The Binding of God: Genesis 22 as a Test Case for Open Theism in the O.T. (part 6)

The Binding of God: Genesis 22 as a Test Case for Open Theism in the O.T. (part 6) August 18, 2011

In what follows, you will read an “academic paper” in which I explore some elements of open theism (the link is to a brief introduction to open theism).  This is a view of God’s foreknowledge that is controversial, but still in the evangelical family of belief.  The most well known Christian leader who holds to this view is Greg Boyd.  This will be a nine part series.


Analytical Synthesis of Theological Findings

It has been demonstrated that Genesis 22 provides test case for the way in which God makes himself vulnerable to a partially open future.  God finds himself in a bind in so far as he has given humanity libertarian freedom.  But if this is true, why is this not taught in our churches?

The Influence of Hellenism

Many theologians now observe that Hellenistic philosophy may be the reason that God’s foreknowledge has been assumed to be absolute, rather than conditioned by human freedom.  This is because of a view handed down to us by the Greek philosophers of God who exists outside of time, in unchanging transcendent perfection.[1] Theological categories for God such as immutability (unchanging timelessness) and impassibility (unmoved emotionally, unable to suffer) arose in an early church climate which was “shaped in an atmosphere influenced by Greek thought.”[2] In a real sense, Christian doctrine of the early centuries of church history emerged as a fusion between Hellenistic and biblical thought.  Whereas the Bible portrays God as one who responds within history to changing situations, working with humanity as they make free choices to create the future, Greek philosophy renders God as a static detached being.[3] Clark Pinnock observes of one of the early theologians:

Like Philo before him, Augustine had wedded to the biblical portrait of God certain Greek presuppositions about divine perfection, notably God’s immutability.  This made it impossible for Augustine to think of God’s learning anything he had not eternally known or changing in response to new circumstances.  He thought of God as existing beyond the realm of change and time, and knowing all things past, present and future in a timeless present.  However, if history is infallibly known and certain from all eternity, then freedom is an illusion.[4]

With a past that filtered theology through a Hellenistic grid, it is easy to understand why our proposed reading of Genesis 22 seems a bit innovative.  But the portrait of God bequeathed to us in the Scriptures is the one that should take precedence over abstract theological categorization.  Old Testament Scholar, Elmer Martens, shares Pinnock’s concern and applies it to systematic theology.  In this way of organizing the Bible, the tendency is to “customarily describe God by his attributes.”  Although Martens does not share as strong of a critique of this methodology, he rightly points out that such abstraction, when applied to how we understand God, can lead to the assumption that he is “a collection of good and great qualities.”[5] The Bible more often speaks of God in concrete roles such as king, shepherd, or judge.[6]

[1]. Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 65-68.

[2]. Ibid., 68.

[3]. Ibid., 68-70.

[4]. Clark H. Pinnock et al., Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 150.

[5]. Martens, God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology, 40.

[6]. Ibid.

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