Reformed Perspectives on the Problem of Evil

A correspondent asks:

Could you recommend the best books for me to read on a Reformed perspective on the problem of evil?

I’d recommend the following:

  • John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, chapters 16-18.
  • D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? (Baker, 2006).
  • John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God (P&R, 2002), chapter 9.
  • Paul Helm, The Providence of God (IVP, 1994), chapters 7 & 8.
  • James S. Spiegel, The Benefits of Providence (Crossway, 2005), chapter 6.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of God, edited by John Piper and Justin Taylor (Crossway, 2006) is very good for a more pastoral perspective.

I’ve heard good things about John Feinberg’s The Many Faces of Evil, but it’s still on my to-read list, so I can’t give a personal recommendation.

Also look out for a forthcoming multi-author volume, Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, edited by David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson (Wipf and Stock). I don’t know exactly when it will be published.

I Reject Christianity Because…

The Gospel Coalition blog has posted a short interview with Matt Smethurst in which I briefly answer four popular objections to Christianity.

Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed

My review of Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed by Alan J. Spence has been published in the Journal of Reformed Theology. Post-print version posted here with permission.

The Bible is a Plain Book

“The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right, and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the Church.”

(Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:183)

On Worldviews

Crossway invited me to write a series of articles for their blog to coincide with the release of What’s Your Worldview?. Since all five articles have now been posted, I thought it would be a good idea to assemble the series here:

The Fallible God of Molinism

I recently listened to the exchange on Molinism and Calvinism between William Lane Craig and Paul Helm on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio program. It was more of a conversation than a debate, but it’s still worth a listen. In this post I want to expand on a point Helm raised but didn’t himself develop. I’ll first summarize the main tenets of Molinism before discussing what I regard as a serious objection to it. (Be patient — the first half of this post is just set-up.)

Molinism is a philosophical theory designed to reconcile a strong view of divine providence (according to which God foreordains all things) with a libertarian view of free will and a synergistic view of salvation (according to which God doesn’t cause anyone to repent and believe; instead sinners freely cooperate with God’s resistible grace in order to be saved). According to Molinism, God is able to providentially direct events by means of his middle knowledge, that is, his knowledge of what any libertarian-free creature would choose in any specific circumstances. For example, God knew prior to his decision to create this world whether I would freely choose a Boston Kreme if I were to go to Dunkin’ Donuts at noon on February 19, 2014, in such-and-such exact circumstances. God is therefore able to plan events down to the very last detail by prearranging the precise circumstances in which his creatures will find themselves and make their free choices. God doesn’t cause those choices, but he does guarantee them in some strong sense by orchestrating circumstances in light of his middle knowledge.

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In Defence of War

[The following review is forthcoming in the Expository Times. It is reproduced here with permission.]

Nigel Biggar, In Defence of War, Oxford University Press, 2013. £25/$55. viii + 361 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-967261-5

In Defense of WarIn Defence of War is an excellent book with a somewhat misleading title. It isn’t a defence of war per se, but rather a defence of just war theory in the Augustinian Christian tradition and, by way of application, of three relatively recent military engagements involving Western nations. As Biggar explains in his introduction, one of his major targets is “the virus of wishful thinking”: the idea that there always must be a course of action better than military conflict. Justice entails that war is sometimes not only justifiable but necessary.

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What’s Your Worldview?

I’m pleased to announce that my new book What’s Your Worldview? is now available in paperback (from Amazon or direct from Crossway) and also in Kindle format. Here’s the publisher’s description:

How Do You View the World?What's Your Worldview?

It’s a big question. And how you answer is one of the most important things about you.

Not sure what you’d say? Join James Anderson on an interactive journey of discovery aimed at helping you understand and evaluate the options when it comes to identifying your worldview. Cast in the mold of a classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, What’s Your Worldview? will guide you toward finding intellectually satisfying answers to life’s biggest questions—equipping you to think carefully about not only what you believe but why you believe it and how it impacts the rest of your life.

Mike Kruger had some very kind things to say about it on his blog.

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Calvinism and the First Sin (Again)

I’ve uploaded a revised version of my paper “Calvinism and the First Sin” (see this earlier post for context). I think it’s improved in several ways, thanks to constructively critical feedback from a number of folk (see final footnote for credits). The main changes:

  • A brief explanation of why I address problems not unique to the first sin. (p. 5)
  • A stronger response to the charge that Calvinism makes God culpable for human sin. (pp. 15-17)
  • A stronger response to the difficulty of explaining why (given compatibilism) unfallen Adam would freely choose to sin. In particular, I’ve added a section on how contemporary analyses of akrasia could shed some light on the issue. (pp. 20-24)
  • The “luck objection” to libertarian free will has been brought forward to section 2.
  • I cut out the objection to libertarian free will based on the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Dan Johnson pointed out a problem with the argument: as it stands, it relies on a version of the PSR which appears to commit one to necessitarianism. I still think the PSR raises more problems for libertarianism than compatibilism, but it would take me too far afield to get into that in this paper, and the main argument of the paper stands (or falls!) without it.
  • What I formerly called “The Arminian Account” I now call “The Simple Foreknowledge Account” (see footnote 52 for explanation).

Please note again that the online preprint version will be removed once the book is published and should not be quoted or cited in place of the published version.

Just a Little Persecution

Intolerance Will Not Be ToleratedPredictably, there has been much comment from Christians about the Phil Robertson controversy, and (just as predictably) quite a diversity of viewpoints expressed. I concur with Mike Kruger’s commentary. But I also want to comment on a particular kind of response to the controversy, which goes something like this:

C’mon, guys! Compared to the kind of persecution Christians suffer in other countries, this is small potatoes. Christians in the US need to get a sense of perspective and move on. This really isn’t a big deal.

Here are four reasons why I think this sort of response is quite misguided.

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