Views on Divine Providence

[Articles in the Multiple Views series are intended to present various views held by Christians, in an objective and unbiased manner]

This article is a summary of the four views on divine providence which are expressed in Zondervan’s Four Views on Divine Providence (2011). The four views presented & interacted with are as follows:

  1. God Causes All Things
  2. God Directs All Things
  3. God Controls By Liberating
  4. God Limits His Control
Perspective  Proponent & Overview
 A) God Causes All Things  i) Proponent

Paul Kjoss Helseth

ii) Overview

Dennis W. Jowers: “… God exercises comprehensive control over even the minutest aspects of his creatures’ activities” [1]

The Westminster Confession of Faith: “God, the great Creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy” [2]

B.B. Warfield: “There is nothing that is, and nothing that comes to pass, that [God] has not first decreed and then brought to pass by His creation or providence” [3]

Paul Kjoss Helseth: “… particular evils happen because he [God] ordained that they would, and he did so for reasons that, while ultimately inscrutable, nevertheless serve to conform believers more and more to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:28-30) and, in the process, to cultivate in them the Christian virtues of perseverance, proven character, and hope (Rom. 5:1-5)” [4]

B) God Directs All Things  i) Proponent

William Lane Craig

ii) Overview

Dennis W. Jowers: “… God employs “middle knowledge”, his knowledge of what human beings would decide to do under any conceivable set of circumstances, to control creaturely affairs without depriving human beings of libertarian freedom.” [1], or

William Lane Craig: “… by employing his hypothetical knowledge, God can plan a world down to the last detail and yet do so without annihilating creaturely freedom, since God already factored into the equation what people would do freely under various circumstances.” [5]

William Lane Craig: “We may formulate this argument as follows:

  1. If there are counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, then God knows these truths
  2. There are true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom
  3. If God know true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, God knows them either logically prior to the divine creative decree or only logically posterior to the divine creative decree
  4. Counterfactuals of creaturely freedom cannot be known only logically posterior to the divine creative decree

From premises 1 and 2, it follows logically that

  1. Therefore, God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom

From premises 3 and 5, it follows that

  1. Therefore, God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely divine freedom either logically prior to the divine creative decree or only logically posterior to the divine creative decree

And from premises 4 and 6, it follows that

  1. Therefore, God knows true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom logically prior to the divine creative decree” [6]

William Lane Craig: “… the Molinists, by placing God’s hypothetical knowledge of creaturely freedom by exempting counterfactual truths about creaturely choices from God’s decree. In the same way the necessary truths like 2 + 2 = 4 are prior to and therefore independent of God’s decree, so counterfactual truths about how creatures would freely choose under various circumstances are prior to and independent of God’s decree.” [5]

William Lane Craig: “He [God] is thus like a Grand Master who is playing an opponent whom he knows so well that he knows every move his opponent would make in response to his own moves. Such a chess player could not actualize just any possible match, given his opponent’s freedom, but he could actualize any feasible match.” [7]

William Lane Craig: “Via his middle knowledge, then, God can have complete knowledge of both conditional future contingents and absolute future contingents. Such knowledge gives him sweeping sovereignty over the affairs of men. Yet such an account of God’s knowledge is wholly compatible with human freedom, since the circumstances envisioned in counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are nondetermining and, hence, freedom-preserving.” [8]

C) God Controls By Liberating  i) Proponent

Ron Highfield

ii) Overview

a) By Ron Highfield

“Through the Word and the Spirit, God gives real and lasting efficacy to human action by empowering and directing all things, including human freedom, to their God-appointed end … God frees human freedom from the futility of its blind groping and enables it to achieve its end.” [9]

“In the explicit teaching of the New Testament, the fullness of freedom is not the beginning but the goal, of human life. It is not the power to choose between this and that or between good and evil; it is the power for, and the actual state of, loving God perfectly and willing his will invariably.” [10]

God’s providential and saving actions – even when they overrule and defeat our misguided and sinful intentions – are designed to liberate us from sin and death. Even if we cannot explain how God works in providence to accomplish his will perfectly, we can now see that the objection that such a view of providence contradicts human freedom and responsibility – however enticing to philosophical intuition – possesses no biblical warrant.” [10]

“… God does not do evil when he works in and through and after stupid, ignorant, and evil human acts. God overcomes the stupidity, ignorance, and evil to accomplish his good will perfectly.” [11]

 D) God Limits His Control  i) Proponent

Gregory Boyd

ii) Overview

a) By Gregory Boyd

“While there is never a question whether these foes [the forces of evil] will be ultimately vanquished by the work of Christ, it is also perfectly clear in the Gospels, as throughout the entire Bible, that these cosmic foes genuinely resist the reign of God and exercise a formidable destructive influence in the world today.” [12]

“… Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane … asked if it was possible for the Father to alter the divine plan to accomplish the mission in some way that avoided the hellish spiritual and physical agony of the cross (Matt. 26:39). In this particular instance, of course, it was not possible. Yet this prayer – by the only one who truly knows the Father (Matt. 11:27) – reveals that God is in principle open to modifying his plans in response to human input, as we find him doing throughout the biblical narrative (e.g., Ex. 32:12-14)” [13]

“God’s decision to create a cosmos that was capable of love and that was, therefore, populated with free agents was also a decision to create and govern a world he could not unilaterally control.” [14]

“To the extent that God gives an agent free will, he cannot meticulously control what that agent does. Yet the “cannot” in this statement is not a matter of insufficient power, for God remains all-powerful. It rather is simply a matter of definition. Just as God cannot create a round triangle or a married bachelor, so too he cannot meticulously control free agents.” [15]

“God’s knowledge of what will come to pass in the future is incomprehensibly superior to ours, simply because he perfectly knows all past and present variables that effect what comes to pass, including his own will. Yet, amid all the things we do not have say-so over, the open view holds that free agents have (or at least had) some degree of say-so, however slight it may be in the total scheme of things.” [16]

“In contrast to the classical view that assumed the future could be exhaustively described by propositions asserting what will or will not come to pass, the open view holds that, insofar as agents face ontological possibilities, the future must be described by propositions asserting what might and might not come to pass.” [17]

“Since an omniscient God must know the truth-value of all propositions, in other words, he must know the truth value of “might” propositions as well as “will” propositions.” [17]

“… what it is about divine omniscience that renders it metaphysically impossible for God ever to create a world in which the future was causally open to alternate possibilities and therefore known by God as such?” [18]

“While Scripture certainly depicts aspects of the future as settled either in God’s mind (foreknowledge) or by God’s will (predestination), no Scripture forces the conclusion that the future is exhaustively settled, let alone necessarily settled from all eternity.” [19]

“The very fact that Jesus inquired [in Matt. 26:39, 42] about this possibility presumes that it is in principle possible for God to change his mind in response to prayer. Yet it is hard to see how God could ever modify his plans in the flow of history if every one of his plans had been unalterably settled from all eternity.” [20]

“Similarly, if the future is eternally settled in God’s mind and/or by God’s will, it is challenging to see how God could genuinely regret some of his decisions in light of how events played themselves out (Gen. 6:6-7; 1 Sam 15:11, 35)” [21]

“… if the future is eternally settled, it is difficult to see how God could express surprise over how humans behave, and even confess several times that he expected people to act differently (e.g., Jer. 3:7, 19; Isa. 5:1-5).” [21]

“Along the same lines, it is quite hard to understand why Scripture on numerous occasions would depict God as testing people to see how they would choose if their choices were settled in eternity before their testing (e.g., Deut. 8:2; 13:1-3)” [21]

“So too, it is not clear how Scripture could encourage us to speed up the time of the Lord’s return by how we live if the exact time of his return was eternally set in stone (2 Peter 3:11-12).” [21]

“God, the author of the adventure of creation, as it were, predetermines the overall structure of the adventure as well as all the possible story lines and all the possible endings within this adventure. Moreover, if God predestines certain events to take place if certain story lines are chosen and other events to take place regardless of what story lines are chosen. Yet within this predetermined structure, free agents  are empowered with a certain amount of say-so as to which of the many possible story lines is actualised.” [22]

“… an infinitely intelligent God is as prepared for every one of any number of possible future events as he would be for a single future event that was certain to take place.” [23]

“While not everything happens for a divine purpose, in the open view, everything happens with a divine purpose, for God from eternity has been preparing a response to each and every possible event in case it takes place. It is evident, then, that the God of open theism knows the future just as effectively as the God of classical theism, who faces an eternally settled future.” [24]

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