“Freedom Unlimited” by Jeffrey Hocking – A Review, Part 2

Here is part 2 of Dean’s review of Jeffrey Hocking’s book Freedom Unlimited. Enjoy! You can find part one here.

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

In Part I of my review, I highlighted Hocking’s presentation of Pinnock’s thought in relation to classical (particularly Calvinist and Arminian) theology. In Part II, I hope to elucidate the particularly interesting critiques of Pinnock and new directions for theology that Hocking offers. The primary target of Hocking’s critique is what Pinnock calls “libertarian freedom,” and he does an excellent job tracing the genealogy of this concept through the history of philosophy. This kind of freedom is defined negatively, that is, as a freedom from something. “For Pinnock, true human freedom is found (in part) in the ability to say “No” even (and perhaps especially) to God” (25). Though freedom is central to Hocking’s project, he begins to draw out some significantly nuanced differences from Pinnock’s idea of freedom. Following Barth, Hocking questions the claim that actual freedom requires negativity. Barth claims that human freedom is more accurately considered a freedom to obey God. If we consider the narrative of the Fall, we can see how this plays out. In Pinnock’s view, God is not responsible for the Fall but the necessary possibility of the Fall, without which there is no freedom. For Barth, on the other hand, the Fall is considered almost playfully as an impossibility—the choice against obedience to God is actually a choice against freedom itself, a placement outside of freedom and into slavery. In this way, Barth’s freedom is a positive one, a freedom to and for, rather than from, something. Though both thinkers see human response as undetermined by God, the nature of this response is situated differently, and it makes all the difference.

In brief, Pinnock is characterized as couching freedom as the ability to say “No” to God, while Barth’s obedience allows freedom to be a “Yes” to God. Obedience, however, is not the final landing place. Hocking suggests “faithfulness” as a superior alternative, and this is where his creativity really shines through. Faithfulness, he argues, better represents a multiplicity of appropriate responses to God’s call on humanity to be free. In other words, there are many ways to embody the kind of freedom God calls us to embody, and faithfulness implies a dynamism that obedience does not supply. Obedience is a static term, suggesting a particularly limited and restricted response. The faithful yes is not a relativism, however—it must answer to Life and Love, to God. To revisit the Genesis narrative again, Hocking agrees with Barth that freedom is found in a positive Yes to God but situates this Yes in a diversity of faithful “Yeses.” Coupling this with an open view of the future, he creates a beautiful interpretation of the creation story. He writes: “To speak only of choice for does not necessarily limit possibilities. I am thinking particularly of the first task given to Adam (other than to respond by breathing): to name the creatures God has created. It is written that God brought the creatures before Adam ‘to see what he would call them’ (Gen 2:19). God did not bring the creatures before Adam to see whether or not he would name them (as a libertarian understanding of freedom might suggest), but to see (and be surprised by) how he would name them. Adam’s freedom is found in the act of naming, not in the choice whether or not to name” (56). For Hocking, therefore, the openness to the future developed by Pinnock remains highly valuable. Freedom and love, however, are better situated in a relationship rather than a theoretical schema that requires a rupture in order to be realized. Hocking cites a human example of this that I find helpful. In the Fall, the prohibition given to not eat from the tree is not necessary for freedom. Instead, it is given as a result of immaturity. Hocking cites how many parents give children warnings not to deal with dangerous things like touching a hot curling iron. This prohibition does not expect disobedience, and, indeed, the parent is surprised when such disobedience occurs (52-53)! Indeed, the freedom to say “Yes” to God means also being free to engage in particular “noes” in order to remain faithful, as in saying “No” to opportunities that work against Life and Love. This is worked out extensively and responsibly throughout Hocking’s third chapter, and it contains many consequences for social, political, and religious life that regrettably cannot be worked out here. It is perhaps these pragmatic concerns that make the book not only interesting but necessary in our own time.

Situating freedom in this way, Hocking is free to develop a more dialogical picture of the relationship between God and humanity. This freedom opens the door to conceive of both parties as co-creators and partners. In the fourth chapter, Hocking introduces a notion of power that necessarily couples with freedom. Adeptly navigating Open Theism and introducing the conversations of process theology, Hocking is able to critique classical conceptions of power while effectively and truly moving beyond both popular alternatives (and he is clear that his use of these schools does not identify him with them wholeheartedly). Deploying a creative eye and a significant Christology, he suggests power has been unfortunately bound to competition. As such, God’s power and human power are a “zero-sum economy.” “Either God or creation can have the power; they can ‘share’ it 50/50 or 60/40, but there can be no mutual participation” (76). Instead, Hocking suggests power as a cooperative force. Hocking finishes the chapter suggesting a mutual participation in exercising power with God. Similar to his view of freedom, true power is only found when one is involved in being faithful to God. This conception of power, like freedom, has helpful consequences for the rest of human life and allows believers to be truly empowered by and in God. “In the creation story, God’s power does not seem to conflict with creation, but instead flows into it and empowers it. Divine power might well conflict with false powers, but it is difficult to get a sense from the creation story or any biblical narrative that God’s power conflicts with creation’s authentic power. This continues to the apex of the Christian story when Jesus embodies transformative power on the cross” (98).

To conclude, what Hocking has done is nothing short of providing a legitimately new conception of human and freedom in theological conversation. I would have liked to included much more in this review; Hocking’s use of philosophical categories like compatibilism and incompatibilism, his creative readings of biblical texts, and his heart for the pragmatic consequences of our views of freedom (i.e. ecology, economics, political matters, etc.) are all of great importance and aid. Nonetheless, I hope that what I have done justifiably represents Hocking’s trajectories in such a way that readers will see in this young thinker a creative and helpful mind. Readers of this blog will surely be interested in Hocking’s relation to classical theological issues and the philosophical ideas present in the work, and they will be positively challenged by his non-polemical and constructive style. I humbly urge you to flip through this book next time you are in the store—at the very least, it will spark an imaginative and inspiring posture toward the issues of classical and Open Theology, hermeneutics, and, most importantly, our relationship to the God of Love, Life, and true freedom. God calls; it is up to us to respond faithfully and with a resounding “Yes!”



About Louis

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

One Response to “Freedom Unlimited” by Jeffrey Hocking – A Review, Part 2

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

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