Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: Chosen But Free (3rd Edition) by Norman Geisler

The Bible presents two very important, yet seemingly contradictory truths:
• God is sovereign and his will is ultimately accomplished
• Human beings have a degree of freedom and are responsible for their actions

Whole theological systems have been developed in church history to explain how both of these could be true or how one redefines the other--Calvinism and Arminianism being the most well-known, with Open Theism and Molinism gaining large followings in recent years. In the third edition of CHOSEN BUT FREE Norman Geisler seeks to present a balanced view, a view that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, yet is somehow a middle ground between the two.

Ironically, Geisler calls his balanced view Moderate Calvinism, a term I'm confident all genuine Calvinists would reject. If the Balanced View were to be given a label, it would probably be most in line with 4-point Classical Arminianism.

There is a sense in which no one will be truly satisfied with anyone's particular presentation of the issues of divine sovereignty and human responsibility/free will, no matter how biblically thorough or well argued. CHOSEN BUT FREE is a great book, and Geisler argues his case well by looking at all the biblical evidence and coming to the conclusion that Calvinism as it is normally defined fails to live up to the biblical witness. Obviously, he doesn't cover every single verse meticulously. No one ever does, and Calvinists will no doubt be able to deconstruct many of his arguments through standard Calvinist logic. Yet he raises some very important questions.

For example, Geisler shows the clear biblical evidence of humanity's ability to choose otherwise and compellingly argues that the standard Calvinist view of human freedom redefines it in such a way as to completely obliterate human responsibility. He includes several quotes to show that church fathers up to the time of the later Augustine believed in the freedom to choose otherwise. He presents a compelling case for humanity's ability to cause their own actions.

The cornerstone of Geisler's balanced view is the rejection that God's determination is based on his foreknowledge or that his foreknowledge is based on his determination. Because God is a simple being, these two attributes have to be simultaneous in him. For example, believers are elect according to foreknowledge rather than based on foreknowledge. His view sounded somewhat similar yet clearly different from Molinism. The similarity to Molinism, though Geisler doesn't expressly state it, is that God actively uses his foreknowledge of human free acts as he orchestrates the history of the world to his desired end. Though he uses the word determination, he's quick to point out that God is not the cause of all things. If that were the case, then God would be the author of evil, a belief the Bible rejects. The existence of evil logically and biblically leads to the existence of free creatures who determine their own acts. Since God determined that creaturely freedom would exist, he made evil possible, yet wasn't the cause of it. Though all of this is compelling, I'm not sure that it was adequately explained and illustrated, or even if it could be. I was left wondering what exactly he meant when he said that God "knowingly determined and determinately knew" all that would happen. It still seemed quite close to the Arminian position that God's determination is based on his foreknowledge. Still, because it is a biblical mystery much like the Trinity, Geisler makes a good attempt at describing how human freedom and divine sovereignty are both true. I think I still rest on a view that has God actively using his foreknowledge to orchestrate history to his desired end, though not Molinism.

CHOSEN BUT FREE is packed with just as many appendices as regular chapters, covering topics such as faith preceding regeneration, the five points of Calvinism, John Calvin's view of unlimited atonement, and faith as a gift.

The book, of course has its weaknesses. At times it seems that the author is trying to rescue John Calvin from the theological system that bears his name. What he calls Extreme Calvinism is actually Calvinism as it has been commonly known. Geisler calls himself a Moderate Calvinist, and no one who heard that term would imagine any other system than 5-point Calvinism, so it's a little deceiving, if not entirely unhelpful in the conversation among believers about the issues involved. What he calls Extreme Arminianism is more commonly known as Open Theism, which could possibly cause people to confuse Arminianism and Open Theism when they ate two radically different systems.

Being another book that no one will be completely satisfied with, CHOSEN BUT FREE is still a great resource for anyone trying to wrestle through the divine sovereignty/human responsibility debate.

I received this book for free for review from Bethany House.

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