I don’t like the image, but there’s something to it: Humans are groping in the dark, they reach out, touch an elephant, and report their findings. Some liken this image to how humans understand God and how much they know about God. In the optimistic views of this sketch, each report tells us something true about God but that no one comes away with the full view. Some of you know that I’m doing some reading and thinking about “God” these days, so I was delighted to see that my former colleague, Bruce Ware, had edited a book on views of God: Perspectives on the Doctrine of God. But the focus of the book is quite a bit narrower.
The book is not so much about various perspectives on God, but is instead the revival of an old battle between free will theists (Roger Olsen and John Sanders) and conservative to radical Calvinists (Bruce Ware and Paul Helm). The themes are not really what each thinks of God but what each thinks of how God relates to the world: are things determined or are things free? In fact, Roger Olsen complains in his response to Helm that what Helm wrote is not what the assignment for the book was.
Helm opens up the book with a polemical sketch of a radical defense of predestination in which he finds what he calls his “A-Team”: Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. His view is the robust, strong version of Calvinism: predestination of the elect and reprobation of the sinner. Bruce Ware comes back with a modification of Calvinism and he is more open to libertarian free will but in the end he’s closer to Helm than he is to Olsen or Sanders. Olsen offers a robust theory of what the Bible means by free will and what Arminians really believe. Human responsibility, he shows, is incompatible with how folks like Helm frame God’s relationship to us. Sanders then offers yet another of his clear defenses of open theism.
This is a good seminary-level introduction to a particular problem that continues to vex some evangelicals — namely, the Calvinist-Arminian debate and how it impacts such things as libertarian free will and open theism and determinism. If you don’t know this issue and have a serious interest in it, this is a good place to see both sides of the debate.
But, I have three issues with the book. First, there needed to be a more robust Trinitarian thinking. The only way we can restore robust Trinitarian thinking to the evangelical church is to show that it really matters. How does Trinitarian thinking matter to predestination issues? Second, the Bible is treated in this book like a big puzzle from which one can choose discrete parts, lay them on the table, and form a “more perfect union.” I read nothing important here about Israel’s interaction with the gods of the pagans, of how the God of Israel enters into a Plot himself to reveal who God is in the unfolding history and pages of Scripture. Third, we could benefit from how the view each author takes makes a difference for missional life today.