Friday, March 31, 2006

In response to “A Generous (or not so generous) Theology”

“A Generous (or not so generous) Theology”

The following will assume a reading of the post linked above.

Let me preface this post with the following clarifications. Allie, who wrote the referenced post, is my friend, and a trusted friend of my family. As such, I want to make it clear that I am not attempting a retaliatory personal attack on her. Nor am I attempting to start a “blog war” or stoke the fires of meaningless debate. Much of Allie’s post is a well-articulated critique of writing styles, observations, and personal reactions to R.C. Sproul, Wayne Grudem, and John Piper. My intent is not to refute her personal opinions of these men, nor is it to elevate or glorify those individuals. However, there are some issues presented I feel I should, in good conscience, clarify if I am able. In short, I simply want to respectfully present a contrasting view or clarification of a couple of issues presented in her post, specifically the TNIV controversy and Open Theism.

The TNIV Debate with Wayne Grudem: The post gives a generally accurate - but incomplete, in my estimation - presentation of the TNIV translation of the Bible. The presented summary of what the TNIV did is review the original Scripture texts in order to more accurately “translate the gender of some pronouns and nouns that have, for the past few hundred years, been translated according to English usage/trends. What I mean is, in Scripture, we often see the word “people” translated as “man” (“Man shall not live by bread alone, etc.”). This is passed down from English usage, but is not present in the Greek. The Greek word there is “people”, or “human beings.” Not “man” or “men”.”

Had providing more accurate translations in examples like the one above been the extent of the TNIV’s work, I’m sure very few of us, Dr. Grudem included, would have been concerned. Who wouldn’t want a more accurate translation of the Bible? In fact, in a formal debate over the TNIV with Dr. Mark Strauss, Dr. Grudem even expressly states “…When we have a sentence that talks about ‘people,’ we shouldn't just use the word ‘men’ because it would be misunderstood today. So, for instance, in Rom. 3:28, ‘we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law’. That's the NIV. I think it's appropriate and good that the TNIV changed to ‘we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from observing the law’ … I have no objection to this kind of change at all."

The issue with the TNIV that Dr. Grudem debates is the liberal eradication of gender-specific language in instances when the original texts are actually using gender-specific language. There are hundreds of instances where the TNIV abandons original-text Greek and Hebrew words for ‘father,’ ‘son,’ ‘brother,’ ‘man,’ and ‘he/him/his’ for the sake of more androgynous language while the original text is in fact gender-specific. Dr. Grudem, in the aforementioned debate with Dr. Strauss, gives compelling evidences for both subtle and glaring mistreatments of these gender-specific words in the TNIV - and again, not simply for three or four debatable texts, but for hundreds of verses. As far as Dr. Grudem’s motivation in engaging the TNIV debate in the first place, he says:

I struggled long and hard before I would speak out publicly against it. But I thought it was necessary, because the purity of the word of God was at stake, the purity of the word of God in English. I don't want there to be controversy and struggle in the church. But when there's a Bible translation that's going to lead God's people astray, a Bible translation that people cannot trust, a Bible translation that distorts the meaning of the word of God hundreds of times, simply to get rid of male-oriented language, then I say I can do nothing else, I have to stand against it, and I have to speak out.

I have only briefly presented Dr. Grudem’s side of the argument here. You can read both sides of the TNIV debate, including specific texts and examples presented by both Dr. Grudem and Dr. Strauss. Click here to read the transcript of their debate. If you’re interested in the issue, it’s a worthwhile read.

John Piper vs. Open Theism: I cannot objectively speak to the how of Dr. Piper’s addressing Open Theism, but I think I can speak on the why he addresses this issue so forcibly. Open Theism (also called Free Will Theism or the Openness of God View) is a theological position dealing with the free will of man (er… people), that free will in relationship to God, and the nature of the future. At its core, Open Theism teaches that God has given humanity free will and in order for humans to be truly free, the future choices of individuals are wholly unknown by God, who “self-limits” or denies His own sovereignty, omniscience and omnipresence. Books like The Openness of God, by Clark Pinnock and The God of the Possible, by Greg Boyd and a few others of like ilk (written mostly since the 1980’s, I think) have trumpeted Open Theism, or an “open” view of God. Interestingly, Greg Boyd claims that the differences between the openness and orthodox views of God are "relatively unimportant," "peripheral" and "minor". (The God of the Possible, pp. 8, 20, 29) Yet, I find that Open Theism asserts a radically different understanding of God than Scripture presents. It is an unnecessary – and harmful, in my estimation – attempt to promote the will and responsibility of man at the expense of the divine sovereignty of God.

As with most camps of thought (theological or otherwise) there are smaller, inner divisions or denominations. In Open Theism, some proponents hold the future is knowable while others say it is not knowable. For the Open Theists who hold that the future is knowable by God, they maintain that God voluntarily limits His knowledge of free-will choices so that human beings can remain “truly free.” Others assert that the future is non-existent and therefore unknowable, even by God. Either way, God is presented as reactionary and limited, trapped either by self-imposed boundaries or by the linear passage of time itself. Despite this, most Open Theists would deny that they present God as weak or powerless. They instead promote that God is simply capable of predicting future events and is capable of bringing certain major events to pass when needed. (i.e., God could inspire the Old Testament writers to prophecy certain events and then He could simply ensure that those events occur at the right time.) Open Theists also claim that they do not deny God’s omniscience. “They, like classical theologians, state that God is indeed all-knowing. But they differ in that God can only know that which is knowable and since the future has not yet happened, it can not be exhaustively known by God. Instead, God only knows the present exhaustively, including the inclinations, desires, thoughts, and hopes of all people.” (Matthew Slick, What is Open Theism?

In Open Theism, God is simply reactionary to what is happening in the human “now”; either by volition or happenstance, He is trapped in time along with His own creation; He takes risks that may or may not turn out as He hopes, like a cosmic Gambler of sorts; He "regrets how decisions he's made turn out," "questions how aspects of the future will go," and "experiences frustration because free agents choose unlikely courses of action" (Ibid, 87). An Open Theist would counsel a person who has experienced great tragedy or suffering that God was as surprised as everyone else at what happened. Open Theism even concedes this point: "It is true that according to the open view things can happen in our lives that God didn't plan or even foreknow with certainty (though he always foreknew they were possible). This means that in the open view things can happen to us that have no overarching divine purpose" (Ibid, 153). Strangely, according to Open Theism’s view, this makes God kinder and gentler and therefore more trustworthy. If God knew “bad things” were going to happen in the future, He would be a bad God (i.e., evil) not to prevent them from happening. Therefore, God must not know the future in order to remain good - or so it goes with Open Theism.

This view of God is supposed to inspire comfort and hope on the part of believers; but in fact, it destroys the very foundation that the Bible establishes for trusting God, undermining confidence in Him, Scripture, prayer, and faith in Christ. It is a diminished view of God that in my estimation attempts to put the will of man and God’s love of man as the central crux in all God does. These are hardly peripheral issues. I find it no stretch to imagine Open Theism falling diametrically opposite of hyper-Calvinism; God becomes the puppet attached to strings of human whim.

"The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. … Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, 'What comes into your mind when you think about God?' we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man." – A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

As always, your thoughts, clarifications, comments, and corrections are welcomed.


Jon Owings said...

You don't know me. I appreciate your response to your friends blog yesterday. I nearly wrote it myself, but it would not have had the thought and research put behind it. I came across both sites as result of Google Blog searching for John Piper in my google desktop. Which I found as a turbo way to find such great converstations on the web.
I encourage anyone who might disagree with the original blog to be sure to have a Christlike attitude above all when responding to someone who doesn't agree with you. I feel your response was true and honoring to our Lords name. Thank you.

Oldhops said...

Diesel, I think that people for a long time have struggled with God being a good God or bad based on events in their lives. When my dad was a pastor I was about 9 and I had 4 siblings. The youngest my sister was hit and killed by a truck in front of our house while my dad was at someones home ministering to them and my mom at work. This rocked me for years, mostly in my trust that He was looking out for my familys well being. The reality is that no matter what happens here on this earth God is still on the throne. He is still sovern, He is still the Almighty. Not hindered by time and space. The hardest thing for us to come to grips with is not that God makes bad things happen as much as he doesn't stop them. Why? Is a question that He has been asked forever. God does not have to explain Himself to any of us. All I know is that I can't exist without Him.

van.diesel said...

jon: thanks for your generous comment. i appreciate that.

oldhops: holy buckets - thanks for sharing that.

Lex said...

For whatever it's worth, I think you've handled these issues with gentleness, so I commend you for that (a commendation from me won't get you far, though, so don't get cocky).

I want to respond with the same kind of gentleness and fairness, and in love. So, I'm gonna take a little time on it, if you don't mind. Besides, I have to leave the house right now, unfortunately. But I did want to let you know that I'm thinking about this, and appreciate what you have to say, even though I disagree.

Karyn said...

Oldhops has voiced many of the same things that I have thought about since my husband's death. There can be this perception of God as making the bad things happen, even the consequences to sin, instead of understanding that He has knowledge of what's going to happen regardless of it's goodness or badness. I do struggle with any thoughts that limit God's sovereinty. I have not come across any scripture that lays claim to Him being anything less than omnipotent. It is the most frightening thing in the world when tragedy strikes those of us who love and believe His goodness, because, though the Bible never claims exception of those events for those who love and obey God, it certainly rocks our foundation, and my oldest spent a few years wondering what else we were vulnerable to if God didn't step in to intercede on 9/11. The misperception that God's will is dictated either by our behavior or His lack of knowledge of forthcoming events rattles me more than the fact that daily these tragic events happen. Yes, when 9/11 took my husband's life at a time when I thought we were doing everything "right" spiritually shook us deeply, but didn't in any way change who He is. We may have explanation as to why these things have happened to us, but by the time we are in His presence I can't imagine it will as big a deal as it is here and now. He says we are to work out our salvation, and for my family that has meant coming to terms with painful loss and His goodness at the same time. Not easy, but important, and has deepened our faith more than anything could. When Oldhops says God is not hindered by time and space, we must consider that to Him our lives on earth are short in comparison to eternity. His place is on the throne no matter what happens to us on earth. Yes, He alone knows why these things have happened, and I'm as sad for Oldhop's loss and the pain I'm sure it caused as I am my own. But if I base my faith in God on my circumstances it will be as flimsy as Clinton's not inhailing remark. I think, as horrible as this is, that my husband's death has been a vital tool in my faith deepening, and it saddens me if I was so off that this is what it took. I feel that if I'm going to rejoice in my husband's presence with the Lord than I also must rejoice in the struggles that deepen my faith. I'm rambling and probably don't make much sense. I did turn 39 today so I may be loosing it.
I do just want to reitterate that I will never see anything, past, present or future out of the sphere of God's knowledge. What He allows is His choice. I too say these dreaded words to my children when the continue to ask why. "Because I said so". God is tender and graceful, but He is God.

Karyn said...

And I can't believe it's daylight savings time and now we have to go to church on one less hour of sleep. Whose idea was this? Seriously, what is the history behind daylight savings. I need my sleep! An hour may not seem like much but I have Chris's kids. That's four kids 7, 9, 9 and thirteen all on less sleep. This sucks. Seriously, it just sucks for one less hour than normal.

Allie said...

Jason, Good thoughts. Thoughtful, clear, etc. I have lots I want to say too, but I have a feeling my internet connection will cut off before I am done, or wild dogs will come and eat my basil plant outside (again).

This is the longest post ever.

I see what Grudem is trying to say about the TNIV. I am going to go as far as to say that I disagree with his statement that the TNIV version neuters nouns/pronouns that are gender specific. When I posted about the TNIV, and mentioned the word "pronoun", I should have been more specific. In Greek, there aren't really pronouns as we know them. There are verbs, and based on the verb form that you see in the text, you can figure out what pronoun would go with it to make the sentence make sense. Verbs have genders, so you figure out the gender of the noun or pronoun based on the verb's gender. There is no Greek word for "he" or "they". I think this is mentioned in the link you have up there, but I figured I would restate it. So, when the TNIV places a pronoun in there that may not seem as specific as Grudem thinks is necessary, it's not that one word is more accurate than the other. It's really a matter of preference or guesswork, because there's really no way of knowing, in some cases, if the noun is "God" or "him". So, the TNIV places the more generic noun or pronoun, almost to be safer? Does that make sense?

Grudem's statement that he fears the implications of a translation like this because of the hundreds of mistranslated words is almost outlandish. Using the same argument, you can say that the ESV butchers hundreds of thousands of uses of "pronouns", nouns, etc. that should be neutral but have been rendered masculine for tradition's sake. That is a blatant mistranslation, which is not the same thing as what the TNIV does. There are places where the ESV, NIV, KJV and NASB go out of their way to be wrong in how they translate nouns/pronouns. It isn't like they are trying to do guesswork with the text; they are taking a verse and putting the word "man" where it should say people. And they know it should. This, to me, is more of a mistranslation than anything Grudem is talking about with the TNIV.

I don't really think that someone is going to be misled because of a silly pronoun, or get the wrong message from Scripture necessarily. Not now, anyway. But I do think, for the sake of accuracy, it's probably best to translate the gender of a noun as accurately as possible, especially for new readers in coming generations. Within our generation, we'll probably see the use of the word "man" for "people" wiped off the map. In graduate school, we were not allowed to use words like "mankind"; we had to use "humankind." Even Piper, if you read some of his books published post- 2002 (when the TNIV controversy started!), uses "humankind" versus "man", etc. So, this could be a point of confusion for people later on who might literally think a verse is saying "only men" when it in fact is talking about people. This is why I think this is a delicate issue, and one worth paying attention to. I am not offended if I hear a verse with male-gender nouns or pronouns. It really doesn't bother me. But translation issues do, and how we prepare the coming generations concerns me a lot.

As far as statements on Open Theism, I don't know enough about it yet. I will say that I want to challenge your use of the word "sovereign." Because every Open Theist will say they believe God is sovereign, and omniscient, and all that. So, I guess a Calvinist's definition of sovereign may include elements that an Open Theist's doesn't. The issue is whether one's definition of the word is Scriptural. Sovereign may have a dictionary definition; definitions are useless when we are looking at someone's identity and character as demonstrated in Scripture. Sometimes I think people go with a "big" statement, like God is sovereign (using a dictionary definition), because they think it's mostly implied in Scripture. But they cling more to that dictionary definition than how the Bible actually presents God. They cling more to the logical appeal of the concrete, than the multi-faceted characterization of God that goes on in Scripture and often doesn't fit into a particular box. Sometimes I see this happening with Calvinists -- they like the system because it works. They will use Scripture to defend certain ideas. But, at times, I've seen a Calvinist or two more concerned about defending the "system" than acknowledging verses that seem to contradict or challenge it.

I wanted to comment, also, on the statement you made about how an Open Theist would respond in a counseling situation. I've been going to counseling for God knows how long, and my parents experienced something very similar oldhops'. My parents had a son before I was born, and when he was three he was hit by a car and died in front of them. My parents were 28. Through this event, they became Christians. I think oldhops' point, that the question is why God doesn't stop bad things, is a really good one. And my parents, to this day, wonder about that. They believe God is in control, they believe good came out of their situation. However, to them, the traditional Reformed response to evil or tragedy doesn't fit the bill. If someone were to say to my parents that God meant that to happen or that God planned that, my parents would probably get livid. Now, you may say, "How can you say God is sovereign if you don't believe He doesn't have everything planned out?" etc. Well, I think my parents, and I, would say there are places in Scripture where God seems to know what is going to happen, and there are places where God seems surprised, grieved, hurt or unsure about what is going to happen. And they'd say, this is one of those situations where they'd like to believe He was just as shocked and hurt. I think it can be Scriptural to say that, as there are plenty of examples where God does seem shocked or hurt at how people act. It was more comforting for my parents to think that, than to think the alternative. It could be just as Scriptural to think the alternative, if you emphasize those Scriptures were God says He has things planned out. But, it's important to recognize there are places where He doesn't seem to be characterized that way. And, if my parents are comforted by the other view, I see nothing wrong or unbiblical about it.

Oldhops said...

Those are all great comments, very thought provocing. One thing that I have been dealing with with people that I am talking to about faith. Is the idea that becuase we are Christians that there is some amount of protection that keeps the really bad things from happening to us. We can take the trials but not the really crappy stuff. The thing that I thnk gets left out, is that this is not Gods plan for the earth, and humankind (that was hard for me to type, haha) When Sin enterend into the picture, everything was ruined. Now God is working in the midst of something we ruined. So I guess a tough question is, What do you think of God if he knew my sister was going to get hit and die? Or He knows that a child will be born retarded. Does this say that He is a mean God or bound by freewill and His absense from sin? We cannot project on God what is a good or bad thing for a God to do. I'm sorry I'm not a good writer, or speller. I hope I was able to get my point across.

Lex said...

Okay, I've been thinking about this a lot, and I've decided to finally chime in.

I don't want to argue the rightness/wrongness of the TNIV or Open Theism. I think the TNIV is a good translation, and I feel like Open Theism, while not perfect, and certainly not an essential belief in Christianity, is far better than any of its alternatives. You don't, obviously. And that's okay, we can disagree on that. Still, I do have some problems with Grudem's & Piper's treatment of these topics. Maybe they really are convicted and sincere, but I disagree with the way they deal with these things.

As for the TNIV, I think the argument essentially boils down to the argument between the ideas of "say" and "mean." Yes, there are places in the Bible where the word used should be "he," but it doesn't mean "a male." That's what's usually happening in one of those hundreds of verses Grudem talks about. Of course, leaving it at, "hundreds of verses are changed" makes it sound a lot worse. I believe Grudem does this intentionally. Anyone who's thought about language will understand the changes pretty well.

I thought Grudem's most compelling argument in the debate was that the TNIV changes some singulars to plurals, and when it changes the relationship of a word. For example, it changes what has been translated "brother" to "someone else" ("the speck in someone else's eye"). Obviously, the intimacy of the meaning of the word is lost. Grudem has a good point here! Does that reveal some kind of liberal feminist agenda? No way.

In fact, I can't see this alleged agenda, and I don't think it exists. I don't think he even came close to revealing traces of such an agenda in that debate. It seems like Grudem is sensationalizing things, using words and ideas to warn people of an agenda that simply does not exist.

Moving on…

You have a pretty good understanding of Open Theism. I'd love to discuss it with you sometime, but now is not the time. My problem is with Piper's book's unfortunate title, "…Undermining Biblical Christianity." Piper knows better. Piper knows Boyd, and he knows the roots of Open Theism. He knows that most Open Theists are very, very serious about Biblical authority! He knows that the roots of Open Theism are in Scripture! Furthermore, he knows that quite a few passages of the Bible reveal a God who reacts, who allows libertarian free will, who is open to changing God's mind, who does not necessarily know future free actions. Open Theists are not satisfied with the traditional responses of "divine mystery" and "finite minds," and that's where the disagreement begins.

My point is that Open Theism is Biblically based. It may undermine "traditional Christianity" and it certainly undermines "Calvinist Christianity." It might undermine some hermeneutics, but to say that it undermines Biblical Christianity is a cheap mischaracterization. In the recent past, I've talked with two individuals who had no idea what Open Theism was, but were still able to tell me that it was "heresy." Why? Because of the title of that book, and comments from Piper fans.

Open Theism sounds pretty bad in your post. You even say that "in fact, it destroys the very foundation that the Bible establishes for trusting God, undermining confidence in Him, Scripture, prayer, and faith in Christ." First, "in fact?" Second, the problems that are presented are rooted in philosophy and tradition, not in Scripture! If Scripture is implied, it is a certain, specific interpretation of Scripture. And, I happen to think that Open Theism restores confidence in Him, Scripture, prayer, and faith in Christ.

Look, it's easy to make anything sound bad by using language. I'm sure that Grudem & Piper feel strongly about these subjects, I just don't think they're being honest with the language they use.

Karyn said...

Same here. God knew my husband and the father of two young girls was going to die on 9/11, along with everyone else who did. Does that make Him a bad God, one not worthy of our faith, or a God who mourns with us because He knows the reason crap happens is because we screwed it up in the first place? I choose to believe the latter. I don't think God made your sister die, or my husband, but in His choice to give us free will, was there to catch our families when these things happened.
Faith, in my opinion, is a verb. It is an action we at times have to fight to hold on to. My mantra after my husband died that day was "I will believe in Your love no matter what I feel". I'm not saying my suffering and that of my kids didn't matter to God, but that I could not allow my feelings to interfere with the scriptural truths I knew. In my studying of the Word I have never seen a place where we are told we will not suffer because we love Him. If anything, there are so many references to trials and tribulations, and so many examples of Jesus' own companions suffering that I think we almost have to expect more than the average Joe!
I'm not well versed in all the amazing debate occuring here, I love it but truth be told, I am far to simple to engage in debates of these points. I know simply that I love God, and I choose to believe Him regardless of how crappy the world is at times. All I have to do is look back to His provision in the light of my loss, see how He lined up my ducks so that when all this terrorism killed my husband I was protected to know that He was faithful. And He's God, He owes me nothing, yet He continues to reveal Himself out of His love. Yes, I may be simple, but the bottom line has always been His love.

nryan said...

you say open theism presents God as reactionary and limited, but if you understand it correctly, you would see that God is still sovereign and all-powerful because he chose to create a world in which the future is open to possibilities, not certainties. like so many critics, you do not deal with the scripture that supports open theism. if you haven't taken the time to read at least one book on the subject then you have no authority in critisizing it.

van.diesel said...

Allie, Lex, Oldhops, and Karyn,

Thank you very much for engaging in this dialogue with me. I am enjoying it very much, and hope you are as well. It is far easier to tend toward tolerance, easy believism or silence than actually engage each other as iron sharpening iron – often an uncomfortable process that is full of tension, noise, and pain. Thank you for engaging with me. Let us continue to extend grace and mutual respect towards one another as we discuss. Thank you that you have done so thus far. I apologize in advance for the length of this response, but these are not brief subjects we discuss.

As far as the TNIV debate, Allie makes some interesting points above. I fear I can no longer speak intelligently to her points beyond what I have already said. I do resonate with her comment concerning relevancy to future generations. I only pray we can discern the difference between relevancy and relativity. It seems to be a fine line these days.

Lex, though I see why you would say so, I find little evidence that Dr. Grudem’s main point in opposing the TNIV is to reveal a liberal feminist agenda. In fact, if I remember correctly, there is even a point in that particular debate with Dr. Strauss where he says there may be no feminist agenda – the point is more regarding his stance on accuracy and the perception of male leadership being deemphasized.

Allie, I appreciate your challenge regarding the use of the word “sovereign”. I haven’t met many Calvinists in these parts, so I can’t speak to general Calvinist defense of “the system” – although I can easily imagine that being the case. Defending a system is certainly not limited to Calvinism. My intent is not to defend a system or assert Calvinism upon you; my intent is that I might rightly know and worship God, and I want the same for you (and I want you to want the same for me). “Reformed” and “Calvinist” simply seem to be the labels which most closely reflect my current understanding of God though His revelation in Scripture. While no doubt an easy point of defense, a “system” is hardly the point; I regret if I have given indication otherwise. Compared to what we actually think/believe about God, defense of creed has little to no consequence.

That said, when I use the word “sovereign,” I am referring to that attribute of God by which He rules over all creation. It is a term allusive to His absolute power and supremacy in all things. Sovereignty as I am using it means that God is all-knowing (Rom. 11:33-36, Ps.139:1-6) and all-powerful (Jer. 32:17, Heb. 1:3). He is a God who works, not just some things, but in all things of His own counsel and will (Rom. 8:28, Eph. 1:11). These are incommunicable attributes – that is, you and I can never know what it is like to be all-knowing, all-powerful, etc. Because we cannot experientially understand them, we ought to be careful not to outright reject them or diminish those attributes to match our own finite comprehensions.

That is a very brief definition, and as I understand, it is the “traditional” definition of sovereignty. Apart from any system, I find this definition to be more Scripturally accurate than the alternatives, and I find no reason to reject it simply because it is “traditional”. I am not implying anyone here is doing this, but rejection of the traditional simply because it is tradition seems to be a current trend. I would like to write a post re: the topic of sovereignty, so stay tuned if you’re interested.

Lex, I think you are making several ungrounded assumptions and assertions about Piper; are you being honest with your language there? I have no question that Open Theism is “biblically based.” Arminianism, Calvinism, Mormonism, televangelism, Holiness Pentacostalism, Catholicism … all technically have roots, to varying extents, in Scripture. But it doesn’t make them, by default, accurate or right in their treatment of Scripture.

Lex, in your comment you say that you think Open Theism restores your confidence in God, Scripture, prayer, and faith in Christ. Could you explain that, or give some details regarding that perspective? I’m not trying to lead you with this question; I am genuinely interested in a practical answer.

Some of you have shared some very personal, painful situations – deaths of loved ones and family – and I feel humbled your sharing. I do not want to be dismissive, but I do want to be very sensitive in how I approach responding to those particular situations. I’m not yet certain if this is the most appropriate format to do so; though I still may respond to those particular situations, I would like to continue considering that.

van.diesel said...

Nick Ryan,

Thanks for chiming in. Perhaps i am misunderstanding you, but it seems as though you are saying "God is sovereignly not sovereign." If that is the case, then it is a self-defeating statement and holds no bearing. Perhaps you (or any other Open Theists out there) could better articulate your view? To your point, however, Scripture would be the next best place to take this discussion.

samb said...

Nick...I'll take this one...mainly because Jason is far more patient than I.

you said;
"you say open theism presents God as reactionary and limited, but if you understand it correctly, you would see that God is still sovereign and all-powerful because he chose to create a world in which the future is open to possibilities, not certainties."

Let me assplain,
It is the teaching that God has granted to humanity free will and that in order for the free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God.

Pretty easily understood there to be God as reactionary and limited in his understanding of the future. You also made mention that God and I quote

"God is still sovereign and all-powerful because he chose to create a world in which the future is open to possibilities, not certainties."

So is he sovreignly not sovreign? How can God create a world of possabilities but lack the absorption or understanding of which possability would be chosen? If God chose a world with an open future, would that also nullify his will? Or allow his will to easily be dictated by man's?

you also said;
"like so many critics, you do not deal with the scripture that supports open theism. if you haven't taken the time to read at least one book on the subject then you have no authority in critisizing it."

Does reading a book all of sudden make you an expert on any given subject? As to say, I read a Chiltons Jeep manual, therefore i am an expert in all things Jeep. What about a sports announcer? Just because he didn't play, does that mean anything he has to say on the subject should be nullified?

Allie said...

Jason: Heya, friend. I keep thinking about our pizza dive-bombing in Uno's yesterday. I want to believe that that Lord did not will for that to happen. Oh well. Super Salad!

Anyway, on to theology. You've been real patient with all of us hell-yans, and I can see the Dad coming out. Bravo, Jason!

You mentioned you don't know many Calvinists. Pete Ferrara is hardcore. He's like a 12 point Calvinist. Many of the folks that went to school at JMU and attended the local Presbyterian church became pretty hardcore Calvos under the influence of the head pastor's teaching. I guess many of my run-ins with militant Calvos began there -- though I have never had, for a second, any kind of interaction with you that would qualify you as a member of this unfortunate group. So, you're a sane Calvinist. Pat yourself on the back!

I agree that labels and systems are secondary. Of course they are. Or, they should be. I like how you define sovereignty, and I understand that your understanding of Scripture happens to resemble a Reformed lens, and I respect that.

My main area of concern/confusion is this: To say that God may know something will happen is different than saying He wills it to happen. I believe the Bible teaches that God knows all things, and that His will is powerful. However, we are quick to define "will" in terms of "control". Will is different than control. I think I heard somewhere that a person or a being's "will" is their desires, intentions or plans, though it doesn't always include actions. I do believe God's will is powerful over all, and I think Scripture teaches this. But, I am not entirely sure what that means, or if it completely implies the level of control/action that people seem to assert onto that definition. I can't seem to come to an over-all conclusion, when I look at Scripture, that would say that God controls/plans everything ahead of time. I just don't see that in all areas of Scripture.

I think it is worth considering that sovereignty is not synonymous with control; God can be seen as just as sovereign if He doesn't have everything all planned out, but somehow, in every second and situation, is able to orchestrate events to be just as they should be, without forcing them to be. This is a powerful picture of God to me, and I don't necessarily see it as "reactionary". What is the concern with "reactionary", anyway? I wonder how one would view prayer, if they didn't think God, in some way, was reactionary?

I hadn't meant, and do not mean, to attack you personally when I use the label "Calvinist".

That pizza was good.

samb said...

Allie, i am pumped that you are putting this much thought into it, as well as Lex. This is how "spritual debate" should be conducted. That or we should get into the ring rip our shirts off and start whooping each others ass...anyways, one final thougt on Open Theism.

One of the unspoken implications of Open Theism would have to be the denial of God's omnipresence. Let me assplain; If God is reactionary, in the way that Open Theism explains then God cannot span or be the creator of time or the universe and thus live outside of it.

Since God created time, God has always existed and continues to exist outside of time and is not subject to its properties.

God is not subject to a continual elements of a time continuam of future, present and the past. These are irrelevant to his nature.

If God is omnipresent, which I don't think is a debatable fact, God is in all places at all times, God knows all things, even the future free will choices of free creatures. that would have to mean that the open theism view that God does not know all future events of free will creatures is false and since God is not restricted by time, and he is omnipresent, that is all places at all times, then the future is a present reality with God, all the time.

I can go into much further detail if you guys want, more scripture or whatever...but i am enjoying the discussion. I just hope we are all keeping an open minded, and not blowing smoke up each others ass for the sake of sounding smart.

Allie said...


I like your assplainations.

I do enjoy the debate. If it seems as though I have attempted to sound smart, that is completely accidental. You and me both know that I am retarded, and that my dad found me in the trash or a compost heap.

I do have some responses, as usual.

Omnipresent. The Bible does indicate that God is omnipresent. This is a fancy way of saying He is everywhere. I am not going to dissect everything you say because I don't have time, and because I don't have a response to everything. I do have a response to two things.

1) You're argument about God being outside of time: "Since God created time, God has always existed and continues to exist outside of time and is not subject to its properties." To say that because God created time, He is outside of it, is an assumption but not necessary a logical conclusion. God can create time and still be bound to it if He wants. As far as logic goes, I can create a house and still be inside of it or subject to it. God could have created time to be inside of it; God could have wanted that. His existence could have happened at the same time that time began; the two could be one, who knows?

2) The Bible does not say anywhere, clearly, that God exists outside of time. It does seem to portray God as experiencing time differently than us, ("To me, a day is like a thousand years, etc.").

Oldhops said...

OK, here's one that goes along the lines of Gods will and His inability to see the future. Do you think that God knew what Satan was up too? I mean He created him. Do you think that he created him for the purpose that he is carrying out? Or was God caught off gaurd, over at the punchbowl getting some Jesus Juice when Satan dropped the bomb. I have to tell you that one of 2 things has to be true. 1. God didn't see that coming,
2. He did and thats what He wanted.
If the second one is true, that may be a tough pill to swallow. I believe that he did see it comming. He's God he can do whatever he wants. Honestly if He wanted us to all suffer and die...Guess what. We will all suffer and die. Maybe he intends this part of eternity to be a testing ground. Sorry if it seems like I'm dumbing things down. Again sorry for any spelling or gramatical errors. I promise I'm much more clear in person.

samb said...

except that, allie, that if you are omnipresent, (Psalm 139:7-18, Jeremiah 23:23-24) and thus the creator of time, space, the universe can He be bound by that which he created? You say, He may of wanted it that way. Again that goes back to, can God be Sovereigntly Unsovreign. And ultimately if He can be bound by time, can He be bound by man?

I do think, as far as scripture reads, that if He is omnipresent, then he would have to be outside of time. Acting in this present age yes, but also knowing ahead of time, ( God is omnicscient as well i.e.

"Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." Acts 15:18

For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things." I John 3:20)

therefore he cannot be bound by the elements of time, that which He created, nor can He not know ahead of time, or the elements that which make up a time continum, what has already happened or will.

I am not merely talking about being inside of time, I am talking about being controlled by the elements of time or being bound to it. Anyways, allie good thoughts as always. You rock my socks off...I am going to IM you now and tell you i responded

Lex said...

Jason, sorry if I'm misunderstanding Grudem. I haven't read that book (obviously), so I'm picking up on what you said and the debate you linked to. Still, I think to say that "there may be no feminist agenda" is like saying, "Raul may not beat his wife." Obviously, the implication is that Raul may, and probably does, beat his wife. But really, I've said enough about Grudem. I'm less passionate about the TNIV than I am about Open Theism.

I don't think anything I said about Piper was ungrounded. If you want me to be completely honest with my language, I will. I think the title of Piper's book is one of the most hateful titles I've ever seen. I can't even imagine the content of the book! The charge of "undermining Biblical Christianity" is a far more serious charge than plain ol' "heresy." How strictly will we define "Biblical Christianity?" To me, it should boil down to the bare essentials…

Open Theism, Arminianism, and Calvinism have some pretty big gaps between them. Probably none of the three are 100% accurate. Let's just say that one is ultimately more accurate than the other two. Does this mean that the other two are not "Biblical Christianity?" Or even worse, that they "undermine" it? There are aspects of Calvinism that I just can't stand. I think that elements of it have been crippling to me. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that it "undermines Biblical Christianity." I honestly can't imagine a more serious charge.

You asked me to explain my statement that Open Theism restored my faith in God, Scripture, prayer, and faith in Christ. Before I do, let me say that "restored" was probably too strong (it implies that my faith in those things had gone away or something, which isn't accurate). Instead, I'd say that it has strengthened my faith…

In God because it has shown me the true power of God. Perhaps you see weakness in reaction, but I don't. I see more strength in God's ability to react to humans -- and still realize God's will and purpose -- than in meticulous determinism. It has shown me that God hates (but allows) evil rather than creating it as part of some vague divine mystery.

In Scripture because I can see the real, authentic relationship that God had with people. The Bible is no longer just a book from which I draw out theologies, doctrines, rules, and abstracts. The Bible reveals the story of the Creator and the created, the story of creation and covenant. It's not just a story I read, but a story in which, through Christ, I am invited to participate.

In prayer because Open Theism says that prayer is powerful in communicating with God. The Lord's Prayer is partly petitionary, and if God is immutable and unaffected (and not reactionary) I cannot see a purpose in petitionary prayer. Open Theism says that God will choose to act or to refrain from acting depending upon prayer, and I believe this to be true, and I didn't see this in other views.

In faith in Christ because I'm not worried that I might be believing the wrong thing. Instead, I'm having relationship with the Creator God, trusting that Christ is enough. I've seen guilt and shame (for past actions) melt away, and I can finally see that there really is freedom in Christ.

And when it comes down to it, I see Open Theism as the most Biblically straightforward and the most logically plausible of all the alternatives.

I hope that answers your question.

I'd love to get in on this Open Theism discussion, too, but I'll have to do that in another comment. I just wanted to respond to you in this one.

Lex said...

Okay, much has been said about Open Theism, so I'm going to give one broad response, and then I want to respond specifically to two of you (Oldhops & samb). If it still needs to be said, no hard feelin's, dudes! Also, yes, I'm up late.

I think Allie's right about sovereignty. Christianity has redefined sovereignty to mean something that it doesn't mean. Thus, the assumption that God is either sovereign or reactionary. This is a false dichotomy (I'd also argue that we often hold a strange view of "reactionary," as if it were synonymous with "imperfect"). The evidence of God reacting is so abundant within Scripture, that sometimes I just don't understand why people would even question it.

Who here will deny that God punishes for sin? Isn't punishment a reaction? Isn't punishment a response to another being's action? I say, yes, it is a reaction, and therefore, we see a God who reacts to humans as early as Genesis 3:16! And it continues throughout the Bible. I see that God is sovereign because God has the power to act and the power to react.

Rather than diminishing God's sovereignty, Open Theism provides a fuller image of God's sovereignty. This is not a matter of God being "sovereignly not sovereign," as some of you (er, all of you) have put it, but of God being sovereign in what sovereignty really means.

On the topic of omniscience, Open Theism does not say that God chooses to limit divine foreknowledge. Instead, Open Theism argues that the future is unknowable because it simply does not exist. Knowing the future is as logically possible as creating a square circle (in other words, it's impossible).

Of course, f you reject libertarian free will, divine foreknowledge is not a problem for you. I can't reject free will, because I think it's proven through the Bible, in tradition, in reason, and in experience (and behold, I have invoked the Wesleyan Quadrangle on a Calvinist blog!).

Oldhops: First, Satan isn't all that easy to understand. We really don't know as much about Satan as we think we do! A lot of what we say about Satan comes from non-Biblical sources (Islam, Satanism, and a couple of the more obscure Old Testament Apocryphal books). His role in the Old Testament is basically as the accuser. In the New Testament, he's basically the tempter. From the Bible, we don't know much more than that.

Second, you're taking a non-human agent and (presumably) trying to come to a conclusion about God's relationship with human agents. I don't think we know enough about spiritual beings such as Satan to do that. And even in light of what little knowledge we have, I'd argue that the relationship is so dramatically different that it doesn't translate well.

Third, I think your making a false dichotomy with your two possibilities. According to the pattern you've set up, either God did not know that we would sin, or God wanted us to sin. Well, the latter seems like more than a hard pill to swallow. It seems like a contradiction to Scripture and to God's command that we "be holy." How could God command us to be holy and then, at the same time, will us to be unholy?

Taking that a step further, if it is God's will that we should sin, how could God judge us for sinning? After all, in this way of thinking, we are in God's will when we sin! In fact, God, and not us, would be culpable for our sin!

I'd suggest looking for at least a third possibility. But if I have to choose between those two possibilities, I'll take the former in a heartbeat.

samb: You're saying that God is bound to time within Open Theism. This sounds bad to us, of course, because we wouldn't want to say that God is "bound" to anything. Consider that in classical theism, God is a static, timeless being, bound to God's own will! Is this a more sufficient view? I don't think so.

Also, I think you're approaching the concept of timelessness from a decidedly modern, Western view, not necessarily a biblical one (in fact, I don't necessarily see timelessness in the Bible). I have some issues with this whole idea of timelessness, which I believe started with Greek philosophy (as opposed to Hebrew thought or the Bible) and was baptized by Augustine and has been heavily promoted since the Enlightenment.

Allie said...

Shee golly! This is the last time I'll post in here, because I feel like at this point, I should be getting paid to do it. I spend more time on than doing my job. Which is fine with me, if you are asking. I have a few more comments. Some of what I say may overlap with Lex, or not. Apologies if it does.

Samb: You quoted this verse: "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." Acts 15:18. I want to clarify something. I understand that there are places where the Bible appears to be saying that God has (certain) things planned out ahead of time. This verse is interesting in that it says God "knows" what will come to pass, which is different than saying He wills/ "orchestrates" everything. But, I will go so far as to say there are some verses that say God does orchestrate things from the beginning. But, there are verses that seem to say something different. There are verses where God's coming action is dependent on people, or appears unsettled. I know I mentioned the Ninevites. What about God's bargaining with Abraham over Sodom and Gomorrah? Or God speaking to Jeremiah about the importance of repentence (God essentially says to Jeremiah, "If the people do this, I'll do this, and if they don't, I'll do this")? There are places where the future does not seem as settled, or where God invokes humans. If God has everything planned out and knows will happen in every situation all the time, why the drama with Abraham? Why the bargaining? Or, why does He tell Jeremiah He may do one of two things, where in other places in Scripture, God tells a prophet definitively what He will do.

This only leaves us two options:
1) God has everything planned out from the beginning, EVERYTHING, and these recorded incidents in Scripture where God appears to be inviting humans into the picture to shape the future, are just for dramatic effect. God knew what would happen with Abraham, with Jeremiah, etc. He only appears to not know or bargain.

There is nothing in the text that would indicate we ought to read these passages this way, and I think it would be strange to do so.

2) There are things that God does plan out and know ahead of time, and there is also a way in which God invites humans to shape the future. God can changes His mind, and God's plans, in some ways, are more fluid.

This, to me, seems to be a more complete picture, simply because I see both things going on in Scripture. So my conclusion is that in some ways, God does know the future, and in some ways, He may not, or He may know it in some open or fluid or whatever-you-want-to-call-it way.

Jason: You brought up relativism. And challenging "tradition" for the sake of a challenge. I agree that both of these are important factors/issues. I don't have anything specific to say on the subject of relativism, other than that I think often the church readily calls an idea "post-modern" or "relative" these days, creating almost a "witch hunt" of pluralism where it doesn't always exist. I do think, to some degree, relativism invades our culture. But, I don't always see it when the Church does, and I don't always think it is that much of a problem. I guess that may sound terrible, but I will put that out there. I am not saying I think relativism is a truth or the truth; I am just saying I don't think it's a real threat. A small one, maybe. It will pass, like most cultural fads do.

As far as challenging tradition, I am not quick to challenge tradition just for the sake of it when it comes to theology, or anything for that matter. But I do challenge some of the tenants of classical theology, in some ways, because like Lex said, they are not always based in Scripture but on culture (isn't that what relativism is?) Many of the ideas about God that make up the foundations of classical theology (God is un-changing, etc etc) are based in philosophy (as Lex mentioned), not necessarily Scripture. Ancient thinkers (like the Gospel writers or Paul) probably did not think half the things that we believe about God, simply because they were trying to branch away from Greco-Roman thought in many ways. Yet folks like Augustine (as Lex mentions) were drenched in Greco-Roman philosophy, so they brought it back into the picture. It's real hard to separate the two, or get our heads around this kind of thing. What is important is to have an honest look at Scripture, with assumptions or learned ideas aside. Let Scripture speak for Scripture. It's difficult to do, because no one exists in a vacuum. We all have our cultural biases that are difficult and scary to escape from.

Anyway, that's all I can afford to say anymore on here. I'm blogged out. I gotta go work and put food on the table, as they say.

Thanks for the wonderful exchange, friends. For many years, it has been difficult for me to disagree aloud (or in print) with folks. It's been quite a step for me to be able to say that I don't agree, and not just pretend to for the sake of whatever. So, thank you for giving me permission to openly express my objections, doubts, or current thinking/questions about all of these subjects.

You rule.


samb said...


i think then this would move more into a philosophical debate. Let assplain...(lol)

According to the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, the universe began to exist a finite amount of time ago. This doctrine receives philosophical confirmation from arguments demonstrating the absurdity of an infinite temporal regress of events and empirical confirmation from the evidence for the so-called 'big-bang' model of the universe. If we agree that the universe began to exist, does this necessitate as well a beginning to time itself ? If a person believes that time exists apart from events such that if there were no events there would still be time, then our argument does not entail prima facie a beginning to time. On the other hand, if one accepts that time cannot exist apart from events, then a beginning of events would entail a beginning of time as well.

I however see time as a biblical, not social, standard in the Bible. The crux of time as we know, the 24 hour day, as seen in Genesis is created on the 1st day. God is the 'high and lofty One who inhabits eternity', declared the prophet Isaiah, but exactly how we are to understand the notion of eternity is not clear. Traditionally, the Christian church has taken it to mean 'timeless'. But in his classic work on this subject, Oscar Cullmann has contended that the New Testament 'does not make a philosophical, qualitative distinction between time and eternity. It knows linear time only… He maintains, 'Primitive Christianity knows nothing of a timeless God. The "eternal" God is he who was in the beginning, is now, and will be in all the future, "who is, who was, and who will be" (Rev. 1:4).'{3 } As a result, God's eternity, says Cullmann, must be expressed in terms of endless time.
When we speak of God as eternal, then, we may mean either 'timeless' or simply 'everlasting'. The question is: which understanding of God's relationship to time is to be preferred? Taking sharp issue with Cullmann's study, James Barr has shown that the biblical data are not determinative. He argues that Cullmann's study is based too heavily upon etymology and vocabulary studies, and these cannot be determinative in deciding the meaning of a term apart from use. Barr thinks that Genesis may very well teach that time was created along with the universe, and that God may be thought of as timeless. Barr's basic contention is that, 'A valid biblical theology can be built only upon the statements of the Bible, and not on the words of the Bible. When this is done, the biblical data are inconclusive: '. ..if such a thing as a Christian doctrine of time has to be developed, the work of discussing it and developing it must belong not to biblical but to philosophical theology.

I believe that time is thelogoical...not philosophical. As I said earlier, to me, it cleary states the above in Genesis. But you and I could talk in circles all day. Lex i like your beats, and your bass is nice. Good word.

samb said...

woops, the 3 is a quote i pulled, meant to put a one there. sorry fellers

Oldhops said...

I have to say that through this I have really began to think about some of the things that I base my foundation on. There is one question that I have for Lex and Allie. Then one for everyone.

Lex seems to lean toward the side that God does not know the future because it does not exist. While Allie says that He does not know the future because He has choosen not too. which one is true Open theism

The other thing that I think is being left out, is to what degree does Sin and Gods abhorrence towards it play in how He interacts with us. Don't you think that it could play a huge part in how he allows or does not allow things to happen becuase he is bound by holiness. I find myself falling on a middle ground between these two arguments. I feel that Open Theism makes God a good guy who doesn't know that bad things are going to happen. Makes it easier to follow him. While the Calvinistic approach makes him caulculated and uncompasionate to those destined to burn.

And for Sam and Lex, everyone knows that all you need to ravel through time is an 86 Delorian and a flux capasador... DUH

Lex said...

samb, I agree with the "inconclusive" part of what you said. That was my favorite part. I liked the other parts, too, though. All I can say is that I don't know that God is timeless, and I don't really believe that timelessness is the best view to hold.

oldhops, I think the most common O.T. concept is the one I was talking about, that the future does not exist. Obviously, just like within Calvinism and Arminianism, there are some variations.

Also, now I have that Huey Lewis "Back In Time" song stuck in my head.

Who knew that in a theology discussion, the Lewis to be mentioned would by Huey, and not C.S.?

Diddy said...

. . . well anyways . . . I'll see y'all in heaven. It'll be way cool.

samb said...


Oldhops said...

everybody knows Diddy won't be there.