Friday, September 3, 2010

Biblical Faithfulness: How Calvinism and Open Theism Fail the Test

“To say God knows what we will do in a set of circumstances is to return to determinism. Similarly simple-foreknowledge has the same results. Pinnock notes, ‘I found I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have already been spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have significant choices to make would be mistaken.’ The free-will theists therefore agree with Calvinists like Jonathan Edwards, that foreknowledge implies foreordination and that classical Arminianism is guilty of importing Calvinistic thought into its doctrine of omniscience. Pinnock therefore points the way forward to a MORE CONSISTENT ‘neo-Arminian’ position which attempts to uphold full libertarian freedom and a doctrine of omniscience” (Daniel Strange, “The Price of Internal Consistency?” Tyndale Bulletin 51.1 (2000): 139-150).

I am aware that I provided a portion of this quote in my last
post; but for this post, I wanna focus more on the idea that Classical Arminians are supposedly “guilty of importing Calvinistic thought into its doctrine of omniscience.” Clark Pinnock, an Open Theist, as well as Calvinists (and all Open Theists), accuse Classical Arminians of being inconsistent in their doctrine of omniscience. For me, this is a huge deal because my theological system is in the “hot seat” if Open Theists and Calvinists are right.

First, let me respond by discussing Calvinism, the first opposing system to Classical Arminianism. Classical Calvinism is a coherent, consistent, five-point system which is spelled in the acronym “TULIP”---Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints. Each of the points follows in light of the one before it. Each of the points of the system is philosophically consistent. Would I say that Calvinism is philosophically consistent? Yep. The God of Calvinism is the all-determining ruler of the universe, such that God can pick some to be saved while reprobating the rest eternally. The God of Classical Calvinism does not “pass over” anyone; rather, He reprobates them from all eternity to suffer in Hell. And for those that He picks, the outcome is marvelous for them. After all, they are the “specially elect,” are they not?

Now, someone may ask me, “What’s the problem with Calvinism? God is sovereign, right? And we want to exalt the Lord above ourselves, right?” We do. I do. But the problem comes in when you consider that the tenets of Calvinism, while “philosophically” consistent, are “biblically” unfaithful. Take the “L” of Limited Atonement, for example: Limited Atonement states that “Christ’s saving work was limited in that it was designed to save some and not others” (David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented, Second Edition.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 40). However, the Scriptures themselves testify that Christ came for all (1 Timothy 2:4; John 3:16-17, for example). As a Classical Arminian, I would agree with the Calvinist that there is a “limit” in the atonement; but the “limit” in the atonement is in regards to “those who receive it,” not those for whom Christ died. Christ died for all, but only those who believe appropriate the atonement to their lives. As Jesus says in John 3:18, “the one who believes is not condemned, but the one who does not believe is condemned already.” I could use other examples where I disagree, but I think one will suffice.

What about the God of Open Theism? The God of Open Theism undermines sovereignty and libertarian free will altogether; for, if God is not sovereign, and He gives us power that not even God can control, then, in essence, God gives us power that allows us to become “our own little gods” and therefore, can trump God’s sovereignty. If this is not the case, then God, having no sovereignty, can give us no freedom at all; for if God be helpless, then so are we.

How logical is the Open Theist argument? How is it that God, having made us and created us, cannot know our future choices? God is qualitatively superior to us (Creator, Lord, eternal), while we are qualitatively inferior to God (creatures, servants, temporal). If God is superior to us, then how can we, being inferior, do things that “take The Superior God by surprise”? This is like saying that, for example, because I build an automobile, and the automobile has a life of its own, that the automobile can do things that I cannot know it will do. Did I not build the vehicle? Did I not put the components of the car together? Did I not hook all the wires and perform all the electricity and wiring tests on the car? Did I not make the body of the car? Yes, I did all those things (just an example here...I have never built an actual vehicle). And if I built the car from scratch, then, I should know what is in the car and what could go wrong with the car. And if something does go wrong, then I can have some idea of why the car is doing what it’s doing. And this is all because I know the car in a way that I nothing else...because I made it.

If this is true, then surely, God must know His creatures on a far grander scale than me building a car! After all, does not Scripture say that “even the hairs of [our] head[s] have all been counted” (Matthew 10:30, HCSB)? God knows, then, every itty bitty little thing about us, including the hairs on our head. Since God knows even the number of hairs on my head, what is there that He does not (and cannot) know? Open Theism might seem philosophically consistent (like Calvinism)...but it is biblically unfaithful. To affirm Open Theism, one must look Matthew 10:29-30 in the face and say, “I don’t believe what it says”; and that is simply something I cannot do. I have too much Christian conviction for that.

So Open Theism might seem “philosophically consistent”; but in the end, the system as a whole is biblically unfaithful. And this comes down to the last question I’d like to ask: “Which determines which: theology or philosophy?” Down through the centuries, philosophy has always been seen as “theology’s handmaiden.” And I still believe this to be true: that philosophy’s job is not to “overpower” theology, but to “undergird” it, to support what we know biblically to be true. In Proverbs 9:10 we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (HCSB). I still believe that, in order to do philosophy, in order to be “a lover of wisdom” (Grk. “philos,” meaning “love” + “sophia”, meaning “wisdom”), one must first fear God. How do we reverentially fear the Lord? We do, as Solomon states:

“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this [is for] all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, HCSB).

How do we fear God? We keep His commandments. And where are they spelled out for us? In His Word (“theology” in the Greek means “logia,” “word” and “theos,” God. Theology simply means “Word of God”).

Let theology, the Word of God, be our drive for life and for theological systems. If theology drives our philosophy, Calvinism and Open Theism will both be exposed as systems that are biblically unfaithful. And in this case, we will all be forced to abandon them both in search of something better.

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