Monday, August 30, 2010

"Most Moved Mover," Pt. I-B: The Conditional God

“God has sovereignly decided to make some of his actions contingent on our requests and actions. God establishes the project and elicits our collaboration in it. Hence THERE IS CONDITIONALITY IN GOD, in that he truly responds to what we do” (Clark H. Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, page 5).

The words “unconditional” and “conditional” are interesting words used in the study of theology. The first time I encountered these rather “philosophical” terms was when I began to study Calvinism and Arminianism. Now, whenever someone mentions that they believe in “unconditional” election, I am always quick to ask, “What do you mean by ‘unconditional’?” Chances are, the word will be defined in one of two ways: (1) the word means that God has “no conditions” imposed on Him. In other words, God is free to do whatever He pleases. (2) the word means that God requires nothing from the person in regards to salvation. Calvinists are often quick to use the second definition; in the context of election, Calvinists are quick to say that God chooses persons for salvation without any regard to the persons themselves.

Here is how Calvinist James White defines unconditional election:

“Unconditional election is simply the recognition of the biblical teaching that God is free in the matter of salvation. He chooses to exercise mercy and grace toward undeserving creatures solely on the basis of ‘the good pleasure of His will’ (Ephesians 1:5). There is nothing in the creature that merits, earns, or attracts His favor. His election is ‘unconditional’ in that it is based solely on His purpose and His pleasure and not in anything whatsoever in the creature” (James White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, pages 91-92).

For White, “unconditional” tells us that God is free to do anything He desires to do in the world. Nothing can “force His hand” or command Him to do anything. Nothing forces itself on Him from the outside; rather, He does what He wants because of His own will from within God Himself.

Here is what Edwin Palmer had to say about “unconditional”:

“But, amazing as it may seem, divine election is always an unconditional election. GOD NEVER BASES HIS CHOICE ON WHAT MAN THINKS, SAYS, DOES, OR IS” (Edwin H. Palmer, “The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide, The Enlarged Edition.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 26).

Loraine Boettner quotes from the Westminster Confession:

“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere grace and love, WITHOUT ANY FORESIGHT OF FAITH OR GOOD WORKS, OR PERSEVERANCE IN EITHER OF THEM, OR ANY OTHER THING IN THE CREATURE, AS CONDITIONS, OR CAUSES MOVING HIM THEREUNTO; and all to the praise of His glorious grace” (Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1932, page 84).

According to Boettner, God chooses some persons for salvation and glory without considering whether or not these persons will believe. Without going into too much detail, let me say that the Westminster Confession is responsible for why so many laypersons in the church believe that they can confess Christ and live like children of the devil: because their faith, or good works in the faith have nothing to do with their salvation. They were not saved because of faith (according to the Calvinist view), and they were not saved to do good works. They don’t need to do anything but trust in the fact that they are a part of the elect...and they are guaranteed salvation, regardless of their immoral lifestyles.

Here is how authors David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn define the term:

“The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save. GOD COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE ALL MEN (FOR HE HAD THE POWER AND AUTHORITY TO DO SO) OR HE COULD HAVE CHOSEN TO SAVE NONE (FOR HE WAS UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO SHOW MERCY TO ANY)---but He did neither. Instead, He chose to save some and to exclude others. His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Thus, election was not determined by, or conditioned upon, anything that men would do, but resulted entirely from God’s self-determined purpose” (David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition.” Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2004, page 27).

What I like about Steele, Thomas, and Quinn’s definition is that they argue that God does not have to do anything: God has freedom in everything that He does! And every choice that God makes is not a choice He was bound to make! God makes no choice out of necessity, but out of freedom.

Now, how does Pinnock’s quote fit into the discussion? Let’s see it again:

“God has sovereignly decided to make some of his actions contingent on our requests and actions. God establishes the project and elicits our collaboration in it. HENCE THERE IS CONDITIONALITY IN GOD, in that he truly responds to what we do” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 5).

Pinnock states it here in so many words: “there is conditionality in God.” In God’s essence, there is conditionality. If the definition of “unconditional,” referring to God’s essence, means that He never changes or is ever bound to do anything by any creature, then what does “conditionality in God” look like? I’ll tell you the answer: God’s essence becomes conditional and subject to change; in addition, God is now forced to do what He does because of creatures outside of Him. God is no longer “independent” and free to do what He wants, but “obligated” or “forced” to do what He does because of His creation. To say it bluntly, God is “dependent” upon the creature!!!

One element of conditionality within God refers to a state of change in His essence. Pinnock goes on to discuss this on the page right after he makes the above statement:

“While the creatures can be relational, God’s essence cannot be involved in real relationships with a changing world, LEST IT CHANGE TOO” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 6).

The “it” of the end of Pinnock’s statement refers to “God’s essence” mentioned right before it. In other words, God’s essence has to change in order for God to have real relationship with His creatures. Pinnock gets more graphic about God’s “change in essence” when he writes the following:

“Philo defined the divine essence as ‘that which is’. THIS IS A NON-RELATIONAL TERM THAT DISPLACES THE PERSONAL GOD OF THE BIBLICAL REVELATION and causes God’s attributes to acquire meanings they would not otherwise have had” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 69).

If God’s essence is not “that which is,” then God cannot be “I am that I am”; rather, God is simply “becoming.” And this is in line with Process Theology. What does Process Theology say? I will reveal Process thought and more of Pinnock’s extremely disturbing words in my next post.

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