Tony Jones, Greg Boyd respond to Rob Bell

Tony Jones calls into question Rob Bell’s belief in human freedom. Rob’s idea is often called libertarian free will, and for Rob’s title — love wins — to work, it requires that God grants humans the freedom to choose to do what they want, turn to God or turn into themselves. Tony Jones contends for a more deterministic mindset and less human freedom.

Here’s the question: Are we, are all humans, free to choose God? And does Rob Bell’s theory of freedom require a de-determinizing of the human condition after death?

This is from Tony (link above):

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve watched the videos and I’ve read reviews, and I read a post this week by Greg Boyd which attempted to show the logical inconsistencies of moral determinism.

Greg’s post is entirely theological in its reasoning. He does not seem to take into account sociological or anthropological rationale. And neither does Rob Bell when, in interviews, he repeatedly insists on human freedom. In fact, Rob’s commitment to total human freedom, even after death, seems thoroughgoing.

This is called “rational actor theory” by social theorists, and it posits that human beings are free and conscious actors who independently determine their behavior. Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith, for example, subscribes to a version of this theory (see his books, Moral Believing Animals and What Is a Person?).

I am not. I subscribe to a type of post-Marxist theory called “post-structuralism.” We are, each of us, bound up in structures and super-structures of sociality that determine and even dictate a large percentage of our behavior. In fact, much of our lives are spent in the self-deluded state that we’re choosing what we do. We don’t actually have much freedom at all, and our choices in life are strikingly limited.

Rob has been talking a lot about freedom, stating that love requires freedom and using anecdotes that corroborate that. How could a God who gives us so much freedom, Rob asks, not give us unlimited choices for heaven over hell?

But how much freedom do you really have? You weren’t free to choose the family into which you were born, or the society in which you were reared. By the time you’d reached late adolescence and your moral and religious proclivities were set, you’d had virtually no freedom.

Further, Rob’s claims of near absolute human freedom betray his status as a human being of enormous privilege. I doubt that a woman living in rural Afghanistan or a man living in the slums of Juarez experience much freedom.

If our lives are, as I suspect, largely dictated by unseen social structures, it may not have much to do with our eternal destinies, but it does seem to undermine Rob’s primary thesis.

But Greg Boyd supports Rob Bell’s theory of human freedom.

The Incoherence of Ordained Morality. I would argue that the association of moral responsibility and free will is not only deeply intuitive, as the article suggests, it is also logically necessary. That is, I would argue that denying the association of moral responsibility and free will results in incoherence. For example, when a Calvinist asserts something like: “God ordains that Satan does evil in such a way that God remains morally holy for ordaining Satan to do evil while Satan becomes morally evil for doing what the all-holy God ordained him to do,” I submit they are asserting something that is beyond counter-intuitive; it is utterly incoherent. For a concept to have meaning it must have some rooting in our experience, at least by analogy. A concept for which there is no analogy in our experience is a vacuous concept. Yet, after decades of asking, I have yet to find anyone who can provide an analogy by which we might give meaning to the concept of an agent being morally responsible for what God ordained them to do. (I develop this argument at length in response to Paul Helseth in Four Views of Divine Providence).

Determinism is Self-Refuting. If free will is an illusion and everything is predetermined, then the ultimate cause of  why a person believes that free will is an illusion and everything is predetermined is that they were predetermined to do so. But it’s hard to see how a belief can be considered “true” or “false” when it is, ultimately, simply a predetermined event.   The snow falling outside my window right now is due to the fact that preexisting conditions determined it to be so. But we wouldn’t say that the snowfall is “true” or “false.”

Refuting Determinism By Action. You know what a person truly believes by how they act more than by what they say, for we often think we believe something when in fact we don’t. (E.g. the husband who convinces himself he loves his wife even though he mistreats her, cheats on her, etc.). On this basis I’d like to suggest that everyone who deliberates believes in free will, even if they think they do not, for its impossible to deliberate without acting on the conviction that the decision is up to you to resolve.

For example, I am this moment deliberating about what to work on when I finish this blog. Should I work on a peace essay for a book collection that is due at the end of this week or should I finish reading a book by Andrew Sullivan that I started two days ago? As I weigh the pros and cons of both possibilities, I cannot help but manifest my conviction that I genuinely could opt for either one of these alternatives and that it is up to me to decide which I will choose. In other words, I reveal a deep rooted conviction that I am free as I deliberate, and the same holds true for every deliberation anyone engages in. There simply is no other way to deliberate.

People may sincerely think they believe in determinism, but they act otherwise, and must act otherwise, every time they deliberate.  The great American philosopher Charles Pierce argued that a belief that cannot be consistently acted on cannot be true. If he’s right about this – and I believe he is – then determinism must be false.

For further discussion of the Rob Bell book at Patheos, see:

Part 1 and Part 2 of Ben Witherington’s chapter-by-chapter review at Bible and Culture.

Jeff Cook, here at Jesus Creed, “Rob Bell and CS Lewis

Timothy Dalrymple, “A Framework for Understanding the Rob Bell Controversy

Thomas F. Kidd, “For Whom the Bell Tolls: The Audacity of Love Wins

The “Love Wins” book feature at the Patheos’ Book Club

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Randall

    I concur with Greg Boyd that talk of Ordained Morality or resonbility for pre-determined in any comprehendible sense is not something I find coherent; drop one or the other but I believe responsbility implies some freedom or it is nonsense. A society that attempted to build along those tenets would certainly not appear to extol the teachings of Christ either. We’re not entirely free of our circumstances but, that also limits our responsibility in some way and that is why it is insane when we judge others, we don’t know their circumstances and judge only by appearances.

  • Randall

    Apparently my circumstances made me mispell many words above so I’m not entirely responsible! lol

  • SJ Austin

    Both Boyd and Jones have impacted my faith and calling in significant ways, Boyd with his theodicy and Jones with his call to return to ancient spiritual practices.

    I’m disappointed that Tony Jones has tossed his hat in this ring (even though he says he’s basing it mainly on the interviews Bella has given) without reading the book. I’ve had enough of that approach, and I expected better from him.

    The post-structuralism that Jones suggests makes sense, but I’m not sure it ultimately has any bearing on the eschatological soteriology (I just made that phrase up) in Love Wins.

  • rjs

    I agree with SJ Austin, I don’t see what Tony’s point has to do with Bell’s book.

  • Pastor Matt

    Great post.

    I think Tony has a point even though I do believe that the Holy Spirit can grant us the power to rise above our context.

  • JoeyS

    I think Tony is being thoughtful here, but since he hasn’t read the book he is just thoughtfully guessing. I think he is overstating his case and it didn’t seem that Bell used freedom in quite the way Tony is guessing. To Bell, freedom is a condition of love and he doesn’t really push it beyond that idea.

  • Darren King

    One of the reasons why I think we DO hold the ability to choose God (or not) AFTER death, is for the very reasons Tony states. Here on Earth our choices are not really freely made. We exist under enormous cultural pressures (though we only really feel them when we try and push against them, in the unlikely case that we do). This, for me, gets at what “seeing Him as He really is” is all about. Not only do we see Jesus/God clearly ONLY then, but its also ONLY then that I see myself and the rest of Creation clearly.

    Being responsible for my decisions prior to that point (when we’re talking eternity as a consequence) just doesn’t make any sense.

  • Randall

    This entire subject reminds me why I appreciate the book, “Do unicorns dream of electric sheep?”, by Phillip Dick. The cult classic, Blade Runner was based on it. In the story, Deckard, a robot bounty hunter, gets confused after finding out that a woman, Rachel is actually a replicant that thinks herself human and was implanted with memories of a past and childhood. In the book 2 world religions compete, Mercerism and Friendly Friends, the book touches the subject about what it means to be human and I believe addresses itself to when accountable moral agency begins.

    The book left me accepting that determinism and responsibility exist in a continuous mix that makes questions about human moral agency more complex than many dogmatic positions will admit.

    When I read the Bible as a child, I saw this underlying much of the story, when I started reading theology books, I noticed many preclude this simple notion for whatever reason.

  • John W Frye

    I find Tony’s suggestions regarding freedom worthy of consideration, yet I will move to these phrases of his: “…we don’t actually have much freedom…,” “…you’d had virtually no freedom.” So, Tony in his post-structuralism does not declare no freedom. We “virtually have” but do not “actually” have no freedom. So, now the question isn’t humans’ freedom or not, but how much? I think Bell would say enough to say “yes” or “no” to God’s love.

  • John W Frye

    Philosophically this is pertinent. Boyd writes, “A concept for which there is no analogy in our experience is a vacuous concept.” And, “…I have yet to find anyone who can provide an analogy by which we might give meaning to the concept of an agent being morally responsible for what God ordained them to do.” Those who espouse meticulous determinism always punt at this point: “It’s a mystery.” No it’s not. It’s totally incoherent.

  • Jonathan

    It seems Tony is confusing the idea of choosing freedom vs. having freedom. Individual, social and anthropological circumstances cause us to act in preditable ways, therefore we don’t really have any freedom. While this is an arguable position, I don’t know that it’s entirely Scriptural.
    It’s a shame he hasn’t read the book, because I thought Bell addressed this brilliantly in his exposition of the older son in the Prodigal Son story, specifically the verse “everything I have is yours.”

  • Jonathan

    #11 retraction
    I think I sounded like a jerk when I said that Tony’s premise “wasn’t Scriptural.” I didn’t intend to make such a weighted claim. Apologies.

  • normbv

    So much for God’s instruction to Cain to make the right choice by ruling over sins desire. It seems that God needed to have read and understood the philosophy of Tony Jones before putting that wrong idea in Cain’s head about his ability to choose well by ruling over it.

    Gen 4:6-7 ESV The LORD said to Cain … If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but YOU MUST RULE over it.”

    Col 2:8 ESV See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

    And this is not an attempt to substantiate Rob Bell’s idea’s either.

  • Matt

    It seems to me that the determinism/free will debate has quite a bit in common with the slavery/freedom dichotomy that is at play in scripture. I think it would make an interesting study. The idea I would expect to find is that – if the Biblical writers were to respond to the modern debates of determinism, they might say that sin leads us onto a deterministic path, whereas grace leads to a place of authentic personal choice/”freedom.”

    Just a hunch, though.

  • rjs

    To the questions Scot posed:

    (1) Yes we are all free to choose God or not.

    (2) Yes, Bell’s theory of freedom requires a de-determinizing of the human condition after death. This is a key point and has to do with the idea of God’s love and God’s justice.

    This is why I think Tony’s post misses the mark, he can be right and irrelevant.

    But the kind of determinism that Tony seems to imply is not absolute determinism, a lack of human agency and choice, rather a truism that circumstances matter.

  • Tony Jones

    I’m not guessing here, friends. Rob has been interviewed repeatedly and extensively in the past two weeks, and, in my opinion, he is dramatically overestimating human freedom. If his book says something different, then he needs to ger better at interviews. But I doubt that’s the case.

  • Mick

    I agree with Tony in part but not the conclusions he draws from his points. According to Phil. 1:13, we are prisoners who are being held captive. Not only spiritually but to our corrupt will which chooses self over God and to many societal structures as well. But this implies we were free at some point in order to have become captives. “We have been rescued from the dominion of darkness…”. The Holy Spirit reveals this truth to us and awakens/enables us to exercise the will we were given but that has become captive so that we may say yes to the gospel and to life a life of freedom.

  • rjs


    Your premise is that we are born into circumstances and those circumstances determine, or largely determine, our response isn’t it?

    If so, sure – but I still don’t understand what your point is with relationship to Bell’s book. Is he saying that this is not true or is he saying that it is not true ultimately in the end (i.e. including “second chances” post death)?

  • Josh Mueller

    Why can’t both be right – at least to a degree? I don’t think Rob would deny that human freedom is not absolute. Nor would Tony deny that in spite of all the influences on our thinking and choosing there are options before us that have a bearing on the question of moral responsibility and accountability.

    Scripture as a whole doesn’t seem to confirm the extremes of determinism and of absolute freedom. It does suggest however that divine love in its non-coerciveness (which allows for shockingly destructive choices and horrible consequences of suffering on our part) is able to redeem even the greatest evil and work out things for God’s good purpose in the bigger picture.

  • normbv

    Just to clarify. I don’t have a problem with Tony’s recognition of life’s circumstances as having importance, which really isn’t the question at hand. I would see a problem with Bell stating that at post mortem we have choices concerning Hell when primarily the discussion of Gehenna [hell] is about a past physical judgment upon apostate Israel refusing Christ during the movement from physical Temple worship to a new spiritual Temple dwelling. This culminated with the sacking of Jerusalem and the dissolving of old Temple practices and being cast into the place of torment called the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. That judgment is an everlasting judgment in the sense that it sealed their physical and covenantal fate forever. There were no second choices thereafter for those suffering death on the day of that particular judgment in history.

    Trying to make post mortem applications from those contextual times would be reading way more into post mortem existence than the authors were intending.

  • Dean

    Sometimes I can’t rationally explain the reason I do and say things that I regret. But I can repent, I can yield, I can seek to reconcile, I can overcome…all because of mercy that preserves and grace that empowers. Whether someone else assumes that I am pre-determined to act or think in certain ways because of external circumstances, there are multitudes of examples of those who actually chose in spite of them. The fact that I can say, “I can” means that I am able to choose. What I cannot choose is the fruit of my words or actions…they seem to fit into the sowing and reaping principle of the created order.

    Not sure if this applies to the disagreement but for the record, I am not a determinist and my comments above are my explanation. Take away my ability to choose and I have no freedom. Argue that I cannot choose but I am free to argue with you. :-)

  • Linda

    If people do have libertarian free will that would mean that people that go to Heaven could then freely reject God.

  • normbv

    Linda # 22

    that would be a good question to ask God about when we get there. What are the rules in this place. 😉

  • PaulE

    Doesn’t Boyd make a category mistake in his second argument? Snowfall is analogous to the event of believing. But the event of believing and the content of a belief are not the same thing. So when he says it doesn’t make sense to say that snowfall “true” or “false”, how does that do any harm to the content of the belief?

    I’m also curious how he would reconcile his first argument to say Job 37:19. “Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.” The defense of God’s justice amidst “all the trouble the LORD had brought on Job” seems not to be the devil’s free will, but Job’s lack of concepts with which to even evaluate God’s justice.

  • PSF

    Interesting debate! For a kind of “third way” from a different angle, recent work in neurobiology seems to indicate that both perspectives have some merit. Social conditioning, as well as repeated habit-forming choices, actually “hard-wire” our brains (so so speak) such that we are more likely to choose the same way again. This mechanism enables learning and mastery (mental, kenetic, etc.) but it can also serve harmful paths (bad habits, addictions, etc.). Negative conditioning, as well as repeated bad choices, restrict our freedom . . . and this affects us biologically. Yet, it is possible (however difficult) to re-wire neural pathways . . . to break vicious cycles and consequently open new possibilities.

    For more on this perspective (from someone much more qualified in the area than me), see Paul Markham’s book “Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion” (Pickwick, 2007). Markham weaves a Wesleyan perspective together with new developments in neurobiology to bring clarity to conversion and sanctification (via character ethics). The book is reviewed in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 60/4 (Dec. 2008), pp. 274-75.

  • Jaymes Lackey

    The answer to the question is found in the paradox posed by the Psalmist in the 139th Psalm:

    “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
    2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from far away.
    3 You search out my path and my lying down,
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
    4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
    O Lord, you know it completely.
    5 You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
    6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is so high that I cannot attain it.”

    Don’t miss the nuance of the ultra-familiar passage. The Psalmist upholds God’s knowing which is deterministic (because God can’t be wrong) and yet he feels the tension of free will; that his actions are his to choose.

    The Answer: These thoughts are too wonderful for us to know, too high to attain, but surely both are present and accounted for. Seems like a weak answer, but where paradox resides, God is sure to be found. Just ask Chesterton… :)

  • Kevin Vile

    Roger Olson seems to think the same thing (or at least he thinks along similar lines). Not sure if you saw this, but he posted it today. He suggests Bell isn’t a Universalist, but rather is arguing that in order to have love, freedom is required.

  • Cathy

    Are human beings free to chose God? What that ultimately means is…are we free to chose love? There are definite things which are pre-determined…where you are born, the color of your eyes, etc. But within the interaction between human beings is where we have true free will. Do I treat you with kindness, or not? Am I attentive to your needs, or not? People of every culture know if/when they are being treated with love or not; and they also know when they are treating others with love or not. On the other hand, there are many things we don’t know for sure, such as who is going to be in Heaven, or what kind of choices we will have when/if we get there,…or when the last days will arrive….and Jesus said, ‘don’t worry about it…it’s not for you to know’. But He assured us that the determining factor for a lot of what lies ahead for each and everyone of us is how much we love… And the scribes and pharisees said, “Crucify him!” Kind of interesting.

  • Cathy

    Okay, I make a deliberate choice to spell “choose” correctly in my comment above. lol

  • Chris

    I think if determinism’s true it doesn’t matter; if we are or can be free, it does, therefore we live our lives assuming that we have the God-given ability to choose and if in the end we discover that we never did, there’s nothing we could’ve done about it anyway …

  • Henry Imler

    I’d like to point to the work of James C. Scott (Domination and the Art of Resistance, Weapons of the Weak, etc) which demonstrates that while societal (and spiritual?) structures wield a great deal of power, they are resisted at nearly every turn. Those sites of resistance are sites of tremendous displays of freedom. If fact, when people seem like they are going along with the public transcript they are actually resisting or appropriating it(or putting on a show but rebelling off-stage).

  • Jeff Doles

    I believe that man, in his fallen state, is unable to choose God apart from the grace of God enabling him to do so. This grace is often known as prevenient grace. I find in the Bible in John 1, which says that Jesus is the Light of the World and that He gives light to everyone that comes into the world. Also, in Titus 2, which says that the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. I believe that this grace of God enables everyone to choose Him without rendering it certain that everyone will do so. IOW, it preserves the freedom of the human will so that those who choose God can now do so freely.

  • Tom F.

    Interesting questions…

    I think the tricky business is that I’ve not read anyone attempting to look at hell from a deterministic bent in a long while. (Not that I read on hell that much anyway.) As has been discussed in another blog post, Lewis largely sees hell as “being closed from the inside”, that is, self-chosen. Keller, in his “Reason for God” largely builds off Lewis’ own thinking, even as someone who definitely leans a bit more Reformed. And now Bell understands hell largely as a result of the self-imposed choices that people make, so that they are the ones determining their own fates.

    I think this is because if you hold a thorough-going determinism (pre-modern scholastic Calvinism, modern scientific reductionism/behaviorism, or even a post-modern sociological determinism), then the theological trade-offs seem to me to become very stark. One trade-off is to simply say that God lovingly determines all to be saved, in some sort of forcible universalism. The price here seems to be a sharp break with church tradition and a number of tough biblical passages to resolve. Another trade-off is to limit God’s saving desire to only some (i.e. the elect) who are determined by some other criteria besides love (i.e., glory, ect.). The high price here, it seems to me, is the one that Boyd seems to point out, that God has determined some for rebellion and then eternal destruction and suffering, and yet this is somehow a good thing overall. There are also a number of scriptural passages that are hard to resolve. (Not that non-determinist readers of scripture don’t have their own problematic passages. IMO, scripture is not super consistent on this issue, at least if things have to be super neat and tidy.)

    In any case, I have an honest question to those deterministically inclined (of any pre-modern, modern or post-modern stripe): do many of you opt for one of these two options, seeing the prices as less steep than I do, or do you perhaps you understand things totally differently?

    And if post-structuralism is not a thorough-going determinism, how is Jones so sure that it contradicts what Bell is suggesting? On the other hand, does being a deterministic post-structuralist mean different things for the determination of salvation compared to other forms of determinism (i.e. traditional Reformed and modern scientific reductionist)?

    Anyway, good thoughts all around, and definitely took this conversation in a direction that was unexpected.

  • Bill Colburn

    The justification for the traditional notion of ‘hell’ is that we have ‘free will’ in this life and no second chance in the after-life. While we all exercise ‘will’, ‘free will’ assumes having all the facts, an unbiased ability to ‘see’ the facts, and the necessary intelligence to handle all the facts. No human in this world has ever had that kind of ‘freewill’. Thus how can anyone be held accountable for decisions made without all the facts, with inherited biases that blind us, and without the kind of intelligence that only God possesses? Thus grace. I can only assume that in the afterlife all will see clearly and render the notion of ‘hell’ empty.

  • Tom

    “For a concept to have meaning it must have some rooting in our experience, at least by analogy. A concept for which there is no analogy in our experience is a vacuous concept.” The resurrection has no analogy…the incarnation has no analogy…are they vacuous and without meaning?

  • Jeff Doles

    I think free will assumes having sufficient facts and sufficient ability to see. For this, I believe that Jesus, Light of the World, who gives light to everyone coming into the world, gives sufficient light by which everyone can see. I believe God holds us accountable to whatever light He gives us in the here and now.

  • Sean P. Nelson

    I think this misses the point in a BIG way, turning something pretty simple into a lot of philosophical mumbo-jumbo.

    I don’t think it’s a far stretch to see how God asks us to make choices, presents us with opportunities to make choices and uses those things in our growth and development all throughout scripture. I don’t think anyone believes we are “pre-programmed” or remote controls, right?

    Is this turning into the age-old Calvinism / Arminianism debate?

  • Sean P. Nelson

    Sorery, I think that last comment came off a little cranky. I promise, though… I’M NOT CRANKY!!!! 😉

  • DRT

    One note. We generally assume someone who progresses toward a more enlightened, “good”, destination. What of someone who is mentally or severely physically disabled who is not able to express, or effect, the dire evil desires of their heart. Are they committed to heaven….but then are able to express otherwise…

  • Jeff L

    Matt #14,
    that’s a very interesting idea that is worth pondering. Thanks.

  • John W Frye

    Tom (#35),
    The incarnation while miraculous made use of the human birth process. The resurrection of Jesus was preceded by the resurrection of Lazarus and others. There are analogies to appeal to. According to your reasoning , all miracles then might be considered vacuous. That is not Boyd’s point. He made it specific: “Yet, after decades of asking, I have yet to find anyone who can provide an analogy by which we might give meaning to the concept of an agent being morally responsible for what God ordained them to do.”

  • guy m williams

    I’m curious to know from Tony Jones how moral agency or moral responsibility fits into his views on the lack of human freedom due to social structures and such.

    Are we morally responsible? To what degree or under what circumstances?

  • Tom

    John #41,
    So far, there has only been one resurrection…nothing compares. Lazarus was not resurrected. He had to die again. There has only been one incarnation…nothing compares. Jesus was not created by a human biological action. Yes, all miracles would be considered vacuous, not by me, but according to Boyd’s reasoning. So I just think there are times when Scripture seems to demand that we leave room for mystery and miracles. As for an agent being morally responsible for what God ordained, it seems to me Paul addresses that kind of thing in Romans 9 by pointing to Pharaoh…

    “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”

    One final thought…it seems to me this discussion is difficult because we experience life as a sequence of moments. God does not. He is not time bound. For us, this action leads to that thing, which leads to that…etc…etc… For God, existing outside of time, space, and matter, there is no sequence of events leading to another.

  • Jason Lee

    Uhhhhh, as others have said… I don’t know what if anything post-structuralists such as Michel Foucault would have to say about post-death choices. …especially since I can’t think of one instance where post-structuralists give much thought to religion at all, let alone religious choices after death. If Bell was really focusing on this-worldly choices then Jones push-back is needed. But there are still choices left to be made …unless, that is, Tony Jones is wanting to take a strong deterministic stance. If you read enough social science in one sitting… you may want to do that. But such a denial of human choice seems contrary to the Bible.

  • Tony Jones

    Here’s a comment I just posted on my own blog, which is following some of the same trajectories as this string:

    Hey, everyone, thanks so much for the great commentary. I was traveling yesterday, so I’m afraid I didn’t get to respond to singular comments (I think I’ll add on of those comment string plug-ins — does anyone have a recommendation on that?). However, here are some of my responses:

    Regarding the book: I admitted up front that I haven’t read it yet. That’s not what I’m basing this post on. I’m basing it on the many interviews I’ve watched of Rob in the past two weeks. I think that is entirely fair. We develop critiques of politicians all the time based on their speeches and interviews. I will read the book and I will post on it.

    In the interviews I’ve seen, Rob has repeatedly and consistently talked about human freedom. He’s also talked about God’s freedom, which many of you mention in your comments. But that’s not what I’ve been struck by in the interviews — I’ve been struck by Rob’s portrayal of human freedom, which I take to be overdetermined and somewhat naive.

    Those of you who’ve read the book seem to say that Rob does not overdetermine human freedom in the book. Well then, either he’s not communicating that well in the interviews, or I’m mishearing him.

    Regarding human freedom and post-structuralism: As some of you have noticed, I take a middle position, but I lean toward post-structuralism. That is, I think that human beings have a certain amount of freedom, but it is within limits that are defined by social structures, many of which we do not recognize.

    Regarding Tripp’s question about my affinity for Moltmann and post-structuralism: A) I don’t think Moltmann is right about everything, and B) I agree with him that Marxism itself overstates itself, which is why I favor Bourdieu’s middle ground.

    Regarding heaven: Will heaven be truly POST-structural? That is, are the structures that silently bind us among the shackles that will fall away upon death, thereby allowing one and all to see Jesus and make a truly free choice for eternal salvation? That’s an intriguing idea, and I’ll be keenly looking for that suggestion when I read Rob’s book. But I also wonder if that vision of heaven is too dualistic — I mean, the Disciples did see the scars in Jesus’ post-resurrection body.

    I really appreciate the many great comments so far. The bottom line for me is that practical theology — my field — is an enterprise ALWAYS grounded in social analysis, so I’m immediately skeptical when this layer seems to be missing in biblical studies and systematic theology.

  • Jason Lee

    “I think that human beings have a certain amount of freedom, but it is within limits that are defined by social structures, many of which we do not recognize.” Well, yeah sure, but this criticism could be applied to the vast majority of theological and religious writing. C’mon, Bell wasn’t trying to teach American Christians about sociology. Americans are incredibly resistant to the idea of social structures constraining them. It would have been unwise (and unfocused) for Bell’s popular-level book to try to add a little Foucault or Bourdieu to American’s theology. With all due respect, I find the Jones post much not ado about Love Wins. Or at least much ado about “I’ve been reading a lot of Foucault lately.”

  • res

    Might I refer Mr. DeYoung, Taylor, Piper, Driscoll, and all others out on the Rob Bell witch hunt to again hear Dan Merchant’s 2008 film “Lord Save Us From Our Followers”… This film documentary seems all the more sublime in the current conversations I’m hearing all about my ears, by text, on web boards and web blogs, Christian magazines, panel discussions, etc & etc.

    My question is, “How did Merchant know this stuff? Was he just a very good listener to the noise around him like many relevant philosopher’s, psychologists, sociologists, theologians, and preachers in their day and era?”

    I’ll give the link below in a Christianity Today Review from 2008 b/c it has too many good quotes in it to leave it here. I trust Mr. DeYoung re-reads this article and sends it to all his friends, including Piper, Taylor, etc.

    For me, it might be too simple to say it, but I’m thinking that Rob Bell saw this flick along with other discussions, did his own “Man on the Street” interviews over the past decade and came up with similar conclusions to Merchants. Thank you Rob Bell for the courage to speak to us about God’s Love. He may make for a terrible theologian but he’s spot on as a preacher and a follower of Jesus. This man is our brother and we should apologize to him for our words and pray forgiveness to God for the logs in our own eyes.

    – res, March 28, 2011

  • Sherman Nobles

    To put it simply; I believe in limited, Very Limited human autonomy and that God judges us accordingly, and that judgment is meant for reconciliation. We must come to acknowledge our sins and the devestation they’ve caused. But God in righteousness holds us accountable only for what we’ve been given! To whom much is given, much is expected! In the end, God reconciles all through grace and the revelation of His love for us in the sacrifice of Christ, the revelation of the Lamb!

  • Tony Clay

    The question I struggle with is this: is it morally responsible for a creator God to creat beings with free will knowing that the majority of them will not choose to have a relationship with him and so have to be either destroyed or suffer eternally ? If our creator didn’t have a plan to eventually redeem all of mankind then a) he would be as irresponsible as the genetic engineers today and b) as degenerate as Hitler !

  • Schaeffer7

    There’s a brand new book being published with Rodopi Press (New York/Amsterdam) that offers both philosophical and biblical critique of both Boyd and Bell’s commitment to libertarian freedom. Its called Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? and you can explore more about the text here if interested: