Thursday, October 11, 2012

Chosen But Free-Review--Full

Due to the fact that people I know and respect have spoken highly of Norman Geisler's book, Chosen But Free, and people I know and respect have also spoken quite critically of this book, I decided to grab the Kindle version and give it a read. There is praise to be offered and well-deserved criticism to be voiced as well.

Chapter 1 is a great introduction to the topic of God's sovereignty. Geisler spends an extended amount of time affirming God as sovereign over all, even the choices of men. On the surface and divorced from the rest of the text, chapter 1 is a tremendous defense of God being God over all, even the hearts of men. Geisler spends the rest of the book, however, undermining the firm foundation that Scripture laid for him in the first few pages.

Geisler's entire thesis centers around his argument that love can only be love if it is totally free (that is, free of any influence whether external or internal). Coupled with that is the strong insinuation that the moral free choice is either the totality or the majority of what it means to be created in God's image. Geisler never offers any consistent Scriptural basis for his position. As far as I can see, He roots this assumption in his own opinion and the fact that his entire soteriological framework would come crashing down upon itself if this were not the case.

One of the great flaws of this text is the reduction of Calvinism (Reformed Theology) to TULIP. Reformed Theology is not TULIP. Reformed Theology, Calvinism, is a garden filled with beautiful theological flowers, including a TULIP. Due to the subject Geisler undertakes and the fact that so many have perpetuated this reductionist attitude from within the ranks of professing Calvinists, I can understand why Geisler sees it this way and portrays it as such. Yet, since so much of Reformed Soteriology(TULIP) is based in the greater framework of Reformed/Covenant Theology, it would be quite beneficial to understand Reformed Soteriology within this broader context.

Beyond that, Geisler consistently misrepresents the points of TULIP, proceeding then to claim that any who would offer correction are “embarrassed” by their belief in that specific point. Going further, Geisler even accuses the dissenter of dishonesty, saying that he tries to hide what his doctrine actually teaches. This begins a hundreds of pages of rhetoric based on Geisler's army of straw men. Geisler does a brilliant job, throughout the text, of dismantling the “Extreme Calvinism” that he presents. The main problem, however, remains that the view he presents is not, for the most part, the consensus view of those that he labels with the position.

One of the flaws of Geisler's system is seen when Geisler posits his understanding of the P of TULIP, perseverance of the saints. Geisler addresses the fact that once someone is a born again believer then they cannot choose to reject God, ultimately falling away from his/her salvation. Yet, somehow Geisler says they are still free in relation to his/her salvation. His reasoning is simple although not stated. If he were to admit that this lack of viable choice has limited their free will, thus making their love of God after conversion null due to the lack of libertarian freedom, then his entire premise falls. Rather than address this, Geisler chooses to make a couple of points.

First, Geisler points out that this reasoning(that is, the idea that to be free you have to have the option to make a choice without any external or internal constraints or influence) “is speculative and should be treated as such”, because it is “not biblically based”. This seems like an odd point to make, a point with which I agree, because it is the basis for his entire premise. I am glad he admits it is not biblically based, I just wish he would have felt free not to propagate such an unbiblical and speculative position in the first place.

He follows with the argument that some decisions are once for all, but his argument is really a red herring because the point is about continuing freedom. If Adam's decision to rebel did not “erase the image of God”(that is, remove libertarian freedom) in himself or his progeny, then why would a decision to follow Christ in faith “erase the image of God”(that is, remove libertarian freedom).

Finally, he addresses the “extreme Arminian”(usually when Geisler attaches the word “extreme” to something we can feel free to replace it with “historical” or “classical” or “orthodox”, because this is how he uses the word. However, he chooses to limit the term “extreme” in regards to arminianism to reference open theists, “neotheists”) He urges them to consider the logical outcome of this line of thought. If we have to have the option to reject God after salvation to be free, then we could not be “free” in heaven because no orthodox believer holds to the view that you can reject salvation in the eternal state. But since Geisler equates “image of God” with libertarian freedom, then we have to be free in this sense, even in heaven...and even when we are completely incapable of exercising this freedom.

This would be a good point for Geisler to acknowledge and submit to the view of creaturely freedom espoused by Johnathan Edwards(a view repeatedly mocked and misrepresented by Geisler in the book) because it would be helpful to see why we are free. Edwards argues that freedom is the ability to do what we want, to follow our desires. It is not a libertarian/tabula rasa freedom that pretends like there are no influences that affect, motivate or even compel our decisions. Rather, we freely do what we want to do. Sinners freely sin because, by nature, they are sinners. God even limits His own freedom in this sense, consistently in Scripture indicating that He will never do anything contrary to His nature. Indeed, that He cannot(that is, He is not free to) do anything that is contrary to His nature, His ultimate desires. This is why, for us to believe in God, we must be gifted a new nature. Regeneration must precede faith, because left in our sin nature we will never choose God.

Geisler also attacks the reformed presentation of God as unloving for a number of reasons. Geisler argues that for God to be all-loving, He must make a way and offer of salvation unto all, without violating their libertarian free will. Geisler says “any diminution of God's love(see offer of salvation without violation of free will) will sooner or later eat away at one's confidence in God's benevolence.” Since “extreme Calvinists” argue from Scripture that God made atonement for the elect, loving the elect with a special love then God is not all-loving. Beyond that, He is not truly loving even to the elect because in raising them with an irresistible (effectual) grace from spiritual sickness(death), he violated their free (temporal and sin-bound) will.

I would pose a couple of questions. Who would argue that it would be unloving for a father to pull a toddler out of the way of a speeding car simply because it was done against their immediate (see momentary, ignorant, deadly desires) will and that any affection shown after would be coerced and not true appreciation and love? This Father's love was irresistible, because if He allowed ultimate resistance, the child he loved would have perished. Our court system recognizes that for a parent to not offer irresistible love in this manner is criminal, why should the God of the universe be held to a lower standard than any citizen of this country?

My second question would be, if God does not offer the post-fall Satan a chance at redemption, then is He unloving?  At the very least we should be able to agree that God does not love Satan, but Geisler argues that any diminution of God's love, which has to be expressed as an offer of salvation without the violation of free will, undermines our “trust in the love of God”.  To prove this point Geisler even seems to indicate in his footnote reference of Charles Darwin and Bertrand Russel that for us to believe in a God who damns sinners eternally is undermining the love of God. (See footnote 168 and please correct me if I have misread this.)

From the outset of Chosen but Free, Norman Geisler sets off on a polemical cruise of invective, caricature, and straw men, attacking and misrepresenting not only “Extreme Calvinism”(anyone who affirms 5 points of Reformed Soteriology) but traditional Arminianism and Open Theism.  Geisler makes such a habit in the book of misrepresenting the opposing view and then dismantling this creation he has ascribed to his opponents that it is difficult to believe it is all without intent.  The tone throughout the book was not one of genuine discourse in a spirit of communal edification, but rather that of someone who cherishes a view of freedom beyond the Scriptures, the community of faith and even God Himself.  This book could have been good, but it crumbled under the weight of its flawed premise and the presuppositions of its author.  For a good understanding of the Calvinism debate, see For Calvinism(Horton) and Against Calvinism(Olson). For a one-stop source of differing understandings of the doctrine of election, see Perspective on Election edited by Chad Brand.  For an extended critique of Chosen But Free, see The Potter's Freedom by James White.