"God be merciful to us & bless us, & cause His face to shine upon us.
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"God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views" ed. Chad Meister and James Drew Jr. A Review
God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views
Multiview Book Series
by Chad Meister and James K.
PO Box 1400
Downers Grove, IL 60515
ISBN: 978-0-8308-4024-3; $25.00; May 2017
5 Stars of 5
An age old conundrum that pesters
Christians, either intellectually, emotionally or both, is the question of evil
in the moral order and in creation. Not long ago a fresh 199 page manuscript
rolled off of the presses at IVP Academic addressing this issue from within the
Christian household. “God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views” draws together
several philosophical and theological scholars who lay their positions out on
the table for all to examine. The book is edited by Chad Meister, author and professor
of philosophy and theology at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana, and James
K. Drew Jr., author, associate professor of the history of ideas and philosophy
and dean of the College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The
material between the soft covers is not overly academic and is accessible to
most adult readers.
“God and the Problem of Evil” comes
in two parts. In the first section each of the respective positions is put
before the reader in detail covering anywhere from nineteen to twenty-four pages
per position. In the second section the individual authors interact with and
critique the other writers. The strength, or weakness, of this approach
(depending on your temperament) is that the exchanges are corralled and
congregated into single chapters in the second half of the book and not hotly
debated at the end of each position.
Phillip Cary, professor of philosophy
at Eastern University, presents the classic position that traces its lineage
back through thinkers and theologians to Augustine of Hippo. The classic view
says that “no evil takes place unless God permits it, and that God has a good
reason for permitting evil, which takes the form of a greater good that he uses
evil to bring about” (14). Cary masterfully weaves together theology, biblical
tragedy, story and liturgy that sweep up the reader into hopeful prayer and
William Lane Craig, Research
Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of
Philosophy at Houston Baptist University, offers a position based on the work
of Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina. Inside molinism is much that one will find
in the classic view with the modifying addition of God’s middle knowledge in
which “God has decided to actualize a world of libertarian free creatures and
to skillfully play the hand that he has been dealt in such a way that his
ultimate ends are achieved through creaturely free decisions, despite the
sinful decisions they would make and the evils they would bring about” (39).
Craig pulls together the theoretical, missiological, and statistical.
William Hasker, Distinguished
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Huntington University, unpacks an open
theist stance with regard to evil. Here “the future is known by God as what might happen, and as what will probably happen, but not as what will definitely take place” and so “it
is impossible even for God to know with certainty how those creatures will
respond; there is a genuine possibility that they will not respond in the way
he intended and desired for them to do” (60). Hasker disagrees with the
determinism he sees in a specific-benefit theodicy and optimistically represents
a general-policy theodicy of God as a risk-taker.
Thomas Oord, theologian, philosopher,
and scholar of multidisciplinary studies who teaches
at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, gives an
account of essential kenosis. Under this concept, because God’s nature is
“self-giving, others-empowering love” that is “necessarily uncontrolling” then
God cannot unilaterally prevent evil (84). In other words, “God’s nature of
love makes it impossible for God to withdraw, override, or fail to provide the
freedom, agency, or basic existence of others” (85). As Oord works out his
theory he makes other interesting and surprising assertions that swim against
the vast majority of Christian thinking for two-thousand years (95).
Stephen Wykstra, professor of
philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, explicates skeptical
theism. This particular outlook is not quite so alarming as the name might
imply. As Wykstra notes, “so-called skeptical theism relies strongly on what I’ve
here called “conditional theistic humility” – an affirmation that if the theistic God does exist (that is,
if mere theism is true), then it is pretty unsurprising that the divine purposes
for God’s “actions” will often be beyond our ken. This conditional, modest as
it is, removes the sting from some evidential
arguments that might otherwise seem lethal to theism” (117). Of all the
chapters, Wykstra’s is the most abstract for the non-philosophically trained
reader, and yet it is, concurrently, very human and personal.
Once all of the authors have unrolled
and displayed their wares, then each gets the opportunity to walk around and
point out the weaknesses and potential compatibilities of the other exhibits.
It’s in the final section that it becomes clear how three of the positions can
actually walk close together (classic, Molinist and skeptical theism) and how
the other two are near cousins (open theism and essential kenosis). It is
rather unfortunate how Hasker is downright dismissive and demeaning of the
classic view, while giving the other positions thoughtful interaction. Beyond
that, the rest of the contributors are gracious in their criticisms, while
remaining unwavering and more-or-less firm.
I found “God and the Problem of Evil”
useful and eye-opening in its design and dissemination. I became roused and reverently
praying by the time I finished reading the classical position. I was positively
challenged to think hard by several chapters, and was drawn to the outskirts of
the ways of the Almighty (Job 26.14) and found my heart touched in places while
peering over the edges of skeptical theism. I have no problem endorsing this
Thanks to IVP Academic for providing,
upon my request, the free copy of the book used for this review. The
assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal
Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).
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