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Four Views on Divine Providence (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) Paperback – March 22, 2011
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From the Back Cover
Questions about divine providence have preoccupied Christians for generations: Are people elected to salvation? For whom did Jesus die? This book introduces readers to four prevailing views on divine providence, with particular attention to the question of who Jesus died to save (the extent of the atonement) and if or how God determines who will be saved (predestination).But this book does not merely answer readers' questions. Four Views on Divine Providence helps readers think theologically about all the issues involved in exploring this doctrine. The point-counterpoint format reveals the assumptions and considerations that drive equally learned and sincere theologians to sharp disagreement. It unearths the genuinely decisive issues beneath an often superficial debate. Volume contributors are Paul Helseth (God causes every creaturely event that occurs); William Lane Craig (through his 'middle knowledge,' God controls the course of worldly affairs without predetermining any creatures' free decisions); Ron Highfield (God controls creatures by liberating their decision-making); and Gregory Boyd (human decisions can be free only if God neither determines nor knows what they will be). Introductory and closing essays by Dennis Jowers give relevant background and guide readers toward their own informed beliefs about divine providence.
About the Author
William Lane Craig (PhD, University of Birmingham, England) is research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University and lives in Marietta, GA.
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One interesting thing that emerges: everyone seems to be better at finding faults with the other authors, versus defending their own views once they are standing on the pedestal themselves. I read this in a group -- one fellow noted at the end that this particular issue -- no one being able to lay out a great case -- just underscored how extraordinarily difficult this topic is.
One thing I *do* wish is that they'd actually put the first author second, or third, or perhaps last -- if only because his style is very, very dry and technical. Don't get me wrong, I work in a dry and technical field, and I write many, many dry and technical things -- but I write that for other experts. If I have to explain what I do to someone not in my field, I change my writing/speaking style. I avoid the technical jargon and try to explain some important core ideas, some important "sticking points," and important open questions. When I need to use technical language I try to very carefully lay out what the language means -- of I find a more familiar way to communicate the idea. If I don't do that, my writing or conversation is simply useless to the non-expert I'm talking to -- I'm wasting time for both of us.
I feel that 3 of the 4 authors do a pretty reasonable job at introducing me to their framework for thinking and the important "sticking points" of their ideas. Any jargon was reasonably well-explained, and kept to a reasonable minimum for the conversation they were trying to have. One author, however, did not do a good job at this. I felt like reading his entry was a firehose of jargon and abrupt references to literature that I haven't read. That doesn't convince me of anything -- instead I wonder if the author is hiding his own poor arguments behind impenetrable walls of jargon and obscure (to the uninitiated) quotations.
This might have been easier to stomach if this hadn't been the first author in the book. He was, however -- and thus picking this up was like hitting a brick wall immediately. The rest of a the book is a hard but fruitful and rewarding read -- but you have to fight through the first chapter to get there. I probably would have put down the book entirely if I hadn't been reading it with a group, and forced to read past the first chapter. When I did read past the first chapter, I was very glad I did -- lots of fruitful reading. I almost didn't make it there, however.
A slight reorganization of the chapters would help with that a lot, I think.
Of course, maybe I've misunderstood the application of this book -- maybe this book was written to be read be people who are already technical experts in these areas, and I just didn't realize it. If that's the case, the my complaints against the first author are less well-grounded. However I don't think that is the case.
Does God ever ordain evil acts?
Does God always get what he wants?
How can anyone reconcile human beings' moral responsibility with God's sovereignty over their acts?
Hoe does God influence the affairs of this world at all?
Four theologians from different church traditions were invited to present their findings based on their reading of scripture and christian tradition.
Paul Kjoss Helseth represents the Reformed tradition and argues that all events owe both their occurrence and mode of that occurrence to God, who causes every creaturely act in such a way as to determine completely its nature and outcome.
William Lane Craig, arguing on behalf of contemporary Molinists, maintains that God knows what creatures will do by virtue of his middle knowledge and that he controls the course of worldly affairs by means of this awareness without predetermining any of his creatures' free decisions.
Ronald Highfield, writing from the Restorationist tradition, articulates what he considers to be a biblical perspective on the subject, which differs in content and emphases from the others.
Finally, Gregory Boyd advocates for open theism, where humans decisions, in most circumstances, can be free only if God neither determines nor even knows what they will be until they are actualized.
After reading the book, I wanted to share a few basic reflections on the content specifically.
First, Helseth's and Highfield's articles are virtually identical in that they both argue for strong determinism by God in all things. While they do utilize different methodological approaches (Helseth based on Reformed tradition and Highfield strict adherence to biblical interpretation), they pretty much end up in the same place. With this in mind, the book actually reflects three perspectives, not four. In my opinion, it would have been better to include a chapter on Arminianism (a.k.a Roger Olsen). This would have provided the reader with a fourth option to consider.
I would also like to have seen a section that provided an opportunity for each author to respond to the critique from the other three contributors. Not including such an opportunity made the book feel incomplete.
All in all, I think the book is a worthwhile contribution to the study of divine providence. While some positions were better argued than others (Boyd was the best, with Craig following close behind), the book will provide readers with an introduction into the subject that in turn should propel continued study and reflection. The topic of divine providence, and the questions that flow from it, are important enough to enter into the conversation and seek clarity for the journey ahead.