Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Most Moved Mover," Pt. I: Aquinas in Reverse

“God is not dead, but some of the ways we have presented God are dead. By distancing God so far from the world and from human affairs, theology has prepared the way for secularism and atheism. Of course, the living God is not dead. He is the God of the Bible, the one who is genuinely related to the world, whose nature is the power of love and whose relationship with the world is that of a most moved, not unmoved, Mover” (Clark H. Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, page 3).

This post will start a new series here at the Center for Theological Studies (CTS). For those of you who may not know, Dr. Clark H. Pinnock, Open Theist theologian from McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, died August 15, 2010 at the age of 73 from alzheimer’s disease. I learned about Dr. Pinnock while taking an introduction to Christian Theology under Dr. Ken Keathley, author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.”

Dr. Pinnock was formerly a five-point Calvinist, conservative Southern Baptist, and former professor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was once mentor to the “bulldog” of Southern Baptist life and leader in the Conservative Resurgence, Dr. Paige Patterson. Pinnock later abandoned five-point Calvinism, left Southern Baptist life, and advocated openness theology. My desire to read Pinnock’s work these days is due to a desire I’ve always had to study Openness Theology (Open Theism). While most evangelicals (me included) believe that Open Theism hinges (if not swims) in heresy, I still believe that Openness Theology should be read, examined, and given a fair hearing. For those who wanna read more on Clark Pinnock’s life, see his own “Grace of God, Will of Man” as well as his other books. According to the cover of the book I will discuss for the next several posts, Pinnock “has authored, edited, or coauthored fifteen books.” Google searches can even be done to discover more about the man himself.

Starting with this post, I will discuss Clark Pinnock’s book, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” This post will serve as an introduction to the series. In other words, I hope to show via the three most important words of the title, “Most Moved Mover,” what the readership can expect from Pinnock’s work.

The title “Most Moved Mover” (for those of you who may not know) is a reference to Aquinas’s labeling of God in his work, “Summa Contra Gentiles.” We find Aquinas’s classification of God in Book One (“God”) of the Summa Contra. Aquinas writes as follows:

“Everything that is moved is moved by another. That some things are in motion---for example, the sun---is evident from sense. Therefore, it is moved by something else that moves it. This mover is itself either moved or not moved. If it is not, we have reached our conclusion---namely, that we must posit SOME UNMOVED MOVER. THIS WE CALL GOD. If it is moved, it is moved by another mover. We must, consequently, either proceed to infinity, or we must arrive at some unmoved mover. Now, it is not possible to proceed to infinity. Hence, we must posit some prime unmoved mover” (Thomas Aquinas, “Summa Contra Gentiles, Book One: God.” Translated by Anton C. Pegis. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003, page 86).

Aquinas’s words show us that everything that moves is moved by something else. Why, for example, does a ball roll? It rolls because someone “pushed” the ball and set it into physical motion. The ball did not possess the ability within itself to set itself into motion. If the object must be acted upon before it can move, then it cannot move itself. Only self-moveable objects are able to both stand still and move themselves into motion.

So, what do we do with a chain of motion, ball #1 rolling into ball #2, ball #2 then rolling into ball #3, #3 then rolling into #4...etc? Usually, we desire to find the origin or cause of the motion. We must then retrace our steps: how did ball #4 come into motion? Because of ball #3; #3 was pushed into motion by #2, and #2 was pushed by ball #1. But what pushed ball #1 into motion? The person. Someone had to push the first ball into motion, before the other balls (2, 3, 4) even started to roll. Therefore, the person is the cause of the motion. Since the person pushed the other balls into motion, the person becomes the “mover” of the rolling balls...and, since he or she was not pushed into motion, the person becomes the “unmoved mover.”

What Aquinas was getting at is the idea of the origin of life. Everything on earth that we see was brought into motion by something or someone. Whatever that “something” or “someone” is, it cannot be identical to the creation itself. In some sense, the origin of life itself must be superior to, and separate from, the creation. In Aquinas’s theology, we call this “Unmoved Mover” GOD!

But notice the title of Pinnock’s work: “Most Moved Mover.” The question now becomes, what are the implications of Pinnock’s title in relation to God? Aquinas labeled God the “Unmoved Mover,” referring to the fact that God sets things into motion (“mover”), while not being moved by anything Himself (“Unmoved”). What does Pinnock mean by his labeling of God as the “Most Moved Mover”? First, God sets things into motion (“mover”), but GOD HIMSELF IS SET INTO MOTION (“moved”); and finally, to make matters worse, GOD IS SET INTO MOTION BY THINGS THAT ARE ALSO SET INTO MOTION. In short, God is the most inferior of all objects set into motion. Two other objects are superior to Him (which is why He is “most moved”). As a result, the Creator now becomes “a most inferior creation” instead of “a most superior Creator.” In other words, we have the exact reversal of Thomas Aquinas! WOW! Lord, have mercy on us all...

In case my critique of Pinnock does not seem fair, read his words regarding Aquinas:

“The parable (Lk. 15:11-32) dramatizes the truth of the open view of God: he is a loving person who seeks freely chosen relationships of love with his creatures; HE IS NOT A PILLAR AROUND WHICH EVERYTHING MOVES (THOMAS AQUINAS)...” (Clark Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 4).

In another place, Pinnock critiques Thomism (philosophical and theological system of Thomas Aquinas) as a whole:

“Conventional theism is not a single model but comes in different versions. Thomism, for example, places emphasis on God’s immutability AND MUST BE CRITICIZED FOR THREATENING REAL RELATIONSHIPS...” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 8)

Now, I must admit: there is a problem with some of the implications of Thomist philosophy that have entered evangelicalism today; however, the philosophy itself just makes plain sense. God cannot be the “most moved mover,” even if that means God is less “relational” than you or I would like Him to be. If God really is what Pinnock calls Him (“Most Moved Mover”), then He is ANYTHING but the God of the Bible. Pinnock’s God, in such a case, would be inferior to Aquinas’s God because, at the very least, Aquinas does not have to eradicate God’s sovereignty to make room for the kind of divine-human relationships that Openness Theology demands.

For those who prepare to read this book, I wanna warn you: proceed with caution. Nevertheless, the book will mention quite a few issues that openness theology has with Classical Arminianism. Still, though, at the end of the day, I think Classical Arminians are more orthodox in their theology. The day that we convert to Open Theism, Lord have mercy on us all...Lord, have mercy, on us all.

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