J.I. Packer: A Fallacious View of Providence


The twin suppositions which liberal critics make—that, on the one hand, divine control of the writers would exclude the free exercise of their natural powers, while on the other hand, divine accommodation to the free exercise of their natural powers would exclude complete control of what they wrote—are really two forms of the same mistake.

They are two ways of denying that the Bible can be both a fully human and fully divine composition. And this denial rest (as all errors in theology ultimately do) on a false doctrine of God; here particularly, of His providence. For it assumes that God and man stand in such a relation to each other that they cannot both be free agents in the same action. If man acts freely (i.e., voluntarily and spontaneously), God does not, and vice versa. The two freedoms are mutually exclusive.

But the affinities of this idea are with Deism, not Christian Theism. It is Deism which depicts God as the passive onlooker rather than the active governor of His world, and which assures us that the guarantee of human freedom lies in the fact that men’s actions are not under God’s control. But the Bible teaches rather that the freedom of God, who works in and through His creatures, leading them to act according to their nature, is itself the foundation and guarantee of the freedom of  their action.

It is therefore a great mistake to think that the freedom of the biblical writers can be vindicated only by denying full divine control over them; and the prevalence of this mistake should be ascribed to the insidious substitution of deistic for theistic ideas about God’s relation to the world which as been, perhaps the most damaging effect of modern science on theology.

When the critics of Evangelicalism take it for granted that Evangelicals, since they believe in complete control, must hold the ‘dictation’ theory, while they themselves, since they recognize accommodation, are bound to hold that in Scripture false and misleading words of men are mixed up with the pure word of God, they merely show how unbiblical their idea of providence ahs become.

The cure for such fallacious reasonings is to grasp the biblical idea of God’s concursive operation in, with and through the free working of man’s own mind.

J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, pp. 81-82
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