Seeking Help in Preparing for Sovereignty Debate

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Eli McGowan, Jul 27, 2017.

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  1. Eli McGowan

    Eli McGowan Puritan Board Freshman

    Hello,

    Next week I'll be debating via livestream a friend of mine, and fellow alumni of Liberty University, on the resolution "Nothing happens except by God's decree." I am affirmative, he is negative. I define the topic as Calvin does in Institutes Ch. 1.16.4. - ". . . is not one by which the Deity, sitting idly in heaven, looks on at what is taking place in the world, but one by which he, as it were, holds the helms and overrules all events." My opponent will take the stance that although everything happens by God's permission, it does not happen by His design (which of course is not the position the WCF holds, and not what I hold as a confessional Presbyterian).

    My friend posted the following in a previous text debate we had on the subject, and I am seeking help in preparing how to rebut these types of arguments in our next debate.

    "We can talk about sovereignty but what this post is REALLY about is the nature of the future. Is the future exhaustively settled? Can God change his mind? Is God really in control of every little atom that every existed and is yet to exist? From our view of the future comes our view of God’s sovereignty.

    Now, you’ve laid out scriptures for what I would call the classical view of divine foreknowledge that says the future is exhaustively settled.What I am going to do, now, is lay out scriptures that suggest the future is partly open. Call it a mystery, but your theology HAS to account for the whole of scripture not just bits and pieces of your choosing. What happens often among Calvinists or people with heavily reformed theology, is they take all the verses like the ones you mentioned above as literal, but all the verses like the ones I will list below as non-literal. I am going to argue that we should take both motifs of scripture as literal and both as describing who God really is.

    Point #1 – God regrets how things turn out
    Genesis 6:6 – “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”
    1 Samuel 15:35 – “And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

    Some may object that if God regretted a decision he made, he must not be perfectly wise. Wouldn't God be admitting to making a mistake? I would say no. It is better to allow Scripture to inform us regarding the nature of divine wisdom than to reinterpret an entire motif in order to square it with our preconceptions of divine wisdom. If God says he regretted a decision, and if Scripture elsewhere tells us that God is perfectly wise, then we should simply conclude that one can be perfectly wise and still regret a decision. Even if this is a mystery to us, it is better to allow the mystery to stand than to assume that we know what God's wisdom is like and conclude on this basis that God can't mean what he clearly said.

    Point#2 - God asks questions about the future
    Numbers 14:11 – “The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?”
    Hosea 8:5 – “My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity?”

    *Some suggest these questions were meant to be rhetorical but there is nothing in these texts that requires them to be so and the fact that God continued for centuries, with much frustration, to try to get the Israelites not to despise him suggests these questions were genuine.

    Point #3 – God confronts the unexpected
    Isiah 5:1- “…My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. … but it yielded only bad fruit. Now … judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? … I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed…”

    If everything is eternally certain to God how could the Lord say that he “expected” one thing to occur only to have something different occur?

    Jeremiah 3:6-7 - the Lord said to me, “Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not…”
    and later (19-20) “I thought how I would set you among my children… and I thought you would call me, ‘My Father,’ and would not turn from following me. Instead, as a faithless wife… you have been faithless.”

    We need to ask ourselves seriously, how could the Lord honestly say he thought Israel would turn to him if he was always certain that they would never do so?

    Jeremiah 19:5 (also 7:31 ;32:35) – “They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children … something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.”

    The Lord expresses shock over Israel’s ungodly behavior by saying the were doing things “which I did not command nor did it enter my mind.”

    Point #4 - God gets frustrated
    Exodus 4:10-15 – God gets frustrated at Moses for not going along with his plan (vs 4). Why would he do so if it was already concluded that Moses was going to do what he did.
    Ezekiel 22: 30-31 - "I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger…”

    It is difficult to understand how God could have sincerely “sought for” someone to intercede if he was eternally certain there would be no one.

    Point #5 - God tests people to know their Character
    Genesis 22:12 – “…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

    This verse clearly says that it was because Abraham did what he did that the Lord now knew he was a faithful covenant partner. It has no meaning if God knew Abraham was faithful before he offered his son.

    Deuteronomy 8:2 – Moses tells Israelites that God kept them in the desert forty years “in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.”

    I could go on because there is so much more scripture to support this, but for the sake of making this not such a long essay I’ll end it here. But from these passages we see that God is a relational God who takes risks and wins people to himself instead of forcing people to himself.

    Tying it all together, there is a balance here, and we can call it mysterious, but we must be logically and biblically consistent. Isiah 46, Proverbs 16 and all the other passages above only prove that SOME things are settled not that all things are exhaustively settled. The correct, balanced theological belief on this issue is that God determines (and thus foreknows as settled) SOME, but not ALL, of the future.

    And thus, sovereignty involves God being so confident of his purposes that he allows true free will to exists because he’s that BIG and uncomprehendable.

    A wise risk is a risk nonetheless. When God takes risks it may not turn out as He hopes. People who hold to a classical view of divine foreknowledge reject the notion that God takes risks of any sort because that would undermine his sovereignty. Two considerations.


    First, don't we normally regard someone who refuses to take risks as being insecure? of course we do. Everyone knows it is good to risk loving another person, for example. You may of course, get hurt. But the alternatives of not loving or trying to control another person is evidence of insecurity and weakness. Why do we abandon this insight when we think about God, especially since Scripture clearly shows God as someone who takes risks?

    Second, the only way to deny that God takes risks is to maintain that everything that occurs in world history is exactly what God WANTED to occur. if ANYTHING is other than what God wanted, to that extent he obviously risked not getting what he wanted when he created the world. So, if God is truly "above" taking risks, then we must accept that things such as sin, child mutilations, and people going to hell are all in accordance with God's will.
    Remarkably, I know some believers are willing to follow their logic to this stunning conclusion, but the vast majority of Christians I know reject it in horror. God is "not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9). This means that most Christians already believe that God doesn't always get his way. And logically this means most Christians must accept that God took risks when he created the world. Among other things, every time he created free moral agents he took the risk that they might choose to destroy themselves by rejecting him.

    God's risks are always wise of course. But they are risks nonetheless. In a universe populated with free agents, the outcome of things is often uncertain (thus God showing surprise, regret, sadness, frustration - because things aren't going the way he wants them to go).

    God, out of love, takes risks, but he also delivers on his promises. We know where this world is going and we know where it ends because he has promised us victory."
     
  2. Parakaleo

    Parakaleo Puritan Board Sophomore

    That statement is incomprehensible. If he is correct about God, God's promise to save those who believe in Christ is uncertain. According to this man, God couldn't guarantee Satan won't find a way to reclaim us.

    Furthermore, his paper is filled with verses in which God expresses himself to us in anthropomorphic language. To take them as literally as this man does would make as much sense as going on a search to find God's "hand" or "arm" somewhere in the universe.

    Do a little research on divine simplicity. God does not have passions.
     
  3. Eli McGowan

    Eli McGowan Puritan Board Freshman

    Blake, thanks for commenting so quickly! I definitely agree about anthropomorphic language, and plan to utilize several commentaries on the OT to demonstrate this - we don't take some verses literally and some not literally to reach our position, we are trying to understand each verse how it was meant to be understood.

    And even Arminian Christians would admit God is unchanging.
     
  4. TheInquirer

    TheInquirer Puritan Board Freshman

    This issue is on my mind as I am working out for myself the degree of control God chooses to exert over events and still not be the author of sin so I will make a couple quick comments:

    >"We can talk about sovereignty but what this post is REALLY about is the nature of the future. Is the future exhaustively settled? Can God change his mind? Is God really in control of every little atom that every existed and is yet to exist? From our view of the future comes our view of God’s sovereignty.

    I would disagree with him on this point as I think he has it backwards. The future, as is all time, is a creation of God and therefore subject to him. Therefore, an understanding of God drives the discussion, not an understanding of creation in my opinion.

    >Call it a mystery, but your theology HAS to account for the whole of scripture not just bits and pieces of your choosing. What happens often among Calvinists or people with heavily reformed theology, is they take all the verses like the ones you mentioned above as literal, but all the verses like the ones I will list below as non-literal. I am going to argue that we should take both motifs of scripture as literal and both as describing who God really is.

    That is an issue for both sides of any argument so I would not let him frame it as a problem just for the Reformed. Sounds like he is doing the same thing.

    >Some may object that if God regretted a decision he made, he must not be perfectly wise. Wouldn't God be admitting to making a mistake? I would say no. It is better to allow Scripture to inform us regarding the nature of divine wisdom than to reinterpret an entire motif in order to square it with our preconceptions of divine wisdom. If God says he regretted a decision, and if Scripture elsewhere tells us that God is perfectly wise, then we should simply conclude that one can be perfectly wise and still regret a decision. Even if this is a mystery to us, it is better to allow the mystery to stand than to assume that we know what God's wisdom is like and conclude on this basis that God can't mean what he clearly said.

    I would want to clearly understand exegetically what "regret" means. Sounds like he thinks he knows what it means and he may not be correct at all.

    >Point#2 - God asks questions about the future
    Numbers 14:11 – “The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?”
    Hosea 8:5 – “My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of purity?”

    *Some suggest these questions were meant to be rhetorical but there is nothing in these texts that requires them to be so and the fact that God continued for centuries, with much frustration, to try to get the Israelites not to despise him suggests these questions were genuine.

    God can asks questions that are for our benefit, not for his (thus rhetorical). It seems like he assuming God does not know the future which is a massive problem for the whole conception of Christian hope.

    >Point #3 – God confronts the unexpected

    Look up the key words in those passages. "Thought" may not be the sense that he is assuming.

    >Point #4 - God gets frustrated
    Exodus 4:10-15 – God gets frustrated at Moses for not going along with his plan (vs 4). Why would he do so if it was already concluded that Moses was going to do what he did.
    Ezekiel 22: 30-31 - "I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger…”

    It is difficult to understand how God could have sincerely “sought for” someone to intercede if he was eternally certain there would be no one.

    Not if it is a demonstration of God's judgment on man's sinfulness. Again, it seems your friend is only looking at this from one angle and not taking into account what God is teaching us as the reader. I think it is the same idea behind Abraham negotiating for Sodom and Gomorrah - God let's the drama play out to show the utter wickedness of the people to truly demonstrate he judges righteously because of the total wickedness of man.

    >Point #5 - God tests people to know their Character
    Genesis 22:12 – “…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."

    This verse clearly says that it was because Abraham did what he did that the Lord now knew he was a faithful covenant partner. It has no meaning if God knew Abraham was faithful before he offered his son.

    Deuteronomy 8:2 – Moses tells Israelites that God kept them in the desert forty years “in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.”

    I could go on because there is so much more scripture to support this, but for the sake of making this not such a long essay I’ll end it here. But from these passages we see that God is a relational God who takes risks and wins people to himself instead of forcing people to himself.

    I think this is the same point as #4. God isn't testing so that he can know something new, it is for us to know something new. Your friend doesn't seem to be taking this angle into account.

    >And thus, sovereignty involves God being so confident of his purposes that he allows true free will to exists because he’s that BIG and uncomprehendable.

    That makes no sense to me.

    Regarding the whole taking risks thing, again, how in the world can we trust God's promises when there are risks that they may not come true? How is prophecy possibly if God does not know and control the future?

    Last point - curious as to why are you live streaming this?
     
  5. Eli McGowan

    Eli McGowan Puritan Board Freshman

    Those are all excellent observations! Thank you.

    We both recently joined a website called QallOut which is specifically designed for streaming debates and having the audience vote. As we're good friends, and had previously debated this topic, it seemed like the perfect subject for a test drive of this new service.
     
  6. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    Your friend is certainly heading in the direction of open theism. A "god" who risks is no God at all.
     
  7. Eli McGowan

    Eli McGowan Puritan Board Freshman

    I strongly agree. He's otherwise a pretty conservative Anglican, so hopefully he reverses course some. He did admit today he does still affirm God is totally unchanging, which seems to contradict some of his arguments.
     
  8. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

  9. Krak3n

    Krak3n Puritan Board Freshman

    God and risk? What could he lose?

    Anyway, it sounds like he wants to argue that God is only interested in the important things. How small is small enough for God to ignore and pass the reins over to... Chance? (How could a God who upholds all things even begin to do this?)

    Proverbs 16:33 "The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord."

    So, dice. If we roll dice, God controls the outcome. That's at the casino with everything on the line or at the kitchen table slaying dragons in imaginary dungeons.
     
  10. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    Rom 8.28 tells us that God's providence "governs history for the sake of the elect" (Augustine).

    Eph 1.11 reminds us that even the smallest, most minute aspects of life are under God's sovereign control -- subject to his will.

    Ps 139.16 speaks of particular days "formed for me." In the big picture, this means that your life and death are determined; but it also surely speaks of the same Creator's particular care in fashioning a life for his children such that we will see his mercy savingly, and be conformed to Christ/treasure his glory in sanctification.

    Heb 12.1 surely also speaks of such sovereign governance toward us in "the race set before us," where God has planned our course with all its details beforehand.

    Eph 2.10 gives much the same hope for us of God's meticulous providence toward us in both salvation and sanctification.

    Your friend would be very wise to heed Rev. Law's words above re: divine simplicity and Scripture's employment of anthropomorphic language.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2017
  11. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    If the Lord does not control everything, then we are of all men most miserable. No certainty; all is random, and the sovereignty of God a mere mirage. Man is in the driving seat and we take Him for a ride!
     
  12. kainos01

    kainos01 Puritan Board Senior

    As others have noted, your friend has moved beyond the "foreknowledge" of the Arminian (who would at least say that we know how it ends because God has seen the end and told us how it ends) and into the hopeless realm of open theism, where God is watching alongside us, with bated breath, perhaps chewing on anthropomorphic fingernails, to see if it all pans out in the end for our good and for His glory. Preposterous! By no stretch is that the God of the Bible who declares the end from the beginning (Is. 46:10).

    The root of his problem is that he thinks that God is like us (Ps. 50:21). He thinks because there are "mysteries" in the Bible - to us - then there must be mysteries to God. He fails to grasp the essence of revelation - that God condescends (Calvin: "lisps") to us so that we might be able to relate to Him at all. Your friend says that God is "BIG and uncomprehendable (sic)," when, in reality, your friend's god is much too small. In your debate, expound on the greatness of God - His glory, His majesty, His power, His holiness - and there is no way that that God will be seen by the listeners as the pathetic, quivering, hope-it-all-works-out shadow of a god your friend envisions.
     
  13. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    "In the Christian view God knows all of reality--everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person's free activity is already there to know—even before he freely does it! But it's not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don't exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn't anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions."
    Source: Gregory Boyd, in Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father's Questions About Christianity (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1994), 30, emphasis added.

    I was not surprised that a show of hands indicated several persons agreed with the statement. Sadly, if one likes to think of God as some sort of exalted man, we end up here; with the genesis of unsettled theism (open theism's the future is not settled). There is a human tendency in man to think that God is like a very good and looming man ("the Big Guy upstairs"). Thankfully, God knows this too, and He goes to extreme lengths to correct by asking questions like, "To whom then will you compare me..?" (Isaiah 40:25).

    Open theism’s re-definitions of the God of theism are:
    1. God is vulnerable, open to the failure of at least some of His intentions
    2. God is not immutable as traditionally understood, i.e., He changes His mind in ways that are more relational
    3. God is sometimes mistaken in His beliefs about what will happen
    4. God is not omnipotent as traditionally understood; His efforts are sometimes defeated
    5. The attributes of God must be redefined with Love at the center

    Proponents of open theism need to stop inventing a new theological lexicon, much like the cults do. The orthodox theist encountering words used by the open theist, such as omniscience, sovereignty, and even love, must tread carefully, forcing definitions out of their hiding places within the unsettled theist’s dogma.
     
  14. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Foreknowledge and foreordination are not the same, but there is a relationship between the two terms.

    By God's foreordination I mean that God foreordains all that is to come to pass according to His eternal plan. God's ultimate plan is that His will shall be glorified. But note that I have just defined foreordination using the word "foreordains". That is not quite helpful is it? So let's be more precise and define foreordination without using the word itself. By foreordination, I mean that God predisposes all that is to come to pass and the conditions in such a manner that all shall come to pass according to God's eternal plan. These events may come to pass via the free actions of moral agents (both saved and lost) or via God's causative acts.

    By God's foreknowledge, I mean God knows always and at all times everything which is to come to pass. Why does God know this? God foreknows what is to come to pass because, as stated above, God has prearranged the happening of what is to come to pass. Thus we say that God foreknows because He has foreordained. This last statement makes sense when we observe that when we say, “I know what I am going to do,” it is evident that we have already determined to do so, and that our knowledge does not precede our determination, but follows the determining and is based upon the determining. To admit foreknowledge carries foreordination with it.

    The Scriptures speak of God’s perfect knowledge: Job 37:16, that He looks into man’s hearts, 1 Samuel 2:3; 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 Chronicles 28:17; Ps. 139:1-4; Jeremiah 17:10, that God observes our ways, Deuteronomy 2:7; Job 23:10, Job 24:23, Job 31:4; Psalms 1:6; Psalms 94:9-11; Psalms 104:24; Psalms 119:168, Psalms 139:1-4; Psalms 139:15-16, that God knows the place of their habitation, Psalms 33:13, and the days of our lives, Psalms 37:18, Proverbs 8:22-23; Proverbs 8:27-30; Proverbs 15:3; Isaiah 40:13-14; Isaiah 40:27-28; Isaiah 41:22-23; Isaiah 41:25-27; Isaiah 42:8-9; Isaiah 43:11-12; Isaiah 44:7-8; Isaiah 44:24-28; Isaiah 45:18-21; Isaiah 46:10-11; Isaiah 48:3-7; Romans 11:33-36; Romans 16:27; Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20.

    The above is important because I have witnessed how many confuse the terms and concepts behind them. Foreknowledge presupposes foreordination, but foreknowledge is not itself foreordination. Misunderstandings of these terms have led the uninformed to claim that the related Reformed doctrines are fatalistic.

    From these misunderstandings, we see incorrect statements such as the following:

    Necessity of a hypothetical inference...
    If God foreknew Peter would sin, then Peter cannot refrain from sinning. (Incorrect)

    The interpretation above wrongly interprets God's foreknowledge as impinging upon Peter's moral free agency. The proper understanding is:

    The necessity of the consequent of the hypothetical...
    Necessarily, if God foreknew Peter would sin, then Peter does not refrain from sinning. (Correct)

    In other words, the actions of moral free agents do not take place because they are foreseen, the actions are foreseen because the actions are certain to take place.
     
  15. JimmyH

    JimmyH Puritan Board Junior

    This debate is above my 'pay grade', but I've been attempting to increase my understanding. Fascinated by the Clark-Van Til Controversy I found this lecture by GHC on youtube and it addresses some of these topics.
     
  16. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    I simply don't have time to read through this now (in the midst of what I'm doing), though I have complete confidence that PBers are giving great counsel on such a vital issue as this. God bless you, Eli, for defending the faith.

    I just want to say this from a personal viewpoint. I am astounded that anyone could find an open or modified open theist view (or any form of process philosophy or theology; panentheism, in short, in all its forms) the slightest bit comforting. I realize that they seem to think that it gets God off the hook for evil or that which they don't like in their lives, but it really means that we are at the mercy of fate, chance, or whatever, instead of a gracious God who loves, chooses and keeps us.

    It's not some ancillary concern but at the very heart of our salvation, put so well in HC 1:

    "Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death? A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."

    Peace,
    Alan
     
  17. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    If God has the means to actually risk anything, would that not also mean that we can have no future certainty even possible? So the prophetic element really is removed from our scriptures?
     
  18. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Eli, as I read the OP, this one method came to mind. Set the passages that he interprets in his way next to passages that clearly assert the opposite of what he is trying to say. The issue here is a hermeneutical one. Which are the clear passages, and which are the disputed passages? What you will find is that the passages that contradict his position are the clear ones, and the ones he is interpreting his way are the unclear passages, or the ones capable of a non-open-theist interpretation (almost all of the passages cited are, as has been noted, accommodation to our limited understandings). The key here is the hermeneutical dictum that we start from the clear passages and move from there to the unclear and interpret the less clear in the light of the clear. He is clearly (!) doing the reverse. He is looking at passages that could, prima facie, be interpreted to support his position, but could (should!) also be interpreted in another way, and he is starting with those, and using them to contradict what is clearly stated elsewhere.

    The other thing to be kept in mind here is that prophetic pronouncements of doom are always conditional on non-repentance (see Jeremiah 18:1-11). So when God "nahams," (Hebrew word for "repent" or "have a change of mind"), this is related to the conditional nature of prophecy. Jonah's prophecy about Nineveh is a case in point. "Yet 40 days, and Nineveh is toast" (introducing the Keister paraphrase here). And yet it doesn't happen. Why? Because Nineveh repents. The Jeremiah 18 passage is absolutely crucial to understanding God's "repentance."

    One last, more philosophical consideration. Does your friend believe in God's absolute foreknowledge? Does He know everything that is going to happen? Isaiah 40 should persuade anyone open to the truth of God's word that God does indeed know all things, the end from the beginning. If God can know all things, then all things are set. For, if they weren't, then God couldn't know that a certain event would happen. If they are set, and if God didn't set them, then fate did. This makes fate more powerful than God. This dovetails with what Alan was saying about trusting fate or trusting God.
     
  19. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    If God is not wholly sovereign (as normally understood by classical theism), He has no certain plan, for nothing God plans is a knowable factuality. God cannot guarantee any plan with autonomous creatures in the mix, whose acts He cannot know in advance. In fact, God cannot even know when to plan.

    The act of ordaining by itself does not entail that future things will happen. What is needed in order to secure that future things will happen is some further property of God. This is true of any Christian belief system.

    In other words, for something to be true and knowable there must be something we or God can access that makes the claims in question true. There are two aspects of this claim. First, truth requires a truthmaker. Second, by accessibility, I mean that whatever these truthmakers are, truthmakers must be knowable. Since God is infallible, what He knows He knows infallibly. So if God holds a belief about a certain event that is based upon something else, then the basis itself cannot leave open the possibility of the belief being mistaken, else God would be mistaken, and therefore, not infallible.

    For truthmakers to function as knowable truthmakers, and thereby allow the unsettled theist to claim that some parts of the future are known, the features truthmakers possess would have to be something about God or about the world. I would assume that such a claim by unsettled theists would be something about what God ordains about the future. Let’s say that God ordains a certain event in the future will occur and this ordinance itself is a knowable truthmaker for the future truth. There is no problem to propose that God’s possesses the self-knowledge needed for Him to know what He ordains and what He does not ordain. That said, it is not easily defended that such ordinances are in fact truthmakers. Why? For a truthmaker to be a truthmaker, the thing in question must entail the truth in question. For example, if God ordains it will be windy tomorrow, it must logically follow that it will be windy tomorrow. That is, it is impossible for the ordinance of God with respect to a windy tomorrow to presently exist and it not rain tomorrow.

    As a classical theist, I have a simple explanation and solid defense why the entailment is indeed present: God’s character is immutable, thus God cannot will one thing to occur at one time and then change His mind to will something else. But open theists see God’s nature changing in response to the indeterministic unfolding of the world He has created. Thus, unlike the classical theist position, the ordinances of God have no such immutable character to the open theist. Consequently, God’s ordinances cannot be functioning as truthmakers, for they do not entail the content of the ordinance. If God’s will is not immutable, God could very well ordain that it will be windy tomorrow and yet tomorrow it does not rain because God changed His mind in the meantime. Restating: the act of ordaining by itself does not entail that future things will happen. What is needed in order to secure that future things will happen is some further property of God. This is true of any Christian belief system. God’s immutability is that further property of God.

    From this it should be apparent that from the open theist’s position, no part of the future can be known as true.

    Yes, God could be (and is) far more competent, powerful, able, and effective than any human being who does not possess exhaustive foreknowledge. But, if the underlying assumption of your response is to then argue that God could accomplish His purposes by respecting the liberty of indifference (libertarian free will) of His creatures, and thus not being able to know the future, I contend that such an position gives no guarantee of the eschaton to God’s children in Christ.

    If God is genuinely responsive to humans and to the course of history, and if God cannot infallibly know the future free decisions of man, it is in principle impossible for God to know infallibly what He will do in the future as well.

    In other words, God's knowledge of His own actions in the future is at best probabilistic. Thus, God's statements that He will ultimately triumph over evil is no absolute guarantee. But, you and I will agree that God is not a liar, so the assumptions by open theists about God's knowledge must therefore be incorrect. The problem then, lies with open theism’s assumptions of what God knows and God's sovereignty.
     
  20. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    There are things that not even God can do, as they would be against His divine attributes, such as to sin, so would it even be possible for God to operate as an Open Theist demands of Him and still remain God?
     
  21. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    David, God would cease to be God at all if operated as the Open Theist demands of Him. Open theists are functional atheists.
     
  22. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    The reasons that they hold to an Open Theism viewpoint would be that they want to keep full free will, and want to minimize Hell, in my opinion.
     
  23. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Hi,

    A few things:

    First, though your friend is very misguided, I do appreciate that he wants to reconcile all the biblical data:

    He may be only familiar with a deterministic view of the decree. As much as I like J. Edwards on some things, determinism (philosophical necessity) is not one of them.

    The WCF uses some highly nuanced wording when it comes to God's decree:

    "God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF 3.1)"

    and:

    "Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions, yet hath he not decreed anything because he foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions. (WCF 3.2)"

    and...

    "Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the First Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, he ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (WCF 5.2)"

    1. God's decree is set from eternity. This decree "fall out" according to second causes. Since this is the case, there is truth to hypotheticals. God can say without violation of His decree "if you would have... I would have." Since the decree is designed to "fall out" according to second causes, every thought and decision of mankind is freely exercised by the sinner, and we also maintain that in a real sense, they could have chosen differently.

    2. As for God regretting (repenting): 1 Sam. 8:18 says: "And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day." God knew what kind of king Saul would be. So when God regrets in 1 Sam. 15:35, this is not something that came as a surprise to Him in the slightest.

    3. When we consider what is often called "anthropomorphic language," we must be very careful. God sees all things. If we take from this statement: Since God sees, therefore He has eyes. Eyes cannot see something out of their line of vision. Therefore, God doesn't see everything. This is an obvious abuse of what it means that God sees. However, we should also not say that since God doesn't have eyes like us, therefore He doesn't see at all-- it's just anthropomophic language suited to our faculties. We should understand truth in the understanding that God sees, yet not devise God in our own image according to our limitations. As we understand that God regretted because the Bible says He does, we should understand that understanding the will of God by comparing it to the limitations of our will is a losing proposition.

    John Howe says it better than I do:

    In short, be very careful when employing the idea of anthropomorphisms in God, lest we make Him a liar and infer that He teaches us nothing through anthropomorphic language.

    4. Also, it may be helpful to compare middle knowledge to the Westminster statements above (if you haven't already). They indirectly address it in 3.2 ("Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions,"), then pull out the doctrine by its boot straps by denying that the decree was determined upon something other than God in the first place. Interestingly, the WCF doesn't deny that hypotheticals are irrelevant to the conversation, but rather do not base God's decree in any way upon "bare foreknowledge."

    Hope this helps...
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2017
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  24. Eli McGowan

    Eli McGowan Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you all for your comments and help! Relying on a lot of this discussion, I was able to get my friend to today admit that he is an open theist, a huge fan of Boyd, does not believe God knows everything (but simply what he can predict based on his perfect knowledge of us, and the present), and he believes God's nature doesn't change but God's will can change.
     
  25. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I just taught on the Doctrine of God last evening at my Church.
    To put it simply, your friend would not have been recognized as holding to the Christian faith in any era of Church history except today when we seem to no longer care about such things.
    When you look at the Reformed faith it is Christian, catholic, protestant, and reformed. It is in that order.
    There are certain markers that every Christian Church in history has held to. At root, when people denied the Revelation of God as God then they were not considered Christian. You can't even get past the catholicity of the Christian faith when you deny key tenets of God's nature.
    The historical, Biblical, exegetical, and theological ignorance of many Christians is incredibly dangerous. The mere fact that the Christian Church's consistent confession is that "...if you deny this then you are not a Christian..." should strike fear in the heart. Modern man yawns at this.
    The first principle of good theology is the we are the creature and God is the Creator. Our knowledge of God and theology is analogical and not univocal. We know only by way of Revelation and not because we have minds that reason with the same "facts on the ground" as God does.
    I don't know you're friend but the typical concern of the modern person is that he thinks it quite "mean" to think of a God Who knows the beginning from the end and decrees things for His own glory that we reason modern man will not tolerate. It's more important to us that God seem, in our eyes, to be loving and desirous of our good and any feature of God that does not accommodate that principle, that cannot be reconciled according to our pre-defined sense of "the good" that God must meet, will be shaved off.
    I know this sounds hopelessly mean and intolerant in today's culture because I'm committing the mortal sin of failing to ensure the maximum self-actualization of all men. I can simply reply that God's glory is the principle aim of man and not whether or not we're comfortable and connect every dot to the satisfaction of people who want Him to give account in a manner that will satisfy them.
    Pinnock and Boyd are heretics. Every generation of Christians prior to our own would agree with this assessment. Is our day so marked with true piety and knowledge that we can look around us and say: "Surely in the history of the Christian Church we demonstrably know better."
     
  26. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    As noted above, the man on the street will view pronouncements by open theists as agreeable. Indeed, this has been the tactic of the proponents of open theism—taking their arguments into the streets while avoiding scholarly forums. Boyd writes:

    "I also believe this issue is too important and too practically significant to be limited to academic circles. I believe there is currently a need to present this issue in a manner that can include as many laypeople as possible. This book attempts to do just that."
    (Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), pg. 13)

    Unfortunately, your typical Christian is not going to recognize sound exegesis or fallacious argumentation. This puts pastors and seminary educators who are responsible for their flock on notice to become more knowledgeable about the open theist movement. After all, if the openness of God is biblical, then it should be embraced.

    But is open theism biblical?

    My own issue in determining the open theist’s doctrines is that these doctrines are continually changing. There are no rigorously defined creeds, councils, or oversight bodies that one can readily seek out for review. Back in 1998, Pinnock wrote in Christianity Today, “More like a pilgrim than a settler, I tread the path of discovery and do my theology en route.” Today, that route continues to be traveled by open theists who explore their beliefs with much fluidity. Consequently, anyone attempting to do justice to open theism must play the game of Whack-a-Mole®, given open theism’s many excursions into orthodox theologies. I am challenged to even accurately depict what open theists believe, and therefore forced to rely upon the writings of its proponents, e.g., Pinnock, Boyd, Sanders, Yancey, Rice, Hasker, Basinger, and Smedes.

    Two of open theism’s major proponents, Pinnock and Sanders, in 2003 found themselves at odds with the Evangelical Theological Society over their doctrines. In 2001 a motion was passed by the ETS stating:

    "We believe the Bible clearly teaches that God has complete, accurate, and infallible knowledge of all events past, present, and future including all future decisions and actions of free moral agents."​

    The ETS motion was passed by a vote of 253 to 66. This set in motion charges to be brought against Pinnock and Sanders in 2002 by Roger Nicole. Nicole levied charges against both men, and called for them to be removed from the ETS. In 2003 Nicole and Bruce Ware met with Pinnock and Sanders, along with other members of the ETS leadership, to investigate the 2002 charges. Although Pinnock and Sanders were ultimately allowed to remain as members (with votes that were by no means a mandate), they were forced to “clarify” their thinking.

    During the discussion, he (Pinnock) clarified some of his other statements in Most Moved Mover. One clarification was his explanation that he thought Jesus’ prediction that not one stone would be left on another (p. 51, n. 66) was hyperbolic and was in fact fulfilled in the sense it was originally intended. He also expressed regret at the imprecise way he had expressed himself in that footnote and on pages 50-51 of the book.

    In his concluding remarks later that same day, Dr. Pinnock returned to the remaining difficult passage in Most Moved Mover (p. 51, n. 66). He voluntarily and at his own initiative withdrew some of what he had written in note 66. Specifically, he said that he no longer thinks that Paul incorrectly taught that the second coming must be “just around the corner.” (1 Thes. 4:17) He said he did not wish to impute error to Paul or to the Bible.

    Some extracts from Pinnock's mea culpa follow…

    Regarding Genesis ch 37:9-10, it did not go "unfulfilled." Just because the mother could not be present to bow down, Joseph's family as a corporate whole did bow down to him, which satisfies the thrust of the dream's core meaning.

    Regarding Micah 3:9-12, it seems as if the prophet in the eighth century predicted the destruction of Jerusalem as something that might happen in his time but which in fact happened later on. But Micah did not dogmatise as to when it had to happen. It's a simple question of prophetic perspective. From his point of view, it must have seemed to be delayed. But in the end, the oracle in Micah was fulfilled in that what was affirmed in this text was the destruction of Jerusalem, not the date of it.

    Regarding Isaiah ch 41:14-20, there was a return to the land by the exiles and therefore there was real "fulfillment," even though the fulness of the promise would take longer to become effective. That is to say, there was a fulfillment already in the return of the exiles, but Israel might also hope for a more ultimate fulfillment as Isaiah himself did.

    Regarding my views on Ezekiel's Tyre prophecy, they are expressed above.

    Regarding John the baptiser, he seems to have thought Jesus would bring fiery judgment upon the people, when in fact this was not to be Jesus' emphasis, at least right away. In the last times perhaps, but it would not be his main theme in the public ministry where he spoke more of mercy.

    Regarding 1 Thess 4:17, in Paul's thought the second coming could come at any time. Therefore, even though he spoke of it as near in this passage, he would not have thought of this as being certainly bound to happen in a few months or years (at T one). The 'we' in the passage (the 'we' who are alive and remain at the coming of the Lord) could refer to the believers then living but could just as well refer to future believers if the coming were to be delayed.

    Regarding Matt 24:2, Jesus' assertion that not a stone would be standing on another is hyperbolic speech. The point was that the temple would be utterly ruined, as in fact it was. Greater precision was not required.​

    Sanders, author of The God Who Risks, however, did not fare as well, especially with respect to his views on biblical inerrancy. The ETS committee observed that Sanders’ “position is certainly idiosyncratic, esoteric, perhaps even strange.”

    Were it not for the ETS’s constitution lacking a specific definition of biblical inerrancy at that time, I doubt that Sanders would have been able to remain a member. Indeed, the investigation committee urged the ETS to clarify its statements on inerrancy. I once suggested that when the ETS adopted the Chicago Statement we would see Sanders in front of the committee once more. That did not happen.

    In Mayhue’s review of Boyd’s text, we find a useful story attributed to Van Til:

    “In order to emphasize the sharp contrast between the popular contention that, if God were truly sovereign and ultimately in control, genuine human freedom would be destroyed, and the biblical perspective, a little fish story may be helpful. One day it occurred to this fish as he swam in the vast ocean with water all around him, on every side, that this water was hemming him in, cramping his style, limiting his freedom and his opportunity to fulfill the full potentialities of his “fishness.” So he swam over near the shore, and he huffed and he puffed and he threw himself up on the beach. And he shouted out: “I’m free at last!” But you and I know what was really the case. Almost with that very shout he was not free but dead! The water all around him had not been limiting his freedom as a fish or making it impossible for him to fulfill all the potentialities of his fishness. On the contrary, that water was the very element in which he lived and moved and had his being as a fish. It was the necessary and perfect environment in which to fulfill his fishness.”​

    From the above, we are prompted to ask, what exactly is the fishness of God’s creatures? Are we to “be all that we can be”, as the open theist touting libertarian freedom would have us believe?

    Assume for the sake of argument that libertarian free will, that is, the freedom to do otherwise than what we will do in any given situation, is a biblical truth.

    Under this assumption, one would wonder why this kind of free will would even be defined as “the freedom to do otherwise”. Don’t we, when choosing, make only one choice? Does not this one choice effectively cancel another choice? If God is perfectly good, and all His actions and thoughts are good, then why should we not expect God to limit the freedom of our choosing one or another acts of goodness? If God does not know what choice we will make until we make a choice, have we then conceded the dilemma of the problem of evil?

    The Problem of Evil (PoE):

    If God is omnipotent and benevolent, then why is there evil in the world? Either God unable to prevent evil, thus He is not omnipotent; or He is unwilling, thus he is not benevolent.​

    By assuming God cannot know what we will do, we are relieving the dilemma of the PoE through a sacrifice of God’s sovereignty. Now the PoE dilemma, assuming it were true, does not disprove the existence of God. But what the PoE dilemma would disprove, if it were true, is that a powerful conception of God by believers does not exist. Moreover, if I am an atheist, this conception of a God that permits meaningless evil, if He were the unsettled theist’s God embodied via the PoE dilemma, is the only God that should not be believed in by anyone! In other words, both the atheist and the Christian believe that God should be much more powerful than the PoE would imply.

    Then should God have created a world with no sin? If God is infinitely holy and righteous then the answer is clear.

    Would a world with no sin be the best possible world for the common good? Yes.
    Would a world with no sin be the best possible world for the greatest good? No.


    You see, there is an incompatibility between the common good and the greater good. The greatest good is not for the greatest number. Instead, may we not argue that there is a greater good for a lesser number or a lesser good for a greater number? Redemption is a greater good for God’s elect, while a world that never fell is a lesser good for every creature of God. The scriptures tell us that the fall of mankind in Eden was foreordained (Gal. 3:22, Rom. 11:32) by God. But why? Perhaps it is that God foreordained the fall of mankind so that the elect of God would glory in God’s wisdom as seen in His merciful and just actions (John 9-12; 1 John 4:9-10; Rom. 9:17,22-23; Eph. 3:9-10).

    Again, for the sake of argument, let’s assume open theism, with its accompanying libertarian free will, non-eternal-timelessness of God, a changeable God according to our choices made, and God’s self-imposed limited foreknowledge, are all biblical truths.

    The following ten observations, in no particular order, emerge from the given assumption.
    1. The unsettled theist must insist that God suffers with us. Open theists presuppose that God participates in the future in a manner that is analogous to human experience. Open theists believe that God exists within the conditions of human existence and that God literally experiences what mankind experiences in general. Thus, at the individual level, God for the open theist must personally replicate the relationships we have with our parents, spouses, friends, and others. Each of these roles is provides us with different levels of positive or negative emotional support. Yet, does not God, through His transcendent creative acts, institute various roles for society that indirectly supplies us with the emotional support we need? God appears as the father figure in the scriptures, but He does not suffer with us as a Father suffers with his child. Instead, God is much like the doctor, who while treating a patient, will sometimes cause pain and suffering in order to eliminate a greater pain and suffering.

    In the world of the open theist, the focus of sin is not that it is an offense to God’s righteous holiness, instead the focus is that our relationship with God is broken. The depravity of mankind after the fall into sin that sets the unsaved in direct opposition with God is now simply that we are moving in the wrong direction with respect to God. Why? Because the sinner is a slave to sin, as if from some external forces, versus the internal depravity introduced at the fall of mankind in Eden.

    2. The unsettled theist must insist that he has libertarian free will. Yet, is it really apparent that we have the freedom an open theist insists we possess? What evidence supports this assertion? How then do we reconcile hereditary traits influencing our behavior, instincts, social advantages and disadvantages, or even our subliminal desires? Does the prisoner in jail possess libertarian free will, that is, the power to do otherwise?

    When we have chosen, we eliminate all other options available to us. And given that we can only make one choice at any given moment, why must we insist we have range of choices that we will never actually choose?

    The open theist assumes the genesis of our beliefs are the result of our wills and not reason. Yet, what we believe is not simply a matter of a will to believe. We are predisposed to believe this or that, and not this or that. When we encounter evidence, we believe or don’t believe this or that. We find some things very credible, and others not so credible. In general, what we believe is automatically and unconsciously formed and we don’t have much direct control over what we feel.

    Yes, we do allow ourselves to entertain other information or contexts that may or may not influence our outlooks. And there are things we may do that affect our beliefs and our feelings. Yet, there is no contrary causal issue (“to do otherwise”) about this process.

    Thus, the question is begged, do we really have the type of control insisted upon by libertarian free will? Must our choices be out of our characters to be as free as libertarian free will assumes? If our choices are not determined by factors external to us that are beyond our control, are they not then determined by internal dispositions beyond our control? Can this concept of libertarian free will claim to be coherent then? The scriptures are clear about God’s sovereign control over mankind’s decisions, bringing God’s own counsel in details according to His plan to conform to His purpose (see Eph. 1:11; Rom. 11:36; Exod. 34:24; Num. 23; Jud. 7:22; 1 Kings 13:1-3). The scriptures also testify to God’s foreordination and to mankind’s responsibility in the same actions and contexts (see Gen. 50:20; 1 Kings 8:58-61; Prov. 16:45; Isa. 10:5-15; Jer. 29:10-14; Luke 22:22; John 1:12-13; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; 13:48-14:1; Rom. 9-10; Phil. 2:12-13; Col. 3:1-3). Lastly, from Mat. 7:15-20 and Luke 6:43-45, we see that no one acts independently from their own character and desires.

    How can we our expect prayers to work with God if He is unable to intervene in our lives and violate the libertarian free will of the unsettled theist? In fact, if God cannot know the choices that are made by libertarian free will agents, would not asking for God’s intervention subject Him and us to the unintended consequences of this intervention? Can the God of open theism predict or control the so-called butterfly effect?

    3. The unsettled theist must insist that God can override our libertarian free will choices. If the God of open theism will not have His plans frustrated by our choices, this God must possess more choices than is evident to the claim we just insisted. Each time we choose, the universe of possible choices we have made becomes limited. For each of our choices, only a finite number of choices were possible. And each choice we make is not always the best choice. Once we have chosen, we have immediately limited the amount of possible best choices we have at our disposal. How then, is it self-evident that the open theist God can possess sufficient better counter choices at His disposal to achieve His own ends?

    4. The unsettled theist must insist that morality is relative. Libertarian free will means we must be able to see all sides of all issues. If our choices are truly unbiased choices (“to do otherwise”) are we not required to see the benefits (merits) of the opposing alternatives? Thus, if I reject, say, genocide in Africa, without recognizing the merits of this genocide, wasn’t my rejection not made freely, but coerced?

    5. The unsettled theist must insist that predestination and divine providence are replaced by chance. The open theist holds that God can outmaneuver us when we choose. Thus, God is open to the failure, or being thwarted by His creatures, of some of His intentions and is sometimes mistaken in His beliefs about what will happen. In fact, the omnipotence of God, as is traditionally understood, must be redefined by open theists, since God’s efforts are sometimes defeated. Here we find that God’s omniscience is no longer the comprising an exhaustive knowledge of the future, or even an exhaustive knowledge of His comprehensive decree. Instead, God’s omniscience is God’s comprehensive knowledge of all that can be known, which does not include the future. To the open theist, the future is a mixture of partly settled and partly unsettled realities (which themselves can be shown to be logically impossible if one is an openist), wherein God knows this contingently rather than the outcomes of any unsettled realities. In short, the God of open theism does not possess a prescience of the future libertarian free choices of His volitional creatures.

    Are we then just as subject to fate, since God has willed something to happen no matter what our choices? Has God then undermined libertarian free will by His own maneuvers? How then do open theists claim to be free? If they insist on libertarian free will, then is it not so worthy as to trump any other good and evil consequence? If it is not, then how do they claim libertarian free will? How does God’s ignorance absolve God from evil, as described earlier? A father who lets his child play with matches, cannot later claim that he is not responsible for the burning house. As fathers, won’t we restrain our children from many actions, yet not all actions, that we know have serious consequences? What then becomes to the claim for libertarian free will?

    From open theism we find that while God planned for the incarnation, He never planned on Christ dying for our sins. Why? Well, for one reason, God could not foresee that mankind would sin, so God could not ordain the death of Christ on the cross from eternity past. And for another reason, Christ’s willingness to die on the cross for our sins was contingent on Christ’s free will, thus, God could not know if Christ would decide to die for our sins until the moment Christ chose to do so. In fact, had Christ decided not to die for us, God would have needed Plan B for our salvation. After all, since God is surprised by the choices of libertarian free will agents, He would also be surprised by Christ’s own choices! To the open theist, Christ’s death for us was much less than a propitiation and blood sacrifice for our sins, than it was a sacrifice of love by God for His creation. Thus the sacrificial lamb of the scriptures is a much diminished concept in open theism. Indeed, one finds open theist authors loathe to even use the word “atonement”, preferring instead to replace the implied penal implications of “atonement” with a love focused word: “sacrifice”.

    Besides the problematic aspects of the incarnation for open theism, the issue of election by God inches towards universalism. To the open theist, everyone is the elect of God. The saved are simply those that realize they are elected and respond by faith. Pinnock has went so far as to write “Faith may occur in the context of another religion, since the issue is not how far one is from God but in what direction one is traveling.” (See Pinnock’s Unbounded Love)

    Open theism’s eschatology is, on the one hand, “not a foregone conclusion” (Sanders), or, on the other hand, predetermined and thus foreknown in enough details to keep the overall plot on course (Boyd)[/u]. Boyd also argues that libertarian free will agents can hinder or speed the coming of the eschaton, for “while God’s will is not consistently carried out in history…it will be carried out in the eschaton.” (See Boyd’s Satan and the Problem of Evil) Thus, in one sense the open theist maintains that God does not know the end times with certainty, given the actions of libertarian free will agents, yet in another sense God does know the end times with certainty, given that He has ordained them. The obvious logical incoherence of these positions remains unresolved by the unsettled theist.

    Given the emphasis of God’s love among open theists, their doctrines of Hell should not be surprising. Pinnock is an annihilationist, while Boyd holds that what we read about Hell in the scriptures are metaphors not to be taken literally. All of which begs the greater question, given the figurative and less severe finality of Hell interpretations of the open theist, then what does open theism interpret Heaven to be like?

    6. The unsettled theist must insist that God’s love and our libertarian free will are incompatible. To insist otherwise is an arbitrary assertion. Should not the morality, mind, and behavior of open theism apply to God? Should not God be free to love or to not love us? If our libertarian freedom is absolute, does not it then override God’s divine love? On the other hand, if God’s divine love is absolute, does it not override human freedom? Are not the logical extremes of libertarian freedom deism and the logical extreme of divine love universalism?

    7. We must insist, as open theists, that the proofs for God’s existence are no longer valid. The cosmological argument from complexity is questionable since the open theist’s God is a composite entity, not a simpliciter that cannot be composed of parts, divisible, etc. It is no longer abundantly clear, from the open theist’s attributes of God, that the unsettled theist’s God is of infinitely greater complexity than the world.

    The cosmological argument from contingency is no longer valid, since open theists believe in a contingent God. Such a belief also weakens ontological arguments. The modal version of the ontological argument, i.e., claims about the possibility or necessity of God's attributes and existence. Another ontological argument claims that God is the greatest conceivable being. But, is the God of open theism the greatest being we can conceive, or is it not the God of traditional theism?

    Those that hold to the alethic argument for God’s existence, in that a timeless God must be the source of all eternal truths, cannot rely upon this argument as the open theist’s God is not atemporal, but existing in an endless passage of time.

    Finally, using the cosmological argument that creation had a beginning point, since the past cannot be infinite, because any actual infinitude must be completed totalities is no longer possible with open theism.

    8. The unsettled theist must insist that if open theism is true, all other theological doctrines are false. Therefore the arguments for Calvinism must be disproved, yet they have not.

    9. The unsettled theist must insist that the hermeneutics of open theism are very different from the hermeneutics of classical theism. With open theism, the biblical patterns of promises from God and their fulfillment are crippled or destroyed. Through the openist’s lens we initially see in the scriptures historical events that appear to occur with no orchestration, indeed, numerous contingencies and reversals take place. Yet, as we look deeper, observing where events are leading and where events originated, we undoubtedly see God’s orchestrations to fulfill the promises originally made. Yet, only the process and the present moment are seen by the open theist. The present processes, in the shadow of past promises and their future fulfillments are not seen. This is because only the particular moment and not its relationship to others are only seen by the eyes of the unsettled theist.

    Promises by God are much broader concepts than prophecies, which are necessary subsets of promises. Promises that we find in the scriptures will include typologies and God’s being true to the obligations of His covenants.

    So, then, do open theists argue that God suspends temporarily the biblical author’s libertarian free will? This suspension would be insufficient, because the knowledge required to be written is itself a contingency on the actions of other libertarian free will agents. Thus, both the inspired author (the subject of inspiration) and the object of inspiration (typologies, covenantal obligations that are contingent upon numerous libertarian free agents) must be removed from the realm of libertarian free will. If this does not happen, any action of a libertarian free will agent will cause a cascade of effects that makes the promises of God realizable only by nothing short of a direct intervention by God in the world.

    Barring such an event, God will have to suspend libertarian free will of all, the authors and others contingent, for the fulfillment of promises. To overcome this situation, open theism has two choices. The first choice of the unsettled theist is to claim that omniscient God simply does not know and is making educated guesses regarding all agents involved in God’s efforts to fulfill his promises. What then, if God’s educated guess is wrong? Then the fulfillment of a promise that depended upon some agent’s actions, with all associative actions contingent upon this agent’s actions, is jeopardized. When we examine the 4,017 predictive prophecies in the bible, we find that 2,323 are related to a future human decision or event (See Roy, How Much Does God Know, Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2001.). Therefore, if God does not know the future, how does God predict the future with such detailed accuracy?

    We are then forced to observe that if open theism is true, the Scriptures in some way in some places must be false. But which ways and places? Could not these tenuous means and places be the very narratives and optatives of prophecy that open theists depend upon to make a case for open theism?

    The second choice of the unsettled theist is that God knows what these aforementioned agents will do under all contingencies—thus we have landed smack in determinism of the characters involved, accompanied by other nature and nurture influences, thereby rendering libertarian free will null and void.

    In observation #6 above I noted the attribute of God’s love. God’s love is a heavily focused upon attribute by the open theist. Indeed, to the open theist, the attributes of God must be redefined, using reductionism, with God’s love at the center, giving greater importance to God’s immanence versus God’s transcendence. Yet it is difficult to make an argument from the Scriptures that God’s love is His essential attribute. The divine love of God does not minimize God’s omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, lordship, righteousness, wrath against sin, or any of God’s glorious perfections. To deny any of these is to deny the God of the Scriptures. More reasoned hermeneutics would likely show that the foundation of God’s character for His people is His holy character. God’s holiness is not an attribute that is coordinate with His other attributes; instead it is coextensive with all of them. It is clear from the scriptures that the one attribute that God would have His people remember Him by more than any other was His divine holiness. Moreover, the love of God is not a risk-taking love, but a sovereign love (see Rom. 8:35; John 10:28-29). God’s great love is demonstrated in His covenant promise, with tender compassion (Is. 55:7), loving and taking care of His people forever (Is. 47:17), knowing the needs of His people before they ask (Matthew 6).

    The hermeneutics of open theism is literal in selective places with no synthesized, consistent criteria justifying this literality. Open theism hermeneutics present numerous problems for the traditional historical-grammatical approaches to hermeneutics. Consequently, the role of the open theist interpreter’s presuppositions and the understanding of how anthropomorphisms and metaphors are used often reflect a departure from the historical-grammatical approach. For example, open theists will appeal to 1 Sam. 15 to claim that God repents, defining repentance as a change of mind. However the repentance over Saul does not mean that God did not know what King Saul would be like or would do. Indeed, the obvious conclusion of 1 Sam. 15:29 is that God often speaks metaphorically, to enable humans to understand abstract truths.

    In open theism we also find scriptural emotional attributions (especially the virtuous emotions) treated literally, while the scriptural physical attributions are treated as anthropomorphisms. From this selective literality and anthropomorphism, we find that open theists believing God exists in some human-like form. But, the open theist is inconsistent in interpreting metaphorical passages of the bible. For example, Sanders states that “all scripture is anthropomorphic” and are “vitally important” (See Sanders’ The God Who Risks). Yet, Sanders selects then eliminates metaphorical language from biblical passages to portray God literally. These passages, such as God hearing (Ex. 16:12), speaking (Gen. 1:3), seeing (Gen. 6:12), smelling (1 Sam., 26:19), laughing (Ps. 2:4), having hands (Ps. 139:5) and feet (Nah. 1:3) cannot be taken literally, since the bible clearly teaches that God is a spirit (John 4:24). Anthropomorphisms in the bible are the means by which God reveals Himself to mankind in human terms. Anthropomorphisms in the bible are the means to help explain mankind’s relationship to God, who is a living, personal, spiritual, being.

    10. The unsettled theist must insist that the “theology” of open theism is in fact based upon philosophy, and not upon biblical theology. The open theist foundations are based upon three philosophical presuppositions: love, relationship, and freedom. Indeed, Sanders writes, that “Philosophical theology can lend clarity to concepts about the divine nature of providence that can be useful to biblical scholars” (See Sanders’ The God Who Risks).

    Yet the degree of authority Sanders gives to philosophical theology is incompatible with the historic understanding of general revelation. Yes, we must approach God according to His self-revelation in the scriptures, since the scriptures provide the only revelation of salvation. And general revelation plays an important role in mankind’s understanding of God. However, the scriptures are clear in that man’s knowledge of himself and the rest of creation, apart from God’s self-revelation in the scriptures, is not to be trusted. This is the proper role and scope of general revelation. Contrast this to Sanders’ assertion that there is a need to use philosophy in formulations of theology, stating that classical theism must be reevaluated in light of a “more relational metaphysic” (See Sanders’ The Openness of God). Despite the claims of open theists that classical theism was influenced by philosophy, they do not renounce the use of philosophy. Instead they import a different human philosophy into theological and biblical interpretation to understand anthropomorphisms in a personal, relational way, seeking to avoid the impersonal God of Greek thought. In other words, the open theist overlays a philosophical grid over scripture, through which interpretations of scripture are sieved.

    To open theists, God’s essence is love, and to have a real relationship with God there must be libertarian freedom to exercise by libertarian free will agents. Thus, to have a “dynamic give-and-take relationship” with these free agents, God must take risks by not controlling the future and by limiting Himself to not know the future. While seemingly reasonable, these philosophical presuppositions are not biblical. God’s love is not a risky love, but a sovereign love (see Rom. 8:35; John 10:28-29). The scriptures never teach God’s ignorance of the future. The illogical conclusion of open theism is that mankind is not responsible for their actions unless they have libertarian free will.
    From these ten observations, open theism is much like Van Til’s fish, in seeking to fulfill its “fishness” casts aside the over-arching sovereignty, foreknowledge, and providence of God that empowers and preserves, rather than limiting its “fishness”.
     
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  27. reaganmarsh

    reaganmarsh Puritan Board Senior

    I wish I could say I was surprised. Prayed for your friend today, that God will grant him repentance unto life.
     
  28. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Loved reading your post!
    One interesting observation regarding the PoE is that man was created "very good." I suppose God could have created man immutable and then sin never would have been an issue. The fact that man was created mutable is a demonstration that "very good" had a higher purpose in God's decree than man simply continuing in his innocence.

    Thus, God in the very constitution of man demonstrated a greater good and purpose in the way he was created. The PoE was never a problem for God.
     
    Last edited: Jul 29, 2017
  29. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    What also seems to be common threads with many holding to Open Theism is not holding to full inerrancy of the scriptures,not fully sold on Jesus death as only way to salvation, and the very concept of an eternal Hell, and also the need to have full free will still in operation.
     
  30. Joseph Noah Gagliardi

    Joseph Noah Gagliardi Puritan Board Freshman

    A problem arises when we try to understand God: we can't. We cannot comprehend how God is not subject to time. God does not exist in every moment that could exist. God is not subject to moments, to time. For our God who is not simply eternal, but timeless, to speak to us, who are carried by the tides and currents of time, when he is not, is is perplexing to us. But by faith we believe these things to be true. Yes, use Scripture, but also use ordinary reason. Does a poet abide by the same rules in narrative as does a biographer? A Novelist as a historian? No. God uses a variety of styles as he imparts to us His word, just as he uses various mouthpieces. David is not Paul, nor Moses Solomon. Too often we hold God to an unreasonable standard, in the way in which he conveys His word. We allow the the use of the vernacular in our own speech, but limit God, and say he cannot use our language back to us the way we use it! Do we not use similes, and metaphors, and analogies? Then why do we reprove God who created the mouth, for His use of it? God spoke to His people in their own language, and that the way they spoke it. Often this is to use our own words against us, to show us our foolishness. Finally, were God to reveal to us the fullness of His glory, we would be consumed, He is a consuming fire. That is a wonderful example of His use of our understanding of the world we live in. A consuming fire. Is God really a fire? No. Fire is nothing in comparison to the might and glory of the LORD most high. But he graciously condescends to our weak understandings, and frail frames, that He not consume us. Such is His love for His children. Where our intellects fail, is when faith carries the day. Atheists accuse our God of being the "god of the gaps"; yes, God is the God that inhabits the "gaps" of our understanding, and infinitely beyond! For Him to bend low, to speak in a still small voice, in our own tongue, we should weep in joy and bewilderment at such a thing. We ought not try to twist God's arm as it were, to make Him fit our meager intellects.
     
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