Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility by D. A. Carson


The issues addressed by Carson are clearly laid out on the first page of this excellent book, “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?” Carson’s approach is very different than that of most theologians, “The sovereignty-responsibility tension is not a problem to be solved; rather, it is a framework to be explored” (p.2).

Carson is on to something that so many have missed. As stated in our review of Chosen but Free, when we start developing theological systems to explain the sovereignty-responsibility antinomy we tend to polarize. We either camp out on free will (as Geisler did in the above-mentioned book) or we fossilize on God’s sovereignty as extreme Calvinists do. Carson has avoided both errors by admitting early and often that we are in the land of mysteries here. In exhaustive manner he takes us through the Scriptures quoting copious passages teaching free will. He does the same for sovereignty. He is unafraid to lay seemingly contradictory verses side by side for our examination. Nor does he back away from passages that declare God to be the ultimate cause, if not the source of many evils (pp28-29, 36, 211). Along the way he dismantles many arguments from both sides of the spectrum. Then he concludes his study with an excellent summary (pp. 206-222) and an illustration comparing this tension to a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing. The point is that Scripture teaches both free will and Divine sovereignty without flinching. It is not up to us to unravel this mystery. We are to understand it as far as God allows and leave the rest in His hands. This is of course a reductionistic summary of Carson’s argument.

There are only two negatives that I would see in Divine Sovereignty . First, the book is so heavy in spots as to discourage all but the most tenacious. This is especially true as he explores in great detail extra biblical literature’s handling of this subject, which takes up more than a third of the book. Few would desire to wade through such material and I would advise most to skip it. The second negative is that Carson limits almost all of his biblical examination to the Gospel of John. Here he does an excellent job but what an enhancement to Carson’s position would there have been had he devoted the extra biblical section to exploring other Scripture.

This is the best and most balanced approach that I have read on the sovereignty-responsibility issue. I recommend it to all concerned about this tension.