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June 2005

June 30, 2005

I recently found the following lengthy excerpt from the book Pilgrim Fellowship Of Faith: The Church As Communion by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI). There are a few typos in the text, but since I do not own this particular book I am unable to correct them. This represents the current pope’s stance on Sola Scriptura, so while it takes a few minutes to read, it is important to digest.

From here until further notice you’re reading the words of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

“Beside this essential authority of theology [Scripture], can there be any other? The answer would seem to have to be No: this is the critical point in the dispute between Reformed and Catholic theology. Nowadays, even the greater part of evangelical theologians recognize, in varying forms, that sola Scriptura, that is, the restriction of the Word to the book, cannot be maintained. On the basis of its inner structure, the Word always comprises a surplus beyond what could go into the book. This relativizing of the scriptural principle, from which Catholic theology also has something to learn and on account of which both sides can make a new approach to each other, is in part the result of ecumenical dialogue but, to a greater degree, has been determined by the progress of historico-critical interpretation of the Bible, which has in any case learned thereby to recognize its own limits. Two things have above all become clear about the nature of the biblical word in the process of critical exegesis. First of all, that the word of the Bible, at the moment it was set down in writing, already had behind it a more or less long process of shaping by oral tradition and that it was not frozen at the moment it was written down, but entered into new processes of interpretation–”relectures”–that further develop its hidden potential. Thus, the extent of the Word’s meaning cannot be reduced to the thoughts of a single author in a specific historical moment; it is not the property of a single author at all; rather, it lives in a history that is ever moving onward and, thus, has dimensions and depths of meaning in past and future that ultimately pass into the realm of the unforeseen.

“It is only at this point that we can begin to understand the [?] of inspiration; we can see where God mysteriously into what is human and purely human authorship is transcended. Yet that also means that Scripture is not a meteorite fallen from the sky, so that it would, with the strict otherness of a stone that comes from the sky and not from the .:earth, stand in contrast to all human words. Certainly, Scripture carries God’s thoughts within it: that makes it unique and constitutes it an “authority”. Yet it is transmitted by a human history. It carries within it the life and thought of a historical society that we call the “People of God”, because they are brought together, and held together, by the coming of the divine Word. There is a reciprocal relationship: This society is the essential condition for the origin and the growth of the biblical Word; and, conversely, this Word gives the society its identity and its continuity. Thus, the analysis of the structure of the biblical Word has brought to light an interwoven relationship between Church and Bible, between the People of God and the Word of God, which we had actually always known, somehow, in a theoretical way but had never before had so vividly set before us.

“The second element that relativizes the scriptural principle follows from what we have just said. Luther was persuaded of the “perspicuitas” of Scripture—of its being unequivocal, a quality that rendered superfluous any official institution for determining its interpretation. The idea of an unequivocal meaning is constitutive for the scriptural principle. For if the Bible is not, as a book, unequivocal in itself, then in itself alone, as a book, it cannot be what was given in advance, which guides us. It would then still be leaving us again to our own devices. Then, we should still be left alone again with our thinking, which is helpless in the face of what is essential in existence. Yet this fundamental postulate of Scripture’s unambiguousness has had to be dropped, on account of both the structure of the Word and the concrete experiences of scriptural interpretation. It is untenable on the basis of the objective structure of the Word, on account of its own dynamic, which points beyond what is written. It is above all the most profound meaning of the Word that is grasped only when we move beyond what is merely written. Yet the postulate is also untenable from its subjective side, that is to say, on the basis of the essential laws of the rationality of history. The history of exegesis is a history of contradictions; the daring constructions of many modern exegetes, right up to the materialistic interpretation of the Bible, show that the Word, if left alone as a book, is a helpless prey to manipulation through preexisting desires and opinions.

“Scripture, the Word we have been given, with which theology concerns itself, does not, on the basis of its own nature, exist as a book alone. Its human author, the People of God, is alive and through all the ages has its own consistent identity. The home it has made for itself and that supports it is its own interpretation, which is inseparable from itself. Without this surviving and living agent, the Church, Scripture would not be contemporary with us; it could then no longer combine, as is its true nature, synchronic and diachronic existence, history and the present day, but would fall back into a past that cannot be recalled; it would become literature that one interpreted in the way one can interpret literature. And with that, theology itself would decline into literary history and the history of past times, on one hand, and into the philosophy of religion and religious studies in general, on the other.

“It is perhaps helpful to express this interrelationship in a more concrete way for the New Testament. Along the whole path of faith, from Abraham up to the completion of the biblical canon, a confession of faith was built up that was given its real center and shape by Christ himself The original of existence of the Christian profession of faith, how was the sacramental life of the Church. It is by this criterion that the canon was shaped, and that is why the ‘Creed is the primary authority for the interpretation of the Bible. Yet the Creed is not a piece of literature : for a long time, people quite consciously avoided writing down the rule of faith that produced the Creed, just because it is the concrete life of the believing community. Thus, the authority of the Church that speaks out, the authority of the apostolic succession, is written into Scripture through the Creed and is indivisible from it. The teaching office of the apostles’ successors does not represent a second authority alongside Scripture but is inwardly a part of it. This viva vox is not there to restrict the authority of Scripture or to limit it or even replace it by the existence of another — on the contrary, it is its task to ensure that Scripture is not disposable, cannot be manipulated, to preserve its proper perspicuitas, its clear meaning from the conflict of hypotheses. Thus, there is a secret relationship of reciprocity. Scripture sets limits and a standard for the viva vox; the living voice guarantees that it cannot be manipulated.

“I can certainly understand the anxiety of Protestant theologians, and nowadays of many Catholic theologians, especially of exegetes, that the principle of a teaching office might impinge upon the freedom and the authority of the Bible and, thus, upon those of theology as a whole. There is a passage from the famous exchange of letters between Harnack and Peterson in 1928 that comes to mind. Peterson, the younger of the two, who was a seeker after truth, had pointed out in a letter to Harnack that he himself, in a scholarly article entitled “The Old Testament in the Pauline Letters and the Pauline Congregations”, had for practical purposes expressed the Catholic teaching about Scripture, tradition, and the teaching office. To be precise, Harnack had explained that in the New Testament the “authority of the apostolic teaching is found side by side with … the authority of ‘Scripture’, organizing it and setting limits to it”, and that thus “biblicism received a healthy correction”. In response to Peterson’s pointing this out, Harnack replied to his younger colleague, with his usual nonchalance: “That the so-called ‘formal principle’ of early Protestantism is impossible from a critical point of view and that the Catholic principle is in contrast formally better is a truism; but materially the Catholic principle of tradition wreaks far more havoc in history.” What is obvious, and even indisputable, in principle arouses fear in reality.

“Much could be said about Harnack’s diagnosis of where more havoc has been wreaked in history, that is, where the advance gift of the Word has been more seriously threatened, This is not the time to do so. Over and beyond any disputes, it is clear that neither side can dispense with relying on the power of the Holy Spirit for protection and guidance. An ecclesiastical authority can become arbitrary if the Spirit does not guard it. But the arbitrary whims of interpretation left to itself, with all its variations, certainly offers no less danger, as history shows. Indeed, the miracle that would have to be worked there in order to preserve unity and to render the challenge and stature of the Word effective is far more improbable than the one needed to keep the service of the apostolic succession within its proper bounds.

“Let us leave such speculation aside. The structure of the Word is sufficiently unequivocal, but the demands it makes on those called to responsibility in succession to the apostles are indeed weighty. The task of the teaching office is, not to oppose thinking, but to ensure that the authority of the answer that was bestowed on us has its say and, thus, to make the truth itself to enter. To be given such a task is exciting and dangerous. It requires the humility of submission, of listening and obeying. It is a matter, not of putting own ideas into effect, but of keeping a place for what the Other has to say, that Other without whose ever-present Word all else drops into the void. The teaching office, properly understood, must be a humble service undertaken to ensure that true theology remains possible and that the answers may thus be heard without which we cannot live aright.”


This ends the excerpt.

Now as you may have noticed, there is not much there that has not been said before. This passage contains many of the standard fallacies people use to warn against Sola Scriptura. One thing I found particularly offensive, as a Protestant, was the assumption that biblical interpretation not made by “the teaching office” is arbitrary. “But the arbitrary whims of interpretation left to itself, with all its variations, certainly offers no less danger, as history shows.” While he does not say “all Protestant interpretation is arbitrary,” he might as well for that is certainly what he wishes to convey. He has earlier warned “the daring constructions of many modern exegetes, right up to the materialistic interpretation of the Bible, show that the Word, if left alone as a book, is a helpless prey to manipulation through preexisting desires and opinions.” Clearly this is meant to serve as a warning against those who misuse God’s Word. But what of the “careful constructions of biblical exegetes?” What of the men - men like Luther, Calvin, Hodge, Edwards (to name just a few) - who have labored over the Scripture, being ever-so-careful not to manipulate it, but to allow God to guide their interpretation? Do they merit no more attention or appreciation than those who manipulate it with their preexisting desires and opinions? Does not the Church itself cast preexisting desires and opinions on the Scripture?

Remember, that this is the pope many Protestants feel may be the bridge to ever-greater unity between Catholics and Protestants. Yet he clearly, unequivocably denies Sola Scriptura (as indeed a pope must to maintain consistency with his office and his faith). If Protestants wish to build bridges with the Catholic Church, they must know in advance that it will be on the terms of the papacy, not on their terms.

Incidentally, I’d like to see James White make a response to Ratzinger’s book (or this portion of it). Seeing as White has written extensively about Catholic doctrine and Sola Scripture I’m sure he would have many interesting things to say. So Dr.O - there’s a challenge for you.

June 29, 2005

Adrian Warnock, who is one of the reviewers for the Diet of Bookworms book review program wants to begin reviewing commentaries. I told him that I in my opinion there would not be enough interest among readers of blogs. After all, the book review program only makes sense to publishers if the people reading the reviews are interested in the book. I thought a 352 page linguistic, literary, and theological commentary on the first four chapters of Genesis would not have popular appeal. He disagreed, so we decided to take it to a poll. You can vote at Adrian’s site.

A couple of months ago Albert Mohler mentioned that he would provide some commentary on D.A. Carson’s book Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church. He has finally posted the first part of his review which you can read here. I am not sure how many parts there will be to this article series. Part two will be posted tomorrow.

My friend Dan has just completed his 13-part mega-series on The Christian & the Business World. Dan, please create an index, at least on the first and last articles! While I have given the series a quick read, now that it’s complete I will go back and read it carefully. You might just benefit from doing the same.

Jollyblogger is selling I Think Therefore I Blog t-shirts. You know you want one! I can file this away in the “I wish I’d thought of that first” files…

And finally, Phil Johnson has a wonderful obituary for Dr. Jack MacArthur who died two weeks ago at the age of 91. He sums up MacArthur’s life with beautiful words from Scripture. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord … that they may rest from their labours” (Revelation 14:13).

June 29, 2005

Today I come looking for answers. I trust that some of you lurking out there have some experience in this matter that you will be willing and able to share.

As you know, I lead a home church (small group Bible study) through my church. Not too long ago our discussion turned to our children and the proper time and place to address the birds and the bees with them. The children in our group range from nearly-teens to infants. None of us have yet had to see our children through their teenage years, though a couple of the families are getting very close. Some of the children have already had a version of “the talk.” I’d hate to put words into the mouths of those parents, but it seems that they are not entirely confident that they went about things in the best way.

By way of background, all of the children in the group attend either public or Catholic schools. The Catholic School Board has only moderately better values than the Public, but of course the children are not much different. If my experience in Christian schools is any indication, they are probably far worse than their unchurched counterparts.

It seems that children these days know a whole lot more than they did ten or twenty years ago. If my experience is any indication, children learn at least the basics of sexuality from their friends. I assume my childhood was quite typical in that I slowly became aware of sex and sexuality through whispered words about what people did behind closed doors. At some point a friend got ahold of a Playboy Magazine he stole from his older brother, and we became somewhat acquainted with the allure of the naked female form. Of course I did not share any of this with my parents, and they, as parents tend to do, assumed I was perfectly naive and innocent. I didn’t know much, but I knew there were secrets. And I knew those secrets were forbidden to me at the time which just made me want to know them more.

My first memory of my parents formally addressing sexuality with me was through the book Preparing for Adolescence by James Dobson. It had all the usual warnings about increasing amounts of body hair and the need for deodorant, but also had a chapter about (tee hee) sex. I was obviously a pivotal moment in my life because I still remember many of the details. Dobson talked about how as a boy I would start to notice girl’s bodies (particular parts of their bodies more than others) and so on. My parents let me read it and then talked it over a little bit. My family was very open about such matters, so it was not particularly humiliating talking to them about it. And that was that. As I grew older I had the occasional opportunity to look at a dirty magazine, but since I was far too timid to steal one for myself (which is how my friends got them, of course) I really did not have much access to pornography. And for this I am exceedingly thankful. When I became a believer in my mid-teens, I became convicted that I should not be polluting my mind with such filth, and as far as I remember, I didn’t. Whether that was because of conviction or lack of opportunity I cannot say.

So I guess I can summarize my experience as follows:

  • I came from a family that did not consider sexuality a forbidden topic. Thus I knew it existed, but only that it was for mommies and daddies.
  • As I got older I was introduced by my friends to sexuality and to some extent, to deviant sexuality.
  • My parents intervened while I was still young and taught me about God’s design for sexuality.
  • After that foundation was laid I learned more about sexuality from my friends, but I knew instinctively what was deviant because I had the proper foundation.

As I look to the future, I realize that I want to ensure that I begin to lay the foundation for a proper understanding of sexuality while my children are still young. Ideally I would like to get to them before their friends do. However, I would love to see them maintain their innocence and childlike naivety as long as it is both proper and possible. While my wife and I are hesitant to put our children in the Public School system, we are not planning on homeschooling them, so whether in Christian or Public schools (or in the neighbourhood or in church), they will be surrounded by friends who may know more than they do while at a younger age.

At this point the questions I have should be quite obvious. When do you feel is the best time to begin educating your children about sexuality? When do you feel it is time to give them more detail? How much do you feel it is proper to tell them? To what extent do you address deviant sexuality in your talks with them? Do you make them aware of the many improper forms of sexuality they may be exposed to that are directly unbiblical?

So many questions. I would love to hear from parents who have already addressed these issues with their children. I look forward to learning from your collective wisdom and know that the parents in my home church, who asked me to post about this, do as well.

June 28, 2005

Canada is poised to become one of the most progressive countries in the world. Following in the footsteps of such avant-garde nations as Holland and Belgium, the Canadian government will, in all likelihood, legitimize homosexual marriage this evening. It will still take some time for the law to pass through the necessary channels, but Bill C-38, titled Law on Civil Marriage, is expected to clear the House of Parliament tonight. After that it awaits only the mere formality of passing through the Senate and being passed into law.

The Liberal Party seems to excel at wooing people to their cause. Recently the Conservative Party tried to bring down the government with a non-confidence vote, but the Liberals managed to persuade a Conservative Member of Parliament to cross the floor and join their party (in return for a cabinet position) and her vote was the deciding factor in upholding the status quo. Prior to that the Liberals promised huge amounts of cash to a cause the New Democratic Party supported in order to secure their votes. And now to pass the legislation to allow homosexual marriage, the Liberal Party has formed an unholy union with the Bloq Quebecois, a Quebec party that exists only to split the nation. The party exists to focus only on the needs of a single province at the expense of the others. Yet the Liberals saw fit to join with them in this cause.

The truth is, of course, that the term “homosexual marriage” is an oxymoron, and a tragic one at that. In Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Al Mohler writes, “The fact that homosexual marriage is even an issue for public debate demonstrates that we are a civilization in crisis, because a great many barriers must be breached in order to put this question on the cultural agenda. Firewalls, traditions, habits, and convictional practices must fall before marriage can be redefined and utterly transformed by the inclusion of same-sex relationships” (page 105). Mohler correctly states that at the very heart of this debate is an attitude of moral rebellion that seeks to bring confusion to the God-given order of nature and that seeks to redesign human sexuality.

Tragically, this is no longer a matter of debate in Canada, for the Liberal government has sought to limit debate whenever possible. This is now all but a reality. By this time tomorrow, barring some unforeseen intervention, this legislation will be passed through the House and will await only formatlities before it becomes another sad chapter in Canadian history.

The government has been quick to assure Canadians, the majority of whom are against homosexual marriage, that this legislation will not result in a backlash against Christians (and members of other religions) who teach the homosexuality is wrong. Most Christians are not convinced. In reality we know that it is only a matter of time before speaking out against homosexuality becomes a hate crime. It is only a matter of time before Canadians lose the ability to proclaim a God-given truth - that homosexual marriage is not marriage at all. As the Creator of marriage, God has given us the boundaries of what constitutes marriage. We are not free to tamper with those boundaries and extend them however we want. God clearly states that marriage is to be between one man and one woman. End of story. We, as God’s created beings, have no more right to redefine marriage than you, the reader, has to rename the company I began. I created it and that gave me the right to name it. God created marriage, and thus reserves the right to define and limit it.

So what is a Christian to do as he faces a country that not only allows, but celebrates homosexual marriage? Al Mohler once again provides sound advice. We need to become compassionate truth-tellers. This is a task that is never easy, but carries with it the biblical example of countless men and women. The apostles, for example, were sent out by Jesus to compassionately tell the truth of Jesus Christ. They took this news to all of the known world. They suffered greatly, but witnessed the greatest outpouring of the work of the Holy Spirit the world has ever known. We must take our example from them. We, as Christ’s representatives to the world, as His envoys, need to share our deepest convictions with the world, but to do so in a way that is compassionate and which demonstrates the love of the One whose name we bear.

We must realize that homosexual marriage is not an isolated issue. It is merely a symptom of the wider problem that our society has an unbiblical worldview. We need to frame our response to homosexual marriage within the context of a wider Christian worldview and within the great story of Creation, Fall and Redemption.

Marriage is a Creation ordinance - one that was created by God as a fundamental building-block of His plan for humanity. But the Fall polluted everything, and especially those things which are most pure and most good. When humanity fell, the institution of marriage fell as well. But when Christ paid the price for our Fall and redeemed us to be His people, He graciously allowed marriage to be redeemed in us as well. We see examples of this type of marriage all around us in the church, where a man and woman pledge themselves to each other but also to the Lord. We see glimpses of marriage as it was designed by the Creator. We see that marriage allows no room for same-sex unions.

And so we, as the church, must stand for marriage as God intended it to be. We need not stand with signs and placards and chants, for these address only the result, not the real problem. We must believe that the definition of marriage is not able to be modified, but is firmly set in the very fabric of Creation. We must speak this truth in love and compassion, addressing homosexual marriage not as the greatest evil our nation faces, but as the natural outworking of a larger problem. Without addressing the secular worldview, without addressing the fallenness of our world, we have nothing to offer. But when we lovingly, compassionately offer the world the biblical truth about redemption, we offer hope. We offer an answer. We offer the very compassion of Christ.

June 27, 2005

This is the first in a series of articles that will examine various doctrinal and societal challenges the evangelical church must face early in the 21st Century. Today we will look at the doctrine of open theism. Future articles will examine the Emerging Church, ecumenism, postmodernism, and a variety of other topics.

Open theism is a relatively new doctrine that has only gained popular prominence since 1994 with the release of the book The Openness of God which was written by five evangelical scholars and edited by Clark Pinnock. What began on the fringes of scholarship has quickly gained a popular following, in part because of the publication of entry-level titles such as Gregory Boyd’s God of the Possible and in part because of the acceptance of the doctrine by various popular authors. While many evangelicals do not embrace this doctrine themselves, they may regard it as an optional doctrine that remains within the pale of orthodox evangelicalism. This article will define the doctrine, describe its chief characteristics, introduce its proponents and explain the challenge to the church.

A Definition

This is a definition I have adapted from Monergism.com. “open theism is a sub-Christian theological construct which claims that God’s highest goal is to enter into a reciprocal relationship with man. In this scheme, the Bible is interpreted without any anthropomorphisms - that is, all references to God’s feelings, surprise and lack of knowledge are literal and the result of His choice to create a world where He can be affected by man’s choices. God’s exhaustive knowledge does not include future free will choices by mankind because they have not yet occurred.”

One of the leading spokesmen of open theism, Clark Pinnock, in describing how libertarian freedom trumps God’s omniscience says, “Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential—yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom … The God of the Bible displays an openness to the future (i.e. ignorance of the future) that the traditional view of omniscience simply cannot accommodate.” (Pinnock, “Augustine to Arminius, ” 25-26)

Defining Characteristics

Open theism is characterized in several ways:

  1. God’s greatest attribute is love. God’s love so overshadows His other characteristics that He could never allow or condone evil or suffering to befall mankind.
  2. Man has libertarian free will. Man’s will has not been so effected by the Fall that he is unable to make a choice to follow God. God respects man’s freedom of choice and would not infringe upon it.
  3. God does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. Indeed, He cannot know certain future events because the future exists only as possibility. God is unable to see what depends on the choices of free will agents simply because this future does not yet exist, so it unknowable. In this way open theists attempt to reconcile this doctrine with God’s ominiscience.
  4. God takes risks. Because God cannot know the future, He takes risks in many ways - creating people, giving them gifts and abilities, and so on. Where possibilities exist, so does risk.
  5. God learns. Because God does not know the future exhaustively, He learns, just as we do.
  6. God is reactive. Because He is learning, God is constantly reacting to the decisions we make.
  7. God makes mistakes. Because He is learning and reacting, always dealing with limited information, God can and does make errors in judgment which later require re-evaluation.
  8. God can change His mind. When God realizes He has made an error in judgment or that things did not unfold as He supposed, He can change His mind.

The most important thing to note is that God knows the future only as it is not dependent on human, free-will decisions. God does not know what any free-will agents (ie humans) will do, because those decisions do not yet exist and God cannot know what does not exist. God decided, in Creation, that He would limit Himself in this way in order to give complete freedom to human beings. Therefore, God does not know or control the future - He learns from our decisions and constantly adapts as necessary. He often needs to change His mind or re-evaluate His options as the future unfolds.

Chief Proponents

The best-known proponents of open theism are:

Clark Pinnock - Clark Pinnock spent 25 years preaching, teaching, and writing at McMaster Divinity College after having served previously at the University of Manchester, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Regent College in Vancouver. He is best-known for his contribution to the book The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God.

Greg Boyd - Greg Boyd is the Senior Pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minnesota and previously served as a Professor of Theology at Bethel College for sixteen years. In 2000, Dr. Boyd founded Christus Victor Ministries, a nonprofit organization that promotes faith which satisfies the mind and inspires the heart. Dr. Boyd regularly speaks at academic and religious conferences, college campuses, and churches throughout the United States and abroad. His most popular book is God of the Possible which is a popular defense of open theism.

In Their Own Words

There is no better way of understanding a doctrine than through the words of those who believe and teach it. So let’s turn to some of the prominent Open Theists and hear them in their own words. I will provide brief commentary where appropriate.

We must wonder how the Lord could truly experience regret for making Saul king if he was absolutely certain that Saul would act the way he did. Could God genuinely confess, “I regret that I made Saul king” if he could in the same breath also proclaim, “I was certain of what Saul would do when I made him king?” Common sense tells us that we can only regret a decision we made if the decision resulted in an outcome other than what we expected or hoped for when the decision was made.

Gregory Boyd – God of the Possible, page 56.

Boyd tells us of a God who regrets - a God who sorrows over decisions He has made as He is genuinely saddened by the results of His poor decision.

God makes a covenant with his creation that never again will virtually everything be annihilated. The sign of the rainbow that God gives us a reminder to himself that he will never again tread this path. It may be the case that although human evil caused God great pain, the destruction of what he had made caused him even greater suffering. Although his judgment was righteous, God decides to try different courses of action in the future.

John Sanders – The God Who Risks, page 50.

In this quote we are told that God regrets. God suffered greatly as a result of a decision He made - a decision that may have been rash. It may have been an over-reaction.

I suggested to her that God felt as much regret over the confirmation [of marriage] he had given Suzanne as he did about his decision to make Sault king of Israel. Not that it was a bad decision - at the time, her ex-husband was a good man with a godly character. The prospects that he and Suzanne would have a happy marriage and fruitful ministry were, at the time, very good. Indeed, I strongly suspect that he had influenced Suzanne and her ex-husband [toward] their marriage.

Because her ex-husband was a free agent, however, even the best decisions have sad results. Over time…[he] had opened himself up to the enemy’s influence and became involved in an immoral relationship. Initially, all was not lost, and God and others tried to restore him, but he chose to resist the prompting of the Spirit.

By framing the ordeal within the context of an open future, Suzanne was able to understand the tragedy of her life in a new way. She didn’t have to abandon all confidence in her ability to hear God and didn’t have to accept that somehow God intended this ordeal “for her own good.” … This isn’t a testimony to [God’s] exhaustive definite foreknowledge; it’s a testimony to his unfathomable wisdom.

Gregory Boyd – God of the Possible, pages 105-106.

This has become one of the best-known defenses of open theism and is a story that is told often. God did the best with the information He had at the time and confirmed a woman’s choice of husband. But God was later surprised to see this man prove himself anything but a good husband. God did His best to restore this man, but was unable. God had ultimately made a mistake in confirming Suzanne’s choice of a spouse.

The overarching structures of creation are purposed by God, but not every single detail that occurs within them. Within general providence it makes sense to say that God intends an overall purpose for the creation and that God does not specifically intend each and every action within the creation. Thus God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurence of evil. The “greater good” of establishing the conditions of fellowship between God and creatures does not mean that gratuitous evil has a point. Rather, the possibility of gratuitous evil has a point but its actuality does not. … When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. .. God does not have a specific purpose in mind of these occurences.

John Sanders – The God Who Risks, pages 261-262.

Quotes like this one were used to comfort a shocked world during the aftermath of the Tsunami of 2004. Many professed Christians denied that God had a hand in this disaster, and that He had foreknowledge of it. According to Open theology, there is no purpose in gratutious suffering and evil, and it occurs outside the will and foreknowledge of God.

It is God’s desire that we enter into a give-and-take relationship of love, and this is not accomplished by God’s forcing his blueprint on us. Rather, God wants us to go through life together with him, making decisions together. Together we decide the actual course of my life. God’s will for my life does not reside in a list of specific activities but in a personal relationship. As lover and friend, God works with us wherever we go and whatever we do. To a large extent our future is open and we are to determine what it will be in dialogue with God.

John Sanders – The God Who Risks, page 277.

This quote emphasizes the reciprocal nature of the relationship between men and God espoused by Open Theists. Humans and God work together to create, know and understand the future. When it comes to the future, God is no further ahead we are and no more responsible for what will happen.

[W]e must acknowledge that divine guidance, from our perspective, cannot be considered a means of discovering exactly what will be best in the long run - as a means of discovering the very best long-term option. Divine guidance, rather, must be viewed primarily as a means of determining what is best for us now.

[S]ince God does not necessarily know exactly what will happen in the future, it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may not produce the anticipated results in the long run.

David Basinger – The Openness of God, pages 163 & 165.

Basinger tells us that God’s guidance is accurate only for the present - only with a view to the knowledge God currently posesses. Because God does not know the future, His guidance cannot extend beyond the present. Even the best of God’s wisdom can only anticipate results based on current conditions.

Where You Might Encounter open theism

John Eldredge - Though Eldredge denies he is an open theist, the evidence does not support his claim. Time and time again he speaks of God in ways that can only be explained if you hold such views. While the following quotes are taken from Wild at Heart, similar beliefs are expressed in at least one of his other works (The Sacred Romance). “God is a person who takes immense risks” (p. 30). “It’s not the nature of God to limit His risks and cover His bases” (p.31). “As with every relationship, there’s a certain amount of unpredictability. God’s willingness to risk is just astounding. There is definitely something wild in the heart of God” (p. 32).

Gregory Boyd - Boyd’s books are becoming increasingly popular. The doctrine is evident even in the books that do not specifically address open theism.

I have encountered open theism in books written by other lesser-known authors.

Concerns

The chief concerns with open theism are as follows:

  1. A Denial of Omniscience. While men like Greg Boyd deny that open theism denies God’s omniscience, this is simply not true. Even if it is true that the future exists only as possibilities, something that is not adequately proven by open theists, we are still putting a limit on God’s knowledge when we state that He cannot know these possibilities. This view of God’s knowledge of the future is unique in that it is at odds with every other Judeo-Christian tradition.
  2. God’s goodness, greatness and glory are at stake. The God of the Open Theists is, in the words of Bruce Ware, too small. He is not the all-knowing, all-powerful God revealed so clearly in the pages of the Bible. Christians need to always be concerned that both they and God are making poor decisions based on inadequate information. Thus we cannot always count on God to do what is best, because even He does not always know what this is.
  3. The Christian’s confidence in God is at stake. If open theism is true, the Christian cannot put his full trust and confidence in God. “The God of open theism will always want our best, but since he may not in fact know what is best, it becomes impossible to give him our unreserved and unquestioning trust” (Bruce Ware, Their God is Too Small, page 20. When hardships arise we will have to ask if God anticipated these, or if He is as shocked and distressed as we are.

My View

Needless to say, I find this doctrine wholly incompatible with our knowledge of God as presented in His Word. While open theism contradicts the understanding of God in every Judeo-Christian tradition, it is most completely at-odds with the Reformed understanding, which teaches the highest view of God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty. This doctrine undermines our confidence in God and erodes our trust in His promises that He always has our best interests in mind. It is a dangerous, pernicious doctrine. Unfortunately, with it being subtly taught by popular teachers like John Eldredge, it is being introduced to millions of Christians who may come to accept the view of a risk-taking God without understanding the consequences of such a view.

Resources

Pro

Clark H. Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. The Openness of God (InterVarsity, 1994). The book that began it all.

Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Baker Book House, 2000). The popular entry-level introduction to the doctrine.

John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (InterVarsity Press, 1998). Another popular introduction to the theology.

Con

Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of open theism (Crossway Books, 2001). A thorough, biblical response to open theism.

Bruce A. Ware, Their God is Too Small: open theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God (Crossway Books, 2003). A condensed, simplified version of God’s Lesser Glory targetted at the layperson.

This page contains a lenghty list of books, articles and speeches defending both sides of the debate. The list was compiled by Justin Taylor.

If you are going to read only one book on the debate, I would recommend Their God is Too Small

June 26, 2005

“What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” So says the apostle Paul in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans. For the Christian, we see God’s eternality and divinity displayed in all that He has made. We look at the world around us and know that design presupposes a Designer. But this is not clear to those who, by their worldview and their hatred of God, deny Him.

Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution I is the first in a series of DVDs presenting animals that have features which evolution simply cannot explain. It is hosted by David Hames and features commentary by Dr. Jobe Martin, a former evolutionist who is now a convinced creationist. Dr. Martin is a capable, charismatic speaker whose excitement is contagious as speaks about some animals we are all too familiar with, and some most of us have probably never heard of. The consistent theme is that each of these animals has body parts or functions that could not possibly have evolved over time. There is no such thing as a partial lung, a partial heart or a partial liver. And dead animals do not evolve.

Take the giraffe. The giraffe requires an incredibly powerful heart to pump blood against gravity all the way to the top of that long neck. But in order to drink the giraffe has to lower his head. Under normal circumstances this simple act would cause such a rush of blood to the head that the animal would immediately have an aneurysm and die. The powerful pump would cause such pressure that it would quite literally blow his brains out. But the giraffe has some special features that allow for this. But what happens if a lion suddenly approaches? We would expect that the giraffe would quickly raise his head, run two steps, and fall down in a feint for lack of blood to his head. As the lion began to eat him, the giraffe would be thinking that he really needs to evolve some way of combatting this. But dead animals do not evolve. God saw this eventuality and designed the giraffe in such a way that he can immediately normalize his blood pressure. This is only one of ten or twelve examples provided by Dr. Martin. Each one is explained simply and convincingly. Some will make you laugh, some will probably cause your jaw to drop, and all of them will cause you to appreciate God just a little bit more.

If I had to find an area where the DVD could do with improvement I would suggest that the presentation could benefit from more video and less photography. I have been spoiled by the amazing quality of video produced by National Geographic and many other studios, and would liked to have seen a little more video of that quality in Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution I. Parenthetically, I will point out that further episodes in this series (reviews coming soon) address this concern.

I believe my five year old son enjoyed this presentation every bit as much as I did. It is ideal for the entire family. Watch it and I’m sure you will react the same way I did - with awe towards the Creator who made such a variety of creatures and designed each one with such detail and intricacy. He truly does reveal Himself through His Creation.

This video is not an apologetic for defending Creationism, but neither is it intended to be such. It simply and straightforwardly presents some incredible creatures which stand as evidence of God’s power and divinity. It would make a perfect addition to a church, school or public library. And of course it would be a welcome addition to your personal library. Well-produced, informative and lots of fun, I highly recommend this DVD.

  EvaluationSupport
Theology/Accuracy
The theology is strong throughout, consistently pointing to God’s sovereignty in Creation.
Special Features
The extra features are sparse - just a page-by-page recap of the incredible creatures.
Uniqueness
There are plenty of DVDs promoting creationism, but Dr. Martin sets this one apart.
Importance
Ideal for the whole family. Let the children watch, learn and believe!
Overall
The first in a great series. I highly recommend it.
More About Ratings & Reviews
June 26, 2005

Many years ago Ron Wyatt, an intrepid explorer, claimed to have found the real Mount Sinai, becoming one of many men to have made this claim. But this was only one of his many claims. He also claimed to have found Noah’s Ark, chariot wheels from the Red Sea, The Ark of the Covenant, the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah, and even the hole into which Jesus’ cross was placed. While Wyatt has largely been exposed as a fraud, some people continue to believe that he did find clues leading to the location of the mountain on which God gave His Law to Moses.

Enter two American adventurers. Several years ago Bob Cornuke, a former police officer and Larry Williams, a commodities trader, embarked on an adventure to find the real Mount Sinai. Borrowing from Wyatt’s data, and moving forward on three assumptions, they determined that a likely site for the mountain was Midian - now a part of Saudi Arabia. Their assumptions were as follows. First, that the Sinai Peninsula was considered part of the “Land of Egypt” and hence could not have been the location of Mt. Sinai, for the Bible clearly states that the Israelites went “out of Egypt;” second, that Mt. Sinai is in the Land of Midian; third, that according to Galatians 4:25, Mt. Sinai is in Saudi Arabia (“Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia”), which assumes that the Arabia of our day is the same as in Paul’s day. Many scholars would take issue with each of these assumptions.

With falsified documents Cornuke and Williams entered the Saudi Kingdom and began their search. The Search for the Real Mt. Sinai is a documentary on DVD that details their search. It contains both original footage recorded on their journey and dramatic recreations. What they found, if true, represents the greatest archaelogical discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls. They claim to have found the well at Marah; the twelve springs of Elim; the caves of Moses and Jethro; the altar for the golden calf; the altar of Moses; the twelve pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel; the blackened rock from when God came upon the mountain in fire; and the split rock of Horeb from which water flowed. They claim to have found nearly irrefutible evidence of the real Mount Sinai.

The explorers believe that this is common knowledge in that part of the world, for they found that the mountain they identified as the probable Mt. Sinai is surrounded by a fence and heavily guarded by Saudi troops. Like something out of a script for Indiana Jones, they crawled past this fence in the dead of night, finding their way with night vision goggles to avoid detection. Finally they scaled the mountain and found these amazing discoveries.

In short, this DVD presents a very convincing case that these men truly did find the real Mount Sinai. But as always, there are two sides of the story. While it is easy to convince ignorant laypeople like myself, experts have raised serious questions about the validities of these claims. And like most biblical issues, nobody can be neutral as every person has something to lose and something to gain.

The DVD is fascinating and informative, though unfortunately there is far more recreated footage than original photos and video. The production is very good throughout - about equal to the level of quality we would expect to see on The Learning Channel or Discovery.

As I wrote earlier in this review, if all that these men have found is accurate, they have made a discovery of incredible importance. Watching the DVD it is difficult to be swayed by their excitement and determination. Their adventure makes for a great story. But when reality sets in, it seems that there are many difficult questions that remain unanswered. If you are able to suspend your reason just a little bit, you’ll enjoy this presentation and be swept away in the possibility that you might be seeing the very sites described in the Bible. But when the credits roll, you’ll be forced to remember that we walk by faith, not by sight. Whether or not this is the biblical site matters little to our faith. If we allow our faith to be shaped by such discoveries, we will have little depth and will be easily swayed. It is “An evil and adulterous generation [that] seeks for a sign.” But we can all enjoy a good story, even if it is just a little bit too good to be true.

  EvaluationSupport
Theology/Accuracy
The theology is strong enough. The archaelogy leaves a little to be desired..
Extras
The extra features are sparse - just a recap of their discoveries.
Uniqueness
Unique enough, I suppose. And fun too.
Importance
If true it is of utmost importance. If not, it’s just a fun story.
Overall
Presuming these explorers are misguided, this is mostly fiction. But it’s still fun to watch.
More About Ratings & Reviews
June 25, 2005

From Phil Johnson’s blog (still flavor of the day (or month) in the blogosphere): “Another of those infamous BlogSpotting posts is on its way tomorrow. Could be the last one ever. Watch for details to come.” And there was great rejoicing.

Now if we can get James White to stop trolling Catholic forums and posting lengthy responses to every ignorant schmuck that chooses to digitally voice his uninformed opinion, the Internet will be a significantly better place. Maybe enough so that Bob Ross will stop complaining about it.

Nah. Not likely.

You know, for a guy who once told me that forums are the most useless form on communication in the world, White certainly does spend a lot of time reading them and responding to guys with names like John6jmj. Guys who are probably fourteen years old and post responses in the forums between deathmatches in Quake. Guys who simply don’t have the nerve to actually call him and say something worthwhile.

And in case it’s not obvious, I have nothing but the utmost respect for all of the above-mentioned gentlemen (though I know a lot less about Bob than the other two). And Phil’s BlogSpotting articles aren’t so bad - I just like ribbing him about them.

Mmm…ribs.