Do Calvinists understand Arminianism? 8

Do Calvinists understand Arminianism? 8 October 24, 2006

Myth #8: Arminians do not believe in predestination. Not so, says Roger Olson in Arminian Theology. Predestination, because it is in the Bible, is believed by Arminians. Here’s his point: predestination is God’s sovereign decree to elect believers in Jesus Christ, and it includes God’s foreknowledge of those believers’ faith.
The basic Bible verse for Arminians is Romans 8:29 (with 8:28):

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Now, what this text says is that God predestines according to foreknowledge; and 1 Peter 1:1-2 says the same. Most Calvinists know that Arminians do believe in predestination, but it hasn’t stopped the general popular comment that Calvinists do and Arminians don’t when it comes to predestination.
Essentially, Arminians believe God knows what humans will do and predestination is rooted in, or related to, that foreknowledge. Election, for the Arminian, is corporate: God chooses Christ; all in Christ are chosen. There is an individual meaning (foreknowledge of individual choices) and collective meaning (election of a people). The individual then is conditional; the collective is unconditional.
Arminians have remonstrated with Calvinists for centuries on this singular point: if God chooses some to be reprobate (double predestination/elective sense), then God’s gracious love and justice are threatened. Olson again goes through the same list to show the [in]consistency of Arminian thinking in a similar way] — while both think they are consistent.] {bracketed material added later due to the mistake of saying “consistency”; thanks Kipp]

Two issues arise: middle knowledge and open theism.
Middle knowledge asks this: If God knows all, how can individuals be free (liberatarian free will)? If they are, then God knows all possibilities resulting from all permutations of decisions throughout all of history! Molinism resolves, according to some (e.g, Wm Lane Craig), the problem. Olson relies on Witt here and contends with him that Molinism is ultimately another form of determinism. (Terry Tiessen: Do you agree?) That is, counterfactuals of freedom are illogical.
Open theism:God does not, according to open theism, know the future exhaustively or infallibly. God’s knowledge is limited because God has chosen it to be so. Not all Arminians believe this; in fact, most don’t.
Thus, Olson concludes, Arminians are in a paradox: God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and belief in libertarian free will. As Calvinists believe in unconditional foreordination of sin and human responsibility for sin, so Arminians have the paradox of libertarian free will and God’s foreknowledge.

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  • Scott M

    I didn’t have a name for it until you mentioned it some time ago, but “middle knowledge” seemed then and now to capture the picture I had developed of God’s foreknowledge. It also squares with God’s statements in other places that his plans for us are always good when clearly some of the things that happen to us are evil. I can see God again and again in the OT essentially saying, “This is not what I had wanted for you, but now that we’re here, this is how we need to proceed.” The ideas that seem to be behind unadulterated open theism (though I can’t claim to have studied it) have never appealed to me. Even granted it’s a self-imposed limitation, it still ends up with a God that seems too … small for me.
    But then once again, I’m neither Arminian nor Calvinistic in my understanding. And I don’t tend to have much difficulty holding apparently contradictory beliefs at the same time. That particular tension is not uncomfortable to me. In fact, in some things in our faith it seems almost essential. And we use the pole that we need, either for support or steering, according to the demands of the moment.

  • Thanks for this helpful summary. I reached the point a number of years ago of thinking that the only position that made sense (if we’re using that as a criteria!) is Open Theism. The paradoxes and inconsistencies involved in both Calvinism and classic Arminianism are just too great for me. To my mind, Open Theism is a beautiful, winsome, theology which does God great credit – showing him making himself vulnerable for the sake of the love of his creation. Shouldn’t good theology always make you love God more deeply and passionately?

  • Scot,
    Is it possible to elaborate some more on “middle knowledge” and “molinism”. I do not yet quite get the concept. Can you also elaborate on the difference between “open theism” and “middle knowledge”?

  • garver

    Though there’s a sense in which God permissively ordains sin on a Calvinistic view, it’s probably worth noting that this has usually been held together with the doctrine that God cannot be the author of sin, or even ordain sin in a manner symmetrical with how he ordains and causes good (and not that you, Scot, or Olson were saying otherwise). The 1570 Hungarian Reformed Confession probably puts this most strongly:
    “As it is altogether impossible that things that are in direct repugnance to one another and are mutually destructive can be the efficient and formal cause of their contraries; as light is not the cause of darkness, nor heat of cold; so it is impossible for God, who is Light, Righteousness, Truth, Wisdom, Goodness, Life, to be the cause of darkness, sin and falsehood, ignorance, blindness, malice, and death; but Satan and men are the cause of all these. For God cannot ex se and per se do things that he prohibits and on account of which he condemns.”
    If, in good Augustinian fashion, evil is a privation of the God (as darkness is the absence of light), then it is not a “thing” in its own right to be an object of God’s ordaining (or even his foreknowledge).
    Of course, the coherence of such a position is a distinct matter from stating the position accurately. But I’m not going to defend Calvinistic views in the midst of a conversation that’s primarily aimed at (a far too often lacking) accuracy of description on all sides (sometimes even on the part of proponents of the views in question!).
    Thanks for this series on Olson’s book. It’s been helpful with regard to understanding the sad divisions that exist within broadly orthodox expressions of the Christian faith.

  • Matthew

    Some people like to say “Pick your tensions.” One of my profs is a die-hard Calvinist, yet is careful to point out that both systems are internally consistent. Also, both systems do believe in predestination – it is just a matter of how/when. This summary is helping me get a better view of how true that is.
    Isn’t it a benefit of the post-modern mind that it doesn’t shun all paradoxes and tensions? My impression is that the Modern mind felt the need/authority to bring some resolution to all tensions but that the post-modern mind is more willing to admit tensions and live with them.

  • Ruud,
    Let me try:
    Middle knowledge is the view that God knows all possibilities of all genuine decisions by humans — had I chosen to remain at TEDS or had you chosen a different college or had George Bush chosen not to invade Iraq — and all the possible permutations of all those decisions. He knows all these possibilities and watches as each unfolds. Something along this line.
    Open theism is the view that God has a plan for the Eschaton but watches as history unfolds to see what humans will do. In other words, God does not know what will happen tomorrow (I imagine some would say “unless it defies God’s plan”) but participates with humans, or humans participate with God, in the unfolding of history. God cannot know the future of free will choices since then they would not be genuinely free; so, therefore, God does not know some things.
    I’m trying to make complex philosophical discussions simple. Too simplistic, to be sure.

  • Thanks for this series of posts Scot. It is refreshing to know that none of us have it all together- every system has a paradox to deal with. It needs to be this way I think- we are talking about the mysteries of God. And need our theological system be entirely logically coherent? We are basing our theology on God’s Word and actions in the world, not on Aristotelian logic.
    I took some theology with Terry Tiessen at Providence, so I hope he responds. I know that he was a deep-rooted middle knowledge calvinist, but he said open theism would be his second choice (this was 5 years ago so his mind may have changed since then). Dr. Tiessen’s largest theological question in his own system of thought was not the free will / predestination issue, but “why pray?” if you are a middle knowledge calvinist.
    I am interested to know also if open theism will crop up some more in Olson’s book. He gave the Hayward lectures at Acadia University a year ago and gave a very strong and determined defense of Open Theism. He didn’t come out and say “I’m an open theist” but it sure seemed like it to many of us who were there.

  • garver

    Umm, “privation of the God” above should be “privation of the good,” though, given my postmodern critical Augustinianism, it’s in the ordering of creation to God as its Good that good is good at all. Dratted typos…

  • DanD

    Thanks for this series. It would be worthwhile for one about how Arminians misundertand Calvinists.
    For instance, the point about double predestination threatening God’s love and justice. It seems to me that God’s love is quite amazing if God chooses to love anyone who doesn’t deserve it.
    As for his justice, I think the question would be better framed with “fairness”. His justice is both challenged and vindicated by the work of Jesus, so that He really is just and the justifier (Rom 3.26) What we have such a hard time with is, Is He fair? And what is meant by that is usually, does He treat all people the same. And that is a hard question.
    Once again, thanks for this great series. It helps me understand that good, biblical terminology is used differently by different people. And that makes it important that I listen to what others say and work hard to understand what they mean and that I don’t portray them or their position falsely.

  • Kipp Wilson

    I think I’d have to disagree with you, Scot, over your term “consistent.” As I see it, a theological system cannot be both logically consistent and have unresolved paradox. By definition a paradox is an unresolved logical inconsistency. So both Calvinism and Arminianism are logically inconsistent at some point. Eventually both have to say some element in their system is a paradox.
    As I read Scripture, I see a paradox between God’s predestination/foreknowledge and man’s free will. As a slightly pomo exegete, I simply accept that tension. The flaw I see in the Calvinist/Arminian debate is that each side feels the need to logically resolve that paradox, and each goes in different directions, extrapolating beyond what the Bible says to logical conclusions derived from what the Bible says (to logical conclusions derived from those conclusions) in an iterative thesis-antithesis-synthesis process until finally both systems end with an unresolved thesis/antithesis. Further, I would humbly suggest that it is the same thesis/antithesis that they began with. So I find that all the logical extrapolation (speculation?) really achieves nothing in the final analysis.
    God is sovereign, foreknows all things and predestines all things; man is a completely free moral agent who bears full responsibility for his own choices. Neither Calvinism nor Arminianism resolves this paradox.
    Side question: what do open theists do with Rom. 8:29? It seems to completely contradict open theism. If God does not know the future (other than those actions that he plans to do in the future and that nobody can prevent him from doing), how can he even foreknow who will be born in the future?

  • It seems that Open Theists (and many Calvinists) fail to draw a line between God’s permissive will and his causative will. Simply because God knows a thing that will happen in the future, that does not mean he causes it to happen. So, if God knows the future choices of people, they can still be free to make those choices without coercion from him, right?

  • Rick

    My understanding of Arminian foreknowledge is future knowledge of independent decisions. But when unpacking the term used in Romans it is more to do with a fore loving, is it not?
    I agree with the corporate sense of predestination as all in Christ are chosen (unconditional), but what about the second part?
    If salvation is conditioned upon fallen man choosing, then who gets the glory? Who is salvation ultimately up to? A Spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1) sinner?

  • Rick

    Mr. Turner, where do you find the Biblical basis for differentiating between permissive and causative will?

  • Thanks to Scot for providing such an irenic, informative forum where folks can learn from one another. I’ve read this blog for some time, but haven’t weighed in until today.
    Though I’m not an open theist, I must say it seems that the position has been somewhat misrepresented. At least in Greg Boyd’s work, it is clear–as he would say, because Scripture teaches it–that God does have exhaustive foreknowledge. It is not limited in that sense. God, Boyd contends, is aware of the every possibile action of every agent in his creation at every moment. And so nothing ever suprises him. Whatever happens was one possibility, a possibility which an omniscient God is able to predict quite well. But it is not exhaustive definite foreknowledge, as in the Molinist, determinist or simple foreknowledge positions. (A good book on the differences is “Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views,” edited by James Beilby and Paul Eddy, IVP. The contributors are Paul Helm, William Lane Craig, David Hunt, and Greg Boyd.) This is where the difference lies. No one denies that God’s foreknowledge is exhaustive. The question is, Is it definite?
    More than anything, I think the debate centers around the question, What is the nature of the future? According to the open theist, the future is not knowable until it becomes the present, and so, although God is able to predict the free actions of his free creatures with remarkable astuteness (because he is omniscient and has exhaustive foreknowledge), he cannot know what cannot be known until it can be known.
    Believe it or not, one good critique of open theism is that it is too conservative in its view of Scripture. Instead of reading some texts that suggest God was unaware of the free actions of free agents in creation in light of texts that suggest God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge, they try to account for both in one system. God knows some things definitely (this is an important concession), but other things possibly.

  • Kyle

    Discussions of foreknowledge and predestination become paradoxical only if we presume that God is limited in a temporal perception of events as we are. If, on the other hand, we accept that God is outside the passage of time, there need not be any paradox. Viewed from eternity, it is possible to have both freedom and perfect foreknowledge.
    God as Creator is not limited to the three (or more?) dimensions of this physical universe. Neither is He limited to a unidirectional linear experience of time, which is itself a created part of this universe. When we look at a work of art, or read a book, we can comprehend the thing as a whole because we are not in it. We can choose to focus on one image or chapter, but we see each in the greater context of the complete creation. Our limited human perspective on our own created works is itself a cracked image of God’s perspective on this universe.
    Blessings to all –

  • Robert E. Mason

    Mr. Turner, wrong; perhaps without coercion, but they are not free to make choices. If God foreknows that x is going to occur, then x cannot not occur. If x does not occur, then God’s knowledge was false. I take it that it is a more serious charge against God to say that his knowledge was false than to say he did not know. There is a logical determinism at work here. Divine foreknowledge of x guarantees that x will occur. If God foreknows that I’m going to do something, then with respect to that something, I am not free in the sense that I cannot chose to do otherwise; for, if I do chose to do otherwise, I would render God’s foreknowledge false. Such power!
    I suspect that the problem here is our failed attempt to mesh two entirely different realities with different logics into one consistent system. One reality—God’s—is timeless. There is no past, present, and future; only an eternal now. God does not foreknow; he simply knows. The other reality—ours—is time bound. What appears to us to be foreknowledge of the future is present to God in his eternal now. All time is spreads out before God so that he can observe it with one glance.
    I’m going to leave this open ended because I don’t know where to take it from here

  • Kipp Wilson

    Hmm…it seems like the last couple of commenters have assumed the “God outside of time” doctrine. I’m not saying it’s wrong, but I would say that nowhere does the Bible mention anything like that (e.g., God existing in an “eternal now”). I believe that is why C.S. Lewis said it is a Christian concept but not a biblical one (i.e., it is not taught in the Bible but doesn’t contradict the Bible either).
    The other problem I have with it is that God not only observes, he acts. And if he exists outside of time, all his actions occur simultaneously (you cannot say that one action took place before another). So if God exists in an eternal now, is he now, from his perspective, creating the universe (Gen. 1) or resting from creating the universe (Gen. 2:1-3)? Is he in his eternal now currently crucifying the Son? Are we simultaneously children of wrath and seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph. 2:3-6)? If the Son is outside of time, did he always have a physical body, even “before” the incarnation?
    I think we throw down the “eternal now” metaphor without really thinking through what exactly it means. Or, we just end up with yet another unresolved paradox, so why bother?

  • Robert E. Mason

    kipp, God enters time to act, but knows from a perspective outside of time. . I think we need a new logic to work out the anomalies just as physicists developed a new logic to accommodate the strange world of quantum mechanics.

  • Terry Tiessen

    I just got here and find a few points for comment. Rather than making one long message I’m going to take them one at a time but I apologize for the multiple posts that result. Seems better than one long one.
    Scot, you wrote: “Olson relies on Witt here and contends with him that Molinism is ultimately another form of determinism. (Terry Tiessen: Do you agree?) That is, counterfactuals of freedom are illogical.”
    Yes, I do agree with Olson (and with Open Theists) that for God to have middle knowledge, determinism must be the truth (though it need not be hard or mechanistic determinism). I affirm the “grounding objection,” namely, that there is nothing to ground the truth value of counterfactual statements (i.e. statements about hypothetical situations which never occur, or become factual). No one can predict what a libertarianly free agent _would_ do in a situation which never occurs.
    So Molinism is incoherent. That means that if God knows counterfactuals (and I think that Craig has demonstrated admirably that God does) then creatures can not be libertarianly free. That is my view. Alternatively, if creatures are libertarianly free then God does not know what they would do in situations which never occur. That is the Open Theist view.
    Briefly put, this is what drives my “middle knowledge Calvinism.” I contend that Calvinist theology regularly assumes divine middle knowledge, i.e., they believe that God decided what would be the actual future through a wise consideration of what future worlds were possible. The traditional Calvinist rejection of middle knowledge has many roots but I sense that a large one was guilt by association. (Cf. Barth here!) They knew that Molina had come up with the idea of middle knowledge in order to account for libertarian freedom and still give God very significant control. E.g., God chooses the world in which Saul of Tarsus becomes a believer in Jesus, but in this particular world Saul libertarianly freely chooses to believe. What we need to do is rescue middle knowledge, a very fine idea, from its Molinist framework. 🙂

  • Kipp Wilson

    Robert (#18),
    So from God’s perspective, since there is no such thing as “time”, all of his actions occur simultaneously? Not from our perspective, of course, but from his?
    I question the need to invent a new logic to explain an idea that one couldn’t prove biblically anyway. At what point do we say Deut. 29:29 applies?

  • Terry Tiessen

    Danny recalls my saying that if I were not a middle knowledge Calvinist, Open Theism would be the second choice. He is not misrepresenting me but I do feel the need to explain.
    My point has to do with the coherence of alternative models to the one I now hold. I work my way to the left considering other options in an order of decreasing divine control.
    Thomism seems attractive as a form of monergism – meticulous divine sovereignty and libertarian human freedom. But it only works if God is absolutely timeless and if his action is concurrent with the action of libertarianly free creatures so that God gets exactly what he wants through their decisions. Seems like a perfect world but I don’t buy the necessary assumptions.
    Molinism is the strongest of the synergist models but I just explained to Scot why I agree with Olson that it is incoherent.
    Leaving out a number of other options that I mention in _Providence and Prayer_, the classical Arminian one (what I call “redemptive interventionism”) might seem like the next best place to stop as an alternative to my own model. Here, at least God knows the actual future comprehensively. What troubles even classical Arminians about Open Theism is the proposal that God does not know all the future acts of libertarianly free creatures. I think that Craig is right about the knowability of the actual future even if creatures are libertarianly free. The future God knows is the future they freely choose.
    So, why would I suggest that one might as well go further “left” to Open Theism? Because I think that classic Arminians have way overestimated the usefulness of simple foreknowledge. William Hasker put it well: the problem is that by the time God knows the future it is too late for him to do anything about it. Simple foreknowledge gives God no opportunity to decide what he will do when he foreknows that you are going to do something. One creative philosopher suggested that it may be like a movie (though a play might be better). God watches it up to a certain point, e.g. Adam sins. Then he stops the movie and decides what action of his own he will do and he puts that into the reality. Then he rolls the movie a bit further so that he can see how Adam and Eve respond to the situation which includes God’s action. He stops the film again when a creaturely action needs his intervention. It is a creative proposal but strikes me as a bit of a stretch.
    So the point Danny heard me making is that Open Theism is coherent and it really does give God lots of room to respond to react and to interact. I don’t think that the denial of God’s foreknowledge is necessary but I do agree with OTism that it is much useless to God’s providential direction and planning.

  • Terry Tiessen

    Allow me just one more response, to the comment about Greg Boyd’s appeal to “might counterfactuals.” It is fascinating.
    Boyd agrees with fellow Open Theists that the grounding objection makes Molinism incoherent. God can not know what libertarianly free creatures would do in situations that do not occur. But, Boyd suggests, God can know what they “might do” and he can assess with considerable certainty the likelihood that they will act in a particular way.
    This makes very good sense so far, I think. Most indeterminists acknowledge that libertarianly free creatures are strongly bounded or influenced by all sorts of factors both internally and externally. This is why a good friend can predict quite accurately what you will do in a hypothetical situation. But, if you are libertarianly free, you have the ability to act “out of character” to do something surprising even to someone who knows you perfectly. If offered Coke or Pepsi, the odds may be very small that you would choose Coke, for instance, given a long stated and exercise preference for Pepsi. But, if you are libertarianly free in regard to that decision (and some indeterminists suggest that the range of areas in which we are libertarianly free is actually quite small), then there is always the chance, however small, that you will do the unexpected.
    I can see what Greg wants, namely, to give God more ability to control history then Open Theism seems to do in most treatments. And I think that he makes a good point. God does know the odds. But, does this really give God significantly better control? I very much doubt it. Let’s suppose that God could predict what the decision of a free creature would be with 99% accuracy. Initially, that seems to give God a pretty good handle on the future so that he can plan his own actions accordingly. But think of the enormous number of decisions that get made in a day by the huge number of people now alive. I’m no mathematician but I can see that extremely small surprises occurring with some frequency in so complex a situation would very quickly make the future as uncertain to God as opponents of Open Theism fear.
    In short, knowing “might counterfactuals” (as opposed to “would counterfactuals”) is possible and God does know them. But I doubt that this gives him significant control of history. He is still forced to go with plan b or c and much further on down the alphabet, regularly. We have a marvellously “responsive” God but he is very minimally in control.

  • Brian

    It seems God either could not provide or chose not to provide what he knew would have led to the repentance of Tyre and Sidon. Both options have their difficulties. For this reason I see middle knowledge as part of the mystery of providence, and not really as a solution for any theological system.
    There are also strands of thought within the Bible that seem quite beyond characterization in terms of middle knowledge. Proverbs 21:1 is a case in point.

  • RJS

    Actually, your sketch in #22 relating both the sense and weaknesses of Boyd’s appeal to might counterfactuals includes in essence a description of the reality of the Physics of the world – including chaos and quantum theory, time reversal and the arrow of time. In a very real sense deterministic probabilities rule the world.
    There are strands of thought in the Bible that contradict or question all of the opinions or positions I have ever heard expressed on foreknowledge, predestination, providence, and freedom. The question is, as seems so often the case, what to emphasize or de-emphasize. It is quite a disconcerting situation actually. Again, I think that the ruling paradigm has to be the sense of the story told rather than specific scriptural statements. The sense I get reading scripture is a dominant view of open theism with some paradoxes rather than a dominant view of perfect foreknowledge with some paradoxes. Although I also think it is a moot point, as it seems clear Biblically that we are called upon to act as though libertarian free will is the rule of the day.

  • Dana Ames

    Ok, I am a rank amateur and do not know what all the terms mean. That said, I think Shults opens a way.
    He mentions the four views book in “Reforming the Doctrine of God” ch 8, and is not satisfied. He says the ways of framing the questions about this are “overly dependent on the categories of God as immaterial substance, single subject, and first cause”. His point is that we have to look at trinitarian relations to get past the impasse. He talks about the notion of what God wants vs what he allows going back to Augustine, and later theologians questioning the “content of divine intellect in relation to creation” and comparing God’s knowledge to human knowledge in quantatative terms. Trying to measure God’s knowing and human knowing on the same scale is a mistake. “God’s knowing of all is a trinitarian ‘knowing’, an intimate faithful grasping of creatures, a holding all things close while granting all things space and time to become what they are called to be…Rather than construing divine foreknowledge and human free will as two ‘things’ that are either compatible or not compatible, we may imagine divine knowing as the infinite creative presence of of the trinitarian God that makes the experience of freedom possible.” To me, that is breathtaking and opens possibilities that the C/A argument doesn’t even touch.
    Then he elaborates on how it might be thought that each person of the trinity contributes to and reinforces perichoretic relationship: Naming/Presence, wisdom, enlivening. He talks about the semantic range of “truth” as dependable, reliable, faithful, trustworthy and involving relationship experienced and acknowledged. He connects this to the faithfulness of the Father calling people through the Spirit to salvation in Jesus, “not divine knowledge of future contingent propositions”, but “emphasizing that his revelation was oriented toward evoking trust in God…”
    Finally, we all sense we are made for purposefulness, and trinitarian knowledge as omniscient faithfulness allows for the inbreaking of some of the fullness God’s eternal life from the future into the present. We are freed from anxiety, our self-disclosure is made possible, our “identity is upheld within the infinetely faithful relations of the trinitarian God.”
    In him we live and move and have our being, both now and ever and unto ages of ages.
    I’ve heard Shults speak a bit about how studies in physics and time play into these concepts. I love it when someone can connect the dots and show me the big picture – that’s why I like Shults so much. It’s not that the C/A discussion isn’t important; it’s just that we’re living in a pantry when the whole mansion is open for our exploration.
    (It’s not 50 words, Scot, but it’s as precise as I can make it as I’m still digesting LeRon’s ideas. Hope I didn’t tread on your upcoming thoughts on RDoG.)

  • Scot – thanks for the series, it’s been good thinking. Thanks also for the way you introduced Open Theism into the conversation, since many (even traditional Arminians) are content to demonize the proponents of the position without thoughtfully considering their questions. Being quite close to a number of the biggest advocates, it hurts to see their humble and passionate hearts torn apart by other ‘evangelicals.’ (thanks also to the entire chat for this)
    Mr. Tiessen, you critique Boyd’s position but perhaps did not represent its major context: the idea of ‘infinite intelligence’ – largely from a paper he presented in 2001. That is to say, simply stating the Openness position would easily make it sound like a diminishing view of god. Yet when we let go of our own limitations and see god as one who works such things through with this ‘infinite intelligence’ we see the situation more clearly as to how the Openness proponents wish to state it. Thus, it is not a matter of so many variables within such a complex cosmos that makes it possible that god should ever be caught off guard (though perhaps surprised or uncertain). Rather, it is an infinite intelligence that he alone possesses which makes him the only one who can do what he does. . .be god.
    Overall, your comments do not necessarily exclude this and I am not attempting to challenge your particular position. Rather, I wanted to see this particular perspective entered into the conversation for the sake of clarity and what we might call ‘Exhaustive Divine Disclosure’. . . . . . . .
    At the end of the day, Openness is intended to seek a clearer picture of god via a challenge to Arminianism from within that particular theological framework. It is meant to seek clarification and consistency among the many portraits of god that do not seem to make sense when placed alongside each other. Ben Witherington refers to such concerns heedlessly in his book, “The Problem with Evangelical Theology” and thus loses a considerable amount of credibility with his overall treatment of the Arminian position. Regardless of what you think of their presented answers, I believe that the Open Theism questions demand consideration.

  • Dana,
    You sure did — but who cares! I post on him tomorrow, I think.

  • RJS

    Maybe I will have to read Shults’ book – although with the comments on impenetrable prose I have been reluctant to attack it.
    Studies in physics and time do play into these concepts in my way of thinking. When we conceive of the physical reality of the universe in terms of our everyday intuition we get it all wrong – a demonstrable and unnerving fact. Certainly my students find it mind-stretching to say the least. How much more do we get it wrong when we conceive of God in terms of our human intuition and paradoxes?
    (96 words – how in the world can you expect anyone to express a thought in 50 words or less?)

  • Rick (#13),
    While I don’t have space to unpack the entire argument in favor of distinguishing between God’s permissive will and his causitive (or decretive) will, I can point you to a couple of places in the Bible that help build the case:
    Job 14:1, 5 tells us that there are elements of God’s will that are set (for example, how many days we each have). Isaiah 45:5-7 tells us that God is the one who forms creates light and darkness, causes well-being and creates calamity. God’s causative will is absolute and immutable. I think this is the best way to read Romans 8:28-29; Paul is talking about the decreed will of God here. Even the death of Jesus was part of the “predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:22-23).
    I think the story of Job, however, shows us that there is another side of the coin: God’s permissive will. God allowed Job to suffer; God did not cause Job’s suffering. I think 2 Peter 3:9 is another illustration of God’s permissive will. He wishes that all would come to Him — that none would perish. But all will not repent. God does not cause sin, but he allows it.
    I think the case can be made biblically, theologically and philosophically that God’s will is not automatically causative.
    Mr. Mason (#16),
    Perhaps I’m missing the cordiality in your comment (this often happens in internet dialogue). But your opening volley sounds terribly rude to me.

  • Robert E. Mason

    Mr. Turner, Please accept my apology for transgressing a standard of cordiality. You asked a question; I answered.
    I strive for a lean writing style. That’s all.

  • Mr. Mason,
    Apology accepted. I appreciate your desire for concision (something I should probably strive towards myself). I also appreciate the promptness of your response.

  • Dana Ames

    RJS, It’s not that LeRon’s prose is impenetrable- it’s that the way he uses fairly ordinary vocabulary to break through to different categories than I’m used to has vaulted my thought process onto another level, and it’s a little disorienting. I have to chew on it a lot. I don’t think you would have to chew as much as I do 🙂 I think you would like him very much. He’s working on one called “Christology and Contemporary Science.”
    I would be a most happy eavesdropper on any conversation you might someday have with LeRon.
    Blessings on your life & work-

  • Brian

    Has anyone encountered Gödel’s incompleteness theorems with respect to this discussion? They are important because they speak to the limitations of what is knowable, which in turn raises questions about what it means to say that God is omniscient.

  • I’ve really appreciated this discussion on open theism and the fact that it’s been so cordial without any charges of heresy. I’ve found that often those who are the biggest critics of open theism haven’t actually read any of its proponents, but instead just book reviews or books critiquing open theism.
    I thought I’d chime in a few thoughts about open theism, as has been articulated by Boyd, that I believe are important to understanding open theism better.
    1. The future is not fully open only partially, in that God will bring about what he purposes and that’s not open but is determined to happen (this is in response to those who question how could God guarantees the 2nd coming, or Jesus’ crucifixion).
    2. Boyd’s open theism is closely tied to his warfare theodicy, which states that God is at war with Satan and his Kingdom. Satan and his angels have free will (just like us) according to the power and responsibility God has granted them (to do good, but they chose to do the opposite) that God won’t automatically over-ride whenever they don’t use it correctly (or else it wouldn’t truly be free Boyd says). So, much of the evil and disaster that happens on this earth (including natural disasters) is directly tied to what happens in the spiritual realm. I’d love to go into this more but I don’t want this to get too long
    3. As God predicts what we will do, open theism does believe that God is sometimes genuinely surprised by what his creation does. It takes seriously some of the OT prophecies where God exclaims surprise at what Israel decided to do instead of what he thought they would do in response to his actions (like his long suffering).
    4. Open theists take scripture very seriously and it’s not as simple their critics who say that they fail to understand literary devices in the Bible or they interpret anthropomorphisms too literally.
    I suggest anyone who has questions about Open Theism read one of Boyd’s books (God at War, Satan and the Problem of Evil, God of the Possible, Is God to Blame) and approach it with an open mind, ready to listen to what he has to say instead of just looking for something to disagree with.
    Thanks Scot for this discussion

  • RJS

    I saw this on Shults’ blog after being directed to it by last Saturday’s weekly meanderings. Usually when science terminology is used in theology or philosophy or … it is used wrong (i.e. the meanings are changed substantially so that the connection with the physical concept is lost). I don’t think that is the case here – I will have to take a look because it sounds interesting. And the title “Christology and Contemporary Science” is intrinsically appealing.

  • Beginning with certain calvinisitic determinist assumptions, I attended Asbury Theological Seminary. I lived in community with thoughtful Arminian theologians. So, I spent considerable time wrestling with paradoxes like the one Scot has alluded to in this post. A friend pointed me to an insightful writer – one of the most helpful “dialogue partners” for me – Wolfhart Pannenberg. I think his discussion of God’s “eternality” is valuable in this discussion. A concept: that God is “temporally omni-present.” That because the eschaton in in the present to God, then God “knows” what you will eat for breakfast tomorrow. But he does not “fore” know this – only, as it were, retrospectively, in the same way that I “know” the temperature yesterday. God’s knowledge is not “causative” – it is not limited, and human beings act “freely,” in a sense.
    Pannenberg does not go along with Augustinian timelessness, although he does lay out an interesting explication of God’s experience of “time” – God’s “dimension,” if you will. And here, as a side note, but germain to some other comments, I think a trinitarian concept of God is vital to making sense of the paradox of God being “outside of time,” yet clearly acting in history. The Spirit has been, from the beginning, present in the created order. The Son entered history at a specific time and place. And perhaps we could say the Father exists in a different dimension, or experience of time.
    Thank you for the fine dialogue.

  • Ryan

    Thanks Bryan (#34),
    That is a nice concise summary of open theism that does its position justice without getting too dogmatic. I think right in the spirit of a community in discussion.
    I am continuing to learn from these discusions and appreciate the different views and the very diverse inputs.