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Readings in Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

Nov 28, 2011

The issues of God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge, predestination and election, man’s free will and responsibility, have been debated since the beginning of the Christian religion. Augustine and Pelagius were early antagonists, as were Calvin and Arminius a millennium later. Thus the debate is not new, and it still rages today.

This very brief bibliography looks at some of these issues in detail. Obviously it is a very limited and narrow range of titles I offer here. I do not include the earlier writers such as Calvin and so on. Indeed, this bibliography could blow out if I do not radically proscribe what volumes I include here.

Many of the books I feature have to do with a new debate which has erupted under the heading of free-will theism, the openness of God, or evangelical process theology. Also included are some titles dealing with issues of eternal security and perseverance.

These volumes cover many aspects of these debates: historical, theological, biblical, exegetical, philosophical, hermeneutical, and pastoral. The books listed here are primarily those written in the last half century. And they primarily are from the evangelical/conservative point of view.

Some of the volumes present various points of view, and some decidedly argue for just one side of the debate. Others offer a helpful pro and con take on these themes, either in a single volume (as in Hunt and White), or in dual companion volumes, such as the two by Horton and Olson, or by Peterson/Williams and Walls/Dongell.

The 45 titles listed here are only a small sampling of the huge literature on these subjects, but they provide plenty of helpful introductory material for those wishing to wade into it all. Happy reading.

Allen, David and Steve Lemke, eds., Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism. B&H, 2010.
Basinger, David, The Case for Freewill Theism. IVP, 1996.
Basinger, David and Randall Basinger, eds., Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. IVP, 1986.
Beilby, James and Paul Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. IVP, 2001.
Berkouwer, G.C., Divine Election. Eerdmans, 1960.
Berkouwer, G.C., The Providence of God. Eerdmans, 1952.
Brand, Chad Owen, ed., Perspectives on Election: Five Views. Broadman & Holman, 2006.
Bray, Gerald, The Personal God. Paternoster, 1998.
Carson, D.A., Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Baker, 1981.
Craig, William Lane, The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom. Baker, 1987.
Davis, S.T., Logic and the Nature of God. Eerdmans, 1983.
Farley, B.W., The Providence of God. Baker, 1988.
Forster, Roger and Paul Marston, God’s Strategy in Human History. Tyndale, 1973.
Geisler, Norman, Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd. ed. Bethany House, 1999, 2010.
Geisler, Norman, Creating God in the Image of Man? Bethany House, 1997.
Hasker, William, God, Time and Knowledge. Cornell University Press, 1989.
Helm, Paul, The Providence of God. IVP, 1993.
Horton, Michael, For Calvinism. Zondervan, 2011.
Hunt, Dave and James White, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views. Multnomah, 2004.
Keathley, Kenneth, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. B&H, 2010.
Klein, William, The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election. Zondervan, 1990.
Olson, Roger, Against Calvinism. Zondervan, 2011.
Packer, J.I., Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. IVP, 1961.
Peterson, Robert and Michael Williams. Why I am Not an Arminian. IVP, 2004.
Picirilli, Robert, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism. Randall House, 2002.
Pinnock, Clark, Grace Unlimited. Bethany, 1975.
Pinnock, Clark, A Wideness in God’s Mercy. Zondervan, 1992.
Pinnock, Clark, ed., The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism. Zondervan, 1988.
Pinnock, Clark, et. al., The Openness of God. IVP, 1994.
Pinnock Clark and Robert Brow, Unbounded Love. IVP, 1994.
Pinson, J. Matthew, ed., Four Views on Eternal Security. Zondervan, 2002.
Piper, John, The Justification of God. Baker, 1983.
Rice, Richard, God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will. Bethany House, 1985.
Sanders, John, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. IVP, 1998.
Schreiner, Thomas and Ardel Caneday, The Race Set Before Us. IVP, 2001.
Schreiner, Thomas and Bruce Ware, eds., The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will. 2 vols. Baker, 1995.
Sell, Alan, The Great Debate: Calvinism, Arminianism and Salvation. Baker, 1982.
Spiegel, James, The Benefits of Providence. Crossway, 2005.
Sproul, R.C., Chosen by God. Tyndale, 1986.
Sproul, R.C., The Invisible Hand: Do All Things Really Work for Good? Word, 1997.
Sproul, R.C., Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will. Baker, 1997.
Storms, Sam, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. Crossway Books, 1987, 2007.
Swinburne, Richard, The Coherence of Theism. OUP, 1977.
Walls, Jerry and Joseph Dongell, Why I am Not a Calvinist. IVP, 2004.
Wright, R.K.M., No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism? IVP, 1996.

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11 Responses to Readings in Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

  • Knowing the debate well, Bill, would you say that there is any practical difference in the way an Arminian conducts himself as opposed to a Calvinist, especially in relation to evangelism (but do comment on other aspects)?

    Nathan Keen

  • “The issues of God’s sovereignty and foreknowledge, predestination and election, man’s free will and responsibility, have been debated since the beginning of the Christian religion.”

    Thanks for the article Bill.
    Controversial though it is, I believe thinking through the issues here must needs be a necessary process for every believer to work out in his/her own mind, in order that finally each one will be thoroughly convinced of the truth that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9) in every sense.
    Of course you could not include every book on this subject – the range is massive, though I would like to have seen a reference to Luther’s ‘Bondage of the Will’

    Luther discerned that this “bondage” touched on a central issue in his controversy with Erasmus – thus he wrote to the latter:

    “‘Moreover, I give you hearty praise and commendation on this further account — that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the real thing, that is, the essential issue. You have not wearied me with those extraneous issues about the Papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like — trifles, rather than issues — in respect of which almost all to date have sought my blood (though without success); you, and you alone, have seen the hinge on which all turns, and aimed at the vital spot’ (trans. by Packer and Johnston [Fleming Revell, 1957], p.319).
    Justification by faith answers the need of men enslaved to sin. Thus, to seek a biblical perspective on justification requires also a biblical outlook on man. One cannot arrive at the wonder of justification without first having arrived at the biblical presentation of the utter depravity of the heart, and resulting inability to move toward God — “the hinge on which all turns.”

    But……… “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” Amen!

    Graham Wood

  • Hello Bill and company, I cannot help but feel that Christainity has been taken over by far to many interlectuals. One wonders how the church was begun when the massess couldn’t read or write, yet they understood what was preached long before Augustine, Calvin and Co felt the need to write the Institutess etc. Why do we read in the bible that Christ came into the world not to condemn it but to save it if God had already predeteremind ALL that was going to happen. Also in view of this claim why did Christ come to preach repentance for the remission of sins and that you must be born again if you could not know that you needed to repent in the fiirst place and be born again. How could we ever need to know that we had to put off the old self in favour of the new. Why do we read that God wills that all men will come to the knowledge of the truth or The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
    Why was Christ manifested to destroy the works of the devil who God had created in the first place and whom he blamed in Geneiss by stating “Because thou hast done this” when addressing the serpent, who, if God had predeteremined everything was merely carrying out Gods will. Finally why do we read in Rev 20 that God cast him (Satan) into a botomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he could deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
    Why would God go to all this bother when he already knew who was/was not going to be saved.
    John Holmes

  • A. W. Pink’s work ‘The Sovereignty of God’ was the work that changed my life in relation to this. Throrough, Biblical and clear.

    But plenty of good reading nonetheless in that list thanks Bill!

    The main problems with Classical Arminianism are:

    – that it suggests that there is something in natural fallen man that can respond to God. This is contrary to the Bible and undermines the all important doctrine of Total Depravity.

    – that it undermines God’s sovereignty. If God does not control all things that come to pass, there is some part of Creation where He is not God. And if that is the case, then He is just not God.

    – the notion that we in some way contribute to our salvation (even if it is by merely choosing to repent) denies God His rightful glory in salvation and inevitably requires that credit be given to us in a measure for our salvation. This is not Biblical.

    Blessings,
    Isaac Overton, ACT

  • Thanks Nathan

    Very good question indeed. Well worth exploring perhaps in an entire article. So stay tuned. But for a short answer, I mentioned in another article a new book which deals with this (and nine other objections) to Calvinism. Does it lead to an anti-evangelism and anti-missions mindset?

    See the book by Kenneth Stewart in this list: www.billmuehlenberg.com/2011/11/25/more-recommended-christmas-reading/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks John

    A few quick replies if I may. Do some Christians rely solely on the mind to the exclusion of the heart? Yes. That can become sinful. But equally, can some Christians sin by a rampant anti-intellectualism? Yes as well. The great command of Jesus is to love God with the totality of our being, and that includes with our mind. To refuse to do this is disobedience.

    As to this topic, it is a complex one. The truth is, whether we like it or not, there are plenty of passages which speak to predestination, election and so on. There are also plenty of passages which refer to our responsibility as moral beings to make choices, etc. How do we hold all this together? That is exactly where theology comes in. It is the attempt to think Christianly about the biblical data and present it in some orderly fashion. There is nothing wrong with that at all.

    It is exactly because this is one of a number of deep, complex and difficult issues in Scripture that I list these books, for those who may want to take these matters further, and to better understand what it is that Scripture is trying to teach us.

    To simply dismiss all this as mere intellectualism or as being unspiritual is simply incorrect. Every time you go to church you hear your pastor trying to explain to you what Scripture teaches. Theology exists for that purpose, and God has given the Body of Christ teachers to help us.

    While some believers sin by over-intellectualising the faith, others can sin by railing against the mind, the intellect, and the use of reason. God created us as rational beings, and he expects (indeed, commands) us to love him with our minds as well as the rest of our being.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Brother John. You raise any number of questions mostly centered around the little word “why” in relation to God’s eternal purposes. Just briefly by way of response.
    I’m sure Bill is absolutley right that we are called to worship God, and undersatnd his revelation with all our “minds” as much as all our other faculties. Notwithstanding our minds are fallen, and Paul says we only (at best) “see through a glass darkly” and our limited in our understanding – echoing Isaiah’s thought ‘God’s way are not our ways… his thought so much higher than our thoughts etc. .

    The Bible is transparently clear that both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility to seek God, are revealed truths. But how to reconcile what appears to be on the surface mutually exclusive texts?. But they are not – and there is the mystery, for they run in parallel not in antithesis.
    For example in Eph 1:4 Pauls tells us that we as Christians have been “chosen in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world”. Whoever can “understand” that massive truth? We cannot, but we accept its truth as being consistent with all that we know of God and what so many other Scriptures tell us – in other words we accept BY FAITH what we cannot understand fully with our minds.
    Are not the truths of divine sovereignty and human responsibility but two sides of the same coin?
    An illustration I heard as a fairly young Christian many years ago I found very helpful which you may appreciate:
    The whole ‘mystery’ of our salvation and God’s choice of us may be likened to a Christian being shown by God as he walks through life an archway, and written in golden letters over the arch are the words :
    “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden” (human responsibility).

    He walks through, and turning round he sees inscribed on the back of the arch the words: “elect according to the foreknowledge of God (Gods’ sovereign election of us)

    When we appreciate the plight of man in Adam, deserving nothing but God’s righteous condemnation and wrath, then for God to grant faith to us is an act of such grace and mercy that we will never “understand”, but will rejoice in it now and eternally.
    Spurgeon was quoted as saying once: ‘My trouble is not with “Esau have I hated,” but how God could love Jacob’!

    Graham Wood

  • Hello Bill, when I spoke of intellectuals I was referring to the fact that a very high percent of books about Christianity are written by professors of theology or Doctors of Divinity. Even Paul gets a bit complex at times. From my perspective the bible is sufficient for all our needs if read and interpreted correctly.
    I often wonder how many of those who attend theological college etc have actually felt a personal need to be reborn again.
    If we start in the book of Genesis we read that God asked Eve and then Adam “what have you done” but he makes it clear that he blames the subtle serpent for beguiling Eve. I think many have read the views of others about this and distorted what the bible actual says. For example it is claimed that God foreknew and predestined everything. So why did he ask Eve and Adam what they had done when he had already planned it and therefore knew they would submit to the devils temptation. Why follow this up by blaming the serpent for doing what he had been predestined to do. Why was God grieved and repented of creating man if all that was happening was in accord with his (Gods) will. Why did God send Christ into the world to save it when he had already determined who would/would not be saved.
    When it comes to predestination, election and chosen people surely the bulk of these references are alluding to the Jews all of whom, according to Romans, will eventually be saved.
    I get the feeling that according to some God is sitting up there playing games with those he has created, he loves watching the atheist crusades and all the other human evils and suffering that is happening daily.
    Some might wonder how a loving, powerful and all knowing God doesn’t seem too concerned about what is happening. And why we are deemed to be children of disobedience/wrath when we are acting according to his will and not ours. This of course can all be explaining by saying the God has some hidden purpose. Yet in Revelation we read that God is going to judge all, destroy Satan and create a new world where there will be no more suffering dying and crying. But all this suffering is surely in accord with Gods will as we cannot do anything about it. Even worse God is going to judge us and either reward or punish us according to how he feels.
    We know that sin existed before the creation of man and that he, man, originally had free will to obey or ignore God. Much is written about the so-call fall of man but little about the power of Satan and the fact that he is permitted to rule this world for a specified time. It is a fact according to the bible that while Satan is lower than God he appears to have greater powers than man.
    I repeat, how come the church was begun and the Gospel Message understood by those who could not read nor write long before all the so-called experts came on the scene. The bible makes it clear that many false teachers will come among you.
    I firmly believe that God created all men/women equal and that all can come to the knowledge of the truth if we so wish. Surely this is because God put his laws in our hearts and we have a conscience which we can listen to or ignore. It is this free will that enables us to respond to Gods call or simply reject it. That is what I call LOVE.
    Finally, we know if we examine ourselves honestly that we have both good and evil thoughts which we can either act upon or fight against as per the bible. I did that and began my journey into faith. This of course is also possible simply by hearing the word as is stated in the bible. It would surely be a waste of time preaching from the bible if no one could respond and benefit because God had decided who would/would not be saved.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading much of what has been written on your site Bill but it would be all rather pointless if only the elect are going to be saved.

    My very best wishes
    John Holmes

    PS It was due to health problems I commenced a Course of Hatha Yoga and it was during a meditation period that I found myself saying the Lords Prayer, this was the beginning of my journey into faith.

  • Dear John,

    It is good to seek answers to the questions of the faith, but a lot of the reasoning that you’re using is based on your understanding as the first point of reference. Our faith needs to be primarily based on what Scripture says – that is the foundation of our thought.

    We submit to what God has said in the Scriptures, we study and pray hard to receive the answers to the questions that naturally arise – but trusting in God where our understanding fails. To go against Scriptural teaching because our reason can’t grasp certain things is nothing short of unbelief – taking the stand that we won’t believe God until we understand Him.

    Needless to say, understanding Him, His wisdom, and His ways is a task that is not possible for us.

    And as Bill says, there is plenty of Scripture highlighting the reality of responsibility even in light of sovereignty. The two go hand in hand, this we know – for God’s Word teaches it. How we can understand that, well, we’ll be a lot closer to understanding it if we accept it first because God has said it.

    God bless you brother,
    Isaac Overton
    ACT

  • i’ll qualify that by saying ‘fully’ understanding Him, His wisdom, and His ways is a task that is not possible for us!

    Thanks,
    Isaac Overton
    ACT

  • Hello Isaac, as far as I see it looks like the bible contains lies about the purpose of Christ coming to dwell among us and preaching repentance for the remission of sins, declaring “I come not to condemn the world but to save it,” “ you must be born again,” “ the truth will set you free” and so on. All these claims are absolutely pointless as is the bible, preaching and praying if God has already foreordained all that happens and who will/will not be saved.
    What is the point of the claim in 1 John that Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil? What are the works of the devil; they are any form of sin that alienate us from God?
    It is often overlooked that Adam and Eve were created to live in the Garden of Eden with the capacity to sin. It was this fact that gave the subtle serpent to opportunity to cause them to commit an act of disobedience after which led to their being expelled from Eden to live in the world controlled by Satan with Gods permission. It meant that from then on we are all born with the capacity to sin and we do sin as we, Ephesians 2 “walk according to the course of this world” which is deluded by Satan the arch enemy of God and man.
    We are brought up in homes where we come to whatever knowledge our parents impart to us and as none are born with the knowledge of God they must come to it before they can be born again.
    We, like Adam and Eve are created with free will and the capacity to sin. Unlike Adam and Eve we are not created but born of flesh and our corruption comes about through what we learn from our parents and peers who, as we know, are ‘walking according to the course of this world’ until such a time as they may be converted. We also know, that is according to the bible, that God put his laws in our hearts and is constantly call al to come to repentance. He will not, however, compel any.
    I think that many have wrested from the scriptures what suits their beliefs and created God in their image. It explains the constant debates and number of Christian denominations Isaac.
    Finally, I thank you Isaac for your comments but I firmly believe that God does will (wish) all men to be saved. That is why he sent his Son and I for one am truly grateful for that fact.
    Thank you Bill for allowing me to express my views, I must also say that I have gained several useful insight through visiting your site.
    May God bless you and yours,
    John Holmes

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