freedom, or more popularly known as ‘human responsibility’; which is usually placed in contrast with God’s sovereignty. It is this duality that has fueled debate in the Christian church about such things starting with Augustine and Pelagius (and John Cassian after that), and then again with Calvin and Pighius, and later and more contemporaneously with the whole classical Arminian and Calvinist debate. People who take Christian ideas seriously—and even those who don’t, really—this debate remains a central point of consternation to those of us who claim the name of Christ (even my describing this, using the language of ‘claim’ the name of Christ could be read a certain way because of this debate). Are we morally free, in ourselves (with the Holy Spirit’s help of course), to accept or reject Christ; do we have deliberative and autonomous power to make such a choice? Or does God irresistibly make the choice for us; thus rendering our subjectivity and individuality moot in light of God’s overpowering (sovereign) objectified life?

I think there is a better way to construe this issue; a way that sees the classical debate as a secondary issue, one that shouldn’t have the power to shape this issue the way that it does. Indeed, I think this starts at the wrong spot, so it ends us at the wrong spot; illustrated by the ongoing irretrievable debate, that hitherto seems to leave the whole lot of us in an abyss to deep to traverse. I think that this classical debate has been given too much shrift, as if it has adequate material categories to provide conceptual hangers strong enough to hang our theological hats on; that is, relative to the issue of ‘human freedom’.

Do we have ‘freedom’? That is the question. The answer, I think, when properly framed—in Christ, no doubt!—will be surprisingly profound, and re-foot this kind of classical debate, around such things, on the solid ground, the solid rock of Christ’s life. And since this is what the wise person does (i.e. builds their house on the rock of Christ’s life, and not the sandy land of man-ward ways cf. Mt 7), we will proceed thusly.

The way I will seek to provide trajectory toward answering this question will be to work through one little section of John Webster’s book Barth’s Moral Theology: Human Action in Barth’s Thought. I am going to try and explain this in a way that is accessible to folk who are not familiar with the lingo of theological code, but at the same time I will expect that you the reader will do due diligence in thinking deeply with me about this rather salient issue. Really, the answer to this is pretty simple; I think more simple than people usually want it to be.