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What is Freedom?

In my recent posts on Robert Jenson’s theology one of the recurring themes is that of freedom.  One of the revolutionary elements of Jenson’s theology is his radical challenge to conventional understandings of what freedom means in Western culture.  One of the recurring critiques of Jenson’s work is precisely that he compromises God’s freedom (see Molnar’s Divine Freedom and the Doctrine of the Imannent Trinity for example).  However, such an accusation ignores the fundamental logic of Jenson’s work, which is to challenge the protological understanding of freedom which obtains in the inherited metaphysics of the West. 

Normally, we think of freedom, both for God and for ourselves as the freedom of unconstrained and undetermined ability to carry out what we desire.  Freedom, in nearly all of our contemporary idiom is understood as being autonomous, undetermined, and unaffected by anything outside ourselves.  This whole understanding is, of course where the whole alleged problem of divine sovereignty and human freedom comes from.  It seems pretty obvious that there can never be two completelyunconstrained and undetermined persons in existence.  Eventually one will somehow impinge on the other’s freedom.  And of course since, in standard theistic thinking God is understood (inadvertently or not) as a really, really big sort of top person, clearly our freedom is called into question by his far greater power.  (If you really want to see this problem utterly dismantled, see Herbert McCabe, God Matters, pp. 10-24.)

Jenson’s theology is radical because it argues that freedom is not being unconstrained and undetermined, but rather that freedom is what occurs in being determined by the trinitarian logic of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Freedom is not being undetermined, it is being determined by the one whose life is love.  And moreover, this is freedom, not only for us but for God himself.  Death and resurrection is the freedom of God and the liberation of humanity.

So, I pose the question in light of this: What do you say freedom means?  What does it mean for God and what does mean for us?


  1. bobby grow wrote:

    Hey Halden,

    I think this means that God is ‘self-determined’ to be who He is, in His ekstatic life; and that humanity,incarnationally, is self-determined to be who we are by the Spirit—for God . . . although this leaves a problem; what I am describing for humanity fits ‘objective freedom’ not necessarily ‘subjective freedom’—do you have a solution, Halden?

    Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink
  2. Chris Green wrote:

    Thanks for this post. We can’t talk about “freedom” without carefully defining what it is we mean by the use of the term and by critically revisiting that definition again and again throughout the conversation. Hopefully, this will give some us the opportunity to think through what we mean when we use the term.

    With that being said, I would argue that God is not free if in the sense of being possessed of “unconstrained and undetermined ability” to do whatever God pleases without regard to God’s creation. And that such a “freedom” is an evil, and not a good; a perversion, and not a perfection.

    Contra the tradition, God is not “that than which no which no greater can be thought.” Such a god is all-powerful, absolute, beyond all contingency – free from the other. Such a god is more or less only a projection of our deepest – and most sinister – desires. Such a god is a false god; the most seductive and powerful of idols, but a false god nonetheless.

    But the Triune God revealed in the life, death, and resurrected life of Jesus is not that god! This, I think, is what Jenson is arguing. God whose “freedom” is revealed in Jesus’ submission to his accusers and torturers is a God free for and in others, both “immanently” in the perichoretic life of the Three, and “economically” in kenotic interaction and mutuality with Creation.

    Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  3. Apolonio wrote:

    I would say though that human freedom is the capacity to adhere to being, to be dominated by reality.

    Saturday, June 7, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

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