Update: I just learned from Steve Boyer that their book The Mystery of God has a dedicated website with an excerpt to read. Please visit Mystery of God Book.
I’m really enjoying reading through The Mystery of God by Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall. I was surprised by their chapter titled “Mystery and Salvation” because it did not go in the direction I would have thought. Rather than offer details around how it is that God might actually regenerate the human soul and what is precisely involved in that act (think John 3:8), or plumb the depths of Christ’s vicarious substitution in our stead (think 2 Corinthians 5:21), the authors explore the two classic theological constructs of Calvinism and Arminianism. They show how both ends of the theological pole seek to deploy mystery to their advantage, but end up leaving important questions unanswered, especially as it relates to human and divine freedom. They argue that freedom itself is a mystery and cannot be easily employed as a means of dissolving the tension between these classic theological frameworks. In fact, the bridge that ties God’s choosing and human choosing together is the imago Dei. They write:
We know that to be genuinely free is not to choose randomly; yet we know that it is also not to be determined by some unchosen “cause,” whether internal or external. To be free is to be not determined but also not undetermined: it is to be self-determined. Every philosophical analysis of the problem takes us down the one false path or the other, either toward determinism or toward indeterminism. Freedom is the name we give to the inexplicable reality that no philosophical investigation can account for. It is a mystery. And if the nature of freedom itself is mysterious, then we certainly have no grounds for insisting that the mysterious free choice of human beings must exclude the mysterious eternal choice of the transcendent God.
The Christian tradition maintains that, both when God brings the world into existence out of nothing and again when he intervenes to redeem the world from sin, he does not act randomly (as if erratic, haphazard whim momentarily overcame him), but he also does not act out of necessity (as if he were compelled to act, like it or not). Instead, he personally chooses to created and to redeem, and chooses freely, with neither constraint nor caprice. We can use the same language we employed a moment ago: God is neither determined nor undetermined: he is self-determined. Since to be human is to be the image of God, we are not surprised that mystery should attach to human choosing too, for human freedom reflects its transcendent divine original. If God creates freely, should we be shocked or dismayed that human persons enjoy a measure of that same creative freedom?
(pp. 169-170. Emphasis mine)
At the end Boyer and Hall offer three limitations around the use of mystery as it relates to freedom of choice and salvation, which I find especially prudent and worthy of further reflection. Stay tuned for a follow up post highlighting these.