A Call for Humility in the Debates over Divine and Human Agency

Convictions about interpretations of biblical texts are necessary in a post-modern world that often encourages indecisiveness. However, some convictions need to be tempered with humility in light of ongoing debates between believers who are committed to the authority of the Scripture. One such debate is the nexus between divine and human agency. The Christian church has debated the topic for two millennia. Positions have been catalogued along a continuum from determinism, to compatibilism, to Molinism, to libertarianism. Such debates have spawned theological systems such as Calvinism and Arminianism. Of course, extreme positions such as Open Theism have rightly been rejected by orthodoxy.

What’s not always considered, though, is that these debates concerning divine and human agency predate Christianity. For instance, Cicero, the Roman philosopher and statesman of the 1st B.C., described such a disputation between ancient philosophers in his work On Fate (e.g. 39). In addition, Josephus, the ancient Jewish apologist who wrote from Flavian Rome in the aftermath of the Jewish war of A.D. 70, describes divergent views on the issue among the mainstream schools of Judaism (i.e. Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees). His portrayal of the sects ranges from determinism to libertarianism (e.g. Antiquities 13.171-173). In particular, his portrait of the Pharisees ranges from compatibilism (Jewish War 2.162-163; Antiquities 18.13) to mild libertarianism (Antiquities 13.172). If this scenario reflects historical reality, it would shed some light on the likely theology of Saul of Tarsus, who later becomes Paul the Apostle.

I am not arguing that we should not seek to discern the Biblical teaching on divine and human agency. Rather, I am saying that we should enter the debate with a recognition that the tension between divine and human agency has been deliberated for a very long time. Develop interpretive convictions, but do so out of a spirit of humility in the presence of mystery.

Doug Finkbeiner

About Doug Finkbeiner
I am a Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA.

One Response to A Call for Humility in the Debates over Divine and Human Agency

  1. Jim Peet says:

    Thanks for this. I posted over at SharperIron

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