Archive for the ‘Open Theism’ Category

>Here’s part II.

Slick has read many books on Open Theism, which is fine. But one wonders, why he does not respond to some of its most important points: the claim secular Greek philosophy deeply influenced the classical view. Instead of responding thoughtfully, what one receives is a dismissive wave of the hand followed by verse-spamming.

Open Theism argues, and correctly that much of classical theology has been influenced by secular “pagan” thought. What Open Theists try to do is be aware of this habituated way of looking at God and scripture, eschew it, and then read the Bible again and see how our ideas about God might be a little different. Anyone who wants to defend the traditional, classical view, should be willing to deal with the tenants of the traditional classical view. This is especially important because detractors of Open Theism might be influenced by the old Greek ideas and not even know it.

Slick, however, does not seem aware of it. In responding to the claim that much of the classical view was influenced by “pagan” thought, Slick writes:

It is this presupposition of open theism that has led to such comments as this:

“While some (including myself) argue that the development of the classical view of God was decisively influenced by pagan philosophy, classical theologians have always maintained that it is deeply rooted in Scripture.”1

This is overkill, “decisively influenced by pagan philosophy”? Perhaps it is open theism that is influenced by pagan philosophy, since it teaches that God can make mistakes, doesn’t know all things, and changes His mind. Which is more majestic and sovereign: the God of open theism, or the God of classical theism which says that God is absolutely sovereign, in control, knows all things, and makes no mistakes?

This is not substance. This is well-posioning, ad hominem, and an implicit questioning of an Open Theist’s piety. Slick might as well have written, “Pagan philosophy does not influence the classical view, because Open Theism is wrong and has a wimpy God.”

If there is any doubt that the classical view of God was influenced by secular thought, I hope I can offer a few suggestions. The traditional/classical view of God came down from folks like Augustine, and Aquinas. Augustine was deeply influenced by neo-platonism, which included the idea that what was most perfect was that which did not change. Aquinas was explicit about his interaction with Greek philosophy. He is considered one of the most important commentators on Aristotle, who also believed that something is not perfect unless it is timeless. Both of these ideas where not necessarily rejected by Protestantism – a point that Open Theists like Pinnock have raised again and again.

Space does not allow me to expound on this point. I cannot even argue that the pagan tradition is wrong here. What I am saying is that it is naive and irresponsible to assume that this long standing tradition does not influence one’s reading of scripture. Even if one tries to assert Sola Scriptura, it is still avoiding the issue.

CARM does not address a very important, and very critical, thesis of Open Theism. It needs to.


>There are things that Open Theism is and there are things that it is not. Some time ago, I visited CARM’s take on Open Theism. While I understand that CARM’s goal is to be concise, it still does not seem to me that the presentation of what Open Theism is, its basic arguments, and the issues it deals with was fair. What better place to talk about it then here?

As a disclaimer, I liked CARM when I was about twenty or something. It was one of the first places that I started looking into apologetics. However, I can’t say that I support it too much now. Apologetics –and evangelicalism- cannot be so simply tied down to a series of flow charts. I guess I am saying this so that readers can have some idea of my view of CARM and Matt Slick’s approach to things in general.

CARM seems to misrepresent and/or misunderstand Open Theism. The first big mistake, and one that Open Theists (including this one) are tired of hearing, is the claim about “the future.” Slick places it under Basic Tenants of Open Theism. Here it is:

God does not know the future.
1. This is either because God cannot know the future because it does not exist, or…
2. It is because God chooses to not know the future even though it can be known.

No. No. No. A thousand times No. There is a serious sense of equivocation in the word “know” here, as I hope to explain. Open Theism says that God does know the future. The difference is there is a disagreement about what the future is. Open Theism says that the future can only be known as a set of possibilities. It cannot be known like the past or like the present. It might be correct to say “God does not know (exactly) what you will do tomorrow” but this does not mean, as one might be led to believe by the above statement, that God is simply cosmically ignorant about future events.

It is better to say that “God knows what you might do tomorrow, and every other possibility.” It is the nature of the future to be possibilities, so there is no more threat to omniscience here than if I said something like “God does not know square circles.” It is the nature of squares to not be circles. It is the nature of the future to be possibilities only.

Slick seems to want to use the term “know” in a univocal way. So that unless God knows something exhaustively it is not knowing. It is correct, to Open Theists, to say that God can know the present exhaustively, because everything is there to be known. However, if God knows the future exhaustively/exactly, then the one must also assume that future is something different. It must exist in some way. It must be in some sense actual so that God can “know” it, but this assumes certain ideas about time that are not addressed in scripture. That idea of time is a hidden assumption that Open Theists do not share.

In short, what I am trying to explain is that a statement like “Open Theism teaches that God does not know the future” is a misunderstanding at best and underhanded over-simplification at worst. Open Theists of course do not think that God knows the future in the same sense that classical theists do. Otherwise, there would be no disagreement at all. The disagreement not that God is ignorant but rather whether something like “the future” can logically be known in the same way that the present or past is.

And in general, if you want to know the basic tenants of Open Theism, it would be smarter to go to a site run by an Open Theist.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for part II

>As many of you know, I have serious reservations about the a-temporality (“God is outside of time”) and its relation to free will, which I define as the ability of human agents to choose between alternatives. I am writing a paper on this for my Aquinas class, and my thesis is this: God’s a-temporality, and knowledge gained by such, cannot be reconciled with human free-will in any workable, meaningful sense. It is very important to note that I am not yet endorsing Open Theism for this paper, only that I don’t think Aquinas’ view solves the problem. This blog is my practice round. I hope that I am making some kind of sense?

What is free will?

One of the problems I have with this paper is that I work with a definition of “free will” that is a little different than Aquinas’ view. I think of free will like this: a temporal agent has free-will when it is in that agent’s power, now, to either refrain from some future action, or actualize some future action. So I have free will if I can refrain or actualize from going to a Good Friday service tomorrow. You can are free if you can refrain or actualize drinking that cup of coffee Monday morning. The professor is free if s/he can refrain or actualize from doing his pile of grading come the end of the semester.

Such is so simple that it seems to make sense. Notice, however, that there is a degree of contingency here. What this means is that something is capable of being other than it is. Additionally, in terms of the future, something is capable of being prevented. “Two and three make five” is not contingent because it cannot be any other way. However, “The General Sherman tree is the largest tree in the world by mass” is contingent because that tree could have been chopped down in 1832. “Obama is the President of the United States” is also contingent because he could’ve lost.

Most future events we think of as contingent, but add something else. “Obama will win a second term in 2012” is contingent. “I drink another cup of coffee tomorrow at 9:00am” is contingent. The important thing about future contingencies is that they are contingent and are mutable by our actions. Obama gets voted out 2012 because the libertarians finally get a good candidate and he steals democratic votes. I refrain from that second cup of coffee because I want to fast on Good Friday or something. We cannot, however, change some past contingent like Obama being elected in 2008, or the latte we drank yesterday afternoon. So our past is contingent and immutable, while the future is contingent and mutable.

God’s eternality (a-temporality)

It is important to note that “eternality” is actually a negation that means something like “without time,” which is why I use “a-temporality” for the same concept. If God is outside of time, than a few things follow: (1) Time prepositions such as “before,” “fore,” “after,” “during,” etc should not be applied to God. (2) God takes in all knowledge of human activity “in one act of understanding.” This is exactly what Aquinas believes. For us, time is like a dot of light going across a straight line, but for God the line is already completely lit up. (3) There is no change in God’s knowledge. This again, was an assumption of Aquinas. Additionally, God can never be wrong about anything.

God’s knowledge of our future actions cannot really be called fore-knowledge. Rather, it should just be called “eternal knowledge.” God is aware of the coffee I am having tomorrow afternoon, the fact that I am typing this paper now, and philosophical wise-crack comments I made last night after class all in the same act of understanding. It is something like looking at film strip. We know that there events in the film, we know when they occur, but I do not know them in a sequential temporal order. We, as temporal beings, see time in a sequence of events. The past is done, the present is where the choices are made, and the future will be one way or another based on a choice we make now. But given God’s a-temporality and knowledge, there is simply no difference of this kind between past, present, and future. God sees Obama being reelected in 2012 just like he sees Obama getting elected in 2008. To say something like “God saw Obama getting elected in 2008, and now knows that Obama will be elected in 2012 is to place temporal prepositions on an a-temporal being.

Refraining from that cup of coffee?

Recall what I said about free-will: a temporal agent has free-will when it is in that agent’s power, now, to either refrain from some future action, or actualize some future action. I can refrain from a cup of coffee tomorrow, or I can drink it. Now recall that God’s knowledge cannot change and that God cannot be wrong. God sees me already drinking that cup of coffee tomorrow morning, just like he sees me trying to explain all this to another grad student last night. If I refrain, from that cup of coffee, have I not proven God wrong about something? God, in his eternality, sees me drinking a cup of coffee at 9:00am tomorrow. If God is never wrong, how can I do otherwise?

The response to this is that it is still my choice. God may know exactly what I’ll do, but I still choose those things. My choices cause God to know. The problem is that this is a confusion of what I mean by “choice.” Something is not just a result of my choice if I caused it, but is the result of my choice if I caused it and could have done otherwise. The future we see is contingent, but it is not mutable by our actions under a “God outside of Time” thinking. If it was, God would either be wrong, or his knowledge would change as our choices affect future states of affairs.

So there it is

And that, very briefly stated, is why I do not think that God’s a-temporality can be reconciled with human freedom.

Did I make any kind of sense? Am I clear? Or was this just some existentially driven, and caffeine infused, philosophical gibberish?

>Alexander, my good friend, posted a blog entitled “Why I am not an Open Theist” in his blog. This has forced me out of my lazy slumber.

This blog is about some of the reasons that God must be outside of time, and why I disagree with them. Note here, I am not actually arguing for Open Theism. What I am arguing for is option of Open Theism. Too often, Open Theism is considered a heresy because “God is outside of time” is not considered a good option, but the only option. This is evidenced by the Wikipedia article before I edited it I do not believe that this doctrine deserves the status of creedal dogma (which obviously not all of the “God is outside time” assert). To show why, I will list off four reasons why “God is outside of time” is believed, and then argue that none of these reasons are beyond reasonable discussion.

Here goes.

Reason 1: If God moves, that implies that God is imperfect. Any move is either a move from perfection or to imperfection. God is perfect, so God can’t move. Ergo, God is outside of time. This type of argument is simple and clear and understandable. It is hard to refute, but there is more behind it than one might expect.

First, one gets to this conclusion by reasoning like an Aristotelian, specifically like an Aristotelian scientist. I actually respect Aristotle quite a bit, but I ask Christians who reason this way if they are willing to use Aristotle’s science as a basis for dogmatic opinions about God. In the middle ages, people appealed to Aristotle because they wanted to reconcile science and faith just like we do today. But Aristotle’s science is no longer our science. So is this kind of move necessary? Was it even necessary then? There are quite a bit of implications in following Aristotle, and it is hard to separate the reason 1 from the whole package.

Secondly, the term “perfect” may be loaded on a sub-conscious level for philosophers. “Perfect” actually comes from the Latin ”Per Factum”. It meant “thoroughly made.” Notice it does not mean “thoroughly making.” The former implies “not time” while the latter implies “process.” Philosophically, the phrase “perfect” has already long been loaded with a certain meaning that most evangelicals are not even aware of when they use it. I can’t even begin to expound on it here. Suffice to say, “Perfect beings do not move” might be simply be another way of saying “beings that are unable to move do not move.” So it is not really an argument, but another way of saying the same thing.

Finally, reason 1 ignores the possibility that immobility, stasis, might not praise worthy (which perhaps we should use instead of “perfection”) in the way Christians normally think of. What kind of things do we think of when we describe something as being worthy of worship? Immobility is usually not one of the things on my list.
In summary we should ask the following when it comes to reason 1: How much do we want to follow Aristotle, as was done in the middle ages? What do we even mean when we say “perfect”? What makes immobility a praise-worthy trait?

Reason 2: (1) Time is part of God’s creation. (2) God is not in his creation. Ergo, God is outside of time. All Christians believe that God is not ‘subject’ to his creation, so if time is part of his creation, then he must be outside of it by definition. The distinction between creator and creation makes “God is outside of time” dogma.

But what if the major premise, “Time is part of God’s creation” is not true? This may seem counter-intuitive, after all everything is created by God. However, strictly speaking, this is not the case.

Consider this rule of logic: “A tree cannot exist and not exist at the same time.” God, therefore, cannot create a tree that does not exist and exists at the same time. A very small minority of Christians say that God actually created that rule of logic, but the majority of Christians say the rules of logic are part of God himself, and are thus not created. Logic exists because God exists.

The concept of time could very well be uncreated in the same sense. While the statement, “Time exists because God exists” could very well be false, it is not as self-evidently false as some may think. So again reason 2 is at least questionable.

Reason 3: God knows the future, especially in the sense of dramatic prophecies. God sees things that we don’t and that we can’t. Ergo, God is outside of time. Cleary, scripture speaks of God as knowing things about the future that we cannot possibly know. All Christians accept this, so it needs to be dogma, right?

This argument is non-sequitor because it confounds two things: the first is God’s omniscience, and the second is God’s relation to time. It is the difference between the fact that God knows and how that God knows. God does not have to be outside of time in order to predict and foretell the future. God could be determining the entire universe. God could’ve known how everything would ‘pan-out’ in this world when he created it. God might have created the universe with certain events happen of a logical necessity. Maybe best of all, how God knows the future is completely mysterious to us.

In any case, reason 3 goes like this (1) scripture clearly shows prophecies, then (2) God has omniscience, so finally (3) God is outside. But this is missing some significant steps between (2) and (3). Scripture tell us that God knows, but they never tell us how God knows.

Reason 4: God foreknows what people do, but these actions are free. Ergo, God is outside of time. This is what I call the “C.S. Lewis approach” because he was the first person I read that expounded on it. Basically, it is hard to understand how our choices are free if God knows exactly what we do. C.S. Lewis’ posited that if God is not in time, then this problem is overcome. God does not see what a free agent will do, because there is no future for God. Instead God sees what a free agent does in the present and the future in the same sense. God does not see what I will do three weeks from now, God just sees me doing it. Thus, because there is no ‘time’ in God’s perspective there is no determination. So God needs to be outside of time in order to have a free will and foreknowledge. There is no other way.

What frustrates me about this approach is that it doesn’t need to be the only option. When people invoke the free-will/foreknowledge issue to dogmatize “God is outside of time,” it is almost a deliberate ignorance of every other way that Christians have tried to reconcile the question. No, this is not the only way that people have come up with to resolve free-will/foreknowledge. There are plenty of other theories that deserve a hearing. One of them is Open Theism.

Furthermore, I don’t think that this approach actually solves the problem. In fact, I think it makes it worse. That is the subject for another blog.

So one last time…

To sum up, I have listed four arguments that assert that God is outside of time. I think none of these reasons are indubitable, logically necessary, or scriptural. Because of this, I do not think that any evangelical is justified in making “God outside of time” unquestioned dogma. Thus, this is not good reason to exclude Open Theism. The view that God is in time should be just as much on the table as Calvinism or Arminianism. Open Theism certainly does not deserve to be called a heresy.

No matter what people on Wikipedia say.

>Several people have asked me questions about stuff posted in my blog. It makes me happy to know that people are reading this little project of mine. Here they are, in no particular order.

Jonathan Says says concerning my Open Theism Blog

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, J. One question. Could you explain this, a little further?
1. I sin
2. God foreknows
3. Therefore, God foreknows my sin
4. Therefore, we do not regret

Could you help me follow from 3 to 4?

I am really glad you asked, because I don’t think I was clear on this point. My point is this: Under Arminianism, God knows exactly what each of my free actions will be, including sins. If God knows exactly what they will be, they are no longer contingent (could have been some other way) because God can’t be wrong or surprised. If my actions are not contingent, it is difficult to have any real regret about them. The sinner can use God’s foreknowledge to cover up the negative feeling of regret. It makes an apology very strange.

Pete Garcia says, concerning my position on Prop 8.:

I don’t think Christ would care that much about this law, personally I think He would have been upset with it being passed as even a law… but I think he would vote yes, because if not passed, what could be tolerated and excepted is the bigger concern. Our job is to hold up a standard for others to see, popular or not popular it is to be set apart, “salt” we preserve, i am not trying to preach but Joel are you being salt?

In a specific way, I feel that I am being “salt” in this case. It is like this: when Jesus came on the scene there were several different types of Jewish religious/political groups all struggling for popular support and their own goals. The Pharisees said that everyone should keep their head down when it came to Rome. The Zealots thought that open war with Rome was God’s will. Many other Jews thought their God went over to the Romans. Finally, there was Rome itself.
When Jesus came on the scene, he did not side with anybody. He was non-political in this sense. He said “no” to all parties, including time-honored religious establishment (i.e. the religious right in our country; the many Jewish communities back then). As he, and the early Christians, saw it everyone was wrong.

Because of this, I feel perfectly justified in thinking there might be some times when the best way to be “salt” is to not vote at all. I think “the secular left” has it wrong and I think “the religious right” has it wrong. I protested against both of them, and I stand by religious conscience in doing so.

Heidi asked, concerning this blog about death

I really like that last line from the Nicene Creed. I’m curious though if you believe we should be buried, and not cremated…

I can’t speak for all Christians, but I for sure want to be buried, not burned. All of our rituals communicate things about what we believe without using words. If a body is carefully preserved and placed in the ground, it sends a message that there is something still important about this body. If it’s burned, it seems hard to say “I believe in the Resurrection of the body” because we destroy it intentionally. This is not to say that God can’t raise ashes, but I still think it sends a wrong message about bodies.

Thanks to all of you for reading!

>Most of you who know me know that I am quite open about being an Open Theist. I think in those terms and have long since let it be part of my devotional life. There’s one place that the implications of Open Theism is not always looked at: sin, regret, and forgiveness.

There need be no reason to list sins specifically. We can all think of times in which we have hurt those we care about. We have all lost patience with our close friends. We have all treated those of the opposite gender horribly. We have all failed to be fair to our parents/children/siblings. Let the reader fill in the blanks themselves. All that I need to emphasize here is how sin damages our relationships with one another.

Realizing our sin, we feel a desire to seek forgiveness from those we offend. This step is not a simple process. We first regret our actions, that is to say we wish we had done differently. The friend says to another, “I could not have, but I did, become unfairly angry towards you.” The boy says to the girl, “I wish I had not made you cry.” Intertwined with regret, is that feeling of contingency: things could have been different. They should’ve been different. God wanted them to be different, but through our actions we frustrated, in some way, God’s plans.

God’s forgiveness comes after this. The God who makes all things new gives the offended the ability to forgive the offender. The relationship is restored.
How does Open Theism relate to this? Open Theism makes sense of the regret and feeling of contingency. Because time is not a straight line of everything God knows, but rather a web of possibilities, the offender can look at the past and understand fully that things might’ve been different. There is a very strong sense of truly having prevented some good in the world. The harm that the offender caused did not have to be.

Traditional Arminianism does not make sense of these feelings. In fact, it gives the offender a subconscious excuse. If God knows precisely every action we will take, then we needn’t feel regret because God, enshrined outside of time, saw it coming as a certainty anyway. Time is settled, so what we did could have been no other way. We need not worry because God works out all things good. No harm done. No serious need to apologize.

Open Theists do not have this luxury. Open Theists feel a greater sense of responsibility because we can never use God’s foreknowledge as an excuse. We can never subconsciously deny our free will in these matters.

Many Arminianins will deny this. They likely insist that they feel the same regret that Open Theists do. I reply that this is undoubtedly the case. Now why? How can such feelings make sense if every single choice is lined up in a straight line that God already knows?

>I was thinking about writing a few blogs about Open Theism. Yet, Open Theism is often so derided that I thought I should loosely define it as I think about it. Naturally, there will be several blogs about how why I prefer Open Theism to Calvinism or Arminianism. Here it is.

God knows the future as possibilities. God has perfect knowledge of the future, but this future is not a rigid rail-road track of events. It is rather an infinite list of potential events that become actual events as time moves on. Some events are more likely than others. Other events are inevitable. God can determine, or not determine, whatever he chooses. Open Theists often talk about the future being “partially open” and “partially settled” whereas other viewpoints believe the future is “completely settled.”

The world is developing and organic. When God created the world, he created a world that would change and grow in many possible ways. God did not choose “the best of possible worlds.” He did not choose to between this world, which contains evil, and some other world that had less evil or more evil. The world was simply created and became this one.

Human Beings have free will Human beings have free will in a very strong sense. Our choices, especially our moral choices, are as genuinely contingent. This means that God knew that I might have made a cup of coffee , slept in, or surfed Facebook instead of typing this blog this morning. If God knew exactly what I was going to do, there was no real choice involved because there were no real alternatives. This has serious implications because it implies that Human Beings are free enough to frustrate God’s plans by not joining with them. God may have desired that humans choose something good, but we decided to choose many bad things instead.

God is not “Outside of Time” God does not stand outside of time and look at the future in a perpetual present as one of us might look at a film strip. Instead, God is inside of time in the sense that he experiences and interacts with our world. He sees the changes and movements of the world he created. He responds to it based on what occurs within it.

God Suffers and God Loves God’s capacities of Love and emotion is of paramount importance in Open Theism. God’s relational nature involves him being affected by the actions, for good or evil, of the free agents he created. God takes calculated risks with his creation, and is grieved by the tragedies that can result. Because of this, God is able to grieve sympathetically with us in our own disappointments. Likewise, because God can see us grow and change in life, he is able to relate to us on a very genuine level.

Thanks for reading!