Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom

December 3, 2014 — 1 Comment

9780877845676

This may well be the oldest book I’ve reviewed, to date at least. But, I wondered if IVP Academic would send me for review the volumes I lacked in the Spectrum Multiview series and they graciously did!

Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom is edited by David and Randall Basinger and covers a topic that directly bears on how Christians respond to many issues in life (8). Although most Christians will affirm both divine sovereignty and human freedom, in real life situations, we tend to emphasize one to the exclusion of the other (8). In fact, we can even swing back and forth between the two depending on the issue in question (9). What often happens is that there is a discrepancy between the theoretical and practical levels of our belief (10).

In order to hash all this out, the Basingers marshal four scholars representing four views on the subject. The first two, John Feinberg and Norman Geisler, affirm God’s specific sovereignty, with Feinberg arguing a moderate Calvinist position and Geisler trying to bridge the gap with Arminian thought. The second two contributors, Bruce Reichenbach and Clark Pinnock affirm general sovereignty and then say either that God limits his power (Reichenbach) or his knowledge (Pinnock) in order to make more space for human freedom.

I was curious to check this book out because the relationship of divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a question that comes up often in Bible class. It has often been asked to me whether I believe in predestination or free will, illustrating that the general concern is soteriology. It also shows that some of the more polarizing positions have given the impression that it is an either/or belief. Either you affirm predestination or your affirm free will. Instead, everybody, if dealing with all the biblical data, has to opt for some kind of harmonization that invariably leaves some bit of tension.

Although I have my own view on the subject, I wondered if this book might be useful for explaining the different options available. After reading through it, I doubt I will make much use of it. The reason for that might be due to the selection of contributors, but it could also likely be because of how the discussion has advanced since this book was published. Though theologically speaking, 30 years isn’t quite that long (it’s my lifetime after all), alert readers will probably remember Clark Pinnock as the one of the main advocates/architects of the open theism position on God’s omniscience.

If you’re not familiar, this was the hot theological topic of the of the 90’s into the early 2000’s. While it was slightly before my time, it was still on the radar of theology classes when I was in seminary. While there are some legitimate concerns brought up by open theist’s exegesis of some passages, the solution they proposed was ultimately not helpful. For more background on this, you can read a recent article over at TGC.

From that vantage point, is interesting to read Pinnock’s position in this book. Pinnock’s language is rather caustic towards the traditional view of sovereignty he has grown to despise. In reading his position, it is hard to avoid the general impression that is a denial of sovereignty in favor of making God’s love the ultimate controlling attribute for all interpretations of other revelation in Scripture. Likewise, Reichenbach’s view seems like an anomaly at this point in time and I don’t know of any major theologian who holds to it (thought my own knowledge may be a bit limited).

Personally, I’m not a fan of Norman Geisler’s Thomistic theology or his attempts to blend Calvinism and Arminianism. Attempts to bridge the gap, I think, are ill-fated, and Geisler’s position outlined in this book generally upholds that opinion. Feinberg is probably the best argued case in the book, but it would have been better to have a confessionally Reformed scholar argue for a traditional Calvinistic perspective on the issue.

All of this is to say that an updated version of this book would be welcome. It would be ideal to have a strong Reformed point of view contrasted with a kind of Arminian Baptist view and someone like Greg Boyd who more winsomely argues for the open theist position. I realize he is one of the contributors to the Divine Foreknowledge book in this series, and as a whole, it looks like a more promising contribution to the discussion.

In the end, because the landscape has changed since this book was published, and the contributors could have been better selected, I don’t particularly recommend this book. It is not completely without merit, but I didn’t find any of positions outlined viable. If you are wanting to do a thorough study of the topic, this book might be worth consulting. But, if you’re hoping for a teaching resource to use in the classroom, a better discussion can be found elsewhere.

David Basinger & Randall Basinger eds., Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 1986. 180 pp. $18.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Nate

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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