McCormack, Barth and Open Theism

9780801035524In responding to Fr Aidan’s guest post, Kim Fabricious refers to Bruce McCormack’s Chapter 10 in Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives (Baker, 2008). We summarized Kim’s response to Fr Aidan re: open theism and said we’d like to return at some point in the future with a series of posts that engage McCormack’s chapter more directly. Until we launch that series you may want to familiarize yourself with the chapter in question. It’s a whopping 58 pages, but for the sake of online discussion we’re happy to share a 13 page summary of it here for your convenience. We’ll be back later to discuss it, but you’ll want some time to digest it.

I don’t have the energy to weed out the typos. Sorry. There’s a mistake on the first page (“…of some aspect of aspects” should read “aspect or aspects”). Enjoy!

17 comments on “McCormack, Barth and Open Theism

  1. Bobby Grow says:

    Bruce McCormack’s critique of Open Theism is stellar :-) in this chapter, Read it years ago, and have been referring to it ever since.

  2. Bobby Grow says:

    Although I think we want to avoid the ‘death of God’ theology somewhat implicit in the quote that Kim draws from. But I do agree in the grounding atonement in the single subject of the unio personalis, Jesus from Nazareth.

  3. tgbelt says:

    I’m looking forward to getting into it. I’m guessing closer to summer. Let’s hope it generates some challenging convo!

  4. Bobby Grow says:

    I’m writing a post right now riffing of my friend’s (PhD, Aberdeen 2013) Darren Sumner’s recent essay in the International Journal of Systematic Theology entitled ‘The Twofold Life of the Word: Karl Barth’s Critical Reception of the Extra Calvinisticum‘. In fact I am going to reference your response to me where you deploy the two-natures to purportedly ;-) my points to you in the TFT thread; don’t worry I’m only going to use what you wrote as an example for why considering the hypostatic union is still a relevant and live option for us today.

    I’ll look forward to seeing what you guys conclude in re to McCormack.

    • Bobby Grow says:

      Boy I really need to proof my comments before I submit them.

    • tgbelt says:

      Deploy the two-natures to purportedly what? :D As long as you know we affirm Chalcedon’s one person-two natures view. Cool. If you’ve got a copy of Sumner’s paper I’d love to read it.

    • tgbelt says:

      I’m not a huge student of the Reformation, but as I understand the extra calvinisticum I agree with it. It’s just Orthodox Christology. Athanasius (in On the Incarnation) essentially expressed it:

      “The Word was not hedged in by his body, nor did his presence in the body prevent his being present elsewhere as well. When he moved his body he did not cease also to direct the universe by his mind and might. No. The marvelous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being himself contained by anything, he actually contained all things himself…

      “As with the whole, so also is it with the part. Existing in a human body, to which he himself gives life, he is still source of life to all the universe, present in every part of it, yet outside the whole; and he is revealed both through the works of his body and through his activity in the world. It is, indeed, the function of soul to behold things that are outside the body, but it cannot energize or move them. A man cannot transport things from one place to another, for instance, merely by thinking about them; nor can you or I move the sun and the stars just by sitting at home and looking at them. With the Word of God in his human nature, however, it was otherwise. His body was for him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that he was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time—this is the wonder—as man he was living a human life, and as Word he was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son he was in constant union with the Father…”

      As for McCormack’s use of Barth, have you read much Denys Turner? Turner’s response to Barth in this regard expresses where I pretty much come from (Faith, Reason, and the Existence of God [2004], Ch. 1 on “The Barthian Objection.” I’m sorry to say that after several careful readings of McCormack’s chapter I don’t at all find it convincing in the least, but I don’t wanna get ahead of the series!


      • Bobby Grow says:

        I’ve read Athanasius more than once, indeed.

        Turner, no, not yet, but maybe someday.

        We’ll just have to wait and see what you guys provide in re to Mc.

  5. Bobby Grow says:

    I’ll have to read Turner sooner than later, I just skimmed his google-book and it looks interesting, but mistaken in re to Barth.

  6. Jeff says:

    Here’s another example of the kind of equivocation that occurs all too frequently in Greg’s Trinity and Process:

    ” The Philosophical Case for the Rejection of an Exhaustive Foreknowledge

    At the heart of the argument against exhaustive foreknowledge is the claim that such knowledge is logically incompatible with genuine human freedom. The Achilles heel of this argument lies in the fact that it confuses “certainty” with “necessity.” As Bill Craig observes, certainty is a predicate of persons, of knowers. Necessity is (or is not) a predicate of the events known. God’s foreknowledge gives him certainty with regard to what will happen. Whether the events God knows with certainty take place necessarily or contingently is a function of the natural and historical conditions under which they take place. This argument seems to me to be

    One problem here is the statement “God’s foreknowledge gives him certainty ….” Knowledge is, at bare minimum, true belief, if indeed subjective “certainty” attends it. So we’d have to say something like: “God’s true belief gives him certainty.” But to belief just means to be certain. True belief doesn’t “give” or cause certainty.

    A second problem is the claim that “whether the events God knows with certainty take place necessarily or contingently is a function of the natural and historical conditions under which they take place.” Note that what is being claimed here is that what God FOREknows is a function of conditions of that are future to His knowing. But that is the very point in question? Can God foreknow a libertarianly-chosen state of affairs if by “libertarianly-chosen state of affairs” we mean a state of affairs that need not have been instantiated? For if that is what is meant by a libertarianly-chosen state of affairs, then EDF means that God knows a yet to be libertarianly-chosen future state of affairs will be instantiated even though it might very well NOT be instantiated. And that’s simply a contradiction if by “knowledge” we mean true belief and the law of non-contradiction is true.

    The point is, the real philosophical argument for an open future is one that assumes the validity of the law of non-contradiction and that defines past libertarianly-free chosen states of affairs as states of affairs that TRULY could have failed to be instantiated at the time they were instantiated. It is the consistency of scripture with this compelling philosophical argument that renders open theism seemingly “irrefutable” if we define libertarian freedom in a way that accounts for accountability.

    And this brings me to the claim, “For in the event that Hasker’s philosophical argument fails, all that the open theists are left with are the OT passages touching on divine repentance—
    passages which are read in the light of a metaphysical conception of God grounded in observations made with respect to the requirements of love on the human plane.” This is just a false claim. The scripture speaks of God foreknowing future events because He “spoke” them. This is hard to square with EDF. How does one “speak” except at some point in time? Moreover, doesn’t scripture indicate that some promises were made at certain times in history? On the other hand, I’ve never seen a scripture quoted in defense of EDF that wasn’t either consistent with an open theism interpretation or only intelligible in terms of open theism.

    Open theism seems “irrefutable.”

    • Jeff says:

      Hmmm. I think I misread the following:

      ““whether the events God knows with certainty take place necessarily or contingently is a function of the natural and historical conditions under which they take place.””

      However, taken at face value, this statement doesn’t mean or imply that God has foreknowledge of a kind inconsistent with open theism. It merely states what all who believe in libertarian free-will admit: That there are naturally and freely caused events. But that doesn’t address the real issue I discussed above: namely, what does it mean to say a past state of affairs was caused freely in the libertarian sense of “free?” Does it mean that its instantiation might very well not have occurred? If so, open theism is the only coherent theism. If not, how does one define accountability such that we can distinguish by some conceivable non-arbitrary criteria when someone is accountable or not? I’ve never seen such a criteria provided that didn’t seem absolutely arbitrary to most folks.

      • Jeff says:

        J1: It merely states what all who believe in libertarian free-will admit: That there are naturally and freely caused events.

        J2: Actually, even that doesn’t cover all the meanings of contingent and necessary. In one sense, even natural events IN this creation are contingent if creation was a libertarianly-free choice. So in that sense, the only way we could know if an event is utterly necessary is if no pre-creation (this creation, i.e.), libertarian choice of God could have possibly altered the subsequent experiences of the godhead such that none of those subsequent experiences were natural results of conditions prior to that libertarian choice.

        Frankly, I don’t see how that’s even knowable without knowing a priori that open theism is false. For if open theism is true, libertarian choices produce new knowledge in the form of new memories of past events which weren’t known as futures theretofore. And new divine knowledge might result in divine experience that would be different apart from that knowledge. Thus, I don’t see how we can meaningfully talk about contingent and necessary except in the sense of J1: above.

        And if Tom is right that God ONLY experiences non-naturally, then certainly there is no such knowable thing as necessary events except in the sense of J1: above. I disagree with that, but still …

  7. tgbelt says:

    J: if Tom is right that God ONLY experiences non-naturally…

    T: I don’t even know what that means.


    • Jeff says:

      I was thinking you had said something like events in the godhead are all intentional. I think some could interpret that to mean there is nothing occurring in the experience of the godhead that isn’t libertarianly-caused. Regardless, most would deny that of creation, right?

  8. tgbelt says:

    I’ve mentioned Henri Blocher’s Ch. 7 “God and the Cross” in Engaging the Doctrine of God as one of the best chapters in that volume. It happens that the entire chapter can be found here.

  9. Jeff says:

    J: if Tom is right that God ONLY experiences non-naturally…

    T: I don’t even know what that means.

    J: I’m basically saying that what we mean by both naturally-caused and necessary events are antithetical to what we mean by libertarianly-free-caused events. I doubt Bill Craig would disagree. But I think he, like Lewis, thinks positing a timeless existence of a kind outside our categories will somehow solve the dilemma consistently with the existence of real accountability. But the only reason to go there is to maintain the hope that God has EDF after all, best I can tell. I just don’t see that positing EDF explains anything such that there is any conceivable warrant in going there. Positing an open future, in conjunction with other attributes of God, on the other hand, explains the reality of accountability.

  10. […] Tom Belt shares a summary of a chapter by Bruce McCormack. An excerpt: […]

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