Book Reviews

What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The Current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge

Millard J. Erickson Grand Rapids 2006-05-02

Baptist theologian Erickson has responded in various works to innovative theologies of the last several decades. As a member of the executive committee of the Evangelical Theological Society in the midst of official evaluations related to open theism, he appropriately turns his attention to the question of divine foreknowledge. Erickson defines his issues and picks his controversies carefully. In this work, while addressing statements of Clark Pinnock and John Sanders (both under scrutiny before the Evangelical Theological Society in 2002–2003), interestingly Erickson’s primary engagement is with fellow Baptist General Conference pastor Gregory Boyd. The work explicitly circumvents issues of predestination, human free will, and the nature of God and time. Erickson says his concern in this study “is to be as fair and impartial as possible.” Yet he adds, “It is important to distinguish between impartiality and neutrality” (p. 9). Neutral he is not.

The book’s nine chapters begin with the biblical bases of the two sides (chaps. 1–2), then move to hermeneutical issues (chap. 3), historical developments regarding theologies of divine foreknowledge (chaps. 4–5), philosophical influences in the current debate (chaps. 6–7), practical implications (chap. 8), and the doctrinal structure of the controversy (chap. 9). Scripture and subject indexes add value to the text.

Erickson is quite helpful as he writes for a broad audience of presumably primarily classical Christian theists. He admits that no single argument will win the day, but, he says, the greater balance of evidence favors the classical position that God knows all future realities and contingencies. The book at certain points becomes fairly sophisticated in its argumentation, although critical readers will note that the author occasionally assumes his conclusions. Though the great bulk of the author’s arguments are ably (if not aggressively) defensive of divine foreknowledge, at certain points Erickson backs off and admits the weight of open theism’s arguments. While the author is respectful throughout, this reviewer sensed that the work softens toward the end. In a more conciliatory tone Erickson concludes, “In general, the open theist position seems to have the greater strength in the area of the practical issues of the Christian life. It also appeals to the current ethos of Western culture with its strong emphasis on human freedom and its aversion to external authority. With respect to other considerations, however, the advantage appears to be clearly with the traditional view” (pp. 255–56). The work ends with brief suggestions for both sides so that respect and serious discussion can advance and polemic and suspicion of motive can be set aside.

Erickson’s contribution is considerable. While occasionally arid in style, the book’s content is such that no credible study of the subject can afford to ignore it.

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J. Scott Horrell
The author of From the Ground Up: New Testament Foundations for the 21st-Century Church, Dr. J. Scott Horrell is professor of Theological Studies at DTS. He has been a theologian in various world cultures including years spent as a missionary in Brazil. Along with cofounding and editing a leading Latin American theological journal, he has written several books in Portuguese and English. He especially loves to introduce students to a global understanding of Christian faith, often taking teams of them with him as he travels.
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