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Sproul on the Will

This influential Calvinist's account of the free-will problem would have profited from a stronger reading of Calvin.
1998This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

WILLING TO BELIEVE: The Controversy Over Free Will, by R. C. Sproul (Baker Books, 224 pp.; $15.99, hardcover). Reviewed by Allen C. Guelzo, Grace F. Kea Professor of American History and chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Eastern College, Saint Davids, Pennsylvania.

Free will is one of those perennial tough-nut problems, like consciousness and expressway traffic, whose solution seems perfectly obvious until we start thinking about it. It usually appears, from our internal sensation of being able to choose (or to move or to pause over possible actions), that the human will has things perfectly up to itself. But then come the second thoughts: What is meant by the will itself? If our wills are free, do they still obey us? And what is the connection between the us of our consciousness and the it of our wills? Who controls whom, and under what circumstances? Let free will show up, and streetcorner scholasticism happens.

In addition to being a tough-nut problem, free will is also what you might call an iceberg problem, in the sense that whatever answer we give to it is usually connected to a larger mass of less visible assumptions about God and human nature. If the will is not free enough, we get a picture of human behavior that looks like puppets on a string, and a picture of God that looks like Miss Havisham. If it's too free, we get something that looks even less than human, "an erratic and jerking phantom" (in the words of Richard Taylor) "without any rhyme or reason at all," and a God who looks a good deal like Huck Finn's Aunt Sally.

As one of the most articulate popularizers of Calvinist theology today, R. C. Sproul does not like what he sees on the tip of the free-will iceberg. "A majority of professing ...

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