[asa] Comment for Timaeus on providence and open theism--an important theological point

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Oct 07 2008 - 10:23:23 EDT


First, let me say that your energy and clarity are admirable. I am (at
least) finding this a very helpful exchange of views, which confirms my
prior view that some forms of ID and some forms of TE are very similar.

In several of your posts, Timaeus, you uphold a classical view of divine
foreknowledge and providence, according to which nothing that happens can
ever surprise God or go beyond God's exhaustive knowledge of all things
past, present, and future. I think you need to become aware of a
significant turn in recent years, however, on the part of some leading
evangelical theologians and philosophers of religion: a turn toward open
theism, according to which God knows everything that can be known, but not
everything that ever will happen. You have been assuming in all of your
posts that such a view of God is unorthodox (and many would agree with you)
and ought to be out of bounds for purposes of this discussion.

I do not agree with you on this very significant point. I am not convinced
that open theism is true, but I am open to considering it as possibly true.
Mostly I say this on biblical grounds--it seems to make better sense of the
many passages in both parts of the Bible that seem to imply that God
actually changes God's own mind, or that humans actually do have the ability
to act in truly free ways (that Calvin would not have allowed), or even that
humans can bargain with God. Especially, orthodox theism as you describe it
seems to disallow the possibility that God the Father was profoundly
affected by the suffering of God the Son--and I am convinced that the best
Christian response to the reality of suffering and evil is the fact that God
suffered on the cross, and that the best Christian theology of creation
emphasizes divine kenosis. As Bob Russell puts it in "Cosmology from Alpha
to Omega," where he couples this insight (often associated with the German
reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann) with a powerful eschatological vision,
as follows (p. 266):

"In addition, in order to move us beyond mere kenosis to genuine
eschatology, I believe that both kenotic theology and eschatology must be
structured on a trinitarian doctrine of God. The reason here is simple: it
is the trinitarian God who will act to bring about the redemption of all of
nature since it is this God who is revealed as God in and through the cross
and resurrection of Jesus. A kenotic theodicy (that God suffers voluntarily
with the world) in and of itself is not redemptive. Eschatology is
required, in which the Father who suffers the death of the Son acts anew at
Easter to raise Jesus from the dead. In turn, the involuntary suffering of
all of nature--each species and each individual creature--must be taken up
into the voluntary suffering of Christ on the cross (theopassionism) and
through it the voluntary suffering of the Father (patripassionism)."

That's a mouthful, granted, and I don't want to imply that a view such as
this requires open theism (they are separate things, and to the best of my
knowledge Russell is not an open theist). But I do mean to say that there
are many reasons, having nothing at all to do with evolution, why open
conversations about open theism are taking place among evangelicals today.
Polkinghorne is an open theist, mainly I think for reasons related to
theodicy rather than evolution.

Finally, I should point out that open theism is *NOT*, repeat *NOT*
equivalent to process theism. Process theism entails a strong form of open
theism, but it also requires a denial of divine omnipotence (for reasons
mainly related again to theodicy). Polkinghorne and some other evangelicals
who affirm open theism reject process theism for several reasons (the same
reasons that I would give), but above all b/c it is not possible to
understand the bodily resurrection of Jesus without something like
omnipotence--any God powerful enough to raise Jesus from the dead into a
glorified state is powerful enough to create ex nihilo, and that's what
process theologians can't accept.

You might be aware of all of this, Timaeus, but I am not sure that you are.
 You certainly won't hear much about any of this in ID circles--as you know,
most ID people know little or nothing about modern theology, and the few who
do simply disparage it as worthless since its allegedly based so much on
evolution: the theologians, in their view, have emasculated orthodoxy
without warrant, on the false belief that evolution is true. This view does
contain a kernal of truth, IMO, but it entirely overlooks the fact that so
much of modern theology is driven by theodicy and other issues that have
nothing to do with evolution. If I had a buck for every time someone
committed to ID tells me that Polkinghorne is a process theologian, I
wouldn't need to worry about my day job. Try to explain these kinds of
things--which matter a great deal, when it comes to understanding TE and
speaking truthfully amidst cultural warfare--try to explain them at a place
like UcD, which is dedicated to advancing ID at all costs, and you end up
getting tossed out, or, at very least, you end up being told repeatedly that
ID is about science, not theology, so just muffle it and listen. Yet,
theological criticisms of TE are ubiquitous among ID supporters, and so many
of them are based mostly on genuine ignorance of the kinds of issues that
are wound up inextricably with various TE positions. ID proponents rightly
complain, all the time, about those who criticize them while being clueless
about what ID really is; I say, the same is true in spades of ID proponents
who raise theological objections to forms of TE.

So, Timaeus, it's fair for you to argue from an orthodox perspective on
providence and divine governance. But, it's fair to note that you might be
assuming too much in doing so--assuming too much about what is actually true
about God, within the biblical tradition; and assuming too much about what
various TEs are also assuming in their own work. You are sounding a great
deal like our friend George Hunter on this one, to put it succinctly.


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Received on Tue Oct 7 10:24:09 2008

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