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Freedom and God's Love:  Philosophies of Free Will
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Basinger, David and Randall Basinger, Editors
Predestination and Free Will:  Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. (Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 1986.  180p.)

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The scholars writing here in this printed debate are three philosophers and one theologian by profession.  These four scholars debate the classic problem of Determinism and Free Will.  Each tries to explain how these two apparently contradictory concepts can be reconciled.

Amusing and Frustrating Logic
Two of these are Calvinists, with slight differences between them.  I always find it terribly amusing, though also frustrating, to hear a Calvinist try to explain how I can make a free decision even though God has fully determined everything ahead of time, even my free choice!  Thus while John Feinberg and Norman Geisler make some good points about some aspects of logic and ontology, they fail to account for the biblical picture of an active, interacting, feeling, responding God.

Worldview Conflict
These western philosophies try to shoehorn a dynamic view of life and reality from the relational eastern worldview expressed in the Bible and it just does not work.  It is hard to translate the dynamic interactive view of life in to a linear static analytical logic.  The main problem is that they insist on hanging on to the Greek thought categories, which fail to account of the different worldview of the Semitic world.

The two other philosophers do a better job of bring some systematic reflection to the biblical picture of life.  They focus on the relational aspects of God to the creation.  Bruce Reichenbach presents what appears to be a modest version of Process Philosophy, but he avoids the excesses of this abstract system, which also emphasizes linear logic, and follows the idea of Plato that the Universe is self-existent and eternal, and assumes God interacts as a secondary (contingent being.

Omniscience and Causation
Clark Pinnock has a more radical and dynamic solution, modifying the traditional concept of Omniscience, which involves a logical contradiction in itself.  All four of these narrow the core of the question down to knowledge, pre-knowledge and determination.  The question is how God's knowledge (what God knows or can know) relates to human freedom to act.  If God pre-knows what will take place, can anything different from what God knows actually be a real option for any person?

Then does the fact that God already knows mean he actually has determined what he knows will happen.  The Calvinists differs a bit on this, but basically they tie knowledge to causation, which does not seem to me to logically follow.

Undecided, Unknown
Pinnock is the most radical here, in terms of the traditional Greek philosophy still somewhat popular in the west.  He claims that what has not yet been decided by free individuals, even humans, cannot be known definitely by any individual, even the Universal Ultimate individual, called God.  This is fascinating stuff.

How God Relates to His Creation
There are some new insights here, but the two Calvinistic views are basically a rehash.  Reichenbach has some creative thoughts and approaches to the problem, close to Pinnock's own more complete solution.  Pinnock, I think, rejects more than he needs to of the creative Process solutions that are available to us.

I think he is right, though, in differing with Augustine, who entertained the Greek idea that the universe could be eternally existent and still be considered created by God ex nihilo. It seems to me that Augustine may not have fully committed to this idea. Pinnock follows the most common traditional Christian thought to say that God exists apart from his creation and that the creation did not exist till God specifically created it.

Pinnock grants that the universe is not eternal, but is a result of God's creative decision.  But he is still hesitant to develop the full concept of God as a fully other and universal entity, Who can still be uniquely interactive with all his creatures.  Pinnock does develop a strong portrayal of the active and historical character of God in the biblical view.

Hung on Greek Assumptions
The problem with the traditional view is the use of Plato's or Aristotle's views of God.  Aristotle is the source of the idea that "God" must be totally impassive, inactive, unfeeling, unaffected by any other.  This was somehow his idea of being perfect.  Change was a problem, and considered somehow less worthy, of lower value, than static rock-hard permanence.

This is certainly not the biblical view of what is called God.  Pinnock emphasizes the interactive, loving, feeling, responsive, caring aspect of God, which classical philosophy (strangely called "orthodox") cannot account for.  It is affirmed, but then denied by the definition of God and other characteristics intended to preserve his otherness and "perfection."  It does not work -- that is not the portrayal of God we see in the Bible.  Why hang onto it?

Static Love?
It still seems that the overall picture in the Bible is that God is an interacting, relating, loving God.  A basic characteristic of love is that Love affects the Lover as well as the Loved.  This seems to eliminate the traditional definition of God as unmovable or unchanging, despite deterministc sophistry to the contrary.  You cannot love, or indeed interact with another individual, even a limited, continent individual, if you cannot move, be moved, change, etc.

Process Philosophy proposes that there is a Uniqueness to God and one aspect of this is that he is also able to interact fully with every part of his creation simultaneously.  His character is what is unchanging and trustworthy.  He otherwise can interact as any other individual, only he is the Divine Individual.  This accounts for the dynamic personality of God in the Old Testament and the interactive God Jesus and the Apostles present in the New Testaments.

This was not some abstract principle used only as a logical balance to the whole metaphysical system.  God in the Hebrew context is seen as an active living being who relates with humans.  Pinnock most strongly defends this view, and is not afraid to give up the academic terminology or alien ideas that hinder this view of God.  For this he gets trashed by the Calvinists.  Reichenbach is very close to this view also, and actually differs with Pinnock only in how to deal with Foreknowledge.

Practical Application
All these authors try to make practical application to daily life.  A part of the debate assignment was to consider two case studies set out by the editors.  It is interesting and positive to see how each of these philosophers or theologians deal with the practical life situations portrayed for the two subjects, Fred and Mary, from their particular philosophical perspective.

Each of these scholars writes as a believing Christian, whether philosopher or theologian, so they are very concerned with historical precedents, Biblical foundations and practical application of the principles.

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First written 16 December 2006
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 18 December 2006
Reviewed on Amazon 3 March 2009
Last edited 3 September 2012

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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