Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election by Norman Geisler

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In Chosen but Free , Dr. Geisler attempts the daunting task of resolving the tension between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. In my opinion he fails at almost every turn. He fails first of all because he attempts to solve a mystery with logic. He wants to bring all sides to the table and walk away with a compromise acceptable to everyone. This is the theological snare waiting to trap virtually all who insist that this antimony can be solved at one end of the spectrum or the other. The biblical picture is that both sovereignty and responsibility are true in a way that only God can begin to fathom. When we start developing systems to explain this tension we polarize. Geisler has fallen into this trap.

Geisler also fails in the particulars. Claiming to be a moderate Calvinist he explains the doctrines that distinguish Calvinists (especially what he terms extreme Calvinists) from Arminians. A number of problems arise. First, while claiming to be defamed by those who deny that he is a Calvinist at all, Geisler goes on to reject every major point of Calvinism. At best he is a half-point Calvinist (believing in eternal security but not perseverance of the saints), which would make him, as far I can calculate, a 4+ point Arminian. What he calls moderate Calvinism does not resemble Calvinism at all. Specifically Geisler believes that men are: “born with a propensity but not a necessity to sin” (p. 28) (a denial of total depravity); that predestination and election are based upon God viewing the future and responding to man’s free will choices (pp. 44-45, 50, 69-71) (a denial of unconditional election); that God is able to aid and persuade men to come to Him but He cannot force them (pp. 49, 66, 87, 185, 216) (a denial of irresistible grace). He also rejects limited atonement (Appendix 6), which many Calvinist do, apparently even Calvin himself (Appendix 2). Geisler would have been more honest to clarify his position as an Arminian who clings to eternal security.

Geisler even fails in his caricatures of Calvinists and Arminians. Calvinists, except for the 1-point variety, are deemed “extreme Calvinists.” The big issue with Geisler here appears to be that “extreme Calvinists” believe that God forces His will, including salvation, upon the unwilling, thus completely eliminating all aspects of free will and choice on the part of man. Some Calvinists surely believe this, and I would also consider them extreme. But most whom I have read believe that God draws them in such a way that He in no way violates their wills. Geisler, in his faith in logic, cannot reconcile a God who irresistibly draws in such a way that formerly rebellious sinners now willing place their faith in God. Nevertheless, this is what Scripture teaches.

Our author is much more generous with Arminians (chapter 6). He aims his guns only at “extreme Arminians,” but here he pulls a bit of sleight of hand. To Geisler, extreme Arminians are those who hold to Open theology. But Open theologians, who admittedly have sprung from the Arminian camp, are not classic Arminians. Arminians are just as incensed with Openness as the Calvinist is. I do not know if Geisler is unaware of the difference or if he is counting on his reader not knowing the difference. Either way the real theology of Arminianism is not dissected in the manner that Calvinism was.

On the positive front, Chosen but Free contains a few excellent chapters, among the best “Biblical Support for Unlimited Atonement” (Appendix 6) and “Is Regeneration Prior to Faith?” (Appendix 10). But wading through all this other material to get to these chapters is hardly worth the effort.

For a much better treatment of sovereignty-responsibility tension see Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility by D. A. Carson (our review is in this section).

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