Along with a study group in my local church, I just recently read the book Four Views on Divine Providence. Edited by Stanly N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers, it’s one of Zondervan’s “Counterpoint” series on theology.
In his introduction, Jowers then points out that “Scripture … supplies grounds for a range of answers to significant questions about God’s providence. Does God ever foreordain evil acts? Does God always get what he wants? How can one reconcile human beings’ moral responsibility with God’s sovereignty over their acts? More broadly, how does God influence the affairs of the world at all?”
Jowers presents a helpful–and quite dispassionate–accounting of the history of the church’s positions on providence. If for nothing else, this introduction is worthwhile because it illustrates that the issues Christians wrestle with have changed quite considerably over time. Today’s controversy may not even have been on yesterday’s top ten list, and when people get themselves hot and bothered over one or another point of theology, this is a helpful reminder.
The core content of the book addresses the question of divine providence from the perspective of four authors, each of whom writes an essay summarizing his own view, and then responds to the other three essays in turn:
- Paul Kjoss Helseth presents the classical Calvinist position of divine omnicausality (“God causes all things”)
- William Lane Craig advocates Molinism (“God directs all things” by way of a concept known as “middle knowledge”)
- Ron Highfield presents a modified form of omnicausality he describes as “God controls by liberating” (while Highfield’s tone of worship to God is undeniable, his argument is the least coherent in the book)
- Greg Boyd presents the Open Theist perspective (“God limits his control”)
“Four Views” is a worthwhile study for what it really means for God to providentially rule creation, and the implications of that for the problem of evil and sin. It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading this blog to know that I find the open view most compelling. But that’s not why I am recommending this book. The most important contents of this volume, to me, come in the introduction and conclusion by editor Dennis Jowers.
But the take-home message of the whole book, for me anyhow, comes in the concluding essay where Jowers summarizes areas of agreement and disagreement between the contributing authors. It is an essay that exudes respect for the positions, and the Christian commitment, of all four authors. While recognizing the significant areas of disagreement between them, Jowers observes “… the commitment to Scripture’s authority and inerrancy that this volume’s authors share is rare in the upper echelons of contemporary academic theology and, to this extent, worthy of notice and celebration.” The overall tenor of Jowers’ analysis of all four positions … pointing out strengths and weaknesses in each … demonstrates a generous attitude I don’t often encounter in theological debates. We could do with more like Dennis Jowers in the world.