Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Most Moved Mover," Pt. I-C: Open Theism as "Consistent" Arminianism

“What we have here is a continuation of an age-old debate that should not stop now just because we have introduced some new interpretations into the discussion. In fact, by doing so, WE HAVE MADE ARMINIAN THINKING SHARPER AND CLEARER AND THE ONLY AND OBVIOUS ALTERNATIVE TO THE CONVENTIONAL OPTIONS. OUR CALVINIST CRITICS CALL IT ‘CONSISTENT’ ARMINIANISM, a judgment I am not inclined to reject” (Clark H. Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, pages 11-12).

My college years were really something. I came from a rural eastern NC background, raised in a town of no more than 10,000 people, and attended a school whose total population was only six-hundred at the time I was a student. When I graduated from high school on May 26, 2002, I graduated Salutatorian (second) in a class of no more than 109 people. Only 97 others graduated with me that May, and the other eleven people were told three days before graduation that they would have to graduate the following year.

But my college years were quite interesting. Having applied to two schools whose traditions and rivalry run deep (Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), I received admission to Carolina in January and entered my undergraduate studies in Fall 2002. I count it God’s blessing that I did not receive admission to Duke University, although I desired to attend the institution...and my mother desired to send me. She was a Duke alumni herself, having received two Batchelors of Arts degrees in Accounting and Economics in the Class of 1978. I was supposed to be the second-generation “Dookie” (humor me here!) in my family, but God had other plans. I am thankful that God did not grant me the desire of my heart. He truly knows what is best for His children.

While at Carolina, I immediately discovered that I was in a place that did not just “assume” God, as my background in a rural town and church had done. While I was in high school, it was typical for me to hear the phrase, “Lord knows” or “Lord have mercy” (as I used twice in my first post on Pinnock’s book). But when I got to college, I didn’t hear the Lord’s name reverenced in speech. If I heard God’s name used, it was being used in a most irreverent manner (for either cursing or swearing). A former classmate of mine, named Robert (whom we called “Rob” for short), asked a question indicative of his view of God when I told him my next step after graduation was to attend seminary: “What’s a seminary?” That’s pretty telling in and of itself! Most Christians have an idea that a “seminary” is a place where people train for ministry; but Rob’s ignorance of that, coupled with his speech and constant discussion, confirmed for me what I believed all along---that Rob was no Christian at all. This was not an isolated encounter in college, but it is one that I still remember rather vividly to this day.

But seminary has been a different kind of life for me. Here, I can mention the words “God,” “Lord,” “Savior,” “sin,” “salvation,” etc., without being looked at rather strangely! And the most surprising experience I’ve had here involves the first day of my now nine-semester-stint at Southeastern: I can still remember the first time I expressed shock when my professor said, “Let us pray.” I couldn’t believe it! People actually pray here? You can mention God here without being deemed a weirdo? It was a new experience for me, but one I welcolmed. And today, despite my many theological issues with Calvinism and complementarianism, I can honestly thank God to be at a place where He is exalted above everything, including ourselves. Yes, Classical Arminians do exalt God above themselves!!!

Why provide details about my life? To get into what I wanna talk about today: the idea of presuppositions. Pinnock tells us in his quote above that Calvinists see Open Theism as a “most consistent Arminianism.” But this should be no surprise to anyone who has studied Calvinism and Open Theism: for both systems start with the same presupposition (background belief): that if God knows the future, the future itself is determined. Hence, all actions are determined by God, and no individual has a say in the matter. This is true even for salvation in this view.

The idea that exhaustive foreknowledge leads to determinism (exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty) is found in the work of many a Calvinist. James White writes:

“Over all His creatures His [sic] is sovereign. He uses them as He pleases, and does for them or to them all that He wills. His sight penetrates to the heart of all things. His knowledge is infinite and infallible. NO SINGLE THING IS TO HIM AT RISK OR UNCERTAIN, FOR HE IS NOT DEPENDENT UPON CREATED THINGS” (James White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 35).

White’s mentioning of “at risk or uncertain” demonstrates the target of his attack---Open Theism! In White’s mind, as in the minds of Calvinist critics (Pinnock said), Open Theism is the most consistent Arminianism out there. And Open Theists themselves are guilty of using the word “risk” often in their work. Clark Pinnock writes:

“With the creation of humans (and angels), God found himself in a new situation, having to work out his purposes alongside creatures with liberty of their own, able to project their own intentions. In other words, GOD TOOK A RISK. Risk is a function of the fact that God has limited the degree of his control over the world in granting the creature genuine freedom, and this is not without pain to himself” (Clark Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, page 39).

And notice that the title of John Sanders work is “The God Who RISKS: A Theology of Divine Providence”? The word “risk” is located in the title of Sanders’ book to send a message: that is, that God takes risks.

White also denies the free will of man, and only affirms the free will of God:

“Many transfer their ideas of democracy to God’s rule, thinking that God is limited in what He can do by what man ‘agrees’ to allow by his ‘free will.’ THE TRUTH IS THAT THE BIBLE SPEAKS MUCH OF FREE WILL---GOD’S FREE WILL, THAT IS, NOT MAN’S. The utter freedom of God to do with His creation as He sees fit, not as His creatures see fit, is a constant theme” (White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 36).

Here, man’s libertarian freedom is denied; instead, we find God determining everything that happens. If Open Theism is not correct, to the Calvinist, Calvinism is the only other option.

White shows his presupposition that meticulous sovereignty leads to exhaustive foreknowledge when he writes the following:

“If God created this universe, knowing what would happen, as Hunt seems to believe (he constantly speaks of God’s foreknowledge but does not give us a ground upon which to understand how God has such knowledge), HOW IS HE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THAT CREATION AND THE EVENTS THAT TAKE PLACE IN TIME?” (White, “Debating Calvinism,” page 57)

Since God created this universe, according to White, God is “responsible” for everything that happens in it. Later in his debate with Dave Hunt, he claims that man is responsible for his sin...but how can he be, when God is the one “responsible”? How can both God and man be responsible for man’s sin when God ordained both man’s good and evil in eternity? The Calvinist answer here matches the question that atheists ask Christians regarding the problem of evil: “If God is all-good and all-powerful, why then, do evil and suffering exist in the world?” Atheists deny the existence of God to deal with the problem of evil, but by so doing, place responsibility on God for the evil in the world. Calvinists give God the same responsibility, while acknowledging His existence.

The idea that exhaustive foreknowledge (knowledge of all things) leads unambiguously to determinism is also found all throughout the work of Clark Pinnock. One example regards Abraham’s prayer to God for the city of Sodom:

“In another incident, Abraham prayed for the city of Sodom. He spoke with God about the fate of the city and they decided together what should be done because its destiny had, apparently, not been sealed (Gen. 18:22). From this incident we see that God does not will to rule the world alone but wants to bring the creature into his also suggests that THE FUTURE HAS NOT BEEN EXHAUSTIVELY SETTLED” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 42).

In the eyes of Pinnock, the fact that Abraham prays to God and God talks with Abraham shows that God did not foreknow the fate of the city. If God knew it, Pinnock would say, why would God even allow Abraham to talk to Him at all? And if God already knew what would happen, why even dialogue about it? Did Abraham really have the power to change the fate of the city through prayer? If God already knew what would happen, Abraham’s prayer was simply illusory to the fate of the city (he couldn’t impact the outcome, either way).

In another place, Pinnock writes:

“Instead of viewing the whole course of history in a timeless instant, God knows events as they take place and takes note of what transpires. God is receptive to new experiences and flexible in the way in which he works toward his objectives in the world...THE COUNSEL OF GOD IS NOT TIMELESS AND FIXED. He did not make all the decisions once and for all apart from the world but IS EVEN NOW MAKING THEM AS HE WORKS OUT THE DETAILS OF THE FINAL RESTORATION” (“Most Moved Mover,” pages 59-60).

God is, according to Pinnock, like us: He too, is looking forward to the future. While I certainly believe that the end in sight is glorious, I don’t think that God is like a little child at Christmas who is anxiously waiting to unravel the gift wrap and find out what his present is. The child unwraps his Christmas gift in suspense, ignorant of what’s inside; God, however, is not like this at all. God knows the end and knows the excitement we will have as we see all that He prepared for us!

The most telling statement regarding foreknowledge comes in Pinnock’s chapter against Thomistic philosophy:

“One cannot just introduce dynamic and relational features into the doctrine of God without reconsidering UNDYNAMIC AND UNRELATIONAL FEATURES OF IT LIKE METICULOUS SOVEREIGNTY AND EXHAUSTIVE FOREKNOWLEDGE. The conventional package of attributes is tightly woven. You cannot deny one, such as impassibility, without casting doubt on others, like immutability. It’s like pulling on a thread and unraveling a sweater” (“Most Moved Mover,” page 77).

For now, let me say that Pinnock seems to automatically connect exhaustive (meticulous) sovereignty with exhaustive foreknowledge. Why is this the case? I will explore Pinnock’s chief assumption and connection between meticulous sovereignty and exhaustive foreknowledge in my next post. Stay tuned...

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