God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review: Chosen But Free

Book Review: "Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will" by Christian philosopher and theologian Dr. Norman Geisler


One of the major debates in Christianity is the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's free will. Many people interpret the two to be at odds. Each side believes that the other side will result in compromising some essential doctrine of the faith. I wish I were immune to such a debate, but I'm not. I have found myself in the middle of it; not debating for one side or the other, but trying to figure out which side to go with. Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of God's Sovereignty and Free Will is Norman Geisler's attempt to reconcile the two doctrines.

Chapter 1: Ideas Do Have Consequences

This is the third edition. The book itself is only 188 pages in ten chapters. But in addition is another 149 pages worth of 14 appendices. The first few chapters are quite short. In chapter one, Geisler explains that ideas have consequences and that big ideas have big consequences. He provides a couple examples of the consequences of taking God's sovereignty or man's free will to a logical extreme.

Chapter 2: What Are The Alternatives?

In Chapter two he introduces the extreme sovereignty view and the extreme free will view. He explains how they differ regarding their views of God's control, foreknowledge, predestination, grace, man's fallen state, and free choice. He then presents a balanced view and compares it to the other two.

Chapter 3: Who's In Charge?

Chapter three is a defense for the sovereignty of God. Geisler states that if we have a proper understanding of God, we will understand why He is sovereign. He describes the biblical characteristics of God. He demonstrates that scripture states that God: is before all things, created all things, upholds all things, is above all things, knows all things, can do all things, and will accomplish all things. Next he describes everything that is under God's control: earthly kings, human events, good angels, evil angels, Satan, and human decisions.

Chapter 4: Why Blame Me?

Chapter four is where the chapters get longer, and things get more interesting. After building the case for God's sovereign control over all creation, Geisler now starts building the case for man's free will. He starts off the chapter by posing the challenge: "If God is in control of everything, then why should we be blamed for anything?" [31] Geisler states that if God is in control of what we do, then He is the source of our evil. Even if "free will" is reduced to just doing what we desire and the desire comes from the nature that God gave us, Adam and Lucifer were not created with evil natures- God had to have given them the evil nature to do evil. Geisler looks at the origin of evil. He concludes that since God cannot be the source of evil (as proposed if there is no free will at all), that the free will of the creature (Adam or Lucifer) must be. He explains that if a person cannot cause an action independent of God's causing it, then there is no source for Lucifer's evil other than God, Himself. Some people still wish to find the cause of an action outside of the person (say, in the environment); however, Geisler cuts off that objection by making two distinctions: between what causes an action and what influences an action; and what produces an action and the reason for an action.

He then moves into discussing the capabilities of a "good" nature and an "evil" nature. Namely, if one has the ability to produce actions inherent to the other. He states that on the extreme sovereignty view that a good nature is not capable of choosing evil, while an evil nature is not capable of choosing good. Even though Lucifer and Adam were given good natures in the beginning, they still chose evil. Geisler concludes that choice not dependent upon our nature, but our self.

To support this conclusion he further explains how responsibility demands that we have the ability to respond (free choice is required); moral "oughts" imply a capability to choose; and reward and punishment mean nothing outside the ability to choose otherwise. Geisler concludes the chapter describing the Scriptural support for free will.

Chapters 5 & 6: Avoiding the Extreme Sovereignty View

In Chapters Five and Six Geisler goes into the details of the extreme Calvinist view. He examines Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement and Irrestistible Grace. He examines several Scriptures that are used to defend each one, then responds to those scriptures. Now, just from those two sentences, it appears that Geisler completely rejects all five doctrines and does so using scripture. The fact is that limited atonement is the only one that he completely rejects. He goes into details of what he specifically accepts and rejects of the other four and provides both scriptural (mainly) and philosophical arguments for his position. In these chapters Geisler is mainly concerned with arguing against the claims of extreme Calvinism, not moderate Calvinism.

Chapter 7: Avoiding the Extreme Free Will View

In Chapter Seven, Geisler turns his attention to extreme Arminianism (also known as Open Theism). I must say that I was disappointed that he did not dedicate as much space to critiquing extreme Arminianism as he did for extreme Calvinism. But Geisler has an entire book dedicated to critiquing Open Theism (Creating God In The Image of Man), so I'm not going to get too bent out of shape over it. The two previous chapters on extreme Calvinism were quite systematic- he provided a proof-text, then gave a response. In this chapter, Geisler did not take the same approach. He did begin by laying out the five main points of Arminianism. He then philosophically and scripturally critiqued extreme Arminianism's rejections or redefinitions of God's omniscience, immutability, eternality, and sovereignty. He concludes the chapter by summarizing the previous chapters: he demonstrated that the Bible explicitly teaches both God's full control over the world and man's free will; he demonstrated that taking either position to its extreme is unbiblical and unsound; thus there MUST be a balanced position that IS sound.

Chapter 8: Seeking a Biblical Balance

Geisler begins Chapter 8 by looking at the paradoxical approach and the mystery approach. He states that the paradoxical approach is unbiblical, because it affirms that the two are contradictory, when the scriptures deny that they are. He states that he opts for the mystery approach, stating that "a mystery is a truth that goes beyond reason without going against reason" (pg 132). However, he does not leave it at that. He states that even though this is a mystery, the relationship between God's sovereignty and man's free will can be understood more by looking at scripture. He then presents twelve examples of the Bible affirming both in the same context.

Geisler then describes and evaluates three different views on the relationship between God's foreknowledge and predetermination: predetermination is independent of foreknowledge (extreme Calvinism),  predetermination is based on foreknowledge (extreme Arminianism), and predetermination is in accord with foreknowledge (the balanced view). In these sections Geisler builds upon the content of the previous chapters regarding the extreme views. On extreme Calvinism he reminds the reader that forced acts are not free acts, irresistible grace on the unwilling is a violation of their free will, and that extreme Calvinism leads to a denial of God's omnibenevolence. On extreme Arminianism he reminds the reader that scripture states that determined what would happen, which contradicts the idea that if God's choice to save was based on His foreknowledge, then it is actually based completely on human free will. Geisler provides scriptural, philosophical, and historical critiques of Molinism and the idea that God is in time. I did have to have Geisler's book "Creating God in the Image of Man" to help me understand what he was saying here, so I wish that he would have included the same material in "Chosen, but Free".

Geisler then looks at the balanced view. He goes straight to scripture (1 Peter 1:2), stating that it is very careful in the language chosen to articulate the relationship between predetermination and foreknowledge. Since God is outside of time, His knowledge has not chonological or logical order- everything that God knows is eternally simultaneous. God's will also cannot be separated from His knowledge. The two are coexistent. They are not unrelated to each other, but neither is one dependent upon the other. God determines whatever He knows, and knows whatever He determines (pg 145). Geisler then shows how this view was the historical position of the early Church, and how the view flows naturally and logically from God's attributes.

Chapter 9: So What?

In Chapter 9 Geisler reminds the reader of the thesis of the first chapter- ideas have consequences, and big ideas have big consequences. He uses that as a spring board for discussing that incorrect doctrine about God leads to false actions. He begins by looking at the logical actions that come from extreme Calvinism and shows how they are both biblically and logically unsound. These consequences include: lack of taking responsibility for actions, blaming God for evil, opening the door to universalism, undermining trust in God's love, and undermining motivation for evangelism. Geisler recognizes that not all Calvinists are going to follow their doctrine all this way. Most of these do not apply moderate Calvinists, and extreme Calvinists are not always consistent between what they believe and how they act.

Next he looks at extreme Arminianism and the bad consequences that it leads to. These include: undermining confidence in the Bible and its infallibility, destroying the ability to test for a false prophet, undermining trust in God's promises (including ultimate victory over evil and assurance of salvation), and hindering confidence in answered prayer. Once again, all these are consequences that follow logically from the doctrines of extreme Arminianism. Like with extreme Calvinists, not all of these apply to the moderates, and the extremes do not always act consistently with their views.

Chapter 10: Responding to Critics

The final chapter is spent responding to critics of the balanced view. Even though there are critics on both sides, Geisler mentions that extreme Arminian critics have been answered in book "The Battle for God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism" and he will not reiterate those in this book, so he focuses his attention on the critics from the extreme Calvinism camp. Geisler responds to seven different charges against the balanced view from the extreme Calvinism camp. Those charges are: improper exegesis, misunderstanding the nature of God, posing an Arminian conundrum, passive determination by God, denying sovereignty by affirming free will, complete Arminianism, and placing philosophy over exegesis.


The book contains fourteen appendices. Here is the list for those curious:

1. Great Church Fathers on Free Will
2. Was Calvin a Calvinist?
3. The Origins of Extreme Calvinism
4. Answering Objections to Free Will
5. Is Faith a Gift Only to the Elect?
6. Biblical Support for Unlimited Atonement
7. Double-Predestination
8. Jonathan Edwards on Free Will
9. I Regeneration Prior to Faith?
10. Monergism vs. Synergism
11. Extreme Calvinism and Vountarism
12. Understanding Calvinisms's Five Points
13. The Canons of Dort
14. Four Views on Eternal Security

Reviewer's Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book. I have heard several different views and have had my own critiques of them. However, Geisler has helped to organize my ideas and has shown critiques of views that I thought were quite solid. Geisler's unrelenting dedication to reconciling as much scripture as possible (required for his view of Biblical Inerrency) and his solid commitment to sound logic has made the view put forth in this book quite appealing, and the overall read quite enjoyable. I recommend it for all who are interested in the topic; it will challenge you.

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