Consider the following situation. You meet someone: born on the wrong side of the tracks, raised in an abusive home, surrounded by cynical and unbelieving friends who scoff at the Christian faith. If God works miraculously and he comes to faith in Christ, how free is he to really progress in the Christian faith? Should occasions when he falls back into sin be seen as inevitable, given all the influences in his life, or actions for which he is fully responsible? Consider a contrasting situation. You meet someone who believes we are free to be whatever we want to be. Though born a male, this person wants to be female and decides to have a sex change operation as an expression of her freedom to be whatever she wants to be. Are there hard limits to the freedom we have? I will argue (in my article in the current issue of the Christian Research Journal) that a Christian view of human nature sees humans as neither completely free nor totally determined. We have enough freedom to be responsible for our actions, but our freedom is limited by or created nature, and we are influenced by the fallen, dysfunctional world in which we are born, raised, and live.
Which way is our culture heading? Do you see more emphasis on humans being free to become whatever they want to be, or the growth of ideologies claiming that our freedom is illusory and that we are determined by forces outside our control? What evidence could you cite to support your answer? How do we hold others responsible for their choices without overlooking the powerful influences family background, genetic inheritance, and environment exert upon us? What are the hard limits our created nature imposes on us? Is gender fixed at birth? Is physical mortality something we should aspire to?
John S. Hammett, Ph.D., has been a pastor, missionary, and professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, since 1995. He is author of a number of books and articles, including “Human Nature,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel Akin (Nashville: B and H Academic, 2007). His cover article in which this post is based appears in the Volume 34, No. 2 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). Or give a gift subscription. Tune-into the Bible Answer Man broadcast on April 19 when Hank discusses this article with its author.