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The Love of God

The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge writes against the philosophers conception of God’s attribute of Love, concluding that the love of God is not thoroughly dissimilar to a human’s experience of loving another – that is, with feeling and emotion.

His thoughts on this express my own thoughts – only better. That is our understanding of the love of God must be commensurate with the picture given to us by Jesus Christ Himself; of a middle-eastern man who continually waits on his porch for his wayward son to return; who when he sees his son afar off runs to him (in context very undignified), throws his arms around him and kisses him; and who barely pauses for his son’s apology before calling for a big celebration (see Luke 15:11-31).

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Openness Theology (Part Two)

A thorough refutation of OT will have to engage at least three different areas. These will be, (1) Hermeneutics and the scriptural data, (2) Theological consequences,[1] and (3) Philosophical objections. In this short essay I advance my own brief analysis as to why GOT is philosophically flawed.

Open Theism is in many respects a reaction to hard-line Calvinism and the theological determinism that it implies. OT takes libertarian freedom as axiomatic. Accordingly, because of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and atemporality, EC incompatibility is thought to follow. Pinnock states:

“I found that I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have been already spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken.”[2]

It is clear that by “truly significant” Pinnock means undetermined.[3] But why should exhaustive foreknowledge preclude libertarian freedom as Pinnock intuits? There is a distinct lack in the literature explicating this presupposition. Indeed, no argument for theological determinism can be advanced that is not logically fallacious. Consider the following syllogism:

1)     Necessarily, if God knows x (where x is a future event), x will happen.

2)     God knows everything (this includes x).

Therefore, (modus ponems, 1&2)

3) Necessarily, x will happen.

In other words, if God knows a person’s future choice, that person must make that choice. We can immediately see that this argument must be false – even if we don’t know how. For just by merit of knowing something will occur, doesn’t mean that it must occur. I know that I am going to have Subway™ for lunch. That doesn’t mean I have to have Subway™ for lunch. I could have Noodles. Or skip lunch entirely.

Let us turn to an examination of the premises. Premise (1) is necessary because it is no more than a truism. It is not because it is God doing the knowing, but because x is simply “known,” for to know x requires x to be true: you cannot know x if x is false. We could replace “God” as the knower with anyone we wanted, such as “the gods,”[4] or “the whether man,” or “Big Bird.” It could be anyone doing the knowing and (1) would still be a necessary truth.

Premise (2) is true by merit of God’s omniscience, and classical theism is committed to this proposition. It is on this ground that the OT believes (3) to flow logically from the premises, that leads her to deny (2). Since according to the classical theist both the premises are true, if he is to deny the conclusion the only option left for him is to show that (3) does not flow logically from the premises.

And indeed, what follows from the premises is not (3) but,

3`) x will happen.

Which is to say, x won’t fail to occur, but it could fail to occur. If x fails to happen, we can be assured that God did not know x. This is not to deny (O). It is to say that x was false. That is why Hodge can say:

“…as free acts are in their nature uncertain, as they may not be, they cannot be known before they occur. […] This whole difficulty arises out the assumption that contingency is essential to free agency. [But] If an act may be certain as to its occurrence, and yet free as to the mode of its occurrence, the difficulty vanishes.”[5] [brackets and italics mine]

Thus, an essential presupposition of OT is founded upon a modally fallacious inference. Deprived of a successful proof of EC incompatibility, and with no disproof of concurrence formulations of Divine sovereignty and libertarian freedom,[6] it follows – from a purely philosophical point of view – that GOT is not to be preferred.

Further, GOT appear to be prima facie dubious. Given the strong case for all future contingent propositions being either true or false, Bivalent and Non-Bivalent variants of OT appear unfounded.[7] Moreover, Steven C. Roy, in his comprehensive biblical study of divine foreknowledge identifies 2,323 predictive prophecies concerning CCFs creating a powerful quantitative argument against any limitation of divine foreknowledge.[8] The OT may still object by qualifying God’s foreknowledge is existentially quantitative. However, in the light of the number, variety and precision of the 300 representative predictive prophesies from scripture involving future free decisions detailed by Roy, the burden of proof is firmly placed on the OTs shoulders to show that God’s knowledge of CCFs is not universally quantified.

Craig explains:

“The problem with Boyd’s procedure . . . is that the defender of divine foreknowledge need only show that God knows just one future contingent proposition or CCF, for in that case (1) there is no logical incompatibility between divine foreknowledge and future continents, (2) the Principle of Bivalence does not fail for such propositions, and (3) it becomes ad hoc to claim that other such propositions are not also true and known to God.”[9]

The contemporary debate surrounding the perfection of God’s knowledge, specifically his prescience of contingent events, or the counterfactuals of creaturely freedom (CCFs) continues today. There are many aspect of the debate I have not covered, including the theological consequences; such as what OT offers and undermines in theodicy, and hermeneutical considerations; such as anthropopathy in narrative genres and the role of systematic theology in interpretation. I have not been concerned in this essay with the religious backlash OT has engendered. I have been concerned with the truth of OT, by exploring the arguments for and against. Though most proponents of OT prefer to argue on biblical grounds rather than philosophical grounds,[10] there is enough reason here to think that OT is, at the level of its core commitments, false. God, it seems, still does not play dice.


Footnotes

[1] And what does and does not constitute unacceptable theological consequences.

[2] […] I feared if we view God as timeless and omniscient, we will land back in the camp of theological determinism where these notions naturally belong. See Clark H. Pinnock, “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989), 9.

[3] Undetermined choices are important for Pinnock, for the following three reasons. “It astonishes me that people can defend the “glory of God” [exhaustive foreknowledge] so vehemently when that glory includes God’s sovereign authorship of every rape and murder, his closing down the future to any meaningful creaturely contribution, and his holding people accountable for deeds he predestined them to do and they could not but do.” See Clark Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, (Grand Rapids, Mi.; Baker Academic, 2001), 16.

[4] Indeed, this argument is nothing more than the argument for old-line Greek fatalism.

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology. Vol. 1., (Oak Harbor, WA: James Clark & Co., 1997), 401,

[6] Possible options here include Luis De Molina’s formulation of the doctrine of Middle Knowledge. Or James Arminius’ confessed ignorance.

[7] Strong reasons must be given before preferring Peircean semantics over the popular and common sense Ockhamist semantics that allows propositions like “I am going to have Subway for lunch,” to be either true or false. For further information see, See “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 233.

[8] Steven C. Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006).  See also “How Much Does God Foreknow? Online Supplement” at http://www.ivpress.com/title/exc/2759-lists.pdf

[9] William Lane Craig, “A middle-knowledge Response,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2001), 57.

[10] See Appendix A for a brief defence against the Openness criticism of the influence of Greek thought on the conception of God.

Bibliography

Battle, John A. “Some Biblical Arguments used by Openness Theology” WRS Journal 12/1 (February 2005): 15-20.

Beilby, James K. and Paul R. Eddy, eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Craig, William Lane, Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom: The Coherence of theism: Omniscience, vol. 19. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, New York: MacMillan, 1960.

Erickson, Millard J., What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Hasker, William. God, TIme and Knowledge, Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.

Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, vol. 1. London: James Clark & Co, 1960.

Geisler, Norman L. and H. Wayne House, The Battle For God: Responding to the Challenge of Neotheism, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2001.

Pinnock, Clark. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001.

____________. “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology,” The Grace of God and the Will of Man, Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1989.

Rhoda, Alan R. “Generic Open Theism and Some Variants Thereof,” Religious Studies 44 (2008): 263

Roy, Steven C. How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study, Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.

Sanders, John. “Open Theism Explained.” No pages. Cited 3 October 2010. Online: http://www.opentheism.info/

Thomas, Robert L. “The Hermeneutics of ‘Open Theism’” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12/2 (Fall 2001): 179-202.

Wright , R. K. McGregor. No Place for Sovereignty: Whats Wrong with Freewill Theism, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Is Biblical inerrancy a late innovation of the Church?

One of the most persistent arguments against the inerrancy of the Bible is that it is late innovation in the history of the church. Inerrancy is said to be the product of the rationalist, Enlightenment mindset that prevailed in the nineteenth century and today, with the collapse of modernism, the rejection of foundationalism and other Cartesian assumptions, it is argued that inerrancy should be jettisoned with the now defunct philosophy that generated it.

While there are many ways to define inerrancy, the theological doctrine is usually understood as the view that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms (the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy remains a useful evangelical benchmark). Certainly, the Bible isn’t a catalogue of facts, and its truth canvasses literary genres that are rich and complex and must be appropriately grasped – but if God Himself does stand behind the production of the Bible, then it must be entirely truthful. Many Christians, however, are uncomfortable with the perceived contradictions between the Bible and discoveries in history and science or even internal difficulties within the Bible itself. Some have therefore sought to articulate more modest positions for what we can say Scripture is. Critical of inerrancy and what they see as a strict modernist understanding of the Bible, some promote a return to a more primitive, pre-modern understanding, where the Bible can be viewed as primarily concerned with questions of salvation and faith. Without a high view of the Bible, greater latitude can be allowed in its claims (and errors) concerning other fields of knowledge.

But does this suggestion hold up to scrutiny? Was the notion of an inerrant, infallible Bible a recent theological innovation, and merely the product of particular Enlightenment assumptions?

Without getting into a full discussion of inerrancy, several quick comments can be offered:

1. While it is true that the earliest proponents of inerrancy in the modern period, B. B. Warfield, A. A. Hodge and others, were shaped by the Enlightenment, this influence has been exaggerated. Critics have often argued that both Warfield and Hodge, writing in the late 1800s at Princeton University, were too heavily dependent on a modernist philosophy, known as Scottish Common Sense Realism. Scottish Realism was an outlook that affirmed the human ability to know, and set out conditions for what could count as knowledge. The outlook opposed the skepticism of David Hume and sought to revive the European Enlightenment commitments to science, rationality and the Christian tradition. What is ignored, however, is the fact that the contemporary opponents of Warfield and Hodge and of the doctrine of inerrancy they defended, were no less dependent on this same philosophical position. It is a simply a mistake to conclude that a high view of Scripture is anchored to one philosophical outlook when those who denied that high view were equally reliant on the same outlook.

2. The fact that the Dutch and Germans adopted a similarly high view of Scripture cannot be avoided, and especially when these theologians were not dependent on the same philosophical outlook, and at times, even fought against it. Among the European Reformed heritage, heavyweights like Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck both put forward a view of Scripture that accorded with Warfield and the other Princetonians. For example, Kuyper, while recognizing the diverse literary categories of the Bible, argued that if Scripture contained error, than “God is guilty of error”. (For a deeper discussion on these two, check out: ‘God’s Word in Servant-Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck on the Doctrine of Scripture’ by Richard B. Gaffin Jr.)

3. While there may not have been any attempt to articulate a comprehensive theory of inerrancy before Warfield et al, it is wrong to suggest that inerrancy was not the default view of the church. The best endeavours to assign inerrancy to a late stage of historical development have been ably criticized and do not bear up to rigorous historical research. Church historian Mark Noll has observed: “Most Christians in most churches since the founding of Christianity have believed in the inerrancy of the Bible . . . . [This] has always been the common belief of most Catholics, most Protestants, most Orthodox, and even most of the sects on the fringe of Christianity”.

John Woodbridge has marshaled many examples from church history to show that the suggestion that there was no idea of an infallibly inerrant Scripture before Warfield is mistaken. For example, Justin Martyr, an early Christian apologist in the second century, wrote:

“…but if (you have done so) because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that it might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext (for saying) that it is contrary (to some other), since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself”.

Or Augustine of Hippo, a Latin church theologian and philosopher, writing in the fourth century said, ” I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error”. Or again: “therefore everything written in Scripture must be believed absolutely”.

Others have shown that inerrancy has been a central church doctrine from the patristic times. Donald Bloesch notes that inerrabilis (roughly “inerrant”) was used by Aquinas and Duns Scotus to describe Scripture, while both Martin Luther and John Calvin characterized the Bible as being infallible and without error. Calvin, for example, described Scripture as an “unerring rule” for Christian life and faith (“So long as your mind entertains any misgivings as to the certainty of the word, its authority will be weak and dubious, or rather it will have no authority at all. Nor is it sufficient to believe that God is true, and cannot lie or deceive, unless you feel firmly persuaded that every word which proceeds form him is sacred, inviolable truth.” The Institutes of Christian Religion)

The notion that a high view of Scripture is tied to a particular philosophical outlook late in the history of church is simply misleading. Christians have sought to articulate the truthfulness of the Bible, on the same exegetical grounds, irrespective of their position in the history of the church. Don Carson, research professor of the New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, writes:

“If one insists that a high view of Scripture cannot or should not be maintained today, one should at least acknowledge that one is walking away from the ancient and central tradition of the church, and from the teaching of Scripture itself.”