More books to order, more money to spend. I’ve got this pre-ordered. I read a pre-published working copy, but knowing Greg, things continued to get worked out and worked in right up to the final moment. One thing I will say about Greg – even when I disagree, I come away thinking long and hard about things. We’ll see where this goes.
Pardon a second post from the comments section of Classical Theism where Malcolm and I are batting ideas back and forth. I’m pretty sure no one else is in there, so I wanted to post more publicly a reference to Greg Boyd’s appropriation of the concept of dispositions or dispositional ontology and how it might provide an analogy for understanding how God’s triune identity remains unchanged through relations with the temporal world. Chase down Greg’s Redux if you’re more interested.
Malcolm: If God has a certain state of existence ad intra and also a certain state of existence ad extra, then it seems that in transitioning from the one to the other God changes in his essential properties, in which case he doesn’t maintain identity. For instance, if God ad intra is independent but then becomes dependent, it seems to me either (a) his independence ad intra is not an essential property, or (b) God ceases being God afterwards.
Tom: If you get Greg’s Redux (pp. 16-21), check out what he says about the category of dispositions, including two kinds of disposition: (1) definitional dispositions that are exercised invariantly and whose exercise constitutes the definitional or necessary properties of a thing (Note: I don’t think God is a “thing”), and (2) constitutive dispositions (‘constitutive’ is what Greg calls them but that’s probably not a good word to use), i.e., powers which a thing essentially possesses but which it may or may not exercise and remain the essential thing it is.
God’s infinite specious present is God’s essential and necessary disposition to be the triune God of infinite beauty and beatitude. This dispositional essence cannot (I don’t think) be the product or outcome of “temporal becoming” (as I try to describe in that post on the specious present). But when we move to ad extra self-expressive divine acts, these are not (as your comment seems to suppose, I’m not sure) a “transition from the one” (i.e., from the necessary-essential disposition to be triune fullness) “to the other” (i.e., to a freely exercised disposition for creative self-expression). God doesn’t shut down the exercise of his definitional disposition to be the God he is so he can rewire or re-constitute that disposition to become someone or something else. The latter disposition (for freely creative self-expression) is possessed necessarily. It’s only exercised contingently.
God’s ‘identity’ then is the abiding, unchanging, disposition to be the loving triune God of infinite beauty and beatitude (his ‘specious present’ I would say). This ‘identity’ gets “expressed” (not “constituted”) through the ad extra work of creation, but only (and this is important to our passibilism question) through the world’s ‘being’ (i.e., the extent to which created natures conform to their logoi), not through its ‘failure to be’ (i.e., its sinful misrelation and suffering).
From my view, changing states of mind in God with respect to the changing actualities of the world, even if they are intrinsic in the sense that all knowing is intrinsic to the knower, don’t constitute an intolerable divine “becoming” or reconstitute God’s identity ad intra. Why not? Because all the forms of the good which are the being of created things are already present in the divine Logos (and so definitive of the divine identity). Their ‘becoming actual’ as non-divine entities ad extra is merely expressive of this One’s disposition for free, creative self-expression. But though created things merely reflect as images the Logos in whom their possibilities are grounded (they’re not ‘new’ in that sense, obviously), their actual temporal becoming does constitute something new ‘to know’ even for God (since their contingent, temporal ‘actuality’ as such cannot be eternally pre-contained in the Logos). As Bulgakov said (Bride of the Lamb – thank you God for this passage):
If God created man in freedom, in His own image, as a son of God and a friend of God, a god according to grace, then the reality of this creation includes his freedom as creative self-determination not only in relation to the world but also in relation to God…
[A]ll the possibilities of creaturely being, having their roots in the Creator’s knowledge, are open to [his] knowledge, since they belong to the world created by Him and are included in this world’s composition, not only in the form of “integral wisdom” but also in the form of a distributed multiplicity. In this sense, creation – in both the spiritual and the human world – cannot bring anything ontologically new into this world; it cannot surprise or enrich the Creator Himself. But the very choice and creative actualization of these possibilities, that is, the domain of modal freedom, remain entrusted to creation and to this extent are its creative contribution. Although creation cannot be absolutely unexpected and new for God in the ontological sense, nevertheless in empirical (“contingent”) being, it represents a new manifestation for God Himself, who is waiting to see whether man will open or not open the doors of his heart. God Himself will know this only when it happens…
Veiling His face, God remains ignorant of the actions of human freedom. Otherwise, these actions would not have their own reality, but would only be a function of a certain divine mechanism of things.
Having contributed a response and follow-up to Greg’s ReKnew piece re: the question of whether Islam is inherently violent, I’d like to note Greg’s most recent video blog on the question in which his basic point is that the debate over the question is pointless for two reasons:
(1) The question is pointless because debating sides either waffle or prevaricate over the definition of “inhere” and so talk past each other. But more importantly, strictly speaking what a thing “inherently” is it cannot fail to be/do. If Islam were “inherently” violent, it wouldn’t be possible to be a pacifist Muslim or even to be a non-pacifist Muslim who might agree that violence can at times be appropriate but who would never himself engage his faith in terms of doing violence. And since both non-violent expressions of Islam exist, it can’t be the case that Islam is “inherently” violent.
(2) The question is also pointless for followers of Jesus because we are called to unconditionally love others whomever and whatever they are.
I want to encourage Greg not to back out of this conversation just yet but to consider reframing the question in a way that would make continuing the conversation worthwhile. I know how important the question of faith and violence is for Greg, which is why I’m surprised he ejects the conversation with so little attempt to explore different angles. I’ve explored a couple of those angles and asked for his opinion. Haven’t heard anything. So let me suggest a few things. First (and least important because it’s the more anally philosophical point), it’s not the case that whatever a thing is “inherently” it must always be doing or engaging in. I won’t push this point, but Greg may remember his PhD dissertation Trinity & Process (“That old thing” as he calls it) in which he argued things are inherently “dispositional” and that dispositions are of two kinds — dispositions that are invariantly (without interruption) exercised and dispositions the actual exercise of which varies contingently. But both dispositions “inhere” in the subject. Islam may be an inherently violent worldview without it being the case that every Muslim engage in violence 24/7. But I won’t press Greg on his PhD work. Secondly, let’s drop the word “inherently” altogether and reframe things in different terms so we can inquire into whether there being pacifist Muslims or Christians invalidates concerns or arguments regarding Islam’s or Christianity’s disposition for violence. How might we go about reframing the relevant question? Well, in Trinity & Process, Greg actually argues for the independent reality of “social dispositions,” that is, worldviews that operate on a socially systemic level even if perceptive individual members may opt out of particular aspects of the larger disposition. We might also ask how the relevant dispositional tendencies of religious worldviews are rooted in normative persons/founders (Jesus and Muhammad) and in the earliest formative histories. As I earlier stated, “violence” doesn’t belong to propositions or worldviews per se. It’s belongs to us as human beings. We upload our violence to our worldviews, and sometimes those worldviews (especially religious ones) solidify as social dispositions that reflect a general tendency to violence. Why is this important? For two reasons:
(1) A religious worldview may in fact be dispositionally inclined to violence even if particular individuals who share the worldview are disinclined to violence, and
(2) Whether a particular religious worldview is dispositionally inclined to violence might be very important for those out shopping for a religious worldview and who insist on exposing the dispositional tendencies of the worldviews they explore.
Exactly what does Greg expect the religious believers of the world to talk about given the global village we live in and the headlines that force their way into our conversation? True, every follower of Jesus ought to engage this conversation from a conviction about the truly revolutionary loving and life-transforming dispositional reality which the Spirit makes available in Christ. That’s Greg’s view too. But it begs the question with respect to competing worldviews in the religious marketplace, and to refuse to engage conversation about the relative success of competing worldviews on a question as important as religious violence seems uncharacteristic of Greg. Or to reduce all relevant questions to the “individual” perspective and not engage the larger social dispositional influences at play? Same thing. And so, thirdly, I’d like to encourage Greg not to dismiss the question “Is Islam inherently violent?” on a technicality (viz., the strict meaning of the word “inhere”). Why not engage a better more relevant version of it?
- Does the overall worldview of Muhammad—his vision, values and faith as he embodied them and which define Islam normatively—have the [social dispositional] resources to transform violent human beings and human society on a vast scale?
And the parallel question put to Christians is not the one implied in Greg’s earlier peice, namely, “Can ‘Christendom’ transform violent human beings on a vast scale?” We know the disappointing answer to that. Rather, the question he should ask is:
- Does the overall worldview of Jesus—his vision, values and faith as he embodied them and which define Christian faith normatively—have the resources to transform violent human beings and human society on a vast scale?
To reiterate something I said earlier (forgive me), no faith/worldview is utterly void of resources to address violence on some scale. All faiths say something about being benevolent and non-violent. Some worldviews have more redemptive power than others. Some religious worldviews may define their value and vision in terms of addressing violence more absolutely. Greg believes the Christian worldview (i.e., Christ’s own worldview in its normative function for followers of Jesus) is “violence-free” in this sense. It perfectly expresses/embodies the absolutely non-violent Kingdom of God within our fallen world. So let me repeat my questions for Greg:
- Can you make the case that Muhammad’s own worldview, as he lived it, addresses violence in a way sufficient to reform/redeem human society on a wide scale?
I suggest that to the extent it fails at this (and I’m not saying it fails absolutely), Islam is “dispositionally inclined” (if you don’t want to say “inherently”) to violence, that is, it allows the violence in us to express itself without contradiction to Islam. Conversely,
- Can you make the case that Jesus’ own worldview, as he lived it, addresses violence in a way sufficient to reform/redeem human society on a wide scale?
And to the extent Jesus’ worldview/life fails at this, Christianity is dispositionally inclined to violence as well. Asked differently, when Christians engage in violence in the defense or propagation of their faith, are they more or less like Jesus and his earliest followers (for, say, 300 years, until they got in bed with the State)? Similarly, when Muslims engage in violence in the defense or propagation of their faith, are they more or less like Muhammad and his followers for, say, 300 years? (Picture here.)
Following on our previous comments regarding time, we’ll draw our series on Tait’s review of Greg’s warfare theodicy to an end with two concluding comments. They have to do with (a) the supposed providential use of God’s (timeless) (fore)knowledge and (b) how we’re to understand providence in general.
The providential uselessness of simple foreknowledge
In his Post 5 on Greg’s open theism, Tait acknowledges the force of the argument Greg and other open theists make for the providential uselessness of simple foreknowledge (of the sort defended by David Hunt and Bruce Reichenbach). This view of foreknowledge claims God “simply” (i.e., without the complication of qualifications, exceptions, speculations, etc.) knows the future. Such knowledge would be of no providential use. Hunt attempts (unsuccessfully) to avoid this consequence. I won’t repeat the arguments here.
A view not (in our opinion) significantly different is divine timelessness (and so the timelessness of God’s knowing), the view Tait prefers. But the same criticism of simple foreknowledge applies. A timeless God, i.e., a God whose knowledge of the world is eternal/timeless, would of course be timelessly, not temporally, related to all created events in their actuality. Leaving aside the question of whether this is even coherent and the implications this might have for the question of the temporal nature of creation (A-Series vs B-Series, presentism vs a block universe), it nevertheless follows that timeless knowledge of created events is also providentially useless to God. A timeless God would be eternally and unchangingly present to all events within the created order. What could providentially be done on the basis of such knowledge which is not already timelessly known? To act “on the basis of” some knowledge is to act in an “informed” way. But this presupposes an order in knowing and acting precluded by timeless existence. All events in creation would be (if I could risk using the word) simultaneously present to God and by definition already the result of whatever God did or didn’t do to prevent or bring them about.
One Orthodox attempt to defend the providential use of such timeless knowledge is Gregory of Nyssa’s On Infants’ Early Deaths in which Gregory argues that infants who die are brought to death by divine mercy based on God’s (timeless) (fore)knowledge of the great evil these infants commit in adulthood. So (and the “so” is important; it expresses the sense in which Gregory holds God’s foreknowledge of their evils to inform his providential choice to foreclose upon these infants reaching adulthood) God determines to prevent their actualizing such evil. Don’t rush by Gregory’s arguments. Let them soak in.
Timeless knowledge of the world would already eternally be knowledge of a world in which the infants in question die (not live to do great evil). How is the death of infants the providential outcomes of God acting in response to foreknown evil those same infants do in adulthood? In what world do they commit their evils? A Molinist might be interested in exploring Gregory’s proposal, but it doesn’t seem compatible with timeless knowledge.
However, Fr Aidan and I were chatting about this recently, and he brought up a point he makes via McCabe re: God and time. The point is that divine transcendence of the world means that God transcends both contradictory positions—temporality and atemporality. To say God is ‘timeless’ (used apophatically) is just a way to say, “Look, God’s reality can’t be reduced to these contradictory positions, as if God is either one or the other.” So not only should we not conclude God is ‘temporal’, we ought also to avoid saying God is ‘timeless’. God transcends the contradiction; i.e., the reality we call ‘God’ isn’t reducible to a single option among contradictories within the scope of our categories.
I think there’s something importantly true in saying God isn’t exhausted by the truth of a single of contradictory options. At the same time, we’ve suggested that while this apophatic qualification may be true, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t cataphatic truths we ought to affirm and their contradictories we ought to deny. For example, cataphatically speaking “God exists” is true and “God does not exist” is false. But God, we’d like to say as well, transcends the disjunct. God’s existence isn’t just a grand instance of our existence, as if he is another being alongside all the other instances of being, just a very large and perfect occasion of it. But he also transcends the falsehood of “God does not exist” since the sense in which God doesn’t exist is not just another instance of the failure of some created being to exist.
I’ve wondered for some time whether this strategy wouldn’t apply equally to the sense in which we use temporal/atemporal language of God. That is, there is a truth to be affirmed cataphatically here which marks God’s positive reflection in the created order (e.g., “God is temporal”). And the contradictory of this (“God is timeless”) would in this sense be false. However, God isn’t an instance of temporal becoming in the way created entities have their being temporally. Nor is his ‘not being timeless’ just an instance of what atemporality is on our scale of being (which is what I tend to hear from advocates of divine timelessness). In this sense, God’s reality would transcend the disjunct between ‘temporal’ and ‘timeless’ by virtue of necessary being, infinite beatitude, etc.
So what about divine foreknowledge then? Well, if God is (qualifiedly) temporal he would relate to the world’s past as past and to its future as future—but not in anything like the derivative, dependent sense in which created things lose something of themselves to the past or in which they derive something of themselves in a future becoming. None of that kind of experience could be the case with God. And that’s different enough in my book to use these terms very carefully. But what typically happens is this apophatic qualified sense of temporal language gets used as a means of defending God’s eternal knowledge of all events within the temporal world. I see this as problematic. If it’s transcendence, why assume the knowledge of the world would be unchanging knowledge of the world’s actualities? Why should transcendence default to the assumption of timelessness? If God creates freely, and if the scope of all creaturely choice remains within the embrace of providence, and if there’s no providential advantage to be gained from simple or timeless knowledge, then there’s nothing a timeless God (traditionally conceived) can do that a qualifiedly temporal God cannot also do with respect to bringing about his final ends for creation.
If God truly foreknows future possibilities as possibilities, the sense in which this is different from our foreknowing is as important as is the sense in which it’s similar. Future possibilities aren’t apprehended by God via third party mediation (as with us). God is the sustaining ground of all possibility. God can foreknow creation’s possibilities by knowing himself. There’s no guess work per se. No unforeseen surprises. No shocks. God doesn’t “learn” truths he was formerly “ignorant” of. My point is, there are ways to articulate a temporal apprehension of the world’s actualities and becoming that don’t assume God is just another temporal item on the inventory of things that have their being temporally.
Providence as God-given desire
Over time I’ve been drawn to aspects of the Orthodox tradition. I’m still in process on a lot of things, but I tend presently to view providence first and fundamentally as the scope of possibilities for created beings established by our God-give, natural desire for the Good. That is, God can know that humanity will reach its end because the dispositional essence of human beings is irreducibly oriented in an appetite for the Good, even if only implicitly (as Hart describes). The same is true of Boyd’s metaphysics in Trinity & Process which we’ve discussed at great length on this site.
We suspect this can be integrated as well with Maximus’ own view of the logoi of created things (minus timeless actus purus of course). The logoi of created things can be viewed as God’s providential governance of creation. Providence, I’m suggesting, is hardwired into our dispositions (grounded in our logoi as divine subjective aims) by virtue of their aesthetic orientation. We may have freedom to contradict our telos on occasion. We do not have freedom to redefine our telos or dispose ourselves out of all possibility of achieving it. Ultimately, that’s the providence that matters, because it means nothing God creates and invites into union with himself can possibly find a permanent end anywhere else. There are no other teloi (ends) which created beings can land in irrevocably. That’s providence enough to guarantee the final end of things.
And as far as we may stray from God’s good intentions for us (from our logoi) we nevertheless remain in God, grounded in the inescapable gravity which both grants us a measure of say-so and defines itself into all our options. As David Bentley Hart says (“Providence and Causality: On Divine Innocence”), “Nothing the creature does exceeds those potentialities God has created….” We may contradict our dispositional essences on occasions or for a season. That essence is just the God-defined limits of desire which, like magnetic north, attract all things toward it—not with irresistibly Calvinistic force, but as the inescapable truth of our ground. True, there is more to discuss about God’s action within the world to prevent or bring about specific outcomes and that’s to be conceived alongside creaturely agency. For now, however, we thought the question of ultimate ends might provide a way to back into the question of more immediate actions.
“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.
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.
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.