Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Beauty of God's Absolute Sovereignty (Or More Reasons To Not Be an Open Theist)

As I was working through different thinking experiments concerning God's sovereignty (as I recommend anyone studying theology should do), I realized the absolute bankrupt theology of Open Theism. God's absolute sovereignty in salvation and in this earth has been constantly reaffirmed. However some people, I think, are worried about me. Apparently they haven't read what I wrote carefully.

So let me say again, CLEARLY, that I am a Calvinist. I affirm ABSOLUTE ORTHODOXY CONCERNING GOD, THE BIBLE ETC. Me and Johnny Calvin could hang out and not have any difference in our theology. Just because I was interested in a particular theology and entertained the idea does not mean I actually taught or believed it. I leaned toward it (meaning that I saw their view and acknowledged its strengths). However, at no point did I say "Ok, I am an open theist." If anything I toyed with a more neutral "traditional baptist" position which was more like 3 point Calvinism. However, I realized the ultimate failure of this position to square with Scripture too. So for those reading my blog, let me say clearly, I am REFORMED in my theology. I WAS RESEARCHING AND TOYING WITH THESE OTHER POSITIONS BUT NEVER ACCEPTED THEM.
Hopefully, that helps. If someone is still tweaked, then read this story and then come talk to me.

One of the problems with open theism is how we approach tragedy. Last week I lost a student in a motorcycle wreck. It was sudden, unexpected and heartbreaking. Let's look at how this breaks down.

Open Theism would say that God did not know (although could probably predict to a certain extent) the death of my student. It would say that God is heartbroken and but could not have prevented it due to his desire for mankind to have absolute freedom. Some OT would say that Satan perhaps was behind his death but God allowed it because he has given Satan freedom as well.
While I understand that open theism attempts to get God off the hook, I just don't see how it actually does that. God still limits his sovereignty to some extent. And at the end of the day, God is still to "blame." That is just the truth.

I think the more biblical idea is to own that God does predestine stuff and ordain stuff (even tragedy) for his glory. It just is like that. The Bible provides ample witness to that. So it is our duty, not to get God off the hook, but to humble ourselves under His almighty hand.

The family who lost their son found comfort in the fact that God not only knew, but permitted this tragedy. They found it beautiful that God could use something horrible to elevate His glory. Several people were saved through this tragedy. Perhaps more awesome was that the family said, "We know God is good and in control."

You see, the god of open theism is in control...but in a radically different way. He is reactive at times and proactive at other times. He will is thwarted and he doesn't always get what he wants. In other words, God may have wanted to prevent the accident, but simply was unable to or (because he loves human autonomy) UNABLE to prevent it from happening.

Now technically, this does maintain God's sovereignty because OT states that God sovereignly allows himself to be limited.

But no matter which way you slice it, God is still responsible and limited.

That isn't God. Sorry.

God is both responsible and limitless. He ordains things for his good pleasure. And while we may not understand, we don't need to. Why? Because God is God. Who are we that God should be held responsible to us?

In other words, when we attempt to get God off the hook, we elevate ourselves. God doesn't need that though.

In tragedy, we don't need to elevated. We need God to be elevated.

And that is, again, why I affirm Calvinism and orthodoxy.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Chaos, Open Theism, Calvinism and a Big Piece of Humble Pie

There aren't many times when I recant what I previously wrote. I normally stick by stuff I have said and continue to do so. However, I wrote a piece a few months ago on why I wasn't a Calvinist. Though I denied open theism, I told you that I found the idea attractive but instead clung to a largely Arminian perspective on soteriology. In fact, I signed what was called the "Traditional Baptist" document, affirming man's freedom in salvation.

For those of you who are Calvinist who I dialogued with (more harshly and brashly than you deserved I might add), allow me to offer a humble recantation of my stance and explain why.

I had a dialogue with a friend about a month ago in Chili's about open theism. I told him that I essentially didn't want to think about the issue because it seemed attractive but I knew it was really, really wrong. However, I after the conversation I realized that this wasn't intellectually honest. So, I went back and started reading through virtually every single article I could find on open theism. What had (at one time) particularly impressed concept of open theism with a theory called "chaos theory."

Greg Boyd has long championed this idea that the chaos theory shows that we live in an indeterminate universe. In the past, I rested on Boyd's opinion and interpretation of this and thought, "Even science backs up open theism!"


So false.

So so so false.

I decided to investigate the chaos theory for myself this time (in order to effectively brush off any Calvinists). So I started reading the book Who's in Charge? Free Will and the Science of the Brain by leading neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga. In the book he argues that our lives are essentially determined by our brains. However, he argues that things are indeterminate (as far as being able to be measured) because of the chaos theory.

Chaos Theory

Newton assumed that if we had completely accurate measurements of everything we could determine the course of the world. That is largely true according to most scientists today. However, the problem comes in with chaos theory. Chaos theory says that when three more bodies (that could be planets, people, cities etc.) come into contact, we can not completely compute (or measure) accurately enough anything (on the biological and molecular level) to know what will happen. Small variables, over time and space, can create what seems to be random occurrences in our lives.

But here is the catch: what chaos theory says is that things are indeterminate because we currently don't have the ability to measure those things and likely never will accurately enough. This statement essentially undermines what open theists have been saying and let me explain why.

1) Open theists say that God possesses exhaustive divine knowledge of all present things.

2) However, if God possesses exhaustive divine knowledge of all present things, that means he is not hindered by scientists' current inability to measure accurately down to extremely small decimal places.

3) What this means is that God could, by nature of just pure mathematical ability not just "predict" the future but literally know every single action based upon his ability to a) compute and b) apply that knowledge to the future.

What I am saying is that for God, if he even possesses just exhaustive knowledge of the present, can know the future. But then that means God would possess foreknowledge. Back to that in a bit...

Why Our Brains Betray Us (and it is a good thing)

Most scientists now assume we live in a deterministic world. While the theory of evolution plays a large part in this, current research on the brain also leads them to conclude this as well. I will simply cite one example.

Recent experiments have shown that our brain begins to cue up energy for us to move our hand a few milliseconds before we are even conscious of the thought, "I am going to move my hand." Some experiments have shown that this process happens as early as ten seconds before we become conscious of our desire to perform an action. That is staggeringly cool!
But it also, in my mind, deals a death blow to open theism. If God possesses exhaustive knowledge of the present, that means that even on the smallest molecular levels, God could accurately know what we could and would do as early as ten seconds before we actually do it. That might not seem like much to us but to a God who is infinitely resourceful that is a game changer. Further, it also means that regardless of what we want to say, God possesses divine foreknowledge to some extent. I find this to be absolutely awesome! Our brains literally betray us and simply opens up the possibility that God does possess foreknowledge.

Speech Acts and Kevin J. Vanhoozer

I was incredibly blessed to have some personal dialogue with Kevin J. Vanhoozer through email. While what he said to me was personal (and encouraging), he dialogued with me about open theism and why he rejects it. I bought his book Remythologizing Theology and so far, it is beginning to shape the way I view some of those tough passages that we typically have called anthropomorphisms. The philosophy behind speech acts argues that words do more than simply convey information--they can actually illicit a change within someone. If I hold that God's Word is inerrant (which I do) and that God wanted was written said for a reason, then this leads to some interesting possibilities about those notoriously t
ricky passages about God changing his mind.

I can either take them hyper-literally or I can under them to be speech acts that were designed to illicit a response within me. If I take them to be speech acts that Moses wrote (by God's divine power) then that means they are meant to convey to me that God is truly relational, though he possesses exhaustive definite knowledge. While my literalness in hermeneutics wants to come up here, I think that speech acts have made these verses more understandable actually.

But Why Calvinism?

At this point, I haven't said anything that particularly lends itself to Calvinism. I have simply been arguing for classical theism. However, let's put together the entire scope of what I have been saying...

1) God, as creator, made the rules of what is now largely considered a determined universe by scientists. Even areas where we say something is indetermined simply means that we don't possess the tools to accurately measure variables. However, God does. Nothing then is indeterminate to God. Since God, before creation, made the rules of physics that our world would operate by, that means that God, by virtue of being God, not only knows the future but meticulously designed how it would come about through physics.

2) God knows what our brains are going to do before we even are conscious of it. If anything, this simply nullifies the idea of free will.

3) God's on its most basic reading backs up everything that science is already discovering.

4) Passages that seem to offer contingencies (or choices) can simply be understood as speech acts to illicit response from us.

Anyway, I realize that half of my readers are going to see this and think, "I am disappointed in Daniel from turning away from his previous belief," while the other half is going to think, "Good for you, Daniel."

While, I recognize this was not the most usual path to take to come to this point in my theology, it is a path that nevertheless has astounded me and has left me in total awe of God. Never before have I felt so excited in my walk with God (even the first time I thought Calvinism was true!). Being older and wiser I realize I was wrong about what I said earlier. I think even the 3 point Calvinism I had leaned toward before wasn't even that strong.

So...there is a big piece of humble pie for me to eat!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Diamond of Salvation

I am currently reading (and almost finished with) Alister McGrath's Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought. I am reading about modern developments (since the 1700's) in theology as they relate to salvation. McGrath mentions that salvation has been conceived of many different ways in theological thought since 1700 and lists them. Here is his list:

  • Deification
  • Righteousness before God
  • Union with Christ
  • Moral perfection
  • Consciousness of God
  • Genuine Humanity
  • Political Liberation

What is fascinating about this list is that there is a great deal of confusion about salvation, the effects of salvation, and the future of salvation. Essentially, most of the items on this list either make salvation consist of the effects of salvation or make salvation based upon the future of salvation.

For example, moral perfection is something we look forward to eschatologically but not in the present. Consciousness of God is an excellent thing we possess when we are saved and, in my opinion, is one of the most prominent changes that takes place when someone is saved. However, being MORE conscious (or even predominately conscious of God) does not constitute salvation. Rather, it is an effect. Political liberation, while something we should be striving for now (since as believers we are called to work for the oppressed and needy) and is something we will be looking forward to in the future (the eschatological dimension), it absolutely does not constitute salvation.

It is so easy to neglect the beautiful simplicity of what salvation means. Salvation means we are rescued from death, sin and the wrath of God. This isn't popular to talk about among some people. However, I treasure the beauty of salvation and that my salvation is not dependent upon my external change or my inward shift toward God. If so, I would be in serious trouble. But praise be to God who set forth His Son to rescue someone like me.

Thank you Jesus!