Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Review: Four Views on Divine Providence

For centuries theologians and philosophers have studied, formulated, and debated how God can be completely sovereign over the totality of events and creatures of his creation, yet human beings maintain a degree of freedom required for them to be morally responsible for their actions. Is God's sovereignty defined as a meticulous causal determination of all things in creation, or does God's sovereignty rule over a creation where humans have a degree of limited and derived freedom where they are the genuine cause of their own actions? If God's control is meticulous, what is the logical conclusion to the problem of evil? Are human beings really responsible for actions they did not ultimately cause? These are the questions people have wrestled with and a new book published by Zondervan brings together four Christian thinkers with four views of how God's providence actually works in the world--FOUR VIEWS ON DIVINE PROVIDENCE.

The book features Paul Kjoss Helseth with the view "God causes all things," William Lane Craig with the view "God directs all things," Ron Highland with the view "God controls by liberating," and Gregory A. Boyd with the view "God limits his control."

Helseth's view is clearly Calvinist as he describes God as "omnicausal," predetermining everything in his creation exactly as he wants it. The problem with this view is that it logically leads to God as the author of evil and human beings are held responsible for something God planned.

Craig presents the Molinist position, which states that God exercises his meticulous sovereignty primarily his omniscience, specifically God plans the world factoring in the actions of free creatures utilizing what Molinists call "middle knowledge." While this view has its appeal because it appears to allow for genuine human freedom, I think it ultimately fails because what "free" human decisions people make are decided by God beforehand. Craig's view of libertarian freedom is decidedly different than the way it is usually defined and really falls more in line with Calvinism's compatibalist
freedom of inclination.

Highland's view isn't labeled as Calvinist, but it clearly is from reading it, which makes the book only three views of divine freedom. Highland's view suffers the same problems as Helseths, though he presents some important insights about the freeing nature of salvation. His discussion on what evil is and its place in our world is very contradictory in that he defines evil as that that God does not will, yet God's will controls all things. The logical conclusion from his argument is that evil doesn't even exist, a statement he comes just short of making.

Finally, Boyd presents us with the open theist position. This position states that God cannot know for certain what free actions human beings will perform because they are impossible to know until they happen. Open theism redefines God's omniscience as the ability to know all things that are possible to know. Boyd makes the mistake of misinterpreting the biblical witness that God know that future, including all free actions, infallibly and for certain. Open theism denies one of the core attributes of God's nature. That bring said, Boyd is a warm and thoughtful writer, and I enjoyed his essay. I felt that it lacked the arrogance of the Calvinist writers, although I found much disagree with. However, Boyd presents some interesting insights on libertarian freedom. I also enjoyed his discussion on character solidification.

Each of the four essays are followed up by a critique by the other three presenters. These do a great job of exposing the inherent weaknesses of each view.

Though I don't subscribe to the Arminian view, I think this book would have been improved by including it. All in all, this book is very thought-provoking and a great resource for evaluating your own conclusions about God's providence.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan.

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