The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

May 13, 2011

A Different Kind of Theodicy

At SEBTS, doctoral students are generally required to take an one-credit "integrative seminar" class with Dr.  Bruce Little on critical thinking (one of the tougher yet more beneficial classes I've taken). In his book A Creation-Order Theodicy: God and Gratuitious Evil (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2005), Dr. Little presents his development of a theodicy that provides an alternative to the usual "greater-good" theodicies so often seen in Christian philosophy.

A theodicy is a defense of the existence of God in light of the existence of evil. A standard "greater-good" theodicy is the argument, more or less, that "all evil in the world could be justified on grounds that God permits only that evil from which He can bring a greater good or prevent some greater evil" (Little, 2).

Little provides a rigerous analysis and critique of the "greater-good"theodicies of John Hick, Richard Swinburne, and Michael Peterson (see Little's helpful summarizing chart on page 93). Little's first three objections to greater-good theodicies argue that, first, greater-good theodicies logically lead to the conclusion that, if "God allows all evil that comes into the world because from it He will bring about some greater good," and if such good "is a necessary good,"then evil becomes a necessity because the good that God brings about would not be possible without the evil that leads to it. The result is that "if the evil is necessary, then God must determine the evil in order to assure it will come to pass so that the good can obtain" (Little, 112). Secondly, if God uses evil to bring about good, then would not this lead to the conclusion that, at least for God, the end justifies the means? Thus one does not have to be truly concerned over evil, for it will ultimately work out for the good (Little, 113-114), leading to his third objection that greater good theodicies have the potential to detract from the Chrisian's responsibility for social justice and compassion (Little, 115-117). See the follneowing pages for further discussion of shortcomings in a greater-good theodicy.

Although I am not totall convinced  of all his objections (especially the second one, in light of Genesis 50:20), nevertheless Little makes an excellent case for some of the shortcomings of certain greater-good theodicies and their perceieved inability to counter the concerns of atheists and agnostics.

Little's alternative is worth looking into. He follows Augustine in arguing that evil should not be viewed of as a "thing" so much as the lack of good, or "a condition of privation in something that is good" (134). Thus, for God himself and his interaction within the Trinity, there is only perfect good and no hint of evil (135-137). Little's theodicy ultimately builds on the difference between God's interaction within himself and his interaction with man. Ultimately, "man's power of moral choice equipped him to live properly within the moral order God desinged for humanity. Any deviation was de to man's creaturely freedom and a misuse of the freedom he had been given. The consequences of man's rebellion although it was very severe did not go beyond the bounds of God's knowledge, nor did it in any way change the counsels of God" (142). Contra greater-good theodicies, Little acknowledges the existence of "gratuitous evil"; thus, Little's "Creation-Order" theodicy "recognizes the reality of gratutious evil while maintaining that God is morally justified in permitting such" (161). Ultimately, God has created man in his image in such a way that "alows for gratuitous evil as a corollary to the authenticity fo the power of moral choices" without denying God's providential control oer the universe, i.e. gratuitous evil is never allowed to "jeapardize the counsels of God or exceed the providential power of God" (161-163). Thus Little places a heavy emphasis on human choice as reflecting the image of God.

In answer to the question, "is it possible that God could prevent the most horrific evils and still honor the power of moral choice?" Little points out that although God could prevent any evil, if "evil act A" is the most horrific, and God prevents that, then by default "evil act B" becomes the most horrific evil and so on down the line. Thus the mere existence of evil guarantees that there will always be a "most horrific evil," but no particular evil is absolutely necessary (163-164).

Two quick points: Little seems to follow the "best of all possible worlds" view, though this is not as apparent until later in the book (esp. 176-177). Naturally this alone would require a separate analysis from the reader. Secondly, in regards to his critique of greater-good theodicy, Little is not arguing that God never brings evil out of good, only that he does not necessarily do so.

I am very intrigued and attracted to Little's thesis, though time will tell whether it can replace the standard theodicies, whether they be the "greater-good" or more deterministic frameworks. At least the reader who is interested in the problem of evil should give Little a second-look.


  1. Have you looked at Van Til? He frequently gets critiqued by more evidentialist thinkers, but his approach and insights are still well worth considering.

  2. Good point. It's been a while since I've read anything by him, though (not an easy read, if I remember correctly!). Westminster has a solid tradition of fine Christian apologists.

  3. Glad I found this blog. D. A. Black is an extraordinary man. I know a young fellow who would give anything to study under him. But unfortunately it isn't likely to happen. The circumstances of life.

    Theodicy is one favorite topics. Don't blog about it, but I have been working it over on existential front since the late 70s. My thesis adviser was finishing his PhD in Philosophy for U of Chicago, topic "Problem of Evil". I read his book but it didn't do much for me. I read Plantinga's book. Same story. Academic solutions to the problem have little impact on people who are up against the existential problem of evil. I don't think Christians have the problem solved, but I have friends and family who have left the faith because they didn't find an answer.

    I have bookmarked your page and will keep an eye on it.

  4. Thank you for your comments, Dr. Bartholomew. Theodicy is definitely a difficult topic to nail down, especially when dealing with friends and relatives. And you're absolutely right that academics can only go so far.

    It's been a great privilege, both academically and spiritually to study under Dr. Black. I'm blessed to be able to study under him.

  5. Paul, is this is a book I have wanted to read for awhile. Is there anyone else who holds a similar view? Is Little only looking at this from a pre-Fall perspective? How would he understand Acts 2:22-23.

    To play the devils advocate a little I have a scenario - If we are to define God's attributes (love) by how He acts then is it fair to say that if sin (evil) had not entered into the world then we would never have seen God act in the most loving way through the death of His Son on the cross (John 15:13)?

  6. Thanks for the questions, Craig. Re. Acts 2:22-23, Little doesn't deny that God does bring evil out of good, but what he does deny is that evil can be explained solely on the basis of the fact that it leads to good, as if God had no other alternative. So Little would object to a view of Acts 2:22-23 that says "their evil was allowed solely because it caused the greater good of Christ's redemption for us." Little's main contention (if I understand him correclty) regarding greater good theodicies is basically that he thinks it rediculous that pain and suffering is somehow necessary for a good (e.g. "how much does this child have to suffer at the hands of kindnappers in order to cause this greater good [whatever it might be]?")

    Regarding your scenario, I actually agree, though I would suggest that this in no way means that God had to send/was required to send His Son or that He had no choice but to allow [or cause, for some theologians] evil in the first place. However, ultimately the scenario only makes some sin necessary for God's demonstration of love via His Son, not all sin or even most sin. In fact, there is no particular sin that we could point to and say "this necessitated the cross." In other words, though the cross could not have existed without sin, I would suggest that sin in no way necessitates the cross.

    For Little's response, he has an entire chapter on "creation-order" (which is what he calls his view: creation-order theodicy), but I don't remember exactly how he deals with the cricifixion. Little does give a lot more emphasis to libertarian free-will than many would be comfortable with (he doesn't attempt to defend libertarian will, really, but to be fair that wasn't the point of his book).

    Overall, I feel Little does a good job critiquing "great-good theodicies" and a decent job laying out his alternative, but he doesn't do as well a job defending his views against potential objectors. Still worth reading, though.