Book Review: Predestination & Free Will; Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom

568077Much like the previous book review, the title of this work says it all, especially if one includes the subtitle. Editors David and Randall Basinger (brothers) have compiled a kind of book-length four-way debate on the different views regarding predestination and free will. This book is published by InterVarsity Press Academic and it’s one of a large number of multiple-views books ranging from baptism to the role of women in ministry. If this text is anything to go by, all of these should be trusted to present quality arguments for different views on divisive topics. This work brings together four prominent writers/Christian thinkers to get different views on predestination and free will.


The overall format of the book is simple. Each contributor gives his view concerning predestination and free will as well as application of his views in two hypothetical case studies (Fred’s and Mary’s cases). Then after the main contributor’s entry, there are three responses from each of the other contributors. The order of entries and responses goes from most deterministic view to least deterministic view. As such, it starts with John Feinberg’s view, “God Ordains All Things,” roughly equated with Calvinism and compatibilistic free will. Then Norman Geisler’s view, “God Knows All Things,” a self-determined view of free will and more simple foreknowledge view. Then Bruce Reichenbach’s view, “God Limits His Power,” where he focusses on human freedom and God limiting his power. Lastly, there is Clark Pinnock’s view, “God Limits His Knowledge,” where he focuses on attacking some of the more typical views of God and his attributes.

Feinberg’s View, “God Ordains All Things”

Feinberg’s view is fairly clear from the title of his section. In his portion, he focuses mainly on God’s sovereignty and uses a type of compatibilism to reconcile a strong focus on God’s sovereignty and free will. He claims that libertarian free will advocates are espousing a position of “indeterminism.” Feinberg distinguishes between physical determinism and determinism in the human sciences. He also draws a distinction between determinism and fatalism and rejects the latter. He describes his version of determinism as “soft determinism” or “compatibilism.” Then at the heart of his argument, Feinberg tackles what “free will” means particularly attacking the idea that free will entails the idea that “the agent could have done otherwise.” He focuses on the word “can,” and offers six different versions/meanings of the word “can/could.” First, the contra-causal meaning; second, it can be conditional; third, it can be viewed as ability; fourth, it can mean “opportunity;” fifth, it can mean consistent with some rule/rules; sixth, it can be seen in conjunction with consequences; and lastly, it can be related to whether or not it’s reasonable for someone to do an action. He claims that the indeterminist (the libertarian free will idea) is tied to the first notion of the word “can” and thus is question-begging. It assumes that the only possible version of the word “can” is the contra-causal meaning.

Geisler’s View, “God Knows All Things”

Geisler’s view as is clear from the title emphasizes God’s knowledge of the future. He talks about how God’s predestination is not simply based on his foreknowledge, nor is it in spite of his foreknowledge, but rather it is in accordance with his foreknowledge. Geisler points to both biblical passages and philosophical problems with the first two of those options. In this section Geisler quotes C. S. Lewis against Calvin’s own teachings, particularly in the realm of “irresistible grace.” Geisler’s goes on to say that “God knowingly determined and determinedly knew from all eternity everything that would come to pass, including all free acts.” He talks of how God can determine free acts, and that determinism and free will are not incongruous. He states that forcingfree act is a contradiction of terms, but determining a free act is not. Geisler rejects Feinberg’s idea of indeterminacy an in its place offers self-determinism.

Reichenbach’s View, “God Limits His Power”

Reichenbach focuses most of his section on this being a puzzle that can be solved if one can piece together six different points: human freedom, God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, God’s relation to time, and God’s involvement in human affairs. Reichenbach plainly states that human freedom, the first piece of the puzzle is that humans, to be truly free, must be capable of doing otherwise (the typical definition of libertarian free will). Reichenbach doesn’t deny that there can be causal conditions, but these causal conditions are not sufficient to cause an action. The individual alone is the sufficient cause of any free action. He does not espouse an indeterminate view but states that it’s both introspectively clear and philosophically clear that we have free will. Reichenbach’s description of God’s sovereignty is closer to the idea of kingly sovereignty. His view of sovereignty relies on the sovereign restricting his power over the ruled. The sovereign could control everything, but even a divine sovereign cannot decree an impossibility, like God cannot make his subjects freely acknowledge his sovereignty. When it comes to God’s omnipotence Reichenbach agrees with the typical view of omnipotence that precludes the creation of logical inconsistencies (like square-circles). The relation of omnipotence to the question at hand is that it’s not inconsistent with omnipotence for God to restrict his power to allow for human freedom. When it comes to omniscience he relates it to knowing an event if and only if it occurs. God’s belief that an event will happen does not cause that event to happen. God’s relation to time is complicated. He claims that the timeless-outside-of-time idea of God came from Greek thought and is not biblical. He claims that the God portrayed in the Bible is within time. Lastly, with regards to God’s providence (his involvement in human affairs) Reichenbach talks of God guiding creation. He talks of God’s guidance and planning for human affairs as not being perfectly detailed or specific.

Pinnock’s View, “God Limits His Knowledge”

A short summary of Pinnock’s view is on the second page of this section: “As Creator of the world God is sovereign in the fundamental sense. He has chosen to bring into existence a world with significantly free agents. … reality is open, not closed. God’s relationship to the world is dynamic, not static.” He freely admits that his view requires one to rethink classical theism. Pinnock’s view of God’s sovereignty is that God is creator, not puppet master. Pinnock sees our creation in God’s image as being truly free. He sees us as co-creators of reality in making our free choices. Pinnock sees our common understanding of omnipotence as incorrect. He states that God’s will is not always done as some claim omnipotence requires.

Conclusions and Responses

After each section, each of the three contributors gets to offer their critiques of the main entry. Each response is fairly predictable. Geisler thinks Feinberg is too strict on sovereignty at the minimization and even loss of free will. Reichenbach and Pinnock are even more critical of Feinberg’s views. Then, of course, Feinberg criticizes the other three for minimizing God’s sovereignty and not scripturally supporting a more libertarian view of free will. Then for the third and fourth sections, the latter two contributors generally agree with one another, they just want to focus on slightly different areas. Overall this is a great book to introduce four common ways Christians try to reconcile God’s sovereignty with human freedom. The only criticism I offer is I wish that it had included a Molinist’s perspective as well.

If you’d like to support Apologetics315 and purchase this book at the same time, consider purchasing it through this link.

Written by

Samuel Ronicker is a husband, father, Air Force member, and seminary student at Liberty University Online. Sam is originally from Ohio (The Heart of it All!) and is currently living in Okinawa, Japan. Sam has studied apologetics as part of his undergraduate degree and as a hobby for the last several years.

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