From His own perspective of eternity, did God change? Or does He use this
language in talking with us because it is our own perspective, and He is
talking with us?
According to Gregory Boyd, the issue is God's 'sincerity:'
"What puzzled me was this: Was God being sincere when he had Isaiah
tell Hezekiah he wouldn't recover from his illness? And if so, then must
we not believe that God really changed his mind when he decided to add
fifteen years to Hezekiah's life?" (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 7).
But this is the wrong question. Questioning God's sincerity is impious;
but so is imputing temporality to Him. From the perspective of time, a
newborn baby is naught but potentiality; he will need to take action to
be anything at all, to form a character, though God wrote the book of his
days in eternity. Who is really changing, God or the people, when they reverse course, and He is seen to do so alongside? Has He changed sides,
jumping from good to evil, or have they, while His course remains constant?:
"At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning
a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation,
against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of
the evil that I thought to do unto them." (Jeremiah 18-7-8).
As to those scriptures which ascribe 'repentance,' nacham, to
God, it seems the best course is to understand that word as referring
to God's grief and sorrow at man's sin, with His verdict up to the
eleventh hour conditional, leaving room for a change of heart on
man's part: “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” So rend your heart, and not your garments;
return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.”
(Joel 2:12-13). God is not the changing one; we are:
"He has not changed, but is ever the same; it is man who
has changed in his position relatively to God. . .God's repentance
is the unmovedness of Himself, while others move and change. The
Divine finger ever points to the same spot; but man has moved from
it to the opposite pole. But as in all repentance there is sorrow,
so, reverently be it said, in that of God. It is God's sorrow of
love, as, Himself unchanged and unchanging, He looks at the sinner
who has turned from Him."
(Edersheim, Alfred. Bible History:
Old Testament: Books One Through Four (The Works of Alfred Edersheim
Book 4) (Kindle Locations 10033-10038). www.DelmarvaPublications.com.)
Calvin and Arminius
At times Gregory Boyd enters into dialogue with theologians of the past
who have addressed issues of election, such as John Calvin and James Arminius,
although his interpretation of his predecessors' doctrines is idiosyncratic.
Both John Calvin and James Arminius believed that God foreknew and predestined
by name those individuals who would comprise His church. Gregory Boyd believes
instead that God knew He intended to found a church, though He had no way
of knowing who might be interested in joining:
"So too, in Romans 8:29 Paul is saying that the church as a corporate
whole was in God's heart long before the church was birthed. But this doesn't
imply that he knew who would and would not be in this church ahead of time."
(Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 48).
The difference between the two traditional points of view is that Arminians
believe God's election is according to foreknowledge, whereas Calvinists
believe there is nothing God can foreknow about anyone that would influence
His decree, even though the Bible says,
"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied."
(1 Peter 1:2).
Election is the dependent variable, according to Peter, brought into accord
with the independent variable, God's foreknowledge. 'Kata' implies that election is after,
following from, downward. Foreknowledge of what? Unfortunately, the Bible never says. The too hasty
assumption that God conditions His decree of election upon an individual's faith overlooks Bible
teaching that faith itself, in at least some of its modes of operation, is a gift of God. Leaving
immense room for speculation as to what relevant fact God might foreknow, is the all but incomprehensible
Bible fact that God can foreknow conditionals contrary to fact:
“Then David said, “O Lord God of Israel, Your servant has certainly heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah to destroy the city for my sake.
Will the men of Keilah deliver me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.” And the Lord said, “He will come down.”
Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the Lord said, “They will deliver you.”” (1 Samuel 23:10-12).
“Then Jeremiah said to Zedekiah, “Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘If you surely surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then your soul shall live; this city shall not be burned with fire, and you and your house shall live.
But if you do not surrender to the king of Babylon’s princes, then this city shall be given into the hand of the Chaldeans; they shall burn it with fire, and you shall not escape from their hand.’”
Zedekiah did not in point of act surrender. This prophecy is not
delivered in the form of a risk estimate. How this type of knowledge is
available is a genuine conundrum, yet such are the Bible facts.
Both Arminius and Calvin were, of course, sufficiently orthodox to disbelieve in open theism.
No more than Arminius, does John Calvin believe God picks up new
information as He goes along: "Now,
God proves men’s hearts, not that He may learn what was before
unknown, but to lay open what was before concealed. . .God makes trial, so that what
might have been otherwise doubtful, should be actually displayed. .
.Thus God tempted Abraham, when in an important matter He made
trial of his faith or obedience." (John Calvin, Harmony of the Law, Volume I,
The Last Four Books of Moses, Chapter 3, p. 352, The Law, Deuteronomy 13). It is thus misleading to look for allies where none
are to be found. Gregory Boyd is aware that Arminius believed in God's comprehensive foreknowledge:
"Others follow Arminius and argue that God foreknows the future a
certain way because the future simply will be that way."
(Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 23).
Some professed Arminians of the present day do not believe in God's foreknowledge at all, and thus
hold views compatible with open theism; but the first thing these
people need to do is find out what James Arminius taught, before
sheltering under his banner. Both Arminius and Calvin were disciples
of Augustine, and both insisted they got him right. Boyd flips his
Arminian paradigm, getting Calvin backwards: "Some follow Augustine and Calvin and maintain that the future will be a certain way because God foreknows it
this way." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' pp. 22-23). John
Calvin severed the causal link between God's foreknowledge and His decree
of election. His followers carried this further, collapsing God's
foreknowledge into His fore-ordination. This is the flaw in Calvin's system, because the Bible establishes
this link and will not allow it to be severed:
TULIP: Is it Biblical?
While it is a mistake to represent the controversy over open
theism as a subsection of the evergreen Calvinist/Arminian dispute,
it is strange but true that both sides in this debate are unfortunately prone to lapse into something like open theism.
Some Calvinists, for example, will insist that the only way God
could know future events (but they are not future to Him) is if He
Himself causes them, because He can only know His own intentions
(just as we do), not events contingent upon free-will choices of His
creatures. Like us, they say, He is competent to inventory the
contents of His own mind, but not other minds:
"Second, God cannot certainly foreknow an act, unless
its futurition is certain. If His foreknowing it made it certain,
then His knowledge involves foreordination. If the connection with
the second cause producing it made it certain, then it does not
belong at all to the class of contingent events! And the causative
connection being certain, when God foreordinaed the existence of the
second cause, He equally ordained that of the effect. But there are
but the two sources, from which the certainty of its futurition
could have come." (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter
12, Kindle location 5100).
This is just what the open theists say: "'Of course, God can predict
his own actions.'" (quoted in Millard Erickson, What Does God Know and
When Does He Know it?, p. 46). Of course indeed; open theists and
contemporary Calvinists agree, however, that God could not predict
free-will decisions by any other agent. Notice that this Calvinist author is 'dumbing down' God by a.) squeezing Him onto the time-line
alongside of us, and b.) denying Him any source of knowledge other than those equally available to ourselves.
If we cannot supply a protocol according to which we ourselves could obtain a specified type of knowledge
(knowledge of future contingents), then He cannot have it either. One must
hope this way of thinking does not catch on, lest we find ourselves
saying, if we cannot supply a protocol according to which we could
create a world from nothing, then God cannot either. Though I
cannot verify that this way of thinking goes back to the founder, it is
commonly encountered amongst today's Calvinists: "The final widely held
view is Calvinism, which holds that God knows everything that will
happen because he has chosen what is to occur and thus brings it
about that it actually happens. This makes God's knowledge of the future
a function of his will." (Millard Erickson, What Does God Know and
When Does He Know It?, p. 12). This view eliminates the supernatural
character of God's knowledge, because we also 'foreknow' our own
intentions respecting the future. The reader may wonder, how then does
God foreknow that intentions of free agents other than himself, but in
the view of contemporary Calvinism, there are no free agents other than
Contemporary Calvinists concur with classical theism that God does, of
course, foreknow the acts of other agents, contra open theism. But they believe He can only
know this if their freedom is apparent not real. This constricted view of God's knowledge is often heard from
contemporary Calvinists, making God the only agent, all other apparent agents acting only at His direction,
after the manner of robots. This, they claim, is necessitated by the
undeniable fact of His foreknowledge, because God, they think, can have no knowledge of
the actions of free agents other than Himself, whereas, like ourselves, He
is perfectly competent to know His own will: ". . .according to the order of
God's acts, His foreknowledge is the effect of His foreordination."
(Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic Theology, Chapter 18, Kindle location 6832).
Realize what this means: not only Adam and Eve in the garden, but a born
again believer, choosing in the Sundae Shop whether he wants sprinkles
or nuts, cannot really make a free choice, because God would have no way
or foreknowing this free choice and thus no way of governing the world. If creatures were allotted
free-will choices which were genuinely contingent, so that a given
result may, or may not, occur, then all would be over for God's
sovereignty, as He has no possible way, they claim, of knowing such
things: "If the condition on which His results hung were truly
contingent, then it might turn out in one or another of several
different ways. Hence it would always be possible that God might
have to change His plans." (Robert Lewis Dabney, Systematic
Theology, Chapter 17, Kindle location 6704).
They are still saying this, as anyone can see by browsing through
YouTube. To this day, some Calvinists collapse God's
omniscience onto His omnipotence, as if the only way God could know
what's going to happen in the 'future' is by making it happen:
"God knows why it happened, because it's a part of God's
decree. It's a part of God's purpose. He knows what's coming, why
it's going to happen. He's going to be fulfilling His purposes, it's
all going to result to His glory. And why it happened in the past.
That is a sovereign God who is actually acting sovereignly as
Creator. So this is why I'm Reformed. . .
"If we want
to talk about who God is and how God is different from the false
gods, you've got to start here, and it has ramifications. God says I
can tell you what happened in the past and why it happened. And I
can tell you what's going to happen in the future. And if you have
mankind as an autonomous creature, I don't believe you can have
this. The simple idea of God sitting outside looking at, you know,
what's going on, the fundamental result of that is not that you have
a sovereign decree, but you have a God who learns when He chooses to
create. But the end result: He can't be glorified in because He's
not the one that brought it about. I mean, this again goes to, when
God created did He know what was going to happen? That is a
fundamental issue. And I believe that the Bible's clear about the
result, about the answer to this. But what's more I think it is
absolutely devastating to any meaningful Christian apologetic to
have a God who created all things but wasn't really sure how it was
going to turn out."
(James White, The Dividing Line, Friday,
November 23, 2018, 39:50-41:59)
Notice, God can have foreknowledge, only of what He makes happen,
just like us. Stop for a moment and try to figure out how we arrived
at this point, with the omniscient God subject to the very same
limitations of knowledge as we are: we can inventory the contents of
our own mind, but other minds are a closed book; we 'know' of the
future only our own plans, and since we are not omnipotent, that's
very little indeed. God, they still allow to be omnipotent, as in
classical theism; but they take away omniscience as an independent
character. The modern Calvinist God has only a limited
pseudo-omniscience that follows from the omnipotence He still
anomalously retains. The modern Calvinists agree with the Open
Theists that God is, just like us, stuck in His place on the
time-line and can't get off.
Bizarrely, some of them retain the traditional awareness that
time itself is a created thing. So how did God, the Creator, come to
be subject to His own handiwork? How did His creative thought harden
into shackles that constrain Him, a prison that confines even Him,
as it does us? There are workmen who have painted themselves into a
corner, and I imagine there might be a carpenter who makes a box in
which he has heedlessly trapped himself. He forgot to leave a trap
door. Is this what happened? They need to explain! The arch Artist,
cheerfully dividing and piling up events into past, present and
future, making of time the moving image of eternity, cries out, 'Oh
my goodness! The future has escaped my event horizon!' Just a blink
of the eye, and it was gone; it flew the coop. Sure.
Let's test this fanciful idea by a thought experiment: imagine
that, when God created our world, He simultaneously made an
alter-world, in which He would play the Deist role. Like Epicurus'
bored, satiated gods, indifferent to human suffering, He would look
on, but not intervene. After giving these luckless creatures breath
and life, He leaves them to their own devices. If He so wanted it,
who could say Him nay? We know this imaginary world is nothing like
our real world, in which not a sparrow falls to the ground without
the Father, but it is not logically impossible. Well, according to the modern Calvinists and
the Open Theists, He can know nothing of this world! His only way of
knowing is acting, and He has renounced acting. This scenario
refutes itself. God is omniscient: the Bible couldn't be clearer.
Omniscience is an essential attribute of Deity, but they have made
it into a happenstance consequence of omnipotence, another Divine
attribute. If a simple change of plans means that God cannot be
omniscient, i.e. that God cannot be God, they have blundered badly.
In discussing free will with Calvinists, dear Reader, always
bring the conversation back to the choice between the red socks and
the brown socks, because here the absurdity of their view becomes
most apparent. Beware that the Calvinist not continually bring you back
to this place: an unregenerate sinner before a wrathful God,
because, contra Pelagius, this unfortunate man has no hope but in
God's grace. Unassisted free will is not the answer to his
condition. But, of the whole universe of human choices, before
salvation and after salvation, before the second coming and after
the second coming, how many actually fall into this slot? Bring the
conversation rather to the moment of decision when the born again
believer stands before his closet and chooses the brown slacks or
the blue slacks. Do they really want to claim that God cannot know
this morally indifferent choice without controlling it? Remember, Jesus
specifically promised He would set us free; did He fail?: