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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A review of The Many Faces of Evil. By John Feinberg.

Feb 10, 2006

Crossway, 2004.

Evil and suffering are perennial problems which baffle theist and atheist alike. But the presence of evil in the world is a real challenge to those who believe in an all-powerful and an all-benevolent God. Thus the problem of evil. Or, as Feinberg makes clear, the problems of evil. For there are many problems.

Thus in this volume Feinberg interacts with a number of theological and philosophical issues surrounding the topic of evil in the world. As such, it is perhaps the most thorough and rigorous evangelical treatment of the problem thus far available.

And it is no lightweight. Those wanting an easy-to-read overview of the issues are urged to look elsewhere. But for those willing to think carefully and critically, this 500-page treatment is top quality.

Since there are many issues involved, Feinberg treats each one in turn. For example, there is the logical or deductive problem of evil. There is the evidential or inductive problem. And evil itself can be broken down, as in moral evil and natural evil. And there are different ways of approaching this issues. There is the free-will defense of Augustine and Plantinga. There is the soul-making theodicy of Irenaeus and Hick. There is the best possible world approach of Leibniz, and so on. All of these major approaches – and criticisms of them – are tackled by Feinberg. Feinberg therefore interacts with many dozens of earlier as well as recent thinkers on this issue.

The result is a very thorough and comprehensive treatment of the issue. Feinberg himself comes from a Reformed perspective, and he argues for a position he calls the Modified Rationalist framework. And even that position can be broken down into various versions. So the debate can be quite complex and detailed, and the reader needs patience to follow the discussion all the way through.

But the book is not just one long exercise in intellectual and philosophical rigor. It concludes with two much more down-to-earth chapters. One is a very personal chapter on the religious problem of evil. It deals with a personal tragedy Feinberg had to grapple with, which made him reassess his own approach to evil and suffering.

And a concluding chapter offers ten purposes for, or uses of, suffering. These two chapters help round off this book and make it more accessible and practical to the average reader.

This volume is actually the third edition of his original 1979 version. Every edition adds new and more up-to-date material, and interacts with newer critics along the way. For example, this newest volume contains a lengthy chapter on the problem of hell.

This volume may not be the one to give to someone experiencing a personal tragedy, but it is the volume to give to those who want to be up on the latest philosophical and theological debates on the issue. It is a monumental endeavor and deserves careful reading.

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