No other topic is more misunderstood than that of human free will. What a person believes here affects what a person believes about God and his sovereignty, righteousness, and holiness. The debate is not a new one, but as R.C. Sproul demonstrates in Willing to Believe it is a debate that has continued throughout history.
Over the last several years, Baker Books has taken the opportunity to repackage and republish various works by R.C. Sproul (including books such as What is Reformed Theology?, Faith Alone, and Getting the Gospel Right). Therefore, this most recent release Willing to Believe is not a new book, but a repackaging of the original work also (something that I suspect was in the works long before Sproul passed away based on what I know about the length of time it takes to publish a book and the present tense of the biography on the book). In the book, Sproul examines the role of human will in salvation and its impact on other areas of various theology.
Readers will be surprised to find that Willing to Believe is not a recitation of theological positions with the citation of Scripture. Instead, the author has done something unique by examining the debate as it has played out throughout the course of Christian history. Each of the nine chapters is centered upon the examination of convictions held by a specific individual (1), how those beliefs were taught, and the impact they had both on Christianity history and Christian theology.
While not exhaustive (how could it be?) Sproul’s examination of each person’s long-known teachings is thorough. Furthermore, anyone who is familiar with the author’s writings comes to expect writing that logically-oriented and clearly-written, and Sproul maintains these characteristics in Willing to Believe. As a result, despite the difficulty of the conflict, readers will find this book easy to read and comprehend, even if the material requires reading and reflection (of both the book and of Scripture).
When writing such a book from a historical standpoint, it can be easy to minimize certain inclinations while maximizing the emphasis on others in order to ‘persuade’ others to their side. Certainly, Sproul has his own theological positions that inform his presentation of positions. However, Sproul has a good grasp of the theological positions of others and their implications, and so the book is written fairly. Readers will find that he will present his own positions and does so meaningfully, but he doesn’t make his position by misrepresentation of the other side (something that I find lacking in this debate). That point alone makes this book a worthwhile read.
I wish more Scripture was involved, but the point of this particular book is to lay out the historical teaching of the doctrine and refute or ratify the positions of those who have debated it before us. Therefore, it is up to readers to spend the time studying Scripture for themselves. Sproul helps the argument, but there is a level of expectation that readers will participate themselves by doing their own studying; he simply directs the dialogue.
I recognize that this topic of free will is a contentious one no matter what side a person falls on. I would recommend that this book be read regardless of a person’s theological position because there is much to be learned from it. However, it requires that every person read with humility, combined with a desire to thoroughly search the Scripture. Willing to Believe is a unique book, and one worth readers’ times because it is a topic so frequently debated, yet also frequently misunderstood and misrepresented.
To purchase a copy of any of the books mentioned, click the links.
Recommendation: I would recommend that readers do not read this book alone, but instead also read it in conjunction with What About Free Will? By Scott Christensen and Long Before Luther by Nathan Busenitz. In fact, I would recommend that you read them in the following order:
Long Before Luther (this one is less related, but there is sufficient crossover to make it worthwhile to read it in conjunction with the other two).
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me for the purposes of review. However, the review was not influenced in any way by the author, publisher, or any other person associated with this book and is the result and response of my own reading of the book.
(1) Sproul examines the teachings of the following people: Pelagius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, Finney, and Chafer.