Jun 15

The Providence of God, by Paul Helm ?????

This was a hard book to rate, in that it was not an easy book to read. A few sections had to be re-read a number of times, and still pretty much passed me by. I have reviewed other books in the past by Paul Helm. Dr. Helm is noted as one of the premier conservative Christian philosophers alive today, and currently teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. In this text, Helm tackles the hardest of all possible problems, the issue of God’s providence. This book, as I understand from other sources, was written as the philosophical response to Openness theology. What does “providence” mean? How does providence fit philosophically with the thought of human freedom, with the idea of petitionary or intercessory prayer, with the idea of human responsibility, or with the idea of the existence of evil. Helm efficiently shows how all of these concepts relate to the same issue. He shows that if one believes in a situation where God is not knowledgeable of the precise future, or has not determined all future decisions that one will make (God taking “risks”), it does not lend to easier solutions to the problem of evil, the problem of freedom, etc., than if one believes in a God who ordains all that will come to pass (God in a no-risk situation). So, Helm concludes with a strong “Calvinistic” approach to free-will and providence, though remaining very gracious to disagreement. In the end, Helm does a laudable job at showing the consistency of one’s free will and a God who has determined all that is, was, and will be. Helm shows that not only is a no-risk God the most logical (as well as Scriptural) conclusion, but also the conclusion that offers the Christian the greatest comfort, knowing that the future is not in our hands, but in His. Thus, he provides a rational basis for life and obedience as a Christian person, not in “immobility” of feeling that there is no point in acting, since the fates will be what they will be, but, since we remain ignorant of the future, living out our lives as responsible moral agents under a God who will make all things, evil or good, work out for our best. This is not a book for everybody. Perhaps one needs to possess a certain insanity to even think about the philosophical implications of providence. If your are one of those tormented souls that troubles over philosophical details of good, evil, determinism, and the fates in a theistic context, this is a must read book.

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One Response to “The Providence of God”

  1. Uncle Dennis says:

    I have addressed this topic at some length in the published literature; see

    http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1999/PSCF9-99Feucht.html

    The emphasis of John Calvin on the determinism of God in eternity was in response to the degeneration of religion into the experiential melange that was (maybe still is in many cases) medieval Roman Catholicism. However, the reconciling of the putatively true concepts of God’s sovereignty and human freedom of the will and responsibility is a profound one.

    It was not until Donald MacKay, a Scottish highlander Presbyterian physicist and brain researcher, put forth an argument that was based on self-referencing logic that the larger picture of this issue began to unfold. I will not repeat the arguments of MacKay here but refer you to the above article where I not only give MacKay’s argument in brief but also give a related (inverse) argument that further demonstrates that free will has as its logical basis the “paradox of the liar”, as logicians call it. (All Cretans are liars; the person who uttered this was a Cretan (Epimenides, most likely); therefore, are they or aren’t they?) One reason for why this issue has remained unresolved and mysterious for centuries is that it cannot be understood sufficiently by thinking about it in Aristotelian logic. A higher-order logic is necessary.

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