Book Review – Four Views on Divine Providence edited by Stanley N. Gundry

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Stanley N. Gundry, Editor.  Four Views on Divine Providence.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Four Views on Divine Providence is the latest in the Counter Point Series edited by Stanley N. Gundry.  The book is structured in such as way that allows for a variety of authors to characterize their particular vision of the topic at hand.  This volume focuses attention on the issue of God’s providence and seeks to provide answers to these questions:

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 human 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 Olson).  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.

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