Book Review: Four Views of Divine Providence by Dennis W. Jowers, ed.

I appreciate books that provide different views on theological issues.  (see my discussion on “Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?”  Wayne Grudem, ed.)  It’s important for objectivity to hear, read and understand opposing arguments or approaches to issues facing Christians today.  That challenge is to find people who will communicate in an understandable way and be objective themselves.  In this volume, there are four authors approaching Divine Providence: God causes all things,  by Paul Kjoss Helseth; God directs all things, by William Lane Craig; God controls by liberating, by Ron Highfield; and God limits His control, by Gregory A. Boyd. 

Dennis Jowers as editor summarizes the four views.  Helseth  promotes providence as divine omnicausality, meaning every creaturely event that occurs, God exercises comprehensive control over even the minutest aspects.  William Lane Craig advocates what he emphasizes as Molinism, meaning that God employs “middle knowledge” or knowledge of what man would decide in any set of circumstances in order to control man’s life and environment without depriving man of libertarian freedom.  Ron Highfield is a theological bedfellow with Helseth emphasizing divine omnicausality, but stresses man’s dependence on God for his being and living.  He adds that this dependence doesn’t compromise human freedom, because Scripture identifies true freedom with a life of obedience to God.  Gregory Boyd contrasts those views with his open theist perspective.  He seems to argue that God doesn’t always desire what is best for all men and that God fails to achieve this only because He cannot ensure men will obey without depriving them of libertarian freedom.

The four authors agree that God is separate from the world as Creator of it. Helseth, Craig and Highfield all agree that God transcends and knows all things past, present and future.  Boyd, seems to question whether God is partially ignorant of the future.  All four believe God can cause extraordinary events like miracles, but Helseth and Hightower believe in or lean toward God’s “causing” of human choice, whereas Craig holds to a high view of freewill and Boyd believes in the free agency of human decisions.  All four agree on the veracity of Scripture and are members of the Evangelical Theological Society, whose members affirm annually, “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.”

The four authors disagree on several issues.  For example, Boyd’s view on free will is most clear from man as the agency of his choices.  Craig believes in free will, but there were no other possible choices than what was chosen and the agent is morally responsible, even if he cannot decide otherwise being the ultimate originator.  Helseth believes that humans act because of divine causality.  Craig adds, “…it is not as though some effect is produced by a secondary cause without God’s concurring.” (p. 248)  Helseth’s and Hightower’s response seem to fall short in addressing the problem.  The term “compatibility” referring to the synthesis of “human freedom” and “divine determinism” is a major discussion point throughout the volume and it seems that far more philosophy is used to explain it than Scripture.

A second issue of disagreement is with Helseth, Hightower and Craig hold, who to divine omniscience in a classical sense, however Boyd sees the future as indeterminate and no fact exists until it occurs.  That is Boyd’s downfall. The truth is  that God is aware of the beginning and the end and knows the actual and possible all through history. The reason is because God is not confined to history.

A third issue of disagreement regards evil.  Helseth and Hightower see God’s sovereign control as the basis for all decisions and there must therefore be a pure motive and an ultimate good result from evil.  Craig sees God’s empowerment of man’s freedom to choose so God does not cause evil, and therefore evil comes because of man’s evil choices.  Boyd is realistic in removing God from the evil and places the sole responsibility on man’s choices.

The challenge I had to this volume was the lack of Scriptural support.  Boyd cited Scripture the most.  Were the other authors trying to save space in their explanations?  Maybe.  I thought Helseth and Hightower were far more philosophical than Biblical, although the editor and they might disagree.  It seems they are inserting their system of theology into their explanation and justifying that “it is what Scripture says” or words to that effect.  Craig’s dependence on Molinism seems like an explanation that needs to be explained.  When theologians use other systems to explain their theological system, rather than just using Scripture, especially those that include divergent issues then they cloud the explanation.  Boyd’s explanation was the most understandable.  However, I don’t agree at all that the future is not determined.  The future is already written in the divine decree.  Yet, I do believe Scripture is clear on human freewill throughout life.  God is able to take man’s evil choices and work them together for divine good, so that Jesus Christ is exalted.  What I found is that many outside authors describing Open Theism have been unjustly critical of their approach.  Regardless of Boyd’s wrong view of God’s omniscience, I see another example of other Christians building a straw man about Open Theism (wrong as it is).

These men are brilliant and excellent writers.  These men love the Lord Jesus Christ and have travelled their theological road for decades.  These men should be loved and respected.  One or all of them are wrong, however, but they have helped me to sharpen my thinking.  I submit to your study and encourage every growing student of Scripture to read this volume for edification and awareness of the issues.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s