This may not come as a shock to some of you (though I still haven’t really told my parents or grandparents), but I’m pretty much a “Reformed” Baptist–or what some would call (disparagingly, in their minds) a Calvinist. What this means is that I believe the Bible teaches that all people are born with a sin nature, a natural bent toward rebellion against God and His law. Because of this, we are sinners by nature who become sinners by choice, and as such, we earn the righteous wrath of God for our rebellion. (I’ve covered this before.)
Because all men are born spiritually dead, I don’t believe we have the ability, in this state of spiritual deadness, even to turn to Jesus in repentance and faith. So God (through the Holy Spirit) must make us spiritually alive so that we can repent and believe in Jesus as our Savior, Sacrifice, and Substitute. This causes a problem for some who argue (perhaps fairly) that this means God chooses to save some but not others (or all). They argue that this would not be just of God. (My counter-argument would be that true “justice” would mean NO ONE is saved, but that’s a whole ‘nother deal.)
The sticking point in much of this debate between those who believe that God chooses us and those who believe that we must choose God is how we all understand the relationship between God’s sovereign will and human “free” will.
To tackle this subject, I would offer you, as a recommendation, God’s Greater Glory by Dr. Bruce Ware. I’m taking Dr. Ware’s Systematic Theology class this spring, so I got to read this great little book as part of that class. In God’s Greater Glory, Dr. Ware addresses the issue of divine sovereignty and providence. He looks at the different understandings of “free will” and how these definitions fit or conflict with the truths that have been revealed in Scripture. He also tackles some practical application of these ideas, including the areas of suffering, prayer, and Christian service.
This book seems to be a companion piece to his previous work, God’s Lesser Glory, which examines the serious theological problems with open theism or process theology (the idea that God is not all-knowing and experiences time and history as we do, moment by moment). However, you don’t need to have read the other book to appreciate GGG, because Dr. Ware provides a good deal of commentary on this issue as a part of the current discussion.
I’m not going to give too much away about his arguments, but I will say that he constructs a very compelling case for God’s sovereignty over all things, including human volition and behavior, yet still accounts for human dignity and responsibility. I’d never heard this issue discussed in this way, and (at risk of overstating) it has really revolutionized how I understand human responsibility and free will in this discussion.
I would recommend God’s Greater Glory to anyone who has struggled with the question of how God’s sovereignty meshes with human responsibility. Dr. Ware is an academic, so the book may be a bit dense to get through at first, but it’s worth taking your time and really considering his arguments. If nothing else, this book will turn your heart in worship and gratitude toward our great and glorious God.