God at War in Ithilien, Part 2

william-blake-great-architect-of-the-universe-demiurge-gnostic-mormon-ldsIn his 2nd and 3rd Posts Tait summarizes Greg’s Scriptural case for a warfare cosmology and makes a few critical remarks, the most revealing of which (from his Part 3) is:

“A case can be made that this is perilously close to the ancient heresy of Manicheanism, which taught that certain kinds of animals and other aspects of the physical world were created by Satan and not by God.”

Tait acknowledges that Greg doesn’t explicitly make the claim that Satan has powers to created ex nihilo, and there’s no question of Greg’s affirming a ontological dualism here. But we share Tait’s suspicions. It does seem to be the case for Greg that Satan is functionally equivalent to the Demiurge in Hellenisitc (Platonic & Neoplanotic) and Gnostic thought, where the Demiurge is responsible for fashioning and maintaining the material universe. Greg views Satan as contracted/covenanted to function in precisely this sense, administrating God’s purposes for the physical world, sustaining and maintaining the material order and its laws until such a time as that order achieves its God-intended end. From where I sit that’s basically viewing Satan as a demiurge. Functionally speaking he is ascribed the presence and powers which the NT actually attributes to the Logos relative to sustaining the material universe.

When Satan rebelled he took the entire material order with him. It is God’s original covenant with Satan that leaves him in office as the administrator of what he has turned a deformed and perverted form of matter/energy. Greg takes the “subjugation” of creation to “futility” or “corruption” in Romans 8.20 as a reference to a primal cosmic rebellion in which an originally good creation came under the corrupting influence of its now fallen proprietor, Satan. Satan subjects creation to corruption and frustration. Even the 2nd law of thermodynamics is, for Greg, the agency of Satan seeking to increasingly pervert and warp creation towards violence and death.

Greg wouldn’t buy into the Gnostic view of matter as inherently evil, but that’s pocket change in comparison with the powers Greg supposes Satan has over matter/energy. Think of it in terms of Greg’s process metaphysics in the “reconstructed” sense he argues for in Trinity & Process. The scaffolding is all there. The created order is most fundamentally ‘actual occasions’ which are the most basic units of reality as temporal becoming. Enter the warfare cosmology. Satan administrates every ‘actual occasion’, every ‘act of becoming’ within creation. Satan essentially mediates the world’s “becoming,” having the power to pervert it in directions it was not intended (i.e., “red in tooth and claw”). Satan thus shares in constituting the collapse of every wave function. That’s a demiurge’s measure of power over the physical universe. I wonder how many people are really thinking through this. The entirety of the material cosmos, on the quantum level, is the scene or warfare between the divine will and fallen/evil demonic wills. That places Satan (or one or more of some subservient malevolent beings) at every material event in the universe right down to the collapse of quantum particles. This is how the “wills of evil fallen agents” are directly responsible for hurricanes, tornadoes, the creation and mutation of deadly viruses, the movement of tectonic plates and even the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

To question this cosmology is not to say our existence is not engulfed in a war between good and evil, or that there are no malevolent spiritual forces working at cross-purposes with God in the world. But it is to relativize their influence within a wider cosmology that views Christ the Logos, not Satan as functional demiurge, as the sustaining intelligence and personal presence that mediates the world’s becoming.

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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.

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Series review of God at War

51J61se6yWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Christian historian Edwin Tait (former professor of Bible and religion at Huntington) is into a very nice review series on Greg Boyd’s ‘Warfare Theology’ over at Ithilien. I think he has a few more posts to go. Thanks to Fr Aidan for drawing my attention to the series.

Greg Boyd’s Warfare Theology, part 1

Greg Boyd’s Warfare Theology part 2—God at war in Scripture

Greg Boyd’s Warfare Theology part 3—Creation

Greg Boyd’s Warfare Theology part 4—the “Blueprint Model”

Greg Boyd’s Warfare Theology part 5—Open Theism

Quote of the week—5

This is for Greg Boyd, in the hope of convincing him to read what he wrote in Trinity & Process. DBH writes:

“[E]very free movement of the will is possible only by virtue of the more primordial longing of all things for the beauty of God…and so every free act — even the act of hating God — arises from and is sustained by a more original love of God. It is impossible to desire anything without implicitly desiring the infinite source of all things; even the desire of the suicide for the peace of oblivion is born of a love of self — however tragically distorted it has become — that is itself born of a deeper love for the God from whom the self comes and to whom the self is called.”

David Bentley Hart
The Doors of the Sea

Room in God for all we do—Nota Bene

moses-at-burning-bushA quick postscript to the previous note. I thought I had this ‘awareness’ discipline down. I think about God all the time as it is. But as I reflect on it, I have to confess that what I do is think about God most of the time. I’m solving theological puzzles, conjuring up models of the trinity, thinking about how the incarnation came about or frustrating over the nature of Scripture. All God’s business, right? God is on my mind constantly as an object of thought, as a conundrum, as a problem to resolve, a puzzle to piece together. And if that is what ‘awareness of God’ is, then that will compete with conscious awareness of other things. You can’t do that (think about God) and do everything else well. What awareness can be without competing with all else is awareness of God as a subject in the second person, as conversation partner, as speaking to me and as addressed by me. We can pray without ceasing and do everything else. We can’t theologize about God in the third-person and do very much of anything else well. Why? Because to dwell, even devotedly, upon God in the third-person is to remain alone, to perpetuate the myth of separation, to assume my life with God and my living in this world have to compete with each other, as if I can’t be with both.

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Room in God for all we do

Ealing-20130212-00858Pacing the floor in prayer last evening, I began to reflect aloud on what my ultimate desires and longings are. What do I really want? What’s the one desire which if fulfilled would make every other unfulfilled desire irrelevant but which if unfulfilled would render all other desires meaningless? To be more knowledgeable? To be theologically right? To live a long life? To be honored by your peers? Maybe all of these together? That would be something. I’ve put time into these. But running through the options, dismissing them each in turn as the ultimate end of desire, I finally said, “You, Lord. I want you.” I began talking, prayerfully, aloud about what that would look like. My mind (don’t ask why) went to the story of Congregational missionary and linguist Frank Laubach (1884-1970) who through disappointment and struggle came to dedicate his life to a single task—learning to live life without ever losing conscious awareness of God’s presence. To live in unbroken awareness of God’s presence, to perceive his intentions in the moment and to offer myself as the means of manifesting them—now, my sole desire.

God is the one reality we can be conscious of without diminishing our awareness of and availability to any other task at hand. The same isn’t true of anything else we may devote are attention to. Our limited energies are naturally divided the more items within the world we attend to. But God is not an item within the world. Awareness of him doesn’t compete with awareness of other things. Conversation with him doesn’t compete with other conversations. There’s room in God, but only in God, for all we do.

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God is not happy

GodhappyI recently ran across God is Not Happy (2015) by Flo Taber-Brown. Amazon’s book description is even better than the title:

“This book was inspired by God. He is angered by the moral decay of the United States as well as the government’s removing of God from schools, government offices, etc., and the treatment of Christian and Christian organizations in this country. Ideas for improving Christian education, the behavior of Christians, their behavior within the church, and the importance of mission are among the areas covered. The goal of this book is raise awareness for Christians about un-Christian behavior, and how to positively change so that America returns to the Christian nation it once was.”

In contrast to this, here is a short essay, Divine Beatitude: Supreme Archetype of Aesthetic Experience, by Reza Shah Kazemi, a Muslim thinker. In this instance, I’m on the Muslim’s side.

The annihilation of possibility?

nj7442-539a-i1.0Last October we argued that Greg Boyd’s stance on annihilationism was impossible given arguments he put forward in Trinity & Process (TP). We also pointed out an inconsistency present in his claim that annihilationism is the “organic” (built-in/natural) consequence of irrevocable solidification into evil.

We’ve had zero luck in persuading Greg to re-engage TP’s arguments in a serious way. One of our main interests has been arguments made in TP regarding the irreducibly aesthetic nature of God’s necessary triune experience, not an incidental thesis of TP by any means. Greg did respond by saying he had revised his earlier view. No longer is experience of a personal nature an a priori feature of divine being. The divine persons only contingently experience each other. Another of our interests has been Greg’s arguments in TP for God’s “unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction” and, of course, the necessary triune nature of this experience. This too is not a position Greg presently holds.

Look, it’s perfectly fine for a scholar to adjust and even change previously held views. Happens all the time. We get that. But it’s a scholar’s academic responsibility to account for the change by actually rebutting previous arguments and showing where those arguments were flawed and what arguments lie behind the change (especially, I should think, when the work in question is a matter of public debate). Unpack things. Make the case for abandoning your previous metaphysics and spell out a new position. This isn’t necessary for minor points of little or no consequence. But in this case we’re talking core, fundamental theses of Greg’s doctoral work.

A third interest we’ve had in Greg’s present views and his previous work in TP has to do with his present inclination toward annihilationism, specifically whether his version of annihilationism is compatible with arguments he made in TP about the essentially aesthetic nature of the dispositional essence of human beings. Greg tweeted that if he in fact argued in TP that the dispositional essence of human beings was “indestructible,” he was wrong. But the point is not that our dispositional essence is indestructible because it has a life of its own independent of God. That’s a two-storied mistake to begin with. The point, rather, is that our dispositional essence as grounded in God is (a priori, Greg argued) essentially an “aesthetic appetite,” and as the essential ground of our existence, this dispositional-aesthetic appetite defines our possibilities, not vice versa. As Greg says, an “ontologically grounded dispositional understanding of aesthetic subjective aims sets the parameters of intelligibility for a future act.” (emphasis mine) And this “intelligibility” is aesthetic in nature, so our possibilities are by definition irreducibly aesthetic in nature. What we “may become” (ultimately) is given to us by God in terms of an aesthetic appetite (disposition) for God which has God as the ground and determiner of its possibilities. Thus all our choices (all conceivable exercise of our dispositional essence) by definition are already an “aiming at” or an “appetite for” some aesthetic experience. There’s simply no metaphysical room to suppose (as Greg now does) that this same dispositional essence can, via its very orientation, vacate itself of all aesthetic appetite. Any ‘choice’ to do that would, per TP, be an aesthetic choice, never possibly less. One could only ‘dispose oneself’ (into non-existence in this case) as an expression of some aesthetic appetite. But per Greg’s organic annihilationism, one is annihilated on account of having dispositionally foreclosed upon all aesthetic appetite. It’s not possible, given the aesthetic nature of our dispositional essence.

We may be totally misconstruing Greg. We’ve invited him to shed light on the relevant texts/arguments in TP. Or if we’re reading him rightly, then, Greg claims, he was wrong. That’s fine too. But he doesn’t get to end it there. Saying you were wrong is just an announcement, not an explanation.

In a word (or maybe several), Greg had insight enough to outline the ontologically grounded and irreducibly aesthetic dispositional essence of human beings. But he failed sufficiently to think through the implications of this metaphysics, viz., to see that his insight renders choice as such an ecstatic desire or appetite for the transcendental good of our ground. As a priori, no intelligence, not even a demonic one, can conceivably fail to manifest its nature as aesthetic appetite. Our essence is invariably, if only implicitly, a desire for that good which is both antecedent ground and telos and determiner of our possibilities. So the very structure of our dispositional essence makes self-annihilation impossible, since to self-annihilate (as Greg supposes) would require far more than the mere ability to falsely world-construct and contradict our telos in doing so, something we’re doubtlessly capable of. It would require our having an appetite which is no appetite for a telos which is no telos and bringing into actuality that which doesn’t lie within the scope of our possibilities.

(Picture images.com/corbis)

Debating God

Ran across this wonderful debate over God and Evil this evening, including Karen Armstrong (leading the atheist argument; a surprise for me since I thought she was a theist) and Herbert McCabe leading the argument for God. Others include Anthony Flew, Richard Swinburne, and many other heavyweights. The conversation took place in Oxford at the Bodleian Library in 1993.