Experimental Open Theism?—Part 3

light 2010This post will be a bit different from our standard posts. I’d like to bring part of our conversation with Richard Beck out of the comments section of Part 1 and Part 2 of this series. So I’m addressing this post to Richard personally. The continued clarification via comments really helps, but I think this is worth bringing to the front page. To keep the length down I can’t reproduce all Richard’s comments, so you’ll have to go to the comments section on Parts 1 and 2 for that. That said, thanks so much Richard for taking this up. I hope we keep the exchange open (no pun intended!). My thoughts—

First, the part of this conversation that has to do with nomenclature (whether what you’re describing really qualifies as “open theism” or not) is in the end less important than hearing and engaging each other. Though “open theism” can’t be uncommitted regarding objective indeterminacy and determinism about the future, I still love the conversation and the clarity it brings.

Second, I agree that increased knowledge of my wife makes it possible for me to creatively represent her within my own first-person perspective (i.e., to live “from her point of view” as you say) and thus act as her (and predict a good deal about her behavior based on her likes, dislikes, character, etc.). I think where we differ on this is the way you apply this to God and exclude God from the intimate knowledge of our innermost subjectivity and dispositions. But so far as the future is concerned, for open theists, the “relational dynamic” you want to affirm can’t be had if the God-world relationship is causally closed. It’s not enough, for example, to suppose that since God was “surprised” by what Israel did (as we have it in OT texts) that this alone is enough to secure the relational dynamic you’re looking for. For if we find out (or worse, if we begin by assuming) that God was surprised simply because he didn’t know the causally closed nature of some outcome, then the relational dynamic is (open theists would argue) lost. The relational dynamic can’t be just phenomenological.

Third, as Dwayne has said, there really is an asymmetrical feature to divine-human relations. And here we may just be too far apart in our core philosophical/theological worldview to agree. We don’t assume in any straightforward or simplistic manner that God’s got to be an immeasurably large version of what we are such that every aspect of human becoming and relationality *has* to have a univocal counterpart in God *or else* the whole relationship is a charade. There may be a lot transpiring in these deeper currents that’s carrying you toward traditional process (Whiteheadian) hermeneutics (i.e., God is not an exception to our metaphysical principles, but their chief exemplification).

Fourth, I agree with Dwayne regarding Loder. Dude, you’d love him!

Fifth, re: the weak vs strong volitionalism, Dwayne and I use ‘weak’ to describe the circumscribed and contextualized nature of embodied human choice. There’s no choosing that can occur outside the constraints of that context. We use ‘strong’ to describe versions of free will that tend to ignore or minimize the contextualized nature of our freedom. So it’s not that we’re using ‘weak’ to smuggle in a bit of freedom. We’re above board and up front in insisting upon freedom. ‘Weak’ vs ‘strong’ are just terms to express the nature of the contextual constraints and limits upon the ‘scope’ of its exercise and the objective nature of the ‘possibilities’ which our context offers for our ‘becoming’. By freedom we just mean to say (a) it is at least sometimes the case that the ‘scope of possibilities’ really describes what is objectively the case about the options we may choose, not just options we perceive because of our ignorance of how ‘closed’ things really are. Again, this objective future contingency isn’t incidental to the relational dynamic open theists advocate for. When you said on your blog that relationality (etc) is the “heart and soul” of open theism which you admire, this (the objective nature of future contingency) is what that heart and soul is. You can say the heart and soul of its relational dynamic doesn’t explicitly entail a commitment to future indeterminacy and freedom, but I don’t know any open theist who would agree.

Here’s the sticky point. You say:

“But from there—choices have been narrowed—you insert an account of ‘free will’. That is, maybe you don’t have ten choices but only two, but at least those two choices are “free.” Let me just say, this doesn’t solve the problem. That is not weak volitionalism as I posit it. I’m agnostic about if any of the choices—ten or two—are ‘free’.”

To this Dwayne and I (and others like Boyd and Alan Rhoda and other open theistic thinkers and authors) would say, to the extent you’re agnostic about the freedom at play when there are multiple options, then (a) you’re not doing ‘open theism’ any more, and (b) the heart and soul of the relational dynamic you’re after is gone. The dynamic can’t (for open theists, philosophically speaking) obtain in an ultimately deterministic world.

To illustrate your point, you comment:

“Say I have weak volition: I face only two choices, A or B. For the choice to be self-determined I need to feel that the choice I make flows out of my selfhood, that this choice has a coherent connection with my prior self. That’s where the sense of authorship and ownership come from. By contrast, if the choice is a radical break from my prior self we enter into psychopathology. Symptoms of disassociation and depersonalization, even hallucination. The self and the choice, in these instances, are not harmonious but strange and alien. This is why free will undermines self-determination. Self-determination has the current choosing self coherently connected to the prior self. These selves are not ‘free’ from each other. Now, does a ‘coherent connection’ between my choosing and prior self mean that the prior self causally ‘determines’ the choices of the choosing self? Again, I have no idea.”

I appreciate this a lot. What we’d say is that open theism does have an idea about the ‘determinism’ part, and that this idea is its heart and soul to the extent that we’re committed to the thesis that for human beings, mutually loving relationality evaporates in the event “the freedom I feel” (when I deliberate between perceived options) is merely phenomenological.

We’d totally agree that what you’re describing as ‘self-determining’ (i.e. resolving the will with respect to perceived options) involves coherently integrating prior self with present self. Absolutely. That is, present choice is circumscribed by a diverse mix of data (past self, present embodied constraints, present brain states, etc.) which have to be coherently integrated. We’ve already agreed that there’s no choosing outside this context that could be the ground for truly loving relations. What we’re saying is that (to borrow process lingo) “divine subjective aims” are by definition always a part of the mix that defines the scope of the possibilities we resolve and which we also integrate in the present moment. The “I” that deliberates among the options is self-transcendent because as the human ‘spirit’, this “I” is the God-given capacity to rest my ‘self’ in God’s transcendent “I” which is present within me extending to me my truest self as an option among options). This transcendent divine “I” mediates God’s subjective aims as the ground of our being and freedom.

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Paul describes it (2Cor 10.4-5), “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” In dynamic relationship to Christ, I’m empowered to perceive, identify and choose to dissociate with lies (strongholds, arguments, etc.) that present themselves to me for consideration. But for this to be true, the “I” doing the ‘fighting’, ‘demolishing’, and ‘taking captive’ has to be more than just the sum total of the false narratives being adjudicated. And this is where Dwayne and I would suggest our freedom to transcend our own past narratives comes in. The “I” is the self-transcendent spirit of human being, and though it can never resolve the possibilities it’s faced with outside coherently integrating the past into its present, we can say that God (as the human being’s divine subjective aim) is an irreducible part of the context which defines the scope of our future possibilities. Were not suggesting the embodied context and history be radically denied to smuggle in freedom; were suggesting that this context be understood to include God and what he transcendently is and provides us.

Sixth, in other words, we really are more than our past, not in the sense that we can ‘radically break’ from our past in some dissociative way—but in the sense that in perceiving the transcendent love and presence of God as the abiding definitive context of even our past, we’re empowered to coherently integrate our past selves with our present self in Christ (Rom 815!). We don’t have to radically break from the truth of our past to be free. Rather, we come to see the radical truth of God as the truest thing about our past (and present, and future). That, we suggest, is how divine transcendence heals us—not by trapping or limiting God to the constraints the define us, but by increasingly conforming the truth of who we are to the truth of who God is (again, Rom 8.15, et. al.).

Seventh, even when our futures are locked into a single path, we can (as I think you say) choose that path and not let it just happen to us. This is a form of self-transcendence, and it’s possible because we know our truest self is integrated with our past self not *merely* in terms of the finite, embodied limitations and pain of the past, but with something transcendently present (transcendent in the sense that it is God ‘asymmetrically’ present—defining not defined by), i.e., the space in which we integrate past and present coherently. For example, Viktor Frankl tells of observing Jews in concentration camps. As they stood in line and observed the arbitrary division ahead of them and realized that some of them were chosen to die and others chosen to live, Frankl said he could observe overwhelming horror reducing some to the conditions ‘given them’ by the Nazis. They were defined by the Nazis. But he observed also that others were not so overcome. They chose not to be defined by what the Nazis were attempting to reduce them to. That they would die was determined for them, yes. But how they died would be their choice. They transformed Nazi determination through their own transcendent determination. And so Frankl remembers the affirmation and tenderness with which the latter individuals chose to face their deaths, comforting one another, being tender and unafraid and not reduced to the circumstances of their deaths by the Nazis.

Lastly, you comment:

“Libertarian accounts of free will—even if limited to only two choices—undermine this entire account. To be very, very clear, I’m not saying this means we are determined or that the system is closed. Again, I’m agnostic about all that. What I’m saying—please here this—is that libertarian free will is incoherent.”

If we define libertarian freedom as a kind of radical break or dissociation with our past selves, an incoherent failure to integrate past and present, then yes, we agree—LFW would be incoherent. But free will need not be understood in this sense. As Dwayne has pointed out in the comments section, the view of freedom we hold to is what you describe as weak volitionalism. So free will isn’t standing in your way here. All that’s left is to get clear on indeterminism vs determinism re: the exercise of that freedom.

I hope this helps.

(Pictures here and here.)

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27 comments on “Experimental Open Theism?—Part 3

  1. Richard Beck says:

    Thanks, gentlemen, so much for your continued and detailed engagement.

    First, a meta-comment.

    The conversation we are having, as important as it may be, is one of the reasons I struggle with open theism. It always seems to end in a debate, for me at least, about free will as free will (or the source and nature of indeterminacy and contingency in weak or strong volitionalism) is the engine that makes this viewpoint go. At a deep level I find that terribly unsatisfactory, how this entire theological system is being rooted in anthropology. How a doctrine of God has become dependent upon a doctrine of man.

    Maybe there’s nothing to be done about that. I just don’t like it when theology is so dependent upon anthropology. Especially in light of Kant’s antinomies on this subject.

    Second, to go right to your ending:

    As Dwayne has pointed out in the comments section, the view of freedom we hold to is what you describe as weak volitionalism. So free will isn’t standing in your way here. All that’s left is to get clear on indeterminism vs determinism re: the exercise of that freedom.

    Again, all I can assert is still don’t think you’ve addressed my concerns. As I use the term, weak volitionalism is simply the statement that volitional range can become limited, constrained, and even ruined. Thus, weak volitionalism implies that the system can close on a person.

    Now, of course, as you note, the agency of God can enter into a person’s life to open that person back up again. God is an Exodus God so liberation and rescue are all in play. This is just basic Reformed theology about the bondage of the will. But to McCord Adams’ point, such bondage and volitional ruin doesn’t have to be due to sin but can be due to horrors. True, while there are many stories of “volitional heroes” (e.g., in the Holocaust) who overcome horrors, this doesn’t count as evidence that volitional ruin doesn’t occur. I think the system closes on people and the only way out is the agency, initiative and action of God.

    So I guess that’s one question we can explore to see if we are using the term differently. Do you, as weak volitionalists, believe in volitional ruin, that the system can close for any given person? I think it can close in the face of horrors. Not for all, but for some. Do you think it can close for some?

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    • yieldedone says:

      Morning, Richard. Briefly..
      1) It’s more about what we see God biblically wants with humanity: an authetically mutually loving, mutually self-giving relationship with God-like creatures. The perichoretic Intimacy thing. The freedom we discuss is the means to that end.

      2) Yes, we believe volitional ruin can happen. At the same time, as you note, God is always there to empower whatever degree of freedom can be enhanced. Moreover, we believe that God is just and judges accordingly to people’s capacities. And we trust that.

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      • yieldedone says:

        Do we agree, Richard, that the reality of volitional ruin isnt incompatible with open theistic claims?

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  2. Richard Beck says:

    Depends. If volitional ruin can happen for one person, theoretically it can happen to everyone. As a thought experiment, let’s say that happens and the system closes for everyone. Is open theism possible in that eventuality?

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    • tgbelt says:

      Richard: If volitional ruin can happen for one person, theoretically it can happen to everyone. As a thought experiment, let’s say that happens and the system closes for everyone. Is open theism possible in that eventuality?

      Tom: I’d agree that where such ruination occurs, the future would closed, or rather, the future is closed to the extent it’s ruined (and ruination is a continuum). But if we both agree God never accepts such ruination and never abandons us to it, then the future would be open, no? It’s just open via grace. We may just differ on how we understand ‘grace’ and ‘nature’. Dwayne and I are Orthodox on this question. Nature IS grace (or gracious, or grace-filled). It’s assumed in creation as a system. You may want to suppose that God “intervenes” when ruination ‘closes’ the will and God re-opens it.

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      • Richard Beck says:

        I agree very much with the notion that God has, does and will open everything up. I very much want to endorse the that the openness is via the agency of God which, in my opinion, allows me to be agnostic about the capacities of humans to open things up (via something like “free will”).

        All that to say, this seems very similar to what I’ve been arguing all along, that God is the source of the open future and that we are free to be agnostic about any contributions humans may or may not make.

        Because if we accept, at least in theory, that the system could close in some possible for every human being–the extinction of human freedom–and that this state is compatible with open theism, then I don’t see why any open theist would worry if the system began in this state.

        Which is to say, that’s what I’ve been arguing from the beginning: an open future and an open theism doesn’t require an account of human freedom.

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      • Richard Beck says:

        [Because of typos in my earlier comment this is the correct reply:]

        I agree very much with the notion that God has, does and will open everything up. I very much want to endorse that the openness is via the agency of God which, in my opinion, allows me to be agnostic about the capacities of humans to open things up (via something like “free will”).

        All that to say, this seems very similar to what I’ve been arguing all along, that God is the source of the open future and that we are free to be agnostic about any contributions humans may or may not make.

        Because if we accept, at least in theory, that the system could close in some possible future for every human being–the extinction of human freedom–and that this state is compatible with open theism, then I don’t see why any open theist would worry if the system began in this state.

        Which is to say, that’s what I’ve been arguing from the beginning: an open future and an open theism doesn’t require an account of human freedom.

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    • yieldedone says:

      Richard:
      “Which is to say, that’s what I’ve been arguing from the beginning: an open future and an open theism doesn’t require an account of human freedom.”

      Dwayne:
      A bedrock foundation of open theism is “Love requires freedom.” In other words, for a creature to attend to and authentically self-offer themselves in love to God and others, they must have the actual ability to refrain from doing so:, the freedom to choose whether to love or not. However marred or ruined the capacity may be, the capacity is never irrevocably extinguished beyond God’s opening.

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      • Richard Beck says:

        I’m still unclear.

        Dwayne: However marred or ruined the capacity may be, the capacity is never irrevocably extinguished beyond God’s opening.

        Again, I’m not saying anything is beyond God’s opening.

        I’m asking if volitional ruin can occur beyond human opening.

        Now, if you say that volitional ruin can never occur because God would never let it occur then I don’t see why God couldn’t open up the closed system right from the start.

        Which means, again, we don’t need human freedom at the start (or since) as God initiates the opening at the moment of Creation and continues to do so, preventing volitional ruin from ever happening. Thus, no appeal to human freedom never needs to be made.

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      • yieldedone says:

        Alrighty then!

        Richard”

        “I agree very much with the notion that God has, does and will open everything up. I very much want to endorse the that the openness is via the agency of God which, in my opinion, allows me to be agnostic about the capacities of humans to open things up (via something like “free will”).”

        and…

        “I’m asking if volitional ruin can occur beyond human opening.

        Now, if you say that volitional ruin can never occur because God would never let it occur then I don’t see why God couldn’t open up the closed system right from the start.

        Which means, again, we don’t need human freedom at the start (or since) as God initiates the opening at the moment of Creation and continues to do so, preventing volitional ruin from ever happening. Thus, no appeal to human freedom never needs to be made.”

        *******************

        Dwayne:

        Ok, some things…

        1) It seems that we are moving beyond the question about the compatibility of weak volitionalism and open theism…into whether or not any type of freedom was necessary to the system at all for God to achieve his purposes through Creation. That’s all fine, well, and good to ask. At the same time, I don’t want to forget the compatibility issue. At this point, is it fair to say that you would agree that that weak volitionalism and open theism are INDEED compatible, whatever other things can be asked? I think the two questions are distinct…and I want to get absolutely clear on that first question.

        2) Let’s agree that human volition is NOT sufficient in and of itself to do the job. Human volition NEEDS divine empowerment on all levels. That’s what Wesleyan “prevenient grace” is all about, yes? So, we are not talking about God empowering the will when he DOESN’T do that before; we are talking about Grace, which is ALWAYS working, doing specific action in response to the “ruination” of the human will. This is NOT to say that divine activity takes OVER for the human will. It is to say that divine activity does a distinct variation of empowerment of the human will that opens up options for it that human will ALONE could not perceive or achieve.

        3) Next to the issue of whether of not human freedom is necessary to the system at all. It’s one thing to say that, for different reasons, the freedom capacities of a human being can be functionally closed (ie giving certain brain damaging circumstances such that human freedom can is reduced to insufficiency with respect to conscious openness to God, self, and others) It’s a whole other thing to say that the system didn’t need to allow for human freedom capacity at all in the first place. Why supppose that God would have to start off with a closed, functionally deterministic system to create an environment of mutually loving, mutually self-giving God-like creature with whom God has perichoretic relationship in the Spirit? Especially when biblical testimony seems to put a lot on human choice for and against God–even unto offering oneself up as a “living sacrifice” to God– along with divine response to human action? It is this relational dynamic we see over and over biblically that lead open theists to the conclusions of creaturely love requiring freedom…such that God doesn’t fundamentally end up removing all volitional alterity in Creation, effectively making everything an expression of DIVINE freedom and will, and not NON-divine freedom and will as such. It seems clear that God wants us to have enough freedom in our relationships with Him so as to NOT be monergistic puppets. It makes sense to me to say that God wants us as FREE AS POSSIBLE, and is willing to work with our truncation of freedom (via various things) in order to expand those capacities to what is possible, given one’s state of affairs. It doesn’t make sense to me, biblically or otherwise, to start OFF with a purely deterministic system for Creation (which falsifies any sense of authentic loving, spontaneous, self-chosen, self-giving activity from Creation to Creator)…simply because volitional ruination is possible. TO me, that’s like arguing that since it’s logically possible for a person to experience “hellish” judgement for eternity forward, God may as well have damned us all from the beginning. Does not compute. But that could just be me.

        4) Here’s a question: what are the upshots for denying any human freedom from the entire system? What are the benefits of making such a move? Why is it necessary to attempt such a move?

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  3. tgbelt says:

    I’m loving the exchange, Richard. Thanks tons. Some thoughts:

    a) I totally appreciate the frustration over debate. Open theists continue to debate among themselves just what the essential non-negotiables of OT are. But nobody is debating whether humans are on some level free and that future contingency is objective and not just phenomenological. That’s debated, true, but that’s just because it’s part of what open theism is.
    b) While there are some good reasons to suppose an anthropology of ‘freedom’ (say, weak volitionalism), Dwayne and I at least don’t ground this independently of our understanding of God. But that’s another conversation.
    c) Richard: “Again, all I can assert is still don’t think you’ve addressed my concerns. As I use the term, weak volitionalism is simply the statement that volitional range can become limited, constrained, and even ruined. Thus, weak volitionalism implies that the system can close on a person.” That’s exactly what we mean. The only qualification we’d argue for is whether or not the will can truly be utterly ruined. We don’t think so. But tons of open theists DO think so. Point is, even IF “utter” volitional ruin is possible, it would only close THAT person’s future with respect to choice. But to suppose such a thing is possible in some individuals is to assume it’s not already the case with most.
    d) Richard: “Now, of course, as you note, the agency of God can enter into a person’s life to open that person back up again. God is an Exodus God so liberation and rescue are all in play. This is just basic Reformed theology about the bondage of the will.” It looks like you’re leaning your doctrine of God against an anthropology as well, just a Reformed anthropology. 😀 But more to the point here, we’re not arguing the sort of divine rescue (i.e., the Reformed doctrine of divine rescue, at least not in any irresistible sense) that you just described describe. When we say God is already, by definition, present as the creature’s ground of freedom, we’re saying creaturely volition can’t be utterly ruined. To exist at all is to be open to God on some level. For us this is a version of prevenient grace (and Eastern Orthodoxy prior to that), not Reformed anthropology (yes, it’s an anthropology just as much as anyone else’s anthropology).
    e) Richard: “But to McCord Adams’ point, such bondage and volitional ruin doesn’t have to be due to sin but can be due to horrors. True, while there are many stories of “volitional heroes” (e.g., in the Holocaust) who overcome horrors, this doesn’t count as evidence that volitional ruin doesn’t occur.” Totally agree. That’s in our series on MMA too. The will can be damaged and circumscribed apart from the sinful self-infliction.
    f) Richard: “I think the system closes on people and the only way out is the agency, initiative and action of God.” The only difference between us is that where you suppose ruination is responded to by divine intervention (which I assume you believe God always does since he’s ‘love’, right?), Dwayne and I suppose ruination is prevented via the unceasing presence of the Spirit’s sustaining work in created being per se.
    g) Richard: “Do you, as weak volitionalists, believe in volitional ruin, that the system can close for any given person? I think it can close in the face of horrors. Not for all, but for some. Do you think it can close for some?” If you mean ‘ruined’ such that God’s presence and grace are needed to extend new possibilities within the scope of created subjectivity—yes. But in THAT sense, Dwayne and I think we’re created “ruined.” That is, we are by NATURE thus dependent upon God. That’s the Orthodoxy position. There’s no metaphysical difference for us between the abiding and sustaining presence of God in us which we can never be “ruined” out of and those momentary “acts” of God that shake us to our senses (so to speak). It’s all one continuum, and in THAT sense there really can be no ‘utter’ ruination. To be utterly ruined is to be irrevocably ruined. But so long as God is present and grace is unceasingly extended—what’s ‘ruined’? For the record—this would apply to Satan (if you believe in him). Nothing that exists can exist in utter ruination, for that would be utter SEPARATION, and that—metaphysically speaking, for us—is impossible.

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    • yieldedone says:

      Yessir, Tom!

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    • yieldedone says:

      By the way, everything Tom said above is why we believe in a viable, reasonable hope for eventual universal reconciliation. 🙂

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      • Richard Beck says:

        My concerns are this. If human freedom is produced by God’s sustaining Spirit how is this not closing the system? Or, at the very least, God talking to Himself?

        To summarize, it seems that you are arguing the following:

        A. Humans are free.

        B. This freedom creates relationship with God.

        C. Human freedom is produced by God’s sustaining Spirit.

        D. In relating and responding to human freedom, then, God is relating to God’s sustaining Spirit in humans (the source of their freedom).

        Is this not God talking to Himself and closing the system?

        Specifically, any freedom being produced is us is from God–via God’s sustaining Spirit–and would God not know what God Spirit was going to do?

        It seems to me that if God is the source of our freedom then God is the origin of our choices and, thus, God is relating and responding to Himself.

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      • yieldedone says:

        Yup. I thought I saw this coming…

        Richard:
        “My concerns are this. If human freedom is produced by God’s sustaining Spirit how is this not closing the system? Or, at the very least, God talking to Himself?

        To summarize, it seems that you are arguing the following:

        A. Humans are free.

        B. This freedom creates relationship with God.

        C. Human freedom is produced by God’s sustaining Spirit.

        D. In relating and responding to human freedom, then, God is relating to God’s sustaining Spirit in humans (the source of their freedom).

        Is this not God talking to Himself and closing the system?

        Specifically, any freedom being produced is us is from God–via God’s sustaining Spirit–and would God not know what God Spirit was going to do?

        It seems to me that if God is the source of our freedom then God is the origin of our choices and, thus, God is relating and responding to Himself.”

        Dwayne:
        I know you are crazy busy. But I would really recommend those James Loder books again: “The Transforming Moment” and The Knight’s Move: The Relational Logic of the Spirit in Theology and Science.” He, along with Thomas Torrance, are very clear that human freedom is NOT simply a localizable, finite expression of divine freedom. If what you were describing were the case, then we would be saying that the ONLY spiritual relationality in all people were just contingent forms of the Holy Spirit. That is NOT what Tom and I are saying, nor what Loder or Torrance said. The Holy Spirit and the power of human self-relationality are **ontologically distinct realities**, even though the latter is directly and continually empowered and “given space” by the former. It would be God talking to himself if creaturely freedom were deterministically conformed to the divine will at all times, either providentially (via micromanaging) or creationally (an ontologically closed Creation).

        The END POINT of God’s Grace working for our freedom is the BEGINNING POINT of our freedom’s relatively autonomous existence and operation. Creaturely self-determination has the creature as the “origin our our choices”, not merely God. Greg Boyd also says this in his Princeton PhD work “Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne’s Di-Polar Theism Towards a Trinitarian Metaphysics”

        Long story short, when it comes to theosis, we cannot do anything without God…and God will not do anything without us.

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  4. Nelson says:

    Great conversation. If I may, I would like to comment on this.

    I believe ultimate ruin is possible and a biblical concept. The ultimate consequence of sin is biblically described as ruin and death. It is also described as hardening of the heart. The final destiny of the wicked is eternal separation from God, which in my view means ultimate annihilation (separation from the One Source of Life entails death).

    Also, Jesus warned against the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, saying that this sin would not be forgiven in this age or the coming age. I interpret this to mean that those who harden their hearts against the grace of God communicated through the Holy Spirit become irremediably ruin. The door of their hearts is locked from the inside and they have swallowed the key. Homo incurvatus in se (Luther).

    The love of God can and will overcome every horror. But love cannot overcome the self-alienation of the creature.

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    • yieldedone says:

      Let me respond to one point here. Tom and I are saying that God, being the Ground of All Being and, as such, continually sustaining us from within and empowering our self-relational process, is *inescapable*, which means that God’s love is the same. A person can lock themselves inside themselves however they want…but God will still be there with-in them. It is a (false) two-storey belief that human beings can *hide* from God within themselves. This means that, if God is willing, God can wait as long as it takes for a person to “come to grips” with the inescapable love of God (Talbott) offered to them at every moment. And from I hear in Revelation 21, the gates of the Holy City are *always* open to receive the glory of the defeated “kings of the earth” post-second death. Sooo… 😉

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      • Nelson says:

        The gates are indeed open but the lake of fire (in my view, a metaphor for the ultimate annihilation of everything that’s ruined beyond repair) has already taken its toll. Yes, the doors are open from God’s part, and the water is offered gratuitously and the leaves are for the healing of the nations (those that still need some work, but that eventually will make it). But there are certain creatures that will not enter, not because they won’t allowed, but because they are unwilling.

        Ultimately, the separation from God effected by the will of the wicked is absolute, leading to their non-existence.

        I truly wish I am wrong about this. I truly hope for universal reconciliation. But I cannot find assurance of it in the Bible. I find too many warnings against the end of the path of wickedness (self-alienation from God and neighbor, ending in nothingness).

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      • yieldedone says:

        Nelson,

        Tom and I would hold that the lake of fire is symbolic for the annihilation of all false selves (ie egocentric meaning-making Identity formation) rather than theocentric meaning-making identity formation). The “body of death” that Paul talked about will be no more. The lake of fire is the purging furnace in which the impurities and ashes of the false self is left. Nothing of the false, sinful self will cross the “Gate” walls. The question is: does the annihilation of the “fleshly mind” necessitate the annihilation of the whole creature? Moreover, God and is love are literally Inescapable as the ground of our being (Col 1:17, Heb 1:3, etc). Does it make sense to say that a creature can make itself a “hopeless case” to God…when Grace is the most real aspect of all creaturely being? Can a being curve on on Itself to such a degree that It eliminates all possibility of Godward movement? When we know that it is God’s will that none would perish, but that all would be saved? I would at least say eventual universal reconciliation is a reasonable hope amid all that.

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  5. yieldedone says:

    Synergistic, perichoretic, Holy Spirit of Christ-to-human spirit “bi-polar assymetrical relational unity” (Loder) of mutual, loving self-giving and other-indwelling intimacy–which we would call theosis–is simply *not possible* in a deterministic, functionally monergistic system. We could kiss the “perichoretic freedom” goodbye, Richard. The type of Creation that most biblically, existentially, and philosophically grounds your “perichoretic freedom” idea in the context of weak volitionalism is open theism. My honest opinion.

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  6. hi guys… This is Larry and your posts and comments have been very enlightening. I have a few questions I need answered for some clarification purposes.

    Tom…you said that if ruination occurs then the consequences would be a closed future…but is that necessarily the case? It seems to me that what implies a closed
    future is for God to be closed to that future, however dismal it may appear for a ruined
    humanity, that is for a humanity that has
    lost all freedom.

    Richard and Tom…
    What would a ruined human being looked like Beyong someone who is brain dead, for example?

    And Richard…
    didn’t you say in that previous post or comment that psychologically ruination would appear as psychopathology? Can you give an example?

    Tom…one final question… Is a dynamic relationship with God is completely rooted in LSW, then what are the implications for people who are vegetables, for example? And they still have some form of authentic relationship with God?I know this has strong as a ethical implications but that’s not what I’m asking about. I’m simply trying to get at the bed rock foundation for an active relationship with God.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Larry: Tom…you said that if ruination occurs then the consequences would be a closed future…but is that necessarily the case? It seems to me that what implies a closed future is for God to be closed to that future, however dismal it may appear for a ruined humanity, that is for a humanity that has lost all freedom.

      Tom: Hi Larry! Good to hear from you.

      Well, a few things. First, the truth of my future is what God knows it to be. If God is really open to me, what’s that mean for me? I say it means openness to. My future is as open or closed as God knows it to be. That’s what I was trying to say. Our openness to the future, to Godward movement, is the creaturely side of God’s presence in/to us. And I don’t think this is revocable by us. So “ruination” as utter, irrevocable metaphysical hopelessness is impossible. What Beck means by the ruination of the will is the will becoming so bound and damaged that it requires a sovereign act of grace to intervene and defibrillate the will, to recreate it and make it free again. But to me that’s no “ruined.” If God loves all (going with Beck here) and eventually steps in to reverse the ruination, then it’s not really ruined, is it? So Beck can only think ruination is a temporary helplessness that’s reversed when God steps in to reenergize or recreate the will’s capacities.

      Second, even if our will can’t be irrevocably ruined, our future for loving, free and creative self-expression would be closed to the extent that we have cut ourselves off from relationship with God.

      Third, I think Beck is more two-storied that he thinks. The idea of God’s “intervening” set things right imagines God on the “outside” to begin with. To me that looks two-storied, i.e, God not matter-of-factly present and active within the created realm as such, only occasionally popping in to fix things or say things. In a one-storied world, God is already present as a precondition for the existence of anything at all. And where God is present, God is working. So ‘intervention’ is a bit of a misnomer. And this is why Dwayne and I think the will is always by definition free on some level however minimal. Where Beck thinks the will can be ruined and God ‘intervenes’ to defibrillate it make into working order, Dwayne and I suppose that to exist at all is to always have a volitional pulse, however weak.

      Fourth, if Beck is right and the will CAN be ruined in the sense he means, then all that would be is that THAT person’s future is closed UNTIL God intervenes to fix it. It wouldn’t mean the future is closed with respect to those not ruined. But Beck mentioned Luther’s ‘Bondage of the Will’, so he may think the will is ruined for all of us until God steps in (in Reformed fashion) to set things right. In this case I really don’t how Richard can meaningfully advocate an ‘open theistic’ version. Reformed Open Theism? I don’t think so. And if the usually evidences of real relationality going on (like God’s being “surprised” by outcomes) are consistent with God’s ‘not knowing’ the causal forces actually determining things, then the relationality is phenomenological at best, not reflective of openness or indeterminacy on an ontological level. We’re just free so long as we don’t know how determined things are.

      Larry: What would a ruined human being looked like being someone who is brain dead, for example?

      Tom: Consider situations where people are severely abused over long periods of time. The psychological damage several restricts how ‘free’ such persons are. Children caged up by abusive parents and abused and tortured into adulthood, for example. Psychopathology? Yes. But absolutely ruined into irrevocable metaphysical hopelessness? I don’t think so. But IF it is so ruined, it’s the exception. Persons not so ruined would be relatively free. But in the end—all freedom is circumscribed by context. Severe trauma and abuse would be one context.

      Larry: Is a dynamic relationship with God is completely rooted in LFW, then what are the implications for people who are vegetables, for example? And they still have some form of authentic relationship with God?

      Tom: Our embodiment is our context too. If somebody is a vegetable due to brain injury, there’s no relating to God freely in that context.

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Fascinating discussion. I wish I could understand a tenth of it.

    As someone who read is fair share of Moltmann, Pannenberg, and Jenson back in another life, why should I force myself to think about this stuff. I feel like one of the guys you talk about above whose history has closed in on him.

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    • tgbelt says:

      Which parts seem off the map? Essentially our difference with Beck boils to the nature of human freedom within the limitations of created nature. Beck (as far as I can tell) feels like the ‘will’ is so circumscribed by its environment (brain states, history, psychological trauma, etc.) that it is not free. And he wants to construct an ‘open theism’ that is compatible with our not being free (even if it’s compatible with our being free as well, in the event we are ever free), i.e., compatible with the future’s being ‘closed’.

      Like

      • Jeff says:

        Tom: Beck (as far as I can tell) feels like the ‘will’ is so circumscribed by its environment

        J: More than that, it seems that he doesn’t think LFW explains anything relevant to orthodox theology in the first place and, therefore, that there’s no sense dividing over it. I see his point if my inference about his other assumptions is valid. But I don’t see what IS explicable plausibly given those assumptions.

        And therefore, I don’t see the importance of anything given such assumptions. It seems to me that for some theological claim to be “important” for one to believe, one is saying that they are 1) free to do something about it and 2) divinely-endowed with competence to DETERMINE (i.e., with real human plausibility) its importance in the first place.

        Any version of theism that doesn’t imply that humans are competent to determine the validity of either of those 2 claims is basically saying that God is indifferent to the diversity of human flourishing and suffering. And best I can tell, that’s precisely what is entailed in any theism that denies that God experiences both satisfaction and dissatisfaction due to sympathy with humans because of our putative meaninglessness to Him.

        The sense in which creation is relatively meaningless, IMO, is the sense in which it is relativized against an infinite duration of OTHER purely satisfactory divine experience. In that same way, our own suffering is meaningless when relativized against eternity, just as scriptures says.

        The minute you render our suffering meaningless to God because He has no consciously FELT sympathy (or even FELT aesthetic differentiation, for that matter) with it, you’re saying, it seems, that God is literally indifferent to the diversity of human flourishing and suffering. And if that’s so, why should I not try to be “like” God in that respect to the extent possible? And if I succeed to some extent, won’t my behavior look very different than if it’s motivated by sympathy (or even aesthetics) if, indeed, I’m truly free?

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  8. Jeff says:

    J1: J: More than that, it seems that he doesn’t think LFW explains anything relevant to orthodox theology in the first place and, therefore, that there’s no sense dividing over it.

    J2: Forget the “there’s no sense in dividing over it” part. For if we’re not truly free, even that’s irrelevant. Indeed, if there is no such thing as freely and discursively-derived beliefs, all beliefs are essentially the equivalent of intuitions. And if intuitions can be contradictory (and they would be if we actually remember), then the LNC (i.e., the law of identity) is not a valid intuition after all. And all collapses into absurdity, epistemologically. At that point, the Matrix and the Inception views of possible histories are no less discernibly plausible histories than any other logically possible history (of which there is an infinite set).

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    • Jeff says:

      J1: then the LNC (i.e., the law of identity) is not a valid intuition after all.

      J2: Rather, “then the LNC (i.e., the law of identity), qua an intuition, has no validity (in terms of correspondence with reality) since in that case intuitions are only true qua intuitions if contradictory beliefs can both be true.” The epistemological price of denying LFW is profound in the sense that a person whose epistemology depends on the reality of FREE, discursively-derived beliefs to even define what is MEANT by a warranted belief can’t even make sense of warranted belief any other way. And when you hear the common normative and disparaging judgments like “that guy isn’t even rational,” etc, how are they normative at all if there is no LFW? IOW, how is there any normative about beliefs if nothing about belief formation is free? How normatively relevant to any real events was Neo’s judgments prior to his ACTUALLY exercising LFW?

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