In my last post, I tackled Luke Timothy Johnson’s work on process and liberation theology. I specifically focused on process theology because it’s a theology that I’ve had some amount of curiosity in (as is evidenced by the number of books from Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, John Sanders, and Amos Yong on my bookshelf!).
Johnson disagrees with process theology and liberation theology (rightfully so), but he attacks the general intentions of such theologians as trying to undermine the “mystery and majesty” of God. I said it in my last post but I’ll repeat it here: theologians who work at making sense of the God of Scripture are not undermining God’s majesty and mystery, but declaring it and making it known. God has already revealed it in His Word, but it’s up to us to make sense of the divine revelation. I’d disagree with Johnson by saying that if we don’t do the intellectual legwork mandatory to make sense of the Scriptures, then we’re neglecting our human responsibility. I don’t hold a Calvinist view of divine sovereignty, so I’m going to say that, as an agent of change and choice in the world, God’s not gonna implant understanding into my mind if I choose not to study and comb the Scriptures. Those who seek Him will find Him, Jesus says – and that’s just as true when it comes to the living, breathing, Word of God.
In today’s post, I’m gonna take a step back from examining quotes from Johnson and focus on an issue that is near and dear to my heart: building a sound theodicy.
A theodicy is a defense of the righteousness of God (“theodicy” comes from the Greek word “theodike,” meaning “righteousness” (dike, dikaios) and “theos” (God), and each theodicy postulated in theology and academia attempts to defend God’s goodness in light of the presence of evil, tragedy, and suffering. Evil is in contrast to God, who is light and has no darkness in Him (1 John 1:5), so the presence of evil demands a response from those who seek to defend the goodness of God. Christians should be (if they aren’t) at the forefront of this discussion.
And in many ways, Christians are. The problem comes in when many Christians hold a pious view regarding a theodicy that says that it’s all speculation and that God doesn’t need defending because He’s God – end of story. This view may stand for many a Christian, but atheists and agnostics don’t see this view as relevant in the slightest. In fact, many of the opposing camp to Christians see Christians as anti-intellectual when they say things such as the above statement.
Should the Christian have an answer to defend God’s goodness? Yes. At the same time, however, the theodicy discussion is one that has run amok because a number of individuals have differing views of sovereignty and human responsibility. In fact, there are a number of compatibilist views have arisen that claim to make God’s sovereignty and human responsibility compatible but do nothing more than shroud Calvinism in language that may be more “palatable” than views espoused by James White, R.C. Sproul, Jr., and other Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists.
With that said, I want to clarify something on the front of compatibilism before I go into theodicies.
Most Christians are compatibilists
This may be a shocker for some Christians, but I’ll say it anyway: most Christians are compatibilists! In other words, most Christians believe that there is a way (even those who believe the answer will never be found here) to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility. So, with the label of “compatibilist,” certain theological systems or theories aren’t named very well. “Compatibilist” is a general term that should never be named for a view that attempts to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
Calvinism, for example, is a “compatibilist” view – since it seeks to place “evil” under the umbrella of divine sovereignty and proclaim that God uses the evil to “bring about a greater good” (hence, the Greater Good theodicy). Molinism is a compatibilist view (my mentor would say it’s a soft compatibilist view) that seeks to recognize true human choice but gives God sovereignty by saying that “we freely choose what God has predetermined.”
The words “freely choose” and “predetermined” aren’t necessarily contradictions, a statement I’ve said a time or two here at the blog. In actuality, “predetermined” is a vague term that calls for qualification: does the “predetermined” used here refer to God deciding what choices you and I will make? Or, does the word “predetermined” refer to God determining that you and I would make choices (the right to choose, not the individual choices themselves? It seems that, in Molinism, however, God decides what choices will actualize in the world – which seems to be nothing more than Shakespeare’s statement that “all the world’s a stage, and all the people in it are players.”
Classical or Reformed Arminianism suggests that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are compatible because the Lord God, in His sovereignty, granted free will to men. The freedom granted, however, is not autonomous. If it were, 1) we would not be accountable to God for our choices, which goes against the biblical record (2 Corinthians 5:10), and 2) we could reach divinity or Godhood – which didn’t go so well when Adam and Eve tried it the first time (see Genesis 3). Also, if we had autonomous freedom, God would never have promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, referring to Jesus Christ who would be born of the virgin Mary (Genesis 3:15; Romans 16:20). The fact that God had already planned to send Jesus down the line through humanity shows that God foreknew of Adam and Eve’s sin and planned a solution “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).