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Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension [Paperback]

By D. A. Carson (Author)
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Item description for Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension by D. A. Carson...

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension by D. A. Carson

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wipf & Stock Publishers
Pages   271
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.88" Width: 6.08" Height: 0.64"
Weight:   0.89 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 1, 2002
Publisher   Wipf & Stock Publishers
ISBN  1579108598  
ISBN13  9781579108595  

Availability  5 units.
Availability accurate as of Apr 30, 2017 06:32.
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More About D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson D. A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, and president of The Gospel Coalition. He has written or edited more than fifty other books, including Christ and Culture Revisited, The Intolerance of Tolerance, and the Pillar New Testament Commentary volume on John.

D. A. Carson currently resides in Deerfield, in the state of Illinois. D. A. Carson was born in 1959.

D. A. Carson has published or released items in the following series...
  1. 9Marks
  2. Bible Savvy
  3. Expositor's Bible Commentary (Paperback)
  4. Gospel Coalition
  5. Gospel Coalition Booklets
  6. Justification and Variegated Nomism
  7. Re: Lit Books

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > Theology

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Reviews - What do customers think about Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspective in Tension?

Tough To Wade Through But Contributes Valuably  Dec 30, 2006

Donald A. Carson is professor at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a highly respected author with 45 published works to his credit. "Divine Sovereignty And Human Responsibility" is an expansion of his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge originally presented in 1975. Carson struggles with the delicate tension between God's election and man's accountability for his own sin, particularly in light of the doctrines of total depravity and original sin.

The opening page of the book sets the stage for all that is to follow. Carson declares, ""If God is absolutely sovereign, in what sense can we meaningfully speak of human choice, of human will? Must God be reduced to accommodate the freedom of human choice? Does significant human responsibility so lean on power to the contrary that God becomes contingent?" To his credit, Carson also states his theoretical conclusion that he is working towards when he notes that the tension is `not a problem to be a solved, but a framework to be explored.' The book is in part a rebuttal to E.P. Sanders' defense of covenantal nomism, the view that Jews held to salvation by grace.

The book consists of five sections that present historical and textual evidence towards God's election or `merit theology' and where upon the continuum a particular theology lies. He begins with an introduction, and the body of work contains three basic areas of emphasis: the Hebrew canon, intertestamental works, and the gospel of John. Carson concludes with a chapter of theological reflections that summarizes his view of the tension. His conclusion is that the tension is not fully understandable due to God's infinitude and our own lack of same, but he supports his theoretical conclusion with a grid.

There are a number of positives in the book. Carson doesn't use the simplistic appeal approach but instead wrestles with seemingly contradictory data regarding God's sovereignty to formulate his ultimate conclusion. He summarized it better in "The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism," however, when he noted that divine sovereignty stands behind both John Calvin and Adolph Hitler but that such sovereignty is asymmetrical - the good is always traceable to God while the bad is not traceable at least not in the way that would make God Himself the author of sin. He also notes properly at the beginning of the work as well as at the end that this particular issue cannot be solved from the human standpoint and must instead be treated abstractly to interact with the existent data. Writing from the Calvinist perspective, he deals with numerous passages regarding free will as well as those dealing with predestination, particularly the prophecy and fulfillment by Judas Iscariot.

The biggest weakness in the book is one that editing will easily fix: there are sections of the middle of the book that are just flat out boring. They are not irrelevant to the immediate question as they help lay the foundation for his conclusion, but some outside knowledge as well as an intimate interest in literature characterizes the portion of the book regarding intertestamental works. One other weakness, though an understandable one, is his emphasis solely on the gospel of John. Perhaps future publications of the work would be improved by the removal of the intertestamental literature and replaced by either other biblical data or even first to fourth century literature. Finally, this was a doctoral dissertation and in many places reads like one, which is fine for those with such scholarly pursuits but will ultimately discourage the layman who really would be edified by this work were it not so `scholarly.'

The apex of the book comes with Carson's `formulation of the tension' of divine sovereignty and free will and the presentation of a diagram purporting to show the actions both of the Creator and His finite creations. Carson's diagram shows God's line going 100% of the way across the bar graph and man's line crossing under God's and going about ten percent of the way across the graph. Carson admits that such a drawing is `crude,' but he is left with the problem of how to communicate his theory of `divine ultimacy.' Carson then closes with the claim that the sovereignty-responsibility tension will affect one's outlook in ministry.

Where I disagree with Carson is not so much in his central thesis, which even he concedes is theoretical at best, but in the notion that this is an effort that any of us should aspire to attain. All of us may formulate a theory of divine ultimacy but none of us will ever be able to explain God's side and His ultimate role with the exception of what He has chosen to reveal. Perhaps it is better that we simply accept that sovereign election and human responsibility are theological aspects that will never be solved with any degree of certainty this side of glory.

Make no mistake: Dr. Carson's work is an admirable and noble attempt, but I believe it to be ultimately a futile effort in terms of an actual formulation. His research is impeccable, and his response to Dr. Sanders both enlightening and necessary. And his points about the sovereignty of God in John's gospel demonstrate both a passion for God and a passion for evangelism. But once the effort is made to describe how two complementary concepts exist, Carson is limited as are all of us by his finitude.

Carson's framework to be explored avoids simple categorization by acknowledging the tension he seeks to formulate and attempting to not view that framework through a predetermined theological grid. Whether Carson succeeded at this will probably be left open to question depending upon one's prior convictions. He makes no secret of his mainstream Calvinist views, but he is also willing to critique some forms of determinism in the construction of his framework.

In the end, however, I don't know if the attempt at sound reasoning employed by Dr. Carson will exceed the dogmatism and zeal of the modern-day Augustinians or Pelagians. It is a simple fact that most theological discussions will ultimately shed more heat than light.
Not the best book on the subject  May 2, 2005
What do you get when a biblical scholar writes a book on a difficult theological topic? Not a very good book. Carson attempts to explain the divine sovereignty-human responsibility tension in Scripture and early Jewish literature. He goes over the Old Testament, Apocrypha, Pseudopigrapha, DSS, and a host of other Jewish literature. According to Carson, as Judaism progressed in time human responsibility became more emphasized and merit theology began to develop (though DSS can be seen as an exception). He basically refutes E. P. Sanders' view that early Judaism was a highly grace oriented religion with no concept of "earned" righteousness (though he agrees with Sanders that early Judaism did not totally put aside God's grace in the salvific process). The section on how the OT and early Jews understood the tension is slightly informative. It can provide students some information on how early Jews formulated the tension between grace and merit. The more interesting (and more useful) sections of Carson's book is how the Gospel of John formulates the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility (chap. 12) and the theological implications of his study (chap. 13). Carson argues that John keeps the tension in balance (though not totally solving the dilemma) by positing BOTH divine sovereignty and human responsibility in people's actions. He argues that John, following the OT, does not see the logical incoherence of holding both concepts at the same time (i.e., humans are commanded to believe and obey even though God is sovereign over all human actions). The last chapter (13) pretty much summarizes all the points made in the book. What is interesting is that Carson does not come to a firm conclusion on the matter except to conclude that this tension is a lot more complex than the human mind can process. One wishes that Carson can push this matter a bit further - but, again, he is not a theologian or philosopher but a biblical scholar. In the end, what Carson comes up with is a compatibilist (Calvinist) concept of divine sovereignty-human responsibility (in contrast to the more classical Calvinistic model promoted by the likes of Charles Hodge). Overall, the book is useful in some respects. However, because this was Carson's doctoral dissertation at one point the reader will find the reading a bit difficult at times.
An intellectually honest assessment of the issues  May 15, 2003
In this book (based on his dissertation) Carson surveys the literature from the time of Moses through the apostles and into the Christian era, examining attitudes toward these two topics frequently posited against each other in Christian thought: divine sovereignty, through which God ordains what will come to pass, and humans' responsibility for what they choose to do. This survey helpfully includes old and new testament biblical sources, but also deuterocanonical and other apocryphal sources, contrasting the development of rabbinic and christian thought over that period. (Carson writes with a protestant christian pressuposition). He closes his book with an honest assessment of the tension between these two axiomatic points of doctrine.

The book is divided into 5 sections:
- Introduction - chapter 1
- Tracing the issue in the hebrew canon - ch. 2 - 3
- Tracing the issue in 'intertestamental' works (including deuterocanonical and other works from that period proper, and rabbinic literature into the christian era) - ch. 4 - 10
- Analysis of the issue in the writings of John - ch. 11 - 12
- Theological reflections given all of the above - ch. 13

Each section is undoubtedly immanently accessible to people familiar with the subject domain. I found the second section very eye-opening, as other works I have read have exclusively focussed on biblical (non-deuterocanonical) sources: it was "tough slogging" to follow the academically oriented text, but rewarding to do so. The review of the new testament works of John, in contrast, is more accessible to any Christian who has thought about this subject, and it also is rewarding for its well-reasoned interpretation. I would heartily recommend chapters 12 and 13 as being well worth the value of the book to anyone not willing to endure the more challenging first 11 chapters.

Intellectual honesty characterizes the work. Carson's conclusions are well argued, dispatching various simplistic "answers" to the tension between the two doctrines (from "hyper-pelagian" to "hyper-calvinist" and many in between) by demonstrating how they reshape rather than resolve the apparent conflict; typically, they address the issue at one point but fail to follow through the logical implications. Carson himself does not end with a tidy, simple resolution to the tension; rather, he:
* clarifies what the bible clearly teaches about these two doctrines (remember my comment above about Christian Protestant perspective), and
* clarifies what presuppositions this apparent conflict challenges.
The reader is left with a renewed appreciation for how one should be humble about the conceptual frameworks we on all have on which we try to structure our understanding of such teachings.

Carson focusses on God's sovereignty from a "purpose", contrasted with a "directly causal", perspective. The only point in the book I find weakly supported is that he defends an asymetry in divine sovereignty between election and reprobation, and generaly causality of good vs. evil. He includes minimal argument; here's hoping he will might explain that position (Dr. Carson, if you reading this, how about an article in 'Modern Reformation' magazine?)

To challenge Carson's work, anyone that wants to take him on must demonstrate how an alternate understanding is more compatible with the biblical texts, rather than demonstrate how it is more compatible with one's presuppositions or how it leaves one with a more "comfortable" answer.

Note, for an easier read that includes an over-view of the conclusions reached here without many of the supporting arguments, consider reading Carson's also excellent book "A Call To Spiritual Reformation" - chapter 9 in particular.

Difficult, but worth it.  Apr 30, 2002
Wow. This book is amazing, it is actually his dissertation, so it is extremely hard going, but if you can make it through, your whole view on the tensions between God's divine sovreignty co-existing with the absolute responsibility of man for his actions will be changed.

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