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Book Review – What About Free Will?

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Book Review – What About Free Will?

The debate over the compatibility of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will is one which has been around for a while. We know that it was a debate among the ancient Greeks and my suspicion is that it dates back even further than that. It’s one of life’s big questions and a question which most people will ponder at some point in their life. Needless to say a lot has been written on the topic. From a theological perspective, most of these books focus on what it means when scripture speaks of God predestining some to eternal life. However, as far as I am aware, there haven’t been too many books which focus primarily on the other side of the coin – the question of free will. That is what Scott Christensen takes up in this book and he does so with care and acute attention to detail.

In What About Free Will, Scott Christensen frames the discussion in terms of compatibilism (the view that God’s sovereignty and our free will are compatible) and libertarianism (the view that our free will is free from any and all outside influences including our desires). For those who wish to frame these definitions in more familiar categories, compatibilism is the Reformed or Calvinistic view and libertarianism is the non-Reformed or Arminian view. You will want to know that Christensen approaches the discussion from a Reformed and Calvinistic perspective. More specifically, he approaches the issue of free will from the perspective of Jonathon Edwards in his great work, Freedom of the Will in which Edwards argues that we always choose freely according to the strongest impulse (desire, motivation, reason, etc) that we possess in that moment. So while we are free we are also bound to what our mind believes is the greatest good. We will not act contrary to that motive. This view allows for our free will to interact with God’s determining work in the world since we will always choose according to our greatest desire.

I found Christensen to be very convincing. To be fair, I hold to a Reformed soteriology so it wasn’t a great stretch for me by anyone’s standard. However, his careful reasoning and ample Biblical support are enough to cause anyone (regardless of where they started) to see that determinism and free will can and do work together in our daily lives and in our spiritual lives.

The organization and structure of the book help to make this a very coherent read. I never once felt as if Christensen had left me behind while following some wild tangent to nowhere. He stayed on track and the book followed the logical flow of his argument. He starts off by defining the libertarian view and the weaknesses that are inherent in the view. For instance, can we really say that we are so free that absolutely nothing influences our decisions? Can we choose contrary to what we value most? If we say we can, are we not just following a stronger impulse (perhaps even the desire to prove that we can choose contrary to our impulse)?  In order to prove this, the libertarian would have to demonstrate that a choice was completely free of any outside influences; that it was truly random and not caused.This is a tall (if not impossible) order. There are other weaknesses to libertarianism of course, and Christensen handles them with ease while remaining fair and true to their own arguments. This is perhaps one of the most impressive things about the book: Christensen is very generous toward the opposing position and uses quotes and arguments from Arminians liberally and fairly.

Next, Christensen supplies plenty of Biblical examples of God’s determinism and leaves the reader with no doubt that scripture speaks of God as a God who is sovereign over all of life. He then moves to demonstrate how it is that God’s sovereignty can co-exist with human freedom and provides a good case for compatibilism. This is followed by two wonderful chapters on why good things happen and why bad things happen. It is here where Christensen begins to shine as he takes real issues and starts to flesh out how compatibilism works in the real world of human affairs. This is all done using practical and real world examples so that the reader can begin to see how compatibilism makes sense in every day life.

My favorite feature of What About Free Will is the way in which Christensen concludes each chapter with a concise summary, study questions, a glossary, and a list of resources for further study. This allows the reader to not only revisit the principles taught in the chapter, but to also explore the issues discussed at greater lengths by being directed to the writings of other people who have tackled similar issues.

I love the idea of using this book as a way to sharpen your understanding of how God’s sovereignty and our free will work hand in hand. What About Free Will is a book that you will want to keep on your “favorites” shelf to reference often. It is easily understandable and written in such a way that your high school aged child can follow. It will certainly enrich his or her faith. I would highly recommend it as a part of a homeschooling theology curriculum as a substitute for Edwards’ Freedom of the Will if your child finds Edwards a bit difficult to read (quite frankly. . . he is!)  or perhaps as a precursor to introduce the basic thoughts and ideas prior to tackling Edwards. I am thankful for the opportunity to have read What About Free Will and am confident that it has made me a clearer thinker when it comes to grappling with issues of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

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About the Author

Christensen_ScottScott Christensen (MDiv, The Master’s Seminary) worked for six years at the award-winning CCY Architects in Aspen, Colorado: several of his home designs were featured inArchitectural Digest magazine. Called out of this work to the ministry, he graduated with honors from seminary and now pastors Summit Lake Community Church in Mancos, Colorado.

 

 

 

 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from P&R Publishing in exchange for an online review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

8 thoughts on “Book Review – What About Free Will?

  1. Chris Rudy

    I am an Arminian currently in the process of changing my thinking on this and the reason is exactly like you said. I cannot make myself believe that I can actually choose something that I completely to not want to. I think it was Geisler who first woke me up to this. He said in order to be really free we have to concede that our freedom even trumps our own wishes and I thought that’s ridiculous! He was dead serious too. I kept waiting for him to say nah! I’m just pulling your leg! But he kept going like believing otherwise is unthinkable. Then he went on to show how we really really can’t give that up if we are going to rationally believe in absolute free will. And I thought, what’s rational about THAT? Actually I think it was Greg Boyd. Boyd and Geisler are who I was reading at the time. So I guess if I have to give up half of what the Bible teaches on it in order to be Arminian because they are not compatible then I can’t be Arminian. That irks me because I don’t want to be a Calvinist who gets my jollies off making people look and feel silly but between the two beliefs I have to go with the one that takes both teachings in scripture seriously so there you have it. I’ve heard there are nice Calvinists and rumor has it one almost smiled even!

  2. Laura

    I’m not getting how the free will view requires me to believe my choices aren’t influenced by outside things. Can’t I be influenced and still freely choose what I want after weighing the options?

  3. Laura I used to think the same thing. Ask yourself this question, are you able to choose what you don’t want? My husband described it to me like this last night. You usually hear the accusation that Calvinism makes us into robots who can’t choose. But really it says that God gives us a love for truth so we freely choose what we want. The other side in order to be free has to say that our choice is not influenced or held in bondage to anything. By saying that you are 100% free you would be saying that you are able to choose what you completely don’t want to choose and the choice is not influenced by anything. If you say it was influenced even by logic then your will is bound to logic and you aren’t really free at all. To be free from everything means choices aren’t constrained by anything you believe or desire. That seems more robotic to me. To live in a way where despite what you want or believe you can at any moment choose the worst possible action for no reason at all. Like walking in front of a speeding car because you don’t know why but nothing is constraining you to stay out of its way. That is true libertarian freedom where your decisions aren’t influenced by anything. Instead God lovingly allows us to choose what we most want so we can live in a structured reality.

  4. Laura

    Of course I’m free to jump in front of a speeding car. People do it all the time. It’s called suicide. But it’s a free choice to do it. I always have the option to do it but I choose not to. Only I am free to make that choice for myself.

  5. And are you REALLY free if you can’t choose to do what you don’t want? I mean really? Can you choose to jump in front of that car if you absolutely don’t want to? Or would your instincts to live and your love of life prevent you at the last moment? I don’t think you are really if you are in bondage to your loves and sane reason. Are you free from any influence to just decide for no good reason to die when you are happy with life and have a living hope? I’m with you sister! I argued for hours with Ben last night and it hit me in the middle of the night. I can’t escape what my heart most desires at any moment. If I do its only because another love replaced it and now I am determined to act as the new love demands. I’m not free. I am wonderfully bound to my desires!

  6. Laura

    Ok I think I’m seeing it now. It’s not what I am free to choose but if I’m free to not choose. So of course I’ll choose what my heart and mind want most but if I can not choose against it then that’s not really free. I’m catching a glimpse of something Michelle! I don’t know what it is yet but a light switch just came on where I am starting to see it from the other side.

  7. Ryan

    Once again a good review and a book I NEED! Thanks A.C.

  8. Joshua Schutz

    Edwards is hard to read even for those of us with a seminary education. I am indebted to those who have read his writings and do the difficult work of making his ideas accessible to the rest of us. This approach to free will seems to make sense to me. When God elects someone he doesn’t leave them with their old desires but changes their affections as Edwards would say. That is what makes it possible for us to exercise free will even if our will is always in bondage to our affections.

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