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The Benefits of Providence: A New Look at Divine Sovereignty [Paperback]

By James S. Spiegel (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   256
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.32" Width: 5.92" Height: 0.49"
Weight:   0.63 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 5, 2005
ISBN  1581346166  
EAN  9781581346169  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
God knows everything that will happen in the future and is in full control even when we can't see the whole picture. However, this doctrine of God's divine providence has recently come under fire. Scholar and author James Spiegel affirms the classic view and shows how it answers difficult questions that Christians wrestle with, including the problem of evil.

Publishers Description

"Does God actively determine every event that comes to pass? Or does he passively allow some events to happen?"

When we face painful trials, there is comfort in knowing that God can see the big picture even when we can't. Scholar and author James Spiegel reaffirms that God knows everything that will happen in the future and is in full control. This is the classic view of God's divine providence, the idea that God completely knows, controls, and directs the future.

This doctrine has come under fire recently by supporters of opposing views, especially open theists, who claim that God can be mistaken about the future and that even his plans can fail. Using scriptural texts, Spiegel analyzes the flaws of alternative views while defending the classic view of God's providence. He illustrates how the classic view is beneficial to believers and shows the reader how this doctrine provides answers to difficult questions such as the problem of evil.

Where we stand on the issue of God's divine providence affects every area of our lives. Spiegel provides us with an excellent explanation of divine providence.

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More About James S. Spiegel

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James S. Spiegel is the Associate Professor of Philosophy at Taylor University. His works include Hypocrisy: Moral Fraud and Other Vices, How to Be Good in a World Gone Bad, and articles on ethics, aesthetics, and the philosophy of religion.

James S. Spiegel currently resides in Fairmount, in the state of Indiana. James S. Spiegel was born in 1963.

James S. Spiegel has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Faithful Learning

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Isn't God Almighty ?  Oct 29, 2007
Many folks who review this book and accurately appraise its theological content, should firstly know that most Christians are not even aware that Augustine held to a particular view on God's sovereignty, foreknowledge and providence. I was one of them.

So, in this book is so much truth in defense of the old, accepted truths of the Gospel. More to the point, Spiegel affirms that 'when you get down to it, of course, the issue at hand is not just the maintenance of sound doctrine, but also the nature of God'.

He approaches the task at hand immediately, and plainly refers to Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards in his opening presentation. Their views are accurately portrayed, and correctly summarized as being non-contradictory.

He quotes Hasker, who assumes the following: 'it is clear that God's foreknowledge cannot be used either to bring about the occurrence of a foreknown event or to prevent such an event from occurring...' pg 27

This modern view of Open Theism is closely connected to a low view of God's sovereignty. In this we find that man is negligent of not giving God all the glory. This work goes a long way to prove that view faulty. And once again Calvinism triumphs.

When assessing the two views of human freedom, that of libertarianism and compatibility, Spiegel's defense of the compatibilitist's view is ably done. 'Peter's freedom consisted in that he was not externally compelled (though circumstances presumably made FAITHFUL action more difficult).' pg 71

If as a believer you have struggled with some strains of the following beliefs (because fellow Christians believe, as do these proponents, in the inerrancy of Scripture) that you cannot wrap your head around, you need no longer concern yourself, for Spiegel destroys and destructs fallacies proposed by these:

1. Conditional Statements:
'If My people will turn from their wicked ways, then...'

2. Divine Regretting and Relenting:
God grieves over certain events such as His creation of human beings (Gen 6:6) and His making Saul king (1 Sam 15:11).

3. Petitionary Prayer:
'Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find.'
'you do not have for you do not ask.'

4. Divine Ignorance and Error:
Biblical narratives that depict God as learning new truths on various occasions, such as when He says to Abraham, 'Now I know you fear God...'

These all are misrepresented biblically whereby the omniscience of God and omnipotence of Heaven are brought to nought by modern so-called evangelicals.

Spiegel's view of the 'Benefits of Providence', are enlightening:

'This (Augistinian) perspective serves as a corrective to the misleading language of "divine intervention" in the world. It is true that God might alert us to some danger...But often God is thought to intervene in the sense that His activity in our lives is somehow only intermittent and exceptional. Some people regard miracles in this way, as instances of exceptional divine activity in the world. Even more common is the view that miracles demonstrate God's presence and power beyond what is proven in nature. But making an exception to nature's ordinary operations is no more difficult for God than maintaining regularity...Once we recognize that the cosmos is a constant divine creation (Heb 1:3), nature's operations - regular or not, and pleasing or not - must also be recognized as following from the activity of the wise and omnipotent God. A proper doctrine of providence displaces this notion of mechanistic causal necessity with purposeful divine direction. Consequently, both nature's regularities and miraculous events are seen to be equally divinely intended.' pg 89-90

One thing I enjoyed was Spiegel's introduction of the concept of the omnipathos of God. Theologians will indeed indulge in this view, and hopefully find it to be biblical, and further develop the excellent work of Spiegel.

A competent defense of the orthodox view of God and one that should not be underestimated in its important contribution to theology. I recommend it also because James Spiegel is easy to understand, even when discussing complex theological issues such as God's sovereignty, foreknowledge and providential care. So much so, that where others have tried and failed, Spiegel has succeeded in convincing me of his high view of God.
New thinking on old controversies  Oct 25, 2006
Having lectured in systematic theology, and being an eager follower of the free will/sovereignty debate, when I spotted this book I snatched it up, without looking at it too closely. I assumed it would be just another biblical and theological defence of the Augustinian/Calvinist position which I would add to my collection.

Well, it is certainly that, but it is also much more. When I actually sat down to read it I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it does not just take the usual approach (digging up proof-texts for God's sovereignty and providence, and rebutting Pelagians and Arminians) but actually branches out in different directions, explaining how an Augustinian understanding of providence helps us in many other areas, be it science, philosophy, or aesthetics, as well as theology.

Such an approach is explained, in part, by the fact that the author is a philosopher, not a theologian. But he is certainly aware of his theology, as he makes major philosophical and theological forays into various fields. Thus he is quite able to take on recent challenges to the traditional view, such as free-will theism, and its predecessor, process thought..

His chapter on providence and science is almost worth the price of the book. In it he branches out in directions that the typical Calvinist might fear to tread. In this chapter he takes on some of the big controversies of the day. One is the question of origins, and how a providence model can answer the shortcomings of evolutionary theory and philosophical naturalism. He argues that a type of Intelligent Design theory best fits in with the Augustinian model.

Spiegel also explores another difficult and ongoing debate, that of the nature of consciousness, and whether some kind of mind/matter dualism is to be preferred over some form of physicalism. He argues that matter is not what lies behind mind, but the other way around. The divine mind is the ultimate source of reality, and the entire cosmos is mind-dependent.

All in all, not the usual sort of discussions heard in the sovereignty/free will debate. However, theological issues are also addressed, especially the issue of God, passibility, and the problem of evil. As to the issue of whether God experiences emotions as we do, and whether he can change, he argues a unique position: taking the best of both worlds. That is, he argues that God does have emotions and is passible, but also that God is atemporal and changeless. He calls this God's omnipathos. This synthesis (or compromise) may not please everyone, but it is a creative way to deal with this conflict.

As to the problem of evil, he argues that ultimately all suffering and evil has a purpose, although we may not know what that purpose is. He opts for the greater good, or soul-making, theodicy, arguing that our sufferings need not be wasted, but can lead to a greater good, and to more Christ-like character.

He rounds off his discussion with some practical and pastoral applications of the Augustinian model of providence.

If your preference is for more-or-less Reformed theology, and you have interests in philosophy of religion and philosophy of science, there will be much in this book that will be attractive. It is an important contribution to a number of theological and philosophical debates taking place concerning some key biblical concepts.

Whether one thinks Spiegel has successfully made his case or not, one can agree that he has offered a stimulating and innovative way to approach some long-standing and controversial issues.
How Providence Matters  Mar 28, 2006
Dozens of books have been published in recent years debating the extent of God's sovereignty and knowledge of future events. Few of these works, however, examine the far-reaching implications of the views they propose. In The Benefits of Providence philosopher James Spiegel fills in this gap by applying the Augustinian view of providence to several important areas of philosophical and practical theology.

Distinguishing between high (Augustinian, Simple Divine Foreknowledge, Molinism) and low (Process and Openness Theology) views of providence, Dr. Spiegel begins by explaining the core ideas of each of these positions. He then proceeds to contrast the biblical cases and explanatory power of the Open view with the Augustinian view, arguing that in each case the Augustinian view of providence is on solid ground and the Open view is not. Thus he contends that God has complete sovereignty, exhaustive foreknowledge, does not take risks, and that God's determination is compatible with the moral responsibility of human beings.

Having laid the foundation for why the Augustinian view is best, Dr. Spiegel applies this high view of providence to several areas in which he sees particular benefits. He begins with looking at the world as divine art, first through the divine conservation of the cosmos. This doctrine, he shows, has important implications for understanding natural laws, miracles, and art. As an explanation of divine art, he puts forward the E-C aesthetic model- "that the cosmos is an expression of divine emotion and a communication of God's eternal ideas." (105)

Dr. Spiegel then applies his high view of providence to the practice of science, specifically showing its implications for the problem of induction, the origins debate, and the problem of consciousness. Subsequently, he dives into the issue of divine emotion. While historically those who hold high views of providence tend to believe in God's impassibility, and conversely those of a low view tend to believe in His passibility, Dr. Spiegel seeks middle ground. He proposes that God is omnipathic, experiencing of all emotions eternally.

The problem of evil and suffering is an important issue in these discussions, and so Dr. Spiegel turns to it next. After explaining why several of the more popular theodicies fail, he makes the case that the "Greater Good Theology" is the most biblically grounded and practical. Essentially this entails that all suffering exists for a purpose. The book concludes with moral and devotional applications, examining the implications for virtues such as faith and humility and for disciplines such as prayer and evangelism.

One sign of a good writer and thinker (in my view) is that the author anticipates his reader's questions. This happened several times as I read this book, particularly in discussing divine omnipathos, and though I wasn't always fully satisfied with the answers; I appreciate Dr. Spiegel's ability to anticipate possible objections. This is particularly important as his work sails in several almost uncharted theological waters

The Benefits of Providenceis an important and stimulating inquiry into philosophical theology. Though some will find its academic rigor challenging, most will find James Spiegel's clarity and passion for biblically based philosophy extraordinary. Though this is a significant work in the debate about God's sovereignty, I think it's more significant for those who hold to the Augustinian view. Regardless of whether we agree with every point, Dr. Spiegel has challenged us to apply our theology more widely and deeply.
A Defense of God's Providence  Mar 12, 2006
The doctrine of divine providence (i.e. God's knowledge and control of human events) is one with far-reaching implications both for Christian doctrine as a whole and the life of the Christian. My first note for Spiegel's Benefits of Providence is that it not only explores the implications of this doctrine, but serves as a primer for relating a high view of God's providence to doctrines not explictily considered by the author (e.g. the Trinity) and doctrines touched on only briefly in the work (e.g. Christians and social justice). Spiegel says, "My constructive aim is to reveal some significant benefits of the high view of providence, both of a theoretical and practical nature." The examples of "benefits of providence" provided by Spiegel open the floodgates of beneficial providence for the reader.

Secondly, although Spiegel works from a specific position on providence (the Augustinian view that God is in complete control and knows all future events), he is even-handed in his approach to competing views that also are "high" views of providence. He says, "I invite advocates of Molinism [a view explained by Spiegel in the book] and simple divine foreknowledge to explore the many benefits of the high view of providence, as their views are amenable to much of my constructive project." The view explicitly rejected and critiqued in the work is open theism, the view that God's knowledge of the future is limited and God allows certan events to come about in a passive sense (i.e. not under God's direct control). Spiegel is also even-handed in his approach to the various topics discussed in relation to divine providence. The reader will find his moderate approach to such topics as evolutionary biology, the question of the existence of a soul, and the question of God and emotion intriguing. He carefully explains the high doctrine of providence relative to these and other areas (such as ethics and art). I have some formal training in philosophy and found these particular explanations to difficult Christian problems novel.

Finally, Spiegel's book is penned from the hand of a professional philosopher, which is daunting to many (and understandably so). This work is a challenge, to be sure. Yet it is accessible for the lay person who is willing to put in time and intellectual work to better understand his or her doctrine of God--and even more importantly--his or her relationship to God.

I recommend this book.
Not Without Flaws, But Still A Challenging, Edifying Read  Nov 24, 2005
I have a bad habit of waiting a week or two after finishing a book before writing a review. I tend to do this with books that are particularly challenging to me as I like to allow what I have learned to resonate in my mind and heart for a little while before committing those thoughts to paper (or pixels, as the case may be). The drawback, of course, is that I tend to forget details as time goes on! The Benefits of Providence by James Spiegel was one of those books that I saw on my desk every day for the past two weeks but have not attempted to review until today. Part of my reluctance in reviewing it was that in some ways I was overwhelmed by the book as it delved into topics which I feel particularly poorly equipped to discuss.

Subtitled A New Look at Divine Sovereignty, this book seeks to examine and explain divine providence from the Bible. The author attempts to answer such difficult questions as: "Does God actively determine every event that comes to pass? Or does he passively allow some events to happen?" Much of the book is set against the claims of those who hold to Open Theism and who would claim that God does not determine every event and that he does passively allow certain events to happen. Spiegel teaches a classical, Augustinian understanding of providence, affirming that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future and that he knows, controls and directs all that comes to pass. Along the way Spiegel discusses art, science, philosophy, emotion and evil. The book concludes with several moral and devotional applications for what has been taught.

The purpose of the book is to "show that the doctrine of providence, properly understood, is not only biblically sound but conceptually enriching and personally edifying." The author provides both a defense of the biblical, Augustinian view and a refutation of the Open Theistic position. "To see God," the author concludes, "as utterly sovereign provides numerous benefits to us in diverse domains, ranging from art and science to ethics and philosophical theology...The doctrine of providence must help us make sense of Scripture and human history, as well as our intuitions about beauty, goodness, and our deepest fears, desires and hopes."

While the book was certainly challenging and while it stretched my understanding of divine providence in many ways, it was not without its faults. There was one moment that I found almost comical as it seemed so far out of place in a book of this type. When discussing the virtues of people we most admire, Spiegel writes, "From the apostle Paul and Justin Martyr to Martin Luther and Mother Teresa, all of our heroes attained that status because of their struggles against and in the midst of evil." One of those people stands out as not belonging in a group of great theologians! Beyond Spiegel's seemingly obligatory mention of Mother Teresa, I had a few concerns about his understanding of the value and importance of human suffering, and particularly in his teaching on the beatific vision, wherein human suffering becomes valuable because of the direct knowledge of God it imparts to us. Aspects of the teaching of art and beauty will require some more thought on my part, but initially they made me uncomfortable (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Looking back on this book two weeks later there is much I remember and much that made me grow. There is also much that requires a second reading for me to fully understand. My grasp of philosophy is tenuous at best and this made some of what Spiegel wrote about a little beyond my expertise. This is a deeply philosophical book and is not always easy to read and understand, even though it is very well written. If a proper understanding of divine providence is as important as Spiegel claims, and I believe he is right to suggest that it provides benefits to almost every area of life, it is a topic that ought to be near and dear to the heart of every Christian. This is particularly true in an age like ours where this doctrine is under attack. Despite a few concerns I really have no trouble recommending this book.

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