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Book Review – Michael Patrick Preciado. A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Book Review – Michael Patrick Preciado. A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology [Review by Dr. Marco Barone]

Michael Patrick Preciado, A Reformed View of Freedom: The Compatibility of Guidance Control and Reformed Theology. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2019. 316 pages. $ 27.00 USD [Reviewed by Dr. Marco Barone]

Even if late, a review of Preciado’s book could not be missing from the Jonathan Edwards Center Blog. The reasons will become clear as I briefly outline the content of this volume.

Chapters 1 and 2 are expositions of the theory of guidance control by Martin Fisher and Mark Ravizza. The appendix contains a defense against objections, and it also suggests some possible developments and corrections to Fischer’s and Ravizza’s theory. Although the author says that the reader who is not interested in guidance control can skip these chapters (page xvii), these three chapters are necessary in order to fully appreciate the first of the three stated purposes of the book.

To establish compatibility between guidance control and reformed theology on the issue of freedom and moral responsibility … by establishing that reformed theology denies the sourcehood condition and alternative possibilities conditions, by establishing that rational spontaneity is a primitive form of reasons-responsive theory and by establishing that reformed theology and guidance control have a similar subjectivist condition. (page xv-xvi)

The second and third purposes of the volume are more directly related to reformed theology in general and to Jonathan Edwards in particular.

The second purpose of this book is to elucidate the reformed orthodox view of freedom and moral responsibility. I will accomplish this by stating the reformed orthodox view in their own terms as well as in the terms of contemporary analytic philosophy. This will allow reformed theologians and philosophers to see what the reformed view amounts to in light of current debates in contemporary philosophy.

The third purpose of this book is to show that there is basic continuity between the reformed orthodox and Jonathan Edwards with regard to freedom and moral responsibility It will be argued that there are some differences, however, they hold substantially the same position. This conclusion rebuts Richard Muller’s contention that there was a parting of ways between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. (page xvi)

These last two goals are achieved in chapters 3 to 5, and, according to the present reviewer, successfully so. Chapter 3 argues that the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP) is not necessary in order to maintain a genuine reformed sense of “could have done otherwise. Then, Preciado offers a refutation of the “Libertarian Calvinism” of Oliver Crisp who, similarly to John Girardeau, argues that some sections of the Westminster Confession and Larger Catechism affirm or can be used to allow the possibility of libertarian free will and PAP. The chapter continues with a critical examination of the Utrecht School. Preciado shows that in the Reformed Orthodox, where the Utrecht School sees synchronic contingency, we only find support for indifference in the divided sense (with clear rebuttals of indifference in the compound sense).

In chapter 4, the author argues that the reformed view of free will and moral responsibility is a type of compatibilism. The careful distinctions and qualifications of this chapter reveal how excessive fear of decontextualizations can stray into an unnecessary fear of applying recent philosophical terms to past works, even when the concepts signified by those terms are present in said works. The chapter further elucidates how reformed theology meets the requirements that allow us to consider it compatible with guidance control.

Chapter 5 contains an exposition and defense of Edwards’ orthodoxy on free will and necessity. Preciado shows that Edwards denied the sourcehood, rejected PAP, and supported a type of reasons-responsive theory and a type of subjectivist condition. These and other findings lead the author to state what follows.

This makes his [Edwards’s] thinking about free will and moral responsibility substantially continuous with guidance control and the reformed orthodox. They are all some sort of reasons-responsive compatibilists. In this way, there has been no parting of the ways between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. (page 215)

Lastly, chapter 5 refutes Muller’s claims regarding Edwards’s departure from the teachings of the Reformed orthodox. To be sure, Preciado mentions the differences between Edwards and the Reformed Orthodox. Nevertheless, “Muller failed to present evidence that there has been a parting of the ways. Though Edwards used different language and categories, he covered the same ground and gave substantially the same answers as the reformed orthodox” (page 215). Additionally, Preciado helpfully notices that, even if we granted the multiple potencies that Muller posits, this does not prove parting of the ways. Furthermore, the alleged multiple potencies would be substantially similar to Edwards’s notion of natural ability, which, together with other elements of his position, and contrary to Muller’s claim), allow for a genuine sense in which an agent “could have done otherwise.”

One minor criticism of the book regards the author’s invitation “to mine the resources of contemporary analytic philosophy on the issue of free will and moral responsibility” because “there is a wealth of material that could aid reformed theologians and philosophers in articulating a rigorous view of a reformed doctrine of free will and moral responsibility” (page 218, see also xv-xvi). Nevertheless, the invitation needs to be qualified further. Much of today’s analytic philosophy is characterized by logical experiments conducted in separation from other grounding considerations of ontology, theological anthropology, ethics, and exegesis. Both the Reformed orthodox and Edwards did not separate these subjects from their reasoning, and they always philosophized within the context of their Reformed anthropology and ethics. In this regard, Muller’s warnings are appropriate (see Muller, Divine Will and Human Choice, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 44, 50).

Preciado has done a great service to the Reformed philosophical and theological community. Besides clearing the Reformed Orthodox’s and Edwards’s respective positions from some important misreadings, this book also offers a good model of sound philosophy that is both respectful of historical, intellectual, and textual contexts and able to abide to constructively contrast and compare terminology and concepts of past and present. Preciado has also helped to clear the way from recent interpretations of freedom and contingency (namely, synchronic contingency and multiple residual potencies) which are often presented as the only options to preserve a genuine notion of contingency and of “could have done otherwise.” These last considerations are, of course, also true for Preciado’s treatment of Edwards. This book makes a good addition to Helm’s and others works on the nature of Edwards’s doctrine of freedom and necessity and its continuity (and difference) with the Reformed orthodox.