“Freedom Unlimited” by Jeffrey Hocking – A Review, Part 1

My coworker Dean is very excited about a book by Jeffrey Hocking entitled Freedom Unlimited from Wipf and Stock Publishers. I was excited when he asked if he could do a review of the book for the blog. I love Dean’s writing style and he and I have some wonderful conversations revolving around philosophy and theology. His review will be in two parts. Here’s part one.

The Limits of Classical Theology:
Part I of a Review of Freedom Unlimited: Liberty, Autonomy, and Response-ability in the Open Theism of Clark Pinnock by Jeffrey S. Hocking

                Table of Contents
Foreward— by Clark Pinnock
Introduction: Beyond Obedience—by Jon Stanley

An Invitation to Clark Pinnock
Freedom as Obedience: The Barthian Response
Freedom as Faithfulness: “Yes” to the Call of Life
Power Unlimited: Participatory Freedom
Appendix: Compatibilist and Incompatibilist Forms of Freedom

On first glance, one might be skeptical of a review of a book treating a leading thinker of what appears to be a dying theological movement, that of Open Theism. Though Open Theism indeed kicked up quite a bit of dust in its time, it seems as though that dust is settling. Nevertheless, what Jeffrey Hocking has done in Freedom Unlimited is nothing short of legitimate and biblical innovation in theology. Resurrecting a stagnating conversation, Hocking does not offer a simple defibrillating shock to resurrect the movement back to its old form, but rather a new push, getting the ball rolling again, allowing it to use its old momentum while steering it in new and surprising directions (Open Theist pun intended). Two things make this book especially interesting. The first is Hocking’s excellent understanding of the main tenets and issues at stake in Open Theism. The second is his creative and fascinating critique of Pinnock’s view of freedom, which opens the door once again for theologians to start conceiving of divine and human freedom in new and exciting ways that are faithful to the biblical witness. The first part of this review will focus on Hocking’s discussion of Pinnock’s critique of classical theology. The second and longer part will examine his attempt to move beyond both classical theology and Pinnock’s libertarian freedom.

Though many readers of this blog are probably aware of the conversations of Open Theism, Hocking does an excellent job laying them out in a clear and concise way. His presentation of Pinnock is both biographical and conceptual, thereby using Pinnock’s narrative as a guide for discussing his ideas. Pinnock made a journey from Calvinism to Arminianism, finally landing in a position called Open Theism. This journey, motivated by the problem of evil and God’s love in theology, made Pinnock the result of many caricatures and unfair reductions. Hocking cuts through these reductions with ease. He first discusses Pinnock’s fundamentalist beginnings, wherein issues like biblical inerrancy and attacks on liberalism were at the forefront. This fundamentalism, coupled with traditional five-point Calvinism, begins to falter under Pinnock’s consideration of two things: common human experience, in which humans naturally feel a sense of freedom, and the biblical narrative which presents a dialogical picture of God and humans. As Hocking says, “Contrary to the claims of his detractors, Pinnock makes it clear that he did not begin to question Calvinism because he found it logically unsound, or because he became attracted to the principles of modern autonomy. Instead, he confesses that it was his commitment to Scripture that caused him to question Calvinist doctrines…” (9). This marks his beginning pilgrimage to Arminianism. Though Pinnock is attracted to the Arminian room for human response to God, he is ultimately left unsatisfied, as it still leaves intact the classical doctrines of God that fail to account for God’s role in the problem of evil. Pinnock seeks to solve this problem with a radical interpretation of God’s knowledge—that God does not and cannot know the future, thus he is surprised by evil himself.

If Pinnock’s interest in human response leaves Calvinists on edge, his suggestion that God does not know the future will surely make a break with classical Arminians. This does not suggest that God is not omniscient; God knows all that can be known. The question, however, is whether or not the future is knowable. For Pinnock, the future is decidedly unknowable to both humans and God. Therefore, foreordination and foreknowledge are disposed of (paramount tenets for classical theology, both Calvinist and Arminian), thus completing Pinnock’s move to Open Theism. In this theology, freedom and the problem of evil take center stage. Pinnock makes the argument that one cannot truly love if one is not given the option to rebel or deny love, thus true freedom can only come if God does not foreordain events (which would eliminate freedom and therefore love) or foreknow choices (which would render God ultimately responsible for evil, as the lack of action is still grounds for culpability). God’s lack of complete ordination allows for human freedom, while God’s lack of knowledge about the future gets God off the hook, as it were, in the problem of evil, thereby allowing Pinnock’s theology to center around freedom and love. Though Hocking is sympathetic to much of Pinnock’s critique of classical theology, the book really gets going when he begins to critique Pinnock’s understanding of “libertarian freedom” and the necessary conditions for the love of God. This will be the subject of the next post. Of course, if your head is spinning from the idea that the future might be unknowable, or if you happen to be ready to call Pinnock’s heretical bluff, please do not let my word be the last—pick up the book and allow Hocking to guide you gently through the vast and winding tributaries of this innovative thinker.



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Book Review, Philosophy, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Freedom Unlimited” by Jeffrey Hocking – A Review, Part 1

  1. Thanks for this review. Curious how Pinnock-ians might explain how God was able to answer David’s prayer request about the future in 1 Sam 23:10-11?


  2. Pingback: “Freedom Unlimited” by Jeffrey Hocking – A Review, Part 2 « Baker Book House Church Connection

  3. Dean says:

    Thanks for the conversation, Paul!

    Though I hesitate to speak for “Pinnock-ians,” I will try my best to offer what I think could be a positive response to that particular instance. What I’ve learned from Hocking’s book is that Pinnock’s Open Theism is truly trying to be a paradigm shift. I suppose one could think of this in terms of “control” and “peripheral” beliefs; control beliefs are sort of the core, driving force of a theoretical system. Peripherals extend sort of like rays from a sun from that core belief. When a core belief is changed, the peripheral concepts do not go away. Rather, they are re-constituted in a new light, and so they look a little different.

    So let’s try this with an experiment in hermeneutics. If our control belief is that the future is knowable to God, our reading of 1 Sam 23:10-11 will be done in that light, thus leading to our peripheral belief that this passage is indeed an indication that our control belief is true. However, if we change our core belief to the idea that God’s love eliminates the possibility of his knowledge of the future, then the passage must be read in a different light. Remember, just because God does not know the future does not indicate that he does not know all there is to be known. Or, to put it more positively, God knows everything one can know (which excludes the future). Therefore, if God knows Saul’s heart and inclinations, and if God is privy to Saul’s planning, it is not unreasonable to say that God has confidence in what he is saying to be true–unless Saul ends up surprising God by suddenly changing his mind (see pt. 2 of my review, posted today). Read this way, I think one could fairly conceive of this story with reference to everyday human situations. If I know someone has a reputation of being a particular way and making patterned decisions, it is not unreasonable that I would say with confidence that “so-and-so will indeed do this thing.” There is a momentum behind the idea that lends it a certain solidity.

    Conceived of in this way, the story becomes not an example of heteronomous power between God and humans, but instead an example of the intimately dialogical nature of the God-human relationship. When our control belief changes, our peripherals take on new meaning.

    I hope that clarifies at least one way an Open Theist might respond to that situation and that I didn’t get too bogged down throughout my response. Thanks again for your excellent question, Paul!


  4. Pingback: Cornerstone/CUSP Alum Reviews Work of Other Cornerstone Alum « Cornerstone University Society for Philosophy

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