The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment

By Ware, Bruce A. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2000 | Go to article overview

The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment


Ware, Bruce A., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment. By David Basinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity; 1996, 154 pp., $14:99 paper.

"The purpose of this hook," writes David Basinger, "is to subject freewill theism (FWT) to a philosophical assessment" (pp. 12-13). Just what is "freewill theism"? it is any theological model that affirms that "God can unilaterally intervene in earthly affairs and does so at times" (can.tra process theism) while it denies "that Gad can both grant individuals freedom and control its use" (contra theological determinism; p. 12?. Essentially, then, freewill theism is a broad category that includes classic Arminianism (which affirms God's simple and exhaustive foreknowledge while deny> ing God's determination of free choices), Molinism (which affirms God has some significant control over human choices by controlling the states of affairs in which he knows, via middle knowledge, what those free creatures would freely do in those situations), and open theism (which denies both God's exhaustive foreknowledge and middle knowledge while affirming that God learns moment by moment what free creatures do, responding to these choices in shaping the future).

Chapter one discusses the basic freewill theist position in comparison to and in contrast with process theism and versions of theological determinism. It becomes clear that libertarian freedom is the concept that unites all versions of freewill theism against any and all determinist models. Chapter two takes up the question of the divine omniscience and argues that the simple (exhaustive) foreknowledge, middle knowledge, and "present knowledge" positions are all compatible with libertarian freedom. Basinger nevertheless favors the present knowledge view. Along with increasing voices from open theism, Basinger argues (cf. the Appendix for sustained discussion) that simple foreknowledge contributes no providential benefit to God. Since such foreknowledge is simply "given" to Gad, God is not in a position to affect human choices by this advance knowledge. Chapter three explores the issue of the moral obligations God is under when he creates the world. The middle knowledge position most clearly offers God the requisite knowledge to obligate him to create some version of a "best" possible world, but freewill theism, generally, sees Gad as under only a minimalist obligation, i.e. to create a world in which free creatures are permitted to act freely: Chapter four considers the problem of evil. Basinger here argues that, despite protestation to the contrary, the God of freewill theism is net incompatible with the types and amounts of evil found in the real world. Chapter five turns to the practical advantage Basinger claims freewill theism has in regard to the nature of prayer. Since prayer's efficacy depends on whether our praying makes a difference, only freewill theism's commitment to God being conditioned by human free choices renders it possible far prayer to make a difference to God's plans and actions. But since God cannot unilaterally intervene in ways that violate human free choices and actions (and in so doing leave them free), such prayer cannot reasonably be thought to wave God to act contrary to human choosing. The book's overall purpose, then, is not to defend freewill theism against every objection but to demonstrate its internal consistency and its reasonableness in the face of some central epistemological, moral and religious challenges.

By way of evaluation, I begin by commending Basinger for the fairness with which he discusses the various positions treated. The spectrum from process theism to Calvinist determinism is considered, and one detects an endeavor to describe each position in non-pejorative and fair ways. Second, I believe Basinger has successfully accomplished his main purpose, viz. to demonstrate the philosophic viability of various forms of freewill theism.

Having acknowledged his overall success, I will mention briefly a few problems and/or areas of concern.

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