Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility by D.A. Carson

The book is Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension by D.A. Carson. 

According to the introduction “The material found in these chapters began life as a doctoral dissertation at Cambridge University, defended in 1975.” And man, does it show. What a snoozefest. Inaccessible to the average reader. 

I read this book because of the title and because I read Carson’s The Intolerance of Tolerance. That was a great book. I understand Carson to be a great theologian and reliable, faithful exegete. But man, this was a tough read. 

There wasn’t much I liked about this book. I’m sorry to say it was sort of a bust. Being an academic work, it reads more like a survey of what Carson calls the “sovereignty-responsibility tension” throughout not only the Bible but the apocryphal and peripheral “biblical” works as well, most of which I have not read. (The book of Judith? Guess I missed that one).  

With all the notation and reference to obscure apocrypha, it was almost unreadable. And Carson doesn’t really take a position. Throughout the pages he basically claims that no one can ultimately subscribe to full unabashed divine sovereignty nor full autonomous human responsibility. Great! Thanks for coming out, Carson.

Carson was thorough. But I had wrong expectations of what this book would be. It is not a popular work for mass consumption. It’s like not eating all day and dinner turns out to be an artsy fartsy culinary showpiece. I’m still starving for some real answers to important theological questions of how to reconcile a God who is both omnipotent and benevolent, a God who is the author of all reality, but not the author of evil. 

This book told me what I already knew. There is tension between the Biblical depiction of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. I was painfully familiar of all the passages he cited from canon. The question is how do we reconcile this tension. 

I will say Carson did give me a (still unsatisfying) new way to look at it. He explains the attempt at understanding the sovereignty-responsibility tension akin to putting together a puzzle to which we don’t have all the pieces yet. That isn’t to say there is anything lacking in scripture for us to understand God. But it is to say that his ways are not our ways and we are so steeped in our fallen thinking towards our own autonomy that there is only so much we will really grasp this side of glory. Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. 

Carson doesn’t really land on either side of the debate. Indeed he says it’s actually impossible to fully rule out either side. So we are just left with the tension. So we’ve gained no ground in any direction after reading the book. 

I actually would not recommend this book to anyone. I feel bad for saying that but it’s true. I’m an ardent student of the Calvinism debate and I found mostly no benefit from this book. It’s not meant to solve anything and it doesn’t. How can I recommend a theology book like that? 
I do recommend Carson’s other works that are written for the average reader. His The Intolerance of Tolerance is a great book especially in the current age of the tolerance buzzsaw. Read that instead.

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