Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility is what I believe to be the first volume in a series called “Explorations in Biblical Theology” (at least I could find no mention of previously published volumes). This book is written by Robert A. Peterson who is also serving as the Series Editor. The series is to include two types of books: some will treat biblical themes while others will deal with the theology of specific books of the Bible. Written for college seniors, seminarians, pastors and thoughtful lay readers, the volumes are intended to be accessible and unobscured by excessive reference to the original languages or to theological jargon. “Explorations in Biblical Theology is committed to being warm and winsome, with a focus on applying God’s truth to life.”
Peterson begins Election and Free Will with a defense of its existence. He outlines three reasons that we need a new book dealing with biblical teaching on election and the related topic of free will:
1.The need for graciousness in the debate about election. The debate about election has been marked, even recently, by a lack of grace. With a topic that stirs such strong emotions, Peterson sought to write a defense of the Reformed understanding of election that dealt fairly and graciously with its critics. 2. The tremendous scriptural witness to election. Election is a topic that receives a lot of attention within the pages of Scripture. If this is a topic God emphasizes in the Bible, it is a topic we should also emphasize. 3. The insecurity of contemporary life. In an age of insecurity, where we are prone to worry, we should renew our interest in the doctrine of election. “Within the Bible its function is largely to comfort the people of God and assure them that underneath all their meager efforts to live for him are God’s everlasting arms to hold, protect, and caress them.”
Peterson takes what is, in my view, a unique route to a defense of the Reformed view of election and free will. He first surveys the key ideas on the subject through the history of the church, moving from the church fathers all the way to the contemporary church and pausing on many key figures such as Augustine, Pelagius, Luther, Erasmus, Calvin, Arminius, Schleirmacher and Barth. He next moves through Scripture, dedicating a chapter to election as seen in each of the Old Testament; the Gospels and Acts; the General Epistles and Revelation; and then Paul’s Epistles. The Pauline Epistles actually claim two chapters, with the second being an in-depth study of three key passages: Ephesians 1:4-5,11; Romans 8:29-30; and Romans 9:6-24.
Having surveyed election throughout the Bible and having shown that election is present from cover to cover, he turns to three final topics. First he explores free will, pointing out that to understand free will we must understand where biblical characters are located in the biblical story. After all, human free will has changed as the biblical drama has unfolded. The freedom Adam and Eve enjoyed is different than the freedom we experience today; the freedom we experience today is different than what we will experience in eternity. In what I feel is the book’s strongest chapter, Peterson distinguishes between “freedom of choice” and “true freedom” and provides a biblical and thought-provoking defense of the Reformed understanding of free will. There is a false idea in the church, he says, that “the epitome of true freedom is the ability to choose between righteousness and sin. It is not. True freedom is the ability to love and serve God unhindered by sin.” True freedom of the will waits for us when the Lord returns.
Peterson pauses to provide the Bible’s story of election in a chapter I would suggest is an optional read and then moves finally to “Objections to and Applications of Election.” In this chapter he handles objections and application at the same time, showing how common objections to this doctrine provide opportunity to apply it. After all, it is not enough to simply know that this doctrine exists and to know what it means. We must also live in light of it, and the author provides encouragement to do just that.
If Election and Free Will is indicative of the quality we can expect in the “Explorations in Biblical Theology” series, I look forward to reading the forthcoming volumes. This book fulfilled the goals set for it. Winsome and accessible, based on the Bible and consistent with Reformed theology, it will make for good reading for anyone who has struggled with these doctrines or who wishes to understand them better. I am glad to recommend it.
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