Sunday, September 16, 2018

Arguing from the Band Waggon: the critics of open theism

Sometimes it is wearying to read the terrible arguments that some writers offer. I just recently stumbled upon one example from a writer within my own faith tradition. In the article, the writer is analyzing the four views in the book Four Views of Divine Providence. When he commented upon the section promoting open theism he failed to properly critique it. He began with a tight and correct explanation of open theism:
Open Theists do not see God as being outside of time in any sense, and so future events are not yet real to God anymore than they are to us. It would then be logically impossible for God to know that which has not yet happened, that is, what is logically impossible to know. (Benjamin Williams, Four Views of Divine Knowledge,, accessed 2018 09 16)
I don't think I could have said it better myself. Unfortunately, in critique he wrote:
The bad news is that – simply stated – Open Theism is heresy. It is a view of God’s nature which undermines and at times outright denies characteristics of God plainly attributed to God in Scripture, upheld in tradition, and demanded by philosophy. It rejects the conclusions regarding God of the ancient creeds and the philosophical work derived from them, specifically impassibility and aseity. For Open Theism, God’s providential plan is a “choose your own adventure” book. Open Theism states that the future is unknownable and that the outcome of God’s will for this world is equally uncertain (as in open ended). God is in genuine risk of losing his war with evil, though an Open Theist would state that God’s infinite intelligence assures him that he will not. Scripture on the other hand shows God mocking any counterfeit God who lacks the capacity to know the future with certainty: “Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. … Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods … Behold, you are nothing” (Isaiah 41:21-24). While I find Open Theism a “useful heresy,” one that helps me to ask difficult questions of my own view, it is ultimately unscriptural and false.
Here is what I believe Brother Williams just said (my paraphrase).
Open Theism is heresy. If there is anything that is abundantly and crystal clear in the Bible, it is that God is impassible (experiences no emotion) and self-existent (the meaning of "aseity"). Can I get an "Amen?" God is at risk of losing his war with evil, and nobody wants that; so we must reject any notion of God taking risks because, well, that's just inappropriate. Yes. The Bible is filled with details that show us that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge. Furthermore, all the theological philosophers and the most important church fathers (Augustine?) believed that God has this knowledge. While you can trust me that the Bible is full of examples of God's definite foreknowledge, I offer the most bullet-proof example in Isaiah 41:21-24 in which God mocks the idols for their inability to know the future!
This kind of argument fails with a great crash when cross examined. The Bible is my source for understanding the nature and character of God. Furthermore, in the Restoration Movement, the authority of the Bible is the highest authority on earth regarding God. It is difficult for me to care less what Augustine thought; and I am not too impressed with theological philosophy supporting some divine characteristic of God (e.g., deterministic) when another philosopher can highlight faults of the philosophy and present her own metaphysical arguments in favor of something else (e.g., open theism). I want to see the plethora of irrefutable Bible evidence that God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge.

Let us, for example, look at Brother Williams' prime example scripture citation:
Isaiah 41:21-24
Set forth your case, says the Lord;
    bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.

Let them bring them, and tell us
    what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
    so that we may consider them,
and that we may know their outcome;
    or declare to us the things to come.

Tell us what is to come hereafter,
    that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
    that we may be afraid and terrified.

You, indeed, are nothing
    and your work is nothing at all;
    whoever chooses you is an abomination.
The obvious point in this passage is that God is challenging the idols to do something they cannot do but God can do. And what does God mock the idols for not being able to do? Read, with comprehension, verse 23 again (emphasis mine):
Tell us what is to come hereafter,
    that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
    that we may be afraid and terrified.
God is not challenging the idols to predict something from simple foreknowledge. He is challenging them to report their plans and then to do them! Declaring God's plans and then fulfilling those plans is something God is able to do that the idols cannot do. God is able tell his people what is going to happen and what will come hereafter because God is going to do it (see Isaiah 46:11)! This is more than simple foreknowledge. It is God's plans. In fact, Isaiah 41:25-29 is quite specific that God has called by name (indicating Cyrus) the one who will overthrow Babylon (Isaiah 41:25). The point in this passage is that the Babylonian idols will not be able to save Babylon from God's messiah Cyrus (see Isaiah 45:1).

When someone attacks a conviction by calling it "just wrong" and saying that "it is obviously wrong" and saying "it violates crystal clear divine teaching," that critic is resorting to "begging the question" and "bandwagon" fallacies.

Open theism is just a coin term to describe what subscribers believe is the biblical description of God. It started with Bible study and eventually it was given a name. It did not start with philosophy and a subsequent combing of the scriptures for out-of-context verses to support the philosophy. The more popular theories actually did come about in that shameful way.