Friday, July 9, 2010

And I used to think Calvinism was scary

The other day when I didn't have anything else to do (ha!) I picked a book off my shelf that I bought years ago but never read:  The Openness of God:  A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (InterVarsity Press, 1994), a series of essays by various authors on the "openness of God." If you have never heard of the idea, the openness of God is the notion that the future is "open" to God. He does not have a full knowledge of the future because the future acts of creatures possessing free will are inherently unknowable. I'm ashamed to say it, but there was a time when I was toying with the idea. I was struggling to understand the biblical passages that speak of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility and how the two relate to each other (i.e., Calvinism and Arminianism). Involved in this discussion, of course, is God's knowledge of the future. I was firmly in the Arminian camp at the time, but the critique that Calvinists gave of Arminianism's account of God's knowledge of the future made me think that one really must choose between Calvinism and Open Theism. I was attracted to open theism largely because the other alternative (Calvinism) was too scary...or so I thought. Really, I had a very poor understanding of Calvinism, since most of what I "knew" of it I learned from it's opponents. At any rate, God saved me from the god of open theism and helped me to see the truth and beauty of the Reformed faith, for which I am very thankful.

As I was saying, when I didn't have anything else to do, I picked up this book and began flipping through it. I was already quite familiar with the basics since I had read a number of other books and articles on the subject. What really piqued my interest was the last chapter, "Practical Implications," by David Basinger.
We do not...believe that God always knows beforehand exactly how things will turn out in the future - that God possesses simple foreknowledge.
We maintain, rather, that God possesses only what has come to be called "present knowledge." God, we acknowledge, does know all that has occurred in the past and is occurring know. Moreover, God does know all that will follow deterministically from what has occurred [e.g. the physical laws of nature], and can, as the ultimate psychoanalyst [Freud would be envious!], predict with great accuracy what we as humans will freely choose to do in various contexts. God, for instance, might well be able to predict with great accuracy whether a couple would have a successful marriage [good for him!]. But since we believe that God can know only what can be known and that what humans will freely do in the future cannot be known beforehand, we believe that God can never know with certainty what will happen in any context involving freedom of choice. We believe, for example, that to the extent that freedom of choice would be involved, God would not necessarily know beforehand exactly what would happen if a couple were to marry. Accordingly, we must acknowledge that divine guidance, from our perspective, cannot be considered a means of discovering exactly what will be best in the long run - as a means of discovering the very best long-term option. Divine guidance, rather, must be viewed primarily as a means of determining what is best for us now. (p. 163)
So then, in his ignorance, God may actually lead us down a path in the short run that might actually be the worst possible path in the long run. Really. Read on. I'm not making this up.
Since God does not necessarily know exactly what will happen in the future, it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may not produce the anticipated results in the long run. For example, given that God may not know exactly what the state of the economy will be over the next five or ten years, it is possible that what God in his wisdom believes at present to be the best course of study for a student may not be an option that will allow her after graduation to pursue the profession for which she has prepared... It is always possible that what will occur as the result of following God's specific will at a given time will not be exactly what even God envisioned. (p. 165).
Yikes! And I used to think that Calvinism was scary!

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