I’m delighted to report that the third volume in the Christian Focus series, The Big Ten: Critical Questions Answered, is now available: Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It)? by series co-editor Greg Welty.
Having been closely involved in the editing process, I’m thrilled to see this book finally in print. The title reflects what may be the most common reason people give for rejecting the Christian faith and doubting the existence of God. It is indeed a critical question that demands an answer.
But isn’t it one Christians have been answering for centuries? Yes, of course. There are many fine works already available on this issue, both ancient and modern, and Welty acknowledges his debt to them. But I think this book fills a particular niche at this time. So many contemporary books on the problem of evil fall down in one or more of the following areas:
- They don’t pay close attention to what the Bible actually says about the nature and origin of evil and suffering in the world, and how they fit into God’s purposes for his creation.
- They end up taking positions that aren’t theologically orthodox (e.g., denying God’s omnipotence or omniscience).
- They engage in philosophical speculations that aren’t tethered to (and sometimes go against) the teachings of the Bible and the creeds of the Christian church.
- They lack clarity and precision at the very points where clarity and precision are needed. They serve up a big fat waffle-burger instead of a lean filet.
- They’re written by authors who lack theological and philosophical training, and who aren’t conversant with the vast scholarly literature on the problem of evil.
- They’re preaching to the choir: helpful for those who already believe, but failing to grapple with real concerns of skeptics.
- They’re either too long-winded to keep the reader’s attention or too cursory to satisfy the reader’s concerns.
- They’re too dry and technical for the layperson.
Why Is There Evil In The World? avoids all these pitfalls. Moreover, Greg is ideally qualified to have written this book. He wasn’t raised in a Christian home, so he knows what it’s like to be a skeptical unbeliever. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of California, an MDiv degree from Westminster Seminary California, and MPhil and DPhil degrees in philosophical theology from the University of Oxford, and he has taught seminary courses in Christian apologetics and philosophy of religion for 15 years. He also serves as one of the pastors at Grace Baptist Church in Wake Forest, so he doesn’t live up in the ivory tower!
Here’s the table of contents for the book, which should give you a good idea of how Welty tackles the issue:
- 1. What is the Problem of Evil?
- 2. The Greater-Good Theodicy: A Threefold Argument for Three Biblical Themes
- 3. Licensing the Greater-Good Theodicy: God’s Sovereignty over Evil
- 4. Limiting the Greater-Good Theodicy: The Inscrutability of God’s Purposes
- 5. Can Free Will or the Laws of Nature Solve the Problem of Evil?
- 6. Objections
- Appendix: Going Beyond Job, Joseph and Jesus for the Greater-Good Theodicy
The book has received endorsements from John Frame, Paul Helm, Scott Oliphint, David Robertson, and Mike Kruger, among others. So you don’t have to take it from me — it comes highly recommended! I really hope it will become the go-to book for ‘ordinary’ folk, both believers and skeptics, who are looking for a well-informed and well-argued response to this age-old question.
The book Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, edited by David Alexander and Daniel Johnson, and to which I contributed the essay “Calvinism and the First Sin,” has finally been published. Go here for more details. For some reason the table of contents isn’t provided on the publisher’s website, so here it is:
- Introduction (David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson)
- Calvinism and the Problem of Evil: A Map of the Territory (Daniel M. Johnson)
- Molinist Gunslingers: God and the Authorship of Sin (Greg Welty)
- Theological Determinism and the “Authoring Sin” Objection (Heath White)
- Not the Author of Evil: A Question of Providence, Not a Problem for Calvinism (James E. Bruce)
- Orthodoxy, Theological Determinism, and the Problem of Evil (David E. Alexander)
- Discrimination: Aspects of God’s Causal Activity (Paul Helm)
- On Grace and Free Will (Hugh J. McCann)
- The First Sin: A Dilemma for Christian Determinists (Alexander R. Pruss)
- Calvinism and the First Sin (James N. Anderson)
- A Compatibicalvinist Demonstrative-Goods Defense (Christopher R. Green)
- Calvinism and the Problem of Hell (Matthew J. Hart)
- Calvinism, Self-Attestation, and Apathy Toward Arguments From Evil (Anthony Bryson)
I haven’t read all of the other contributors’ essays yet, but the two I have read, by Dan Johnson and Greg Welty, are excellent. (Welty’s essay in particular is a real doozie.)
For a further taster, check out the Google Books preview.
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’m told there has been some discussion of my recent pantheism post on Michael Sudduth’s Facebook page. Since I ditched my Facebook account a couple of years ago, and Michael’s page isn’t publicly accessible, I can’t interact directly with that discussion. However, a mutual friend was thoughtful enough to send me a copy of his own critical comments, which I reproduce here:
I think James’ note is too quick. For what sort of ontological containment is at play here? Clearly many sorts of containment, such that A contains B, don’t support the inference that P(A) if P(B) for just any property P. Consider mereological containment, where A contains B just if B is a part (or perhaps proper part) of A. A very large clock tower — Big Ben, say — has many proper parts less than 1′ tall. But it doesn’t begin to follow that the same goes for Big Ben; it doesn’t follow that Big Ben, too, is less than 1′ tall.
Much the same goes for spatial containment, which James’ himself seems to dismiss as a relevent sort of ontological containment. My carton of non-fat milk and the refrigerator in which it’s contained have, among other things, very different dimensions and construction. Further, the milk can have soured and yet it still be false that the same goes for the refrigerator.
Perhaps, then, the relevant notion of ontological containment is that displayed by sets and their members. But this, too, won’t do, for of course while 7 is prime, then same can’t properly be said of (e.g.) the set of natural numbers of which 7 is a member.
Of course there’s much more to be said here. No doubt there are other notions of ontological containment which will support the general inference above, as well as (otherwise) faithfully capturing what the panentheist means to assert. Or perhaps we need to look more closely into relevant types of property; perhaps there are properties of some type, such that any property of that type does apply to the container if they apply to the contained item.
These are useful comments that raise some important issues. Here are some thoughts in response:
Michael Sudduth, a philosopher of religion at San Francisco State University, has caused quite a stir by announcing his departure from orthodox Christianity and conversion to Gaudiya Vaishnavism (a form of Vaishnava Vedanta Hinduism). Having known Michael for over a decade, and having had many profitable philosophical discussions with him, I was extremely grieved to read this announcement, although it didn’t come completely out of the blue. Some mutual friends had informed me of his increasing interest in Eastern religion and his gradually distancing himself from biblical Christianity. We had an email exchange last year when I raised some concerns (my last email, it turns out, was sent several days before his “profoundly moving religious experience of Krishna”) but it quickly fizzled out because Michael wasn’t ready at that time to set out his views in detail.
I’m not going to comment on his conversion testimony or on the complex personal experiences and circumstances that led to it (only some of which are mentioned in that testimony). However, I do want to remark on one particular statement:
Consequently, I now accept a panentheistic metaphysics in which the universe and human souls are, to put it roughly, in the being of God.