Calvinism can quickly run into a roadblock. If God exercises exhaustive providence over the world, how can we talk about human free will? Normally Calvinism (since Calvin although you can trace the development of thought back to Aristotle) uses primary and secondary causation to explain how God rules. It works something like this, though this is greatly truncated: God will use secondary agents to cause his will. So he primarily moves secondary agents and accomplishes his purposes without being held responsible for doing the act directly.
When I explain this to students I teach, their reaction is almost always the same: "But that doesn't really explain anything or get God off the hook."This is unfortunate because I think Calvinism, as a whole, provides the best way of understanding the Bible. The problem is often how the discussion is framed.
Enter Providence Made Flesh: Divince Presence as a Framework for a Theology of Providence by Terry J. Wright. The title basically explains the premise. Wright believes a better model for understanding causation is Trinitarian presence.Wright is not trying to re-Wright (haha, see what I did there?) the book on providence. Rather, he is interested in demonstrating that "the doctrine of providence is demonstrated to concern the action of the triune God: The Father sends the Son to become incarnate and to act as God in the world; the Son obeys this calling within the freely accepted limitation that creaturely existence imposes; and the Spirit enables him continually to offer himself to the Father despite the temptation to reject his vocation." (222)
His goal is rather modest and he accomplishes what he sets out to do which is simply provide a slightly different framework from which we ought to think about providence. This is Wright's dissertation and I must be honest: it is pretty remarkable what he accomplishes. First, he explores the idea of secondary causation. In chapter two, he explores secondary causation in John Calvin. In chapter three, he explores how secondary causation actually shoves God out of the equation.
So basically the first quarter or so of the book is systematic theology. He then turns his attention to biblical theology and the action of the triune God. After outlining God's providence in both the Old and New Testament (borrowing heavily from G.K. Beale's temple theology), he goes on to exegete particular texts. So we have a work of philosophical, systematic, biblical and exegetical theology. This is a great work.
I will say, however, that Wright actually doesn't solve the issue of God's sovereignty and human free will. If you are looking for the magic bullet, it isn't here. There are still plenty of unanswered (and probably unanswerable) questions. All Wright is doing, again, is suggesting a better way to discuss God's providence. For that, I couldn't be happier!
Be forewarned: since this is a dissertation, it maintains a fairly high level of technicality. A working knowledge of Greek and Hebrew would definitely help, especially in the later chapters. However, educated laity should have no problem tracking with the gist of what Wright is saying.
Overall, it is a great work. I look forward to seeing how Wright extends the scope of this work. It certainly provoked me to think in new ways about God's providence.
*Thanks to Wipf and Stock for the review copy!*