I recently read Jack Cottrell’s book, What the Bible Says About God the Ruler. I believe it to be one of the better explanations of divine sovereignty I have read recently by an Arminian theologian. His writing is clear and succinct in addressing the problems that surround the notion of divine sovereignty. One would be hard pressed to read his book and find any argument against, or for, the sovereignty of God not addressed. Cottrell does a great job of not backing away form the tough questions and issues. I want to unpack in a few posts what I see as the strengths and weaknesses of his book. I’ll begin by giving a summary of the foundational elements that Cottrell lays in the opening chapters of the book.
What is Providence and Why Man Hates or Ignores It.
He begins by defining the Providence of God as his preserving and governing of the world. He gives two reasons why the idea of a sovereign God who governs and preserves the entire world is attacked or ignored by our modern culture. 1) Due to advances in science, technology, meteorology, and medicine God has almost been completely dismissed as unnecessary. He is simply, “out of a job.” Science has found the source of diseases in bacteria and viruses, as well as the vaccinations and means to cure many of them. We now understand jet streams, wind currents, and ocean tides that explain the weather patterns. Science has “split the atom, put men on the moon, and invented an omnipotent technological panacea – the micro-chip (Or he could have just said, Mac!),” and so the universe is nothing but a cause and effect network, in which once we identify the causes it is only a matter of time and technology before man can eliminate, altar, or change the effects. 2) The second reason seems to be the more daunting for the average person: the problem of evil. If God exists, and God is good, and God is omnipotent, than either he is evil, not omnipotent, or non-existent. The sinful nature of man will always tend towards one of these evil assumptions in its search for “freedom” and being the captain of his own ship.
Three Categories of Belief
Thus Cotrell sees that most people believe in one of three categories: indeterminism, self-determinism, and determinism. Indeterminism is essentially a non-theistic system of chance. Natural is allowed to operate and is the dominant force in all that happens, but even natural laws are “not of such a nature that they must produce one and only one result in every case.” Significant variations are always possible. A modern day example of this would be evolutionists who believe that the particular universe that now exists evolved from an accumulation of innumerable random events (this would not include theistic evolutionists who see God as the director of events). The result is a type of humanity that has free-will but whose choices have absolutely no significance. Decisions are produced by the “random swerve of atoms in the mind.” There is no ground for ethics because there is no way to determine right and wrong. Furthermore, there is no meaning to life and no value that can be assigned to it. Indeterminism is extremely bleak.
Self-Determinism is the concept in which Man is ultimate. Here Cottrell lumps humanism, occultism, and Deism. I found his explanation of Deism in this category to be helpful, for although the Deist may grant the existence of a personal God, after creation his view is precisely that of the secular humanists. God has wound up the proverbially clock and stepped back, allowing man to steer the rudder of the ship. The implications of Self-determinism are as follows: nature is a closed system in which nothing supernatural may happen. The humanist and occultist would affirm this, but the deist must also since God is hands off. Man is responsible for his own destiny and for that of the universe. Life will be what you make of it. Finally, there is a very high view of human nature and a belief that man can solve any problem thrown at them, and make the world a utopian paradise. Determinism is extremely prideful, negates the need for a personal God, and fails to consider the depravity of man’s fallen nature.
Finally, Cottrell looks at Determinism which is the belief that “no event or action ‘just happens,’ as in chance; nor is it self-caused, as in self-determinism. Every action is determined n some way by an outside for or an antecedent cause.” This is the most broad of his categories because it does not require that one associate God or a personal deity as the antecedent cause or outside force. Thus fate, astrology, mechanism, and Marxism are all forms of naturalistic determinism. Stoicism, Karma, and Spinozism are all forms of Pantheistic Determinism. Then there is theistic determinism in which he lumps Islam and Calvinism. The implications of Theistic Determinism are that free-will is eliminated (which is a major problem for Cotrell as he defines it), the dignity of man is assaulted, the problem of evil is made much worse, and morality is undermined. It is these precise accusations that I would like to evaluate and critique. Thus, the following post will be a summary of Cottrell’s view of God’s Sovereignty and man’s freedom which dictate his response to theistic determinism. The final post will a response and explanation of the weaknesses of his stance.