Book Review: Free Will Revisited by Robert Picirilli

Opening my inbox, I saw an email that caused me to pause. The subject line was Arminian Theology and the author was Robert Picirilli. Expecting anything but an email from the noted theologian of that name, I clicked to read it. To my surprise it was from the Robert Picirilli. And he was asking me to review his book. I was more than happy to accept.

Robert Picirilli (link), the former Academic Dean of the Graduate School at Free Will Baptist Bible College (now Welch College), has authored numerous books and commentaries, including one on Romans from an Arminian perspective (amazon). He has also written the book Grace, Faith, Free Will (amazon), one of the best and most accessible books (IMO) on the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. Picirilli was also a contributor to Grace for All, a book that was blogged through on this site (link).

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The topic of free will is challenging. It is one of the areas that is debated and discussed in philosophical, theological, and scientific circles. One of the difficulties is that the word itself has been defined and redefined by various participants in the debate. Given this rather short work on such a diverse and difficult topic it is important to understand what drove Picirilli to write and what he sought to accomplish in this book.

The aim can be discerned by the subtitle a Respectful Response to Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. This book seeks to explore free will as understood by these esteemed theologians who each have written extensively on this subject.

I determined on a specific approach: namely, to deal with the subject as it was argued, specifically, by Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. I picked them because each of these theological masters wrote a volume against free will … [1]

In interacting with these authors, Picirilli wants the reader to not only understand each of their arguments against free will, but to offer a rebuttal to each of the major objections.

Is it possible that such beings have a will that is free to make choices between alternative courses of action? To answer this is the purpose of this work. [2]

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This book is about free will but it is not a general survey on this subject. This work is about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism, but it is not written to deal with all of the theological topics that are part of that debate. The intent of this work is to deal with the intersection of these two areas: specifically how free will is viewed within Calvinism and Arminianism.

An outline of the book

The book is written in four parts.

  • Part One: Defining the Issues
  • Part Two: The Case against Free Will
  • Part Three: The Major Issues
  • Part Four: In Conclusion

The first part provides a brief introduction to the ideas and terms involved in the discussion of free will. Key concepts include free will, determinism, compatiblism, certainty, and necessity. The second part of the book is the strength of the book. It outlines each of the major works on free will written by Luther, Calvin, and Edwards.

  • Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will
  • John Calvin’s The Bondage and Liberation of the Will
  • Johnathan Edwards’ Freedom of the Will

In each chapter Picirilli presents 1) the historical context of the writing;  2) an outline of the work with a summary of each section; 3) the main ideas comprising the case against free will, and 4) offers a definition of free will that the theologian was arguing against. This last point is important. A key thesis in this book is that the versions of free will that Luther, Calvin, and Edwards wrote against was not the same as that offered by Arminius, Wesley and other Biblically sound theologians. This section offers minimal rebuttals, leaving that for later in the work.

It is important to note, as Picirilli does in the preface, that the arguments and interactions in this book are based primarily on how each theologian presented and argued against free will in the one work dedicated to that subject. Picirilli does not engage points about free will the authors may have made in their other works. For example, the chapter on Martin Luther deals with what is written in The Bondage of the Will, without examining what was written in On the Freedom of a Christian. 

The third part of the book is where Picirilli interacts with the arguments of the theologians, demonstrating where they are wrong. He does this by grouping similar points made by Luther, Calvin, and Edwards and dealing with them together. This is done in several chapters as follows:

  • Free Will, Foreknowledge, and Necessity
  • Free Will, Human Depravity, and the Grace of God
  • Free Will, and the Sovereignty and Providence of God
  • Free Will and the Logic of Cause and Effect

These chapters provide good, concise rebuttals to Luther, Calvin, and Edwards. The main thrust of each counter-point would be familiar to those well-read on the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The book concludes with a summary of the arguments against free will and a summary of Picirilli’s arguments for our ability to choose among possible alternatives. Continue reading

Just Launched: Action packed Graphic Novel version of the Gospel of Mark

One of my favorite books in the Bible is the Gospel of Mark. I have taught through it several times, including on a short term mission trip to Liberia. I love how it vividly portrays Jesus’ ministry, capturing all that He did through a short and action packed narrative.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ …

From the start the account jumps right in, starting with the ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus’ own baptism.

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Jesus being baptized from the graphic novel by Simon Pillario (used with permission)

The Gospel, as noted theologian N.T. Wright explains is “the royal announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again according to the Scriptures, has been enthroned as the true Lord of the world.” This is good news, not good advice and it needs to be shared because “something has happened as a result of which the world is a different place.”

The format of this gospel, with its focus on what Jesus is doing, readily lends itself to being illustrated in a graphic novel. And this format offers an opportunity to announce the good news, not only to Christians, but to people who may never have picked up a Bible, but would readily read a graphic novel.

And that is what Simon Amadeus Pillario illustrator of the Word for Word Bible Comic (link), is hoping to offer as he launches his KickStarter campaign.

The campaign page can be found here!

Through the graphic novel format Pillario hopes to present the stories of the Bible, using the actual words of Scripture, in ways that are “historically accurate, unabridged, and untamed”. There are no annotations, notes, or additions to the text of Scripture. When you pick up one of these novels you are reading the Bible. What you do get, with the text, are beautiful and carefully researched images that attempt to capture the power of the story in a historically accurate way. For more on the work that goes into each novel check out Simon’s blog.
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He has already successfully launched two campaigns on KickStarter (Judges and Joshua), so you can be confident that Simon will deliver what he promises. The best part about joining this campaign is that many options for backing it include receiving copies of the books Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Two of these novels are available now, so, while you are waiting for the Gospel of Mark, you can enjoy some rewards right away.

I will leave you with this video. It captures some of Pillario’s thoughts on how he plans to illustrate all four of the gospels in such a way that there is a unity in how they present narratives that occur in more than one account.

Hard Hitting Bible Graphic Novels Hit the Shelves

On September 9th, Word for Word Bible Comic launched.

What’s that? You don’t know what Word for Word Bible Comic is?

Stop for a moment and imagine the stories contained in the Scriptures being presented in a graphic novel format in a way that is “historically accurate, unabridged, and untamed”.
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The key here is that these novels are unabridged. You are reading the words of Scripture and only the words of Scripture. There is no commentary or added text.

But what you do get is an amazing way to experience these stories.

Simon Amadeus Pillario illustrator of the Word for Word Bible Comic (link), has managed to bring out the intensity and vividness of the stories of the Bible with his incredible story boarding and full color images. Choosing the exciting era of the Judges (reviewed last year) and using KickStarter to fund its creation, Pillario has just launched the series making the Judges novel widely available (Amazon).

True to the text, Pillario also worked hard to be true to history. He chronicles the process of studying the historical time periods of his blog grappling with everything from clothes to architecture. When you read the story of Judges in the graphic novel format you are seeing things as accurately drawn as possible.

Of course some things are left to the imagination. We don’t know what the characters in the stories looked like. One of the things to figure out in the book of Judges was how to draw the hero Sampson. He is known for his strength. But should he be drawn with bulging muscles like the Hulk or perhaps more ordinary. You can read through the thought process on his blog (link).

You may be asking, doesn’t a series imply more than one novel? It does. The prequel to Judges – Joshua is also part of the series. Funded on KickStarter, it is still in progress.

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However, you don’t have to wait, once you have read Judges you can grab the second novel available in the series. It captures the  story of Ruth. Before there was Katniss of the Hunger Games, the Divergent Tris, and Force Awakens’ Rey, we find a strong female hero who leads with her loyalty and humility .

To celebrate the launch the Book of Ruth is available for free on the Kindle (link). But only until Sunday.