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Election and Free Will: God's Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility (Explorations in Biblical Theology) Paperback – October 5, 2007
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"Neither superficial nor highly technical, this new series of volumes on important Christian doctrines is projected to teach Reformed theology as it is most helpfully taught, with clear grounding in Scripture, mature understanding of theology, gracious interaction with others who disagree, and useful application to life. I expect that these volumes will strengthen the faith and biblical maturity of all who read them, and I am happy to recommend them highly." --Wayne Grudem
"What a wonderful book! Most discussions of the doctrine of election and free will have become a 'take-no-prisoners' kind of theological warfare. Robert Peterson's clear and irenic presentation of the doctrine of election never compromises the truth, but it does open the door for God's people, who sometimes disagree about important truths, to talk." --Steve Brown
"Explorations in Biblical Theology is a valuable new series of books on doctrinal themes that run through Scripture. Following a thematic approach, each volume explores a distinctive doctrine as it is taught in Scripture, or else introduces the various doctrines taught in a particular book of the Bible. The result is a fresh and unique contribution to our understanding of the Bible's own theology." --Philip Graham Ryken
About the Author
Robert A. Peterson (MDiv, Biblical Theological Seminary; PhD, Drew University) was professor of systematic theology at Covenant Seminary for more than twenty-five years. He has served seven churches as an interim pastor and is the author of a number of books, including Hell on Trial, Adopted by God, and Election and Free Will.
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Peterson begins Election and Free Will with a defense of its existence. He outlines three reasons that we need a new book dealing with biblical teaching on election and the related topic of free will:
1.The need for graciousness in the debate about election. The debate about election has been marked, even recently, by a lack of grace. With a topic that stirs such strong emotions, Peterson sought to write a defense of the Reformed understanding of election that dealt fairly and graciously with its critics. 2. The tremendous scriptural witness to election. Election is a topic that receives a lot of attention within the pages of Scripture. If this is a topic God emphasizes in the Bible, it is a topic we should also emphasize. 3. The insecurity of contemporary life. In an age of insecurity, where we are prone to worry, we should renew our interest in the doctrine of election. "Within the Bible its function is largely to comfort the people of God and assure them that underneath all their meager efforts to live for him are God's everlasting arms to hold, protect, and caress them."
Peterson takes what is, in my view, a unique route to a defense of the Reformed view of election and free will. He first surveys the key ideas on the subject through the history of the church, moving from the church fathers all the way to the contemporary church and pausing on many key figures such as Augustine, Pelagius, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, Arminius, Schleirmacher and Barth. He next moves through Scripture, dedicating a chapter to election as seen in each of the Old Testament; the Gospels and Acts; the General Epistles and Revelation; and then Paul's Epistles. The Pauline Epistles actually claim two chapters, with the second being an in-depth study of three key passages: Ephesians 1:4-5,11; Romans 8:29-30; and Romans 9:6-24.
Having surveyed election throughout the Bible and having shown that election is present from cover to cover, he turns to three final topics. First he explores free will, pointing out that to understand free will we must understand where biblical characters are located in the biblical story. After all, human free will has changed as the biblical drama has unfolded. The freedom Adam and Eve enjoyed is different than the freedom we experience today; the freedom we experience today is different than what we will experience in eternity. In what I feel is the book's strongest chapter, Peterson distinguishes between "freedom of choice" and "true freedom" and provides a biblical and thought-provoking defense of the Reformed understanding of free will. There is a false idea in the church, he says, that "the epitome of true freedom is the ability to choose between righteousness and sin. It is not. True freedom is the ability to love and serve God unhindered by sin." True freedom of the will waits for us when the Lord returns.
Peterson pauses to provide the Bible's story of election in a chapter I would suggest is an optional read and then moves finally to "Objections to and Applications of Election." In this chapter he handles objections and application at the same time, showing how common objections to this doctrine provide opportunity to apply it. After all, it is not enough to simply know that this doctrine exists and to know what it means. We must also live in light of it, and the author provides encouragement to do just that.
If Election and Free Will is indicative of the quality we can expect in the "Explorations in Biblical Theology" series, I look forward to reading the forthcoming volumes. This book fulfilled the goals set for it. Winsome and accessible, based on the Bible and consistent with Reformed theology, it will make for good reading for anyone who has struggled with these doctrines or who wishes to understand them better. I am glad to recommend it.
There is still a lot to commend itself in the sovereignty of God. Post-modernism has learnt to dispense with divine means, 'that is, when we make choices, we typically do not feel as though the outcomes are determined by external forces.' p 28 Most effectually, God elects as a fundamental act of divine love, whereby God simply calls. God reveals Himself through the means of grace as a necessity so to communicate that salvation originates with Him. Peterson is gracious in his appraisal of men like Finney and Wesley, when it is certain that they knew not the efficacy of the call in achieving the desired result God claims for it in the gospel, for they brought unwarranted assistance to their preaching on salvation. The excesses of Arminus were reproduced in its prime in their conception of soteriology, with all the anthropological force they could bring to bear fully evident in their revivals.
Peterson demonstrates that election is taught in the choosing of the nation of Israel, and that God elected even from their own ranks individuals He would have lead them (His choice stated as divine) as patriarchs, and then kings, priests and prophets of the theocracy. 'It is remarkable that even though God owns everything that exists, He still loves and chooses Israel (Deut 10:15).' p 44 No more clear proclamation of God's purpose in election is available in OT prophecy than that of the Messiah: 'When Isaiah writes of the servant of the Lord...in Isaiah 42:1 the prophet says: "Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My chosen, in whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations." p 45 Peterson then reflects on the fulfillment of this minor biblical theme in Matthew 12:19, 20. This culminates in Professor Peterson's assessment that: 'It is Christ Himself who forges the theological link between the OT election of the nation of Israel and the NT election of the church.' p 51 From there the exploration of NT texts continue. This bold statement raises the bar, for OT literature is never exclusively denotative to Arminians like IH Marshall and Clark Pinnock, the modern equivalents of Arminus. Professor Peterson fashions a covenantal pattern, shown in the vibrant imagery and figurative language of the OT, that they ostensibly deny. Marshall's commentary on 1 Peter is scant to the nth degree in maintaining a basis for election in the exegesis of the opening verse as predestination unto eternal life, further debilitating the doctrines of grace.
'In the 3rd Century, Origen moved in this direction (universalism), though on this and many other points the Church departed from him.' Carson, The Gagging of God p 142
From here on in the drive intensifies as Peterson explores the theological diversity to its logical conclusions in an effort to re-assert that God foreknows because God foreordains and that therefore 'eternal life precedes faith' (p 69). Though this reviewer is convinced this study yields theological dividends, at bottom level the composition of the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which Marshall unabashedly subordinates in redemption to the Arminian teaching of apostasy, will continue to thwart the objective unity sought by Calvinists and Arminians.
It's biggest pro is that the tone in which it addresses opposing positions is very generous and free from vitriolic language.