Scott Christensen. What about Free Will? Reconciling Our Choices with God’s Sovereignty. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2016.
Many think that free will is the silver-bullet answer to some of theology’s most difficult questions. But do we have a free will?
Short answer: It depends on what you mean by free.
Long answer: Read this book.
Here is D. A. Carson’s foreword:
For some time I have been toying with the advisability of committing myself to writing two books on compatibilism. That possibility has now been reduced to one, for Scott Christensen has written the other. And you are holding it in your hand.
Many of the theological disputes of almost any day, including ours, revolve around compatibilism—that is, the view that God’s sovereignty on the one hand and human freedom and responsibility on the other are mutually compatible. Veer too much to one side and it is difficult to avoid fatalism (a mechanical form of determinism) and, apparently, the destruction of meaningful human responsibility. Veer too much to the other side and it is difficult to avoid serious loss of confidence in God’s sovereignty and goodness: the future laid out in Scripture seems assured only to the extent that the statistical probabilities make room for it. In the West during the last two centuries, these theological issues have often been associated with the name of Calvin on the one hand and with the names of Arminius and of Wesley on the other. Each side has been known to dismiss the other with considerable zeal and enthusiasm.
Both sides discern how much pastoral theology is at stake: the debate focuses not only on theological issues of considerable complexity, but on a plethora of practical issues with which all Christians wrestle: Does prayer change things? If not, why pray? If so, why should we believe that God’s plan is already fixed? If God is sovereign, why doesn’t he intervene a little more dramatically and clean up the mess? Or is he sovereign, but not reliably good? Or if he is invariably good, how can we believe that he is doing the best he can—unless, of course, we hold that he is not quite sovereign after all? Is it possible to believe that everything is determined, without being driven to what is commonly meant by (a pretty mechanical) determinism? How does this topic bear on such massive and biblically unavoidable topics as election, the freedom of grace, the assurance of faith, even questions about what the cross achieved?
Enter Scott Christensen. This fine discussion, written in the Reformed heritage of Jonathan Edwards, is characterized by several outstanding virtues. First of all, considering the complexity of the subject, this book is wonderfully accessible. I do not mean to suggest that a reader can skim it: that is not possible, for the flow of the argument is often tight and requires alertness to details. Nevertheless, the illustrations are contemporary and pointed, and the demands made of the reader are considerably less challenging than what is expected of readers of Edwards, who is widely recognized as being a rather “user-unfriendly” author. Second, Christensen is immaculately fair with his opponents. He valiantly attempts to present their positions in the categories and with the empathy that they would use to present their own cases. And third, he has come as close to doing this subject justice—that is, to handling it in a way that is both faithful to and submissive to Scripture— as anyone else who has written on the subject in recent memory. Only those who know the literature will appreciate how many traps and misconceptions he has skillfully avoided in constructing his argument.
This is a serious book for serious Christians, whether they initially agree with Scott Christensen or not. Best of all, the cast of the book is not to turn readers into theological pundits who can gain points over opponents in theological debate, but to engender deeper faith in the God of sovereign goodness, while avoiding the temptation to abuse God’s sovereignty by blaming him for sin. Rightly used, this book will not foreclose on future discussion—indeed, each chapter ends with useful questions for group study—but will build up many believers in their most holy faith.