God at War in Ithilien, Part 1

sistine-chapelLove the name of Edwin Tait’s blog. Isn’t Ithilien a province within the Kingdom of Gondor? Some hidden meaning there I’m guessing. If you understand it, do tell.

As we said, Tait is in a series on Greg’s warfare worldview which we won’t be able to avoid engaging, not because of any misunderstanding on Tait’s part. His review is spot on. Our issues are with the substance of Greg’s proposals. What we’d like to do is offer a few comments on Tait’s posts. If you haven’t read through them, we encourage you to do so. I think the way Tait is attracted to a consideration of open theism through Greg’s warfare worldview as opposed to John Sanders’ emphasis upon divine relationality or Bill Hasker’s philosophical/logical arguments is very interesting. He makes great points about a proposal which, he agrees, deserved more debate than it received. We totally agree. What’s surprising is that while Greg’s warfare worldview initially appealed to Tait over against Sanders’ or Hasker’s different approaches, the deeper metaphysical underpinnings of Greg’s cosmology (not the more benign claim that there are malevolent beings who oppose God’s purposes on earth, something we agree with) are, we think, completely unworkable. We’re grateful for Tait’s series because it’s a perfect meeting place to explore the strengths and weakness of Greg’s cosmology.

I love Tait’s clear and concise style. To the point and doesn’t miss anything. He doesn’t get into the ‘warfare worldview’ specifically until Part 2. His opening post is more about defining open theism and explaining why Greg’s warfare worldview is for Tait a better starting point that Sanders’ divine relationality and Hasker’s logical coherence as. He gets into summarizing the warfare worldview in his Posts 2 and 3 about which we’ll have something to say in an upcoming post.

Tait begins by summarizing:

“Open theism is the view that God does not know future free actions with certainty. God knows everything that exists, but the future does not exist yet, so God only knows the future insofar as it follows necessarily from what exists already.”

This is fair enough, though a few important qualifications might be helpful. From the beginning of his involvement in the open theism debate, Greg preferred to describe God’s knowledge of the future in positive terms as what God knows, not negatively in terms of what God doesn’t know. (Though the latter expression is found, it’s not where or how the chief argument is made.) The positive mode of expressing things far better isolates the issues, because as soon as you say the words “God doesn’t know ____” it doesn’t much matter what you follow with. Many minds will start shutting down. Why? Because there’s nothing that God doesn’t know. His knowledge is limitless, infinite, etc. Of course, upon further inspection what this means is there’s nothing which is the case, nothing that is true which God doesn’t know to be the case or know to be true, etc. But the open view of the future has no problem agreeing with this. And stating things positively in terms of what God knows helps expose the relevant question which is ‘What is the temporal nature of the created order and its truth?’ and not ‘Are there ‘things’ God doesn’t know?’ We’re not saying Tait doesn’t see this. We just want to emphasize the point.

Secondly (and Tait acknowledges this in a subsequent post), the open theist affirms God knows all possibilities and probabilities. I meet non-open theists who agree. This is good news because again it encourages us to describe God’s knowledge of the world in terms of the nature of the things known and not just as something God doesn’t know. However, to agree that God knows the relevant probabilities of what might/might not be is just to affirm something about the open nature of the future and to invite further questions regarding the temporal status of God’s knowing the temporal world. Perhaps a better way to begin to define the open view of the future would be to state positively the open/indeterminate nature of the world’s temporal becoming, then to affirm God’s perfect knowledge of it, and only lastly to explore what God would then know (and not know) about such a world.

Thirdly, as Tait points out, for the open view “time is a reality for God as well as for us, so that the future really is future for God.” This is a crucial point of difference with classical theists, and it would take more time than a closing paragraph here to explore the issues. Open theists, being presentists with respect to the ontology of time, have made this a central point, and so they must. For open theists, God isn’t absolutely timeless actus purus, timelessly knowing creation in all its temporal becoming in a single, timeless unchanging act of knowing, an act of knowing which is one with God’s own essential self-knowledge. There’s just no getting around the difference with classical theism on this point. However, open theists could have, and perhaps should have, explored the ways in which God — on the assumption that he knows the world in its actuality by experiencing it (don’t read a ton of anthropomorphic assumption into the word “experience”) in its actuality — remains unlike us, however his experience/knowledge of the world may rightly be said to be temporal. But this would require a richer appreciation of God’s transcendence of the world than open theists have thus sought. It’s still worth exploring. As we’ve suggested, we think it’s possible to affirm the essential divine freedom and triune fullness as well as creation’s absolute gratuity and the temporal nature of God’s experience of the world without historicizing that transcendent fullness by assuming God becomes God in all the objectionable ways process theology (on the one hand) and Jenson or McCormack (on the other) advocate.

(Picture here.)

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