Reviewed by Steve West
For thousands of years people have debated fatalism, determinism, freedom, and responsibility. In the Christian church, these discussions have basically settled into predictable patterns. Arminians and Calvinists talk to each other (and over each other and past each other), with all of the same scripted talking points and favorite passages. These discussions often take place at popular levels in the church, but the academic theological literature is growing and is getting more and more complicated all of the time. There are also not too many pastors who actually read the relevant literature written by the intellectual giants of church history. Given the volume of material, the difficulty of the material, and the importance of the material, where does one begin?
One could do a lot worse than starting with Christensen’s What About Free Will? Christensen has achieved something very difficult—he has written a book that is understandable and yet also nuanced. It is not a book that tackles the subject from the perspective of academic philosophy (most of the major philosophical authors are not present, nor do the same type of technical discussions or common thought-experiments appear that one finds in the purely philosophical literature), but it does not fall into many of the egregious philosophical and logical mistakes that many evangelical writings fail to avoid. Christensen’s work is primarily based on theological and biblical studies, but he is also competent in drawing logical conclusions from his premises.
Christensen holds to a Reformed view of freedom and responsibility. He argues that some types of freedom are compatible with some types of determinism (i.e. compatibilism), and he maintains that the Bible teaches that God’s determinative plan is compatible with the human freedom of choosing out of our desires, which are generated by our hearts. This basic thesis is supported by examining biblical texts, theological reflection, and rational analysis. Certainly not every reader will agree with Christensen—either in general or in every point he makes—but this is a helpful resource for anyone interested in the wider Christian discussions. For busy pastors, this should prove to be a real aid. It also provides a good entry-point for those who want to begin studying this topic in earnest. Christensen has given us something that is informed in both the historical and the contemporary discussions on this topic. The result of his writing is a book that isn’t too long and that balances breadth and depth. It repays the time it takes to read.
Steve West is Pastor of Crestwicke Baptist Church in Guelph, Ontario, and adjunct professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary. He is also an assistant editor here at Books At a Glance.
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What About Free Will?