Who Changest Not


Of late, God has been getting smaller. The infinite Creator has in these latter days finally been brought down nearer to our scale. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?

In his book 'God of the Possible,' Gregory Boyd solemnly warns the reader,

"In other words, we cannot simply decide to believe one passage and ignore the other." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 72).

Indeed, this is the founding instant of every cult, when one pile of scriptures is set aside on grounds of a newly discovered contradiction between one set of verses and another. As the reader shall see, this is exactly what is going on here. Beginning with the misconception that God's foreknowledge is coercive, Gregory Boyd cancels out those Bible verses which testify to God's omniscience and transcendence of time, His eternity.

Church tradition sings,

"Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day.
Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me!"
                (Henry F. Lyte)

Is this the voice of man, or, heaven forbid, paganism? Or is it simply what God's word says in so many words?









Origin

Whence came the opinion that God does not change? From the pagan Greeks? No, from scripture:



  • “For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”
  • (Malachi 3:6).


  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
  • (James 1:17).


  • “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.”
  • (1 Samuel 15:29).


  • “God is not a man, that He should lie,
    Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
    Has He said, and will He not do?
    Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”
  • (Numbers 23:19).


  • “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.”
  • (Psalm 102:25-27).






More ambiguous is Psalm 55:19, which in the NASB is rendered, "God will hear and answer them — Even the one who sits enthroned from of old — With whom there is no change, And who do not fear God." (In other translations, it is the 'they' rather than God who do not change.) It is helpful to realize right from the start that, in proclaiming God's unchanging nature, we are repeating what the Bible teaches in clear and explicit words. Verses which address more specifically His unchangeable thoughts and purposes include,

"The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations." (Psalm 33:11).

"Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us." (Hebrews 6:17-18).

"Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it." (Isaiah 46:10-11).

“The Lord of hosts has sworn, saying, 'Surely, as I have thought, so it shall come to pass, and as I have purposed, so it shall stand: that I will break the Assyrian in My land, and on My mountains tread him underfoot. Then his yoke shall be removed from them, and his burden removed from their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed against the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?'” (Isaiah 14:24-27).

A flighty, inconstant, changeable god is not the God of the Bible.

Face the Future

It is explained the opening pages of Gregory Boyd's 'God of the Possible' that God faces the future, just like the rest of do:

"This motif is seen in many passages of Scripture that depict God as facing a partly open future. He does not control and/or foreknow exactly what is going to happen." (Gregory Boyd,'God of the Possible,' pp. 13-14).

Is this scripturally correct: that God, like the rest of us, faces forward to the future, looks back upon the past, as it recedes into the mists of forgetfulness, and experiences only a moment, a point, called 'now'? Not at all. The Bible, not Greek philosophy, says that God inhabits eternity:



  • “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”
  • (Isaiah 57:15).




We are bound to the time-line, like myopic caterpillars crawling along a twig. The end of the twig hasn't been achieved yet; thus Gregory Boyd solemnly intones, it is 'open.' But to an observer who is not stuck on the twig, both ends of the twig are visible at once. In the geometrical romance 'Flat-land,' one-dimensional creatures marvelled at how two and three-dimensional beings could apprehend the end of a line before they got there. But they didn't have to 'get there;' they were not bound to a line.

Time, like rocks, trees, and hills, is itself a creation of God. 'Day' and 'night' join in the chorus of praise wherein nature praises its Creator:



  • “The heavens declare the glory of God;
    And the firmament shows His handiwork.
    Day unto day utters speech,
    And night unto night reveals knowledge.
    There is no speech nor language
    Where their voice is not heard.
    Their line has gone out through all the earth,
    And their words to the end of the world.”
  • (Psalm 19:1-4).



Does God ever say, as we say, 'It is 2 p.m. now'? When would be God's "now"? God created time:

"The day is thine, the night also is thine: thou hast prepared the light and the sun. Thou hast set all the borders of the earth: thou hast made summer and winter." (Psalm 74:16-17).

"To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever." (Psalm 136:7-9).

Not only the most convenient time-clocks, such as day and night, but what they measure out, is a created thing. How can God then be subject to it? This is as if to say, God created a box, then climbed into the box and slammed the lid shut, and then cried, 'Help, let me out!' For God to say, 'It is 2 p.m. now,' would mean that He has divested Himself of His eternity, and so far impoverished Himself as to clutch at the little broken-off piece of the whole that is allotted to us, the 'now.'

It is our limitation that we remember,— if we do not forget,— the past, clutch at a passing atom 'the present,' and guess about the future. This always-losing way of apprehension does not characterize God's knowledge. God may communicate to a man, who is subject to time, a certain piece of information at a clock-reading that is a meaningful part of that man's biography. If He does so, then a date-stamp attached to the prophecy is part of the contents of that man's mind. God knows it, just as He knows the contents of all minds. But this date-stamp does not belong to God's foreknowledge, a portion of which He has just communicated to His prophet. Time is not God's master, but only ours.

Realizing that time itself is a creation of God, one must wonder why God would create something, then make Himself subject to it. Why would He subordinate Himself to His own handi-work? This is as if He first created fetters, then bound Himself with them; or He first created a vast ocean, then a little bottle, then poured Himself into the little bottle, so that He could be lost in the vast ocean! If He could do these things, why would He? That time is itself a created thing is no novel doctrine:

"'And on the sixth day God finished his work which he had made.' It would be a sign of great simplicity to think that the world was created in six days, or indeed at all in time; because all time is only the space of days and nights, and these things the motion of the sun as he passes over the earth and under the earth does necessarily make. But the sun is a portion of heaven, so that one must confess that time is a thing posterior to the world. Therefore it would be correctly said that the world was not created in time, but that time had its existence in consequence of the world. For it is the motion of the heaven that has displayed the nature of time." (Philo Judaeus, Allegorical Interpretation, Book I, Chapter II).

We are caught in its meshes, but God cannot be; He made it. The future is future to us, because, like the one-dimensional beings of Flat-land, we haven't got there yet. The future is not future to God. To continue with our homely analogies: a boy is watching a parade. Because he cannot afford the admission fee, he watches the parade through a hole in the wooden stockade fence. He admires the marching band as it passes by, the Shriners on their scooters, the girl scouts, and the various floats. Each comes as a surprise to him; his small hole in the fence is his "now." Contrast an observer flying overhead in a hot-air balloon. He sees the beginning and the ending of the parade, both, because he is not observing through a peep-hole. He sees the whole parade. Admittedly these analogies are imperfect; we do not now experience eternity, but only a little chunk bitten off from it, the present. We will, however, someday know as God knows:




That God knows all things, past, present, and future, including the contents of all minds, is a well-established Bible truth:



  • “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
  • (Proverbs 15:3);


  • “There is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.”
  • (Job 34:22);


  • “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13);


  • “Would not God search this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.”
  • (Psalm 44:21).


  • “And the Spirit of the LORD fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; Thus saith the LORD; Thus have ye said, O house of Israel: for I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them.”
  • (Ezekiel 11:5).


  • “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.”
  • (1 John 3:20).




Knowledge as such is never coercive. God both knows and ordains; ordaining may be coercive, but knowledge cannot be. When I see you sitting in a chair, I say, 'I perceive that you are sitting in a chair. Therefore, because I perceive, I know that you are sitting in a chair. If I know that you are sitting in a chair, then it inevitably follows, as night follows day, that you are necessarily sitting in a chair.'

The subject who replies, 'You monster! Stop torturing me! You are making me sit in this chair!' has misunderstood. Though it is necessarily true that, if I have correct knowledge that he is sitting in the chair, he must be sitting in the chair, it is equally true that, if he gets up, I will perceive and thus know that he is standing, not sitting. My knowledge has not forced him to sit in the chair.

With our limited sources of information, the only things we can predict with any likelihood of success are highly determined things. I would hazard a prediction that the sun will come up tomorrow, secure in the knowledge that gravity works in sunshine or in rain, in good times and in bad, and that it would take something out of the ordinary, like a collision with another galaxy, to stop the earth's diurnal rotation or shatter the sun. I would not venture to predict where you will go to lunch tomorrow, unless you are very much a creature of habit. The same limitations to not hinder God. He is not guessing at the future. To him, all things are present:

"The contingent is opposed to the certitude of knowledge only so far as it is future, not so far as it is present. . .But in so far as the contingent is present, in that time it cannot not-be. It can not-be in the future, but this affects the contingent not so far as it is present but so far as it is future. Thus, nothing is lost to the certitude of sense when someone sees a man running, even though this judgment is contingent. All knowledge, therefore, that bears on something contingent as present can be certain.  But the vision of the divine intellect from all eternity is directed to each of the things that take place in the course of time, in so far as it is present, as shown above." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book One, Chapter 67, That God Knows Future Contingent Singulars, p. 221).

If, as Gregory Boyd thinks, time is a universal condition of existence binding upon all, if it was there before God got here, then who created time? If it is uncreated, is it a God higher than God?

Exhaustively Settled

According to Gregory Boyd, God has no sources of information other than those available to us; just as we can, He can 'predict' highly determined physical events, but not freely undertaken acts of individuals. Other than that He can only predict things He chooses to do, just as I might 'predict' I will go to the store tomorrow:

"We agree that if God foreknows a future event, it must either be because he determined it or because it is an inevitable effect of past or present causes...we deny that Scripture teaches that the future is exhaustively settled." (Gregory Body, 'God of the Possible, page 23)

Incidentally, he claims to be 'agreeing' with "some followers of Augustine and Calvin," none of whom, are very likely to agree with the above assertion. Since it would be too tiresome to correct in detail the jumble he makes of the views of his predecessors, I've uploaded to the Thriceholy library that section of Augustine's 'Confessions' which addresses time and eternity. One valuable insight Augustine contributes is that 'now' is a datum of psychology, not a physical fact about the universe.


Augustine
Excursus on Time


Another valuable emphasis is Augustine's treatment is the continuous, infinite loss that tracks with time. Nothing stays, nothing can be held on to. Authors like Gregory Boyd express almost a horror of eternity, as if time were obviously so far the superior of the two. But time gives us fragments, ripped-off shreds, that we snatch at but cannot keep. Is an intact whole not better than a fragment?

The Bible reports very many incidents where God foretold to His servants the free future actions of individuals (future to those prophets, not to God). This confutes this author's assertion that God can only know either what He has Himself "determined" to do or what is "inevitable." For instance,



  • “And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.”
  • (Acts 22:18).

  • “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
  • (Luke 13:34).

  • “Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them.”
  • (Matthew 21:2-3).




Did God compel the Jerusalem church to be skeptical of Paul? Why would He? But He knew that they would be. Did God compel Jerusalem to reject Him? Why would He? But He knew that they would. This goes on and on throughout Scripture; Scripture cannot be brought into conformity with the assertion that God only foreknows what is either inevitable or what He Himself does. Did God compel the animals' owner to release them to men he did not know? To say that God reduced the scope of the owner's freedom is gratuitous; but according to this author, the only way God can predict to men caught in time other men's free actions is by brutalizing them and taking away their freedom. Why is any such thing necessary?

When is the future "exhaustively settled?" On December 31, 686 A.D., a scribe may have sat down and pondered the events of the year to come. On January 1, 688 A.D., the events of 687 A.D. were "exhaustively settled," with no harm or insult to anyone's free will. For things to be "exhaustively settled" does not imply any force or coercion. Those who reminisce about the events of 687 A.D., and know of a certainty that these events occurred as they did and not otherwise, are not by their knowledge constraining the people who did those things. Knowledge never constrains, showing our author's fallacy. The people who lived in the past have not become slaves or automatons because their deeds are no longer 'open.' Gregory Boyd talks about 'the future' as if there were some universal, objective entity of that name. One must ask, 'future' to whom? When is God's "future?" Does it track with Gregory Boyd's future, so that whatever to Gregory Boyd lays unseen ahead must also be so to God? If so, why? How did God's place in the time-stream get pinned onto Gregory Boyd? And how did God get inserted into the time-stream, indeed, imprisoned there? What would His own proper place be, given that He created time?

What Saith the Scripture?

This author denies three fundamental attributes of God to which the Bible testifies:

  1. That God is eternal, not temporal; He inhabits eternity;
  2. That God is omniscient, there is nothing not known to Him;
  3. That God knows the end from the beginning.


  • “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”
  • (Acts 15:18).

  • “‘Present your case,’ says the LORD.
    ‘Bring forth your strong reasons,’ says the King of Jacob.
    ‘Let them bring forth and show us what will happen;
    Let them show the former things, what they were,
    That we may consider them,
    And know the latter end of them;
    Or declare to us things to come.
    Show the things that are to come hereafter,
    That we may know that you are gods;
    Yes, do good or do evil,
    That we may be dismayed and see it together...Who has declared from the beginning, that we may know?
    And former times, that we may say, “He is righteous”’?”
  • (Isaiah 41:21-26).



Our author is aware of these scriptures, but interprets them so that 'from the beginning' means 'from a short time before,' etc. See how our author 'interprets' John 6:64: "For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him."-- like so: "This verse thus suggests that Jesus knew who would betray him from the moment this person resolved to betray him..." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 37). Certainly no one expects authors like Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris to believe in a God who knows the end from the beginning; it's a free country, no one has to believe there is a God. It is rather strange that someone would claim to be a Christian, and claim to believe a Bible, yet deny there is, or can be, any such entity as theists understand God to be.

Recall, Gregory Boyd asserts that God can foreknow, and reveal to His prophets, two things: a.) What He Himself intends to do:

"...Yahweh is the sovereign Lord of history and can predetermine (and thus foreknow) whatever he pleases..." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 34).

b.) In addition to this, God can, as can we, study a person's character and make probabilistic guesses as to how that person would react to various situations:

"As we all know, character becomes more predictable over time...Anyone who knew Peter's character perfectly could have predicted that under certain highly pressured circumstances (that God could easily orchestrate), he would act just the way he did." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 35).

However, He is really only guessing; things can turn out quite differently from the way He expects:

"Hence, the fact that God intended a course of action for Jeremiah and Paul didn't guarantee that it would come about." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 40).

According to our author, it is hardly surprising that God should get it wrong, given that He is reduced to using the kind of probabilistic analysis employed by insurance companies:

"For example, though insurance and advertising agencies make money by utilizing statistics to predict general group behavior, they are still incapable of predicting individual behavior. They have learned how to capitalize on what social scientists and anthropologists have been telling us for some time -- namely, that group behavior is far more predictable than individual behavior...To put the matter crudely, God would simply have to possess a perfect version of what insurance and advertising agencies possess. He would have to know that a certain percentage of people...would act in certain ways under certain circumstances." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' pp. 45-46).

Not to worry, the 'God of the Possible' is a nimble improvisor and thus is able to clean up the mess left by His frequent goof-ups through quick thinking: "...fortunately, the 'God of the possible' always has a plan B and a plan C." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 106).

There is no point of contact left here with the God of the Bible, who knows everything:

"Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it." (Psalm 139:5-6).



A Fallible God

The reader, having discovered that God employs the same kind of statistical analysis as do the insurance companies to predict what lays ahead, unseen, in "His" future, must have gasped to realize the inevitable conclusion that God must guess wrong sometimes, just as do the insurance companies. After all improbable things happen, though that is not the way to bet, and the insurance companies can be rocked back on their heels by an unexpected Hurricane Andrew. Gregory Boyd does not shrink from asserting that God, too, gets it wrong sometimes. In fact he believes he has isolated a false prophecy delivered by God in Agabus' prophecy of Paul's imprisonment in Acts 21:10-12:

"The prophet approached Paul, took his belt, and announced, 'Thus says the Holy Spirit, "This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles."'...Contrary to Agabus's prophecy, the Jews never bound Paul and handed him over to the Romans. Instead, the Romans rescued Paul from the Jews...If the future is partly composed of possibilities and probabilities, however, then this prophecy is a perfect assessment of what would generally happen based on the Lord's perfect knowledge of the present disposition of the Jews in Jerusalem...At the time of Agabus's prophecy, it was most probable that the Jews would seize Paul and hand him over to the Romans...As it turned out, however, the situation had worsened since the time of the prophecy, and consequently, Paul was nearly killed." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' pp. 167-169).

The reader who reads the whole account knows that Agabus' prophecy was not false; the Romans "rescued Paul"...right straight to jail. Agabus' prophecy is an accurate summary statement of the proceedings. Paul was put in chains (Acts 22:29), and in fact remained imprisoned for years, owing to the accusations made against him by the Jews.

But suppose Gregory Boyd had been correct, and Agabus' prophecy had been false, though delivered faithfully through inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What consequences follow? God's word, the Bible, can be no more infallible than its Author; if God is fallible, as Gregory Boyd alleges, then scripture is likewise fallible; water rises to its own level. Moreover, God has engineered a black hole in the Mosaic law down which the innocent, Holy Ghost convicted prophet can fall. A prophet who delivers a false prophecy is stoned without mercy, by God's command:

"And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

So the mortal legal liability that arises from these probabilistic guesses falls onto the defenseless prophet, who repeated in good faith what God had told him! Is this reductio ad absurdum not sufficient to show that this monstrous system is wrong? There is not one word of God that can fall to the ground.

Hezekiah

Back in the days when rail travel was popular, travellers aboard one train would look and see the neighboring train pull away and wonder, 'Are we moving forward or are they moving backward?' It's a question of perspective; there are two different points of view. Those passengers who suspected the neighbor train was backing up were not seeing 'literally,' nor were those who suspected their own train was moving interpreting 'figuratively.' Rather, ask which point is being taken as the frame of reference?

From the human perspective, God changes course all the time, as He did with Hezekiah:



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.)
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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).

Another instance:

“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.’” (Jeremiah 38:17-18).

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.

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). Many professed Arminians of the present day do not believe in God's foreknowledge at all. However he got 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). In fact John Calvin severs the link between God's foreknowledge and His decree of election. 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?
TULIP: Is it Biblical?

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 himself.

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).

Beware, reader, 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?:




It won't do to demand a research protocol which would produce this information for the human investigator. How could we attain even the present-tense knowledge of the content of other minds, access to which is blocked to us? Yet God certainly knows this. We cannot make our helpless nescience the standard for His omniscience. The general objections to open theism negate these similar claims. In addition, a study of those prophecies broadly classed as 'heeded warnings' will show the nullity of this Calvinist account of foreknowledge, namely that in sharing His knowledge of future events with His prophets, God is only indicating His own will, which, along with highly determined events like that the sun will rise tomorrow, is all He really can know. Paul knows, for example, that if the sailors leave the ship, his fellow-travellers cannot be saved:

“But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.  For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. However, we must run aground on a certain island.”

“Now when the fourteenth night had come, as we were driven up and down in the Adriatic Sea, about midnight the sailors sensed that they were drawing near some land. . .And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, when they had let down the skiff into the sea, under pretense of putting out anchors from the prow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.' Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the skiff and let it fall off.” (Acts 27:22-32).

How was this complex conditional revealed to Paul: "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved?" The Calvinist answer: God foreknew this outcome because He intended to bring it about,— will not do, because God intended to bring about no such thing. Yet that outcome depended upon numerous factors, including the contingent free-will choices of those remaining upon the ship. So this Calvinist account of God's foreknowledge as solely the revelation of His own will is a nullity.

Some self-professed Arminians also lapse into open theism; these are generally 'do-it-yourself' Arminians, who, having heard the general outline of the what the system requires, seek to fill it in by their own efforts, without any detailed information of its basis in Augustine's thought.

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The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil became insoluble once human beings decided they were so good and wonderful that nothing bad should ever happen to them, or any of their kind:

"Even more troubling, if God foreknew that Adolf Hitler would send six million Jews to their death, why did he go ahead and create a man like that?" (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 10).

The resolution of the problem of evil popular today with celebrities is to make God small. If God can be brought down to the size of, say, Zeus, Hera, Athena and that crowd, then he can walk beside us and hold our hand, as lost as a little child, unable to help much, but also void of any blame for being 'judgmental:'



Alfred Rethel, Another Dance of Death, Plate 2


But the God of the Bible is nothing if He is not judgmental. He judges nations and individuals all the time, lifting up and casting down. This is the living God, who knows the end from the beginning. The open theists believe they have discovered a superior solution to the problem of evil, because their fallible god stumbles into situations he did not anticipate. Think of the old saw about the Clairvoyants' Meeting cancelled owing to unforeseen circumstances: here we have a universe operated on that principle. The Holocaust? Who ever would have guessed? "Surely not! God gave Hitler freedom but it was not settled ahead of time how he would use it.'" (Clark Pinnock, quoted p. 192, Millard J. Erickson, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?).

When we talk about the grief we experience, the regrets in life, the repentance, our nescience adds a special bite to these experiences: we did not know it would turn out like that. But God, who is explicitly understood in scripture to be omniscient, cannot be surprised by unexpected outcomes. Would we even feel grief if we knew in advance what was coming? When He orders Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, He says,

"And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me." (Genesis 22:12).

Now He knows? Like He didn't before? What does it add that this incident entered into the inventory of facts about the world, marked as 'things that actually happened,' versus a hypothetical case? Can God tell the difference between these two conditions? Does it matter to Him which is which?




Let us suppose that, just at the moment of creating the world, God stayed His hand and said, 'Wait a minute! I already know everything that will happen; what is the need of continuing?' The need is not, as it would be for us, for certain knowledge:— to find out what happens, because God already knows all things. But what things? Conditional circumstances in a play world which was never instantiated? What happened to people who never experienced any self-consciousness or anything else? That is not the same as real events in a real world. In the realm of ontology if not in certain foreknowledge it actually does make a huge difference whether the object of God's knowledge comprises imaginary things in a snow-globe pretend world which never happened, or a real world. So why does God try the experiment? Because it's not the same if He doesn't.

Anselm pointed out that things that exist are more excellent than those which do not. If it was necessary even to point this out, certainly it cannot be necessary to belabor the point. If God prefers a world in which Abraham comes to the point almost of sacrificing Isaac, before his hand is stayed, to a world in which only this might hypothetically have happened, perhaps this is because the Word-of-Things-Which-Never-Actually-Happened is, all in all, a disappointing Nothing-Burger of a world. Certainly the binding of Isaac points out the futility of the therapeutic deism which is the majority religion today: that God wants only to make us happy, which is probably why the atheists harp on this occurrence. Those who subscribe to therapeutic deism should scrupulously compare their religion with the Bible, to ascertain whether they are the same or different.

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History

Nineteenth century America gave birth to a restless genius named Joseph Smith. This man started one religion, that of the Latter-Day Saints, and influenced others, usually without credit. Where did the 'Word of Faith' movement come from?:


Joseph Smith
Lectures on Faith


Word for word, this doctrine is taken from Joseph Smith, though credit is very rarely given. In a similar vein, the 'shrinking' of God, the willingness to reduce Him in size, very nearly down to the level of a man, comes from the same source; from Joseph Smith, through Finis Dake, down to Gregory Boyd.




When he wrote the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith was a modalist, not a polytheist. He was an enthusiast for Alexander Campbell's teaching of baptismal regeneration; the Book of Mormon is a pious forgery putting that teaching in God's mouth. Later, things changed. Joseph met a European immigrant who was a Kabbalist. The Kabbalah is a form of gnosticism; like the gnostics, the Kabbalists diminish the God of the Bible because they have, they believe, something better. That something better is 'ein sof,' Spinoza's God. The God of the Bible is not to them the one true God, but a joint project between man and the infinite, a collaboration rather than a revelation. They diminish the God of the Bible, drawing Him down ultimately to human level; that Adam is God was revealed to Joseph Smith by the Kabbalists. Adam is not 'ein sof,' the God who really is God, to the Kabbalists; this is a revelation of how paltry the God of the Bible is, not how great. But when this system was explicated to Joseph Smith, 'ein sof' whizzed right over his head, and he was left with something utterly new, something the Kabbalists had certainly never thought of; a science fiction scenario where every man is king, every man can be a god ruling his own little solar system. The corresponding diminution in God's characteristics was picked up on by a variety of teachers who were not formally Mormons, such as Finis Dake. The end result of the process has rolled to a stop here, at ground level, with Open Theism. The corrective is to get back to the Bible, to the eternal God, to the God who never changes.

Ironically, our own author solemnly cautions, "...there is no reason to bring the Lord down to our level." Had he followed his own advice, there would have been no need for this book. He alleges that it is viewpoints other than his own which diminish God: "In my view, every other understanding...brings God's wisdom and power down to the level of finite human thinking." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 68). But this is precisely the problem with his thesis, to those who believe what the Bible says about God's omniscience! It is we finite creatures who are the ones crawling along the time-line, like catepillars crawling along a twig: forgetting, squandering and losing what has gone before, staring myopically at the little piece before us, which is all we can clutch and grab, and blankly wondering about the unseen future. These are our limitations, but in his system, they are God's. In his system, God only finds things out only when they happen:

"...Scripture teaches us that God literally finds out how people will choose when they choose. He made us self-determining agents, and prior to our determining ourselves in one direction or another, the only reality that exists for God to know concerning our future action is the possible direction we may take." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' pp. 65-66).

This god, who can only hazard a guess along the lines of what is "possible," is not God, certainly not the God who spoke through the Bible prophets; he is nothing but a man with a man's limitations. How this book makes the reader long for the shelter of the Eternal One!: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms..." (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Greek Philosophy

Our author accuses Christians who believe in the God who inhabits eternity of conformance to Greek philosophy. As it happens, the reductive materialism he has packaged for resale to the church is even older and every bit as Greek as Plato. The Pre-Socratic philosophers embraced materialism; one of them, Democritus, propounded a dynamic system which was later perfected by Epicurus. Lucretius wrote a Latin poem stating the principles of this philosophic system in clear and entertaining language. The reader may enjoy seeing how little some things have changed:


Lucretius
On the
Nature of Things


It was felt in the early church that most systems of metaphysics could be reconciled with Christianity. The one odd man out, the one which could not, was Epicureanism. Our author believes he has found a way to square the circle and reconcile belief in God with reductive materialism: by making God really, really small. We are to query the physicists whether they will allow us eternity; if they say no, out it goes:

"Increasingly, physicists and others are working on the assumption that time is real." (Gregory Boyd, 'God of the Possible,' p. 107).

It may well be that the physicists know nothing of eternity, nor of the God who inhabits eternity. The subjects of their researches are time-bound particles of matter and energy. Can Gregory Boyd really believe their ignorance on these points proves there is no eternal God? He would legislate against Christians following those forms of philosophy which are compatible with the revelation of God in Christ, in favor of the one which is not. What kind of God can one have if there is nothing but atoms and the void? A very, very small one.

To give the devil his due, one must acknowledge that no Christian can blindly follow Greek philosophy to its bitter end. When the pagan philosophers spoke of God's impassibility, they meant it in a very robust sense, not only that God Himself suffers no harm but that He really couldn't care less about your problems. They withheld from God, not only the Passion, but even compassion. They had not heard that God is love. While it is true that God qua God suffers no injury, this is precisely why God took on human flesh: in order to suffer for our sins and heal our diseases:




Some of the more advanced pagan philosophers were somewhere on the road to true monotheism, though they had not yet quite arrived at that destination. They were aware of some of God's attributes, which truly are His attributes, like omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. In this they honored God more than some nominal Christians. There is a continuity from the Old Testament through to the New Testament era; God never lacked for faithful witnesses to testify to His omniscience:

"The eyes of men are all he fears; he forgets that the eyes of the Lord are ten thousand times brighter than the sun, observing every step men take and penetrating every secret. Before the universe was created, it was known to him, and so it is since its completion." (Ecclesiasticus Chapter 23:19-20).

How encouraging to find a brother in this uninspired, but astute, author. Philo Judaeus is a first century Jewish author who insists that God is unchanging:

"Perhaps some very wicked persons will suspect that the lawgiver is here speaking enigmatically, when he says that the Creator repented of having created man, when he beheld their wickedness; on which account he determined to destroy the whole race. But let those who adopt such opinions as these know, that they are making light of and extenuating the offenses of these men of old time, by reason of their own excessive impiety; for what can be a greater act of wickedness than to think that the unchangeable God can be changed?" (Philo Judaeus, On the Unchangeableness of God, Chapter V.)

From whence did Philo get this information? From Greek philosophy,— of which, admittedly, he is not innocent? He says, from Moses; and it is difficult to argue the point given that the Bible explicitly teaches the unchangeableness of God:




When God asks a question, does this naturally and inevitably mean He does not know the answer, because He is not omniscient, just uncommonly well informed?:

"A question is put thus, 'Where is Abel thy brother?'. . .This requires us to consider the point, whether God can strictly be said to ask a question. For he that makes an inquiry or asks a question does so in regard to matters about which he is ignorant, looking for an answer, as the result of which he will know what now he does not know. But all things are known to God, not only things present and things past, but also things future. What advantage then does an answer confer, when it is not going to bring about for the inquirer any acquisition of knowledge? The fact is that such expressions cannot be used in their strict sense in the case of the First Cause (i.e. God). Just as it is possible to tell a verbal lie without lying, so it is possible to propound a question or inquiry without either asking or inquiring. What then, someone will perhaps say, is the object of the use of such expressions? That the soul that is to give the answers may be convicted by itself touching its good or evil utterances, with no other, either to accuse it or to plead on its behalf." (Philo Judaeus, The Worse Attacks the Better, Chapter XVII, pp. 241-243 Loeb edition).

One 'tell' is that evasion or dissembling does not achieve its object. If God is ignorant as some people claim, why is He not fooled? God asks, not to acquire missing information, but to give space for repentance: "Why he who knows all things asks the fratricide: 'Where is thy brother Abel?' He puts this question to him because he wishes the man to confess voluntarily and spontaneously, of his own accord, so that he may not imagine that every thing is done out of  necessity. . ." (Philo Judaeus, Questions and Answers in Genesis, Book I, Chapter 68). The open theists' god is not the God of the Christians; he is not even the God of the Jews: "For with the divine there is no turning: variableness belongs to the nature of the created." (Philo Judaeus, On the Cherubim, Chapter VI, pp. 19-21 Loeb edition).

Modern Bible scholars are so sure prophecy is impossible that they actually use fulfilled prophecy as a dating device: the gospels must have been written post-70 A.D., for example, because they incorporate apparent prophecies of the destruction of the temple. Is God really capable of no more than lucky guesses? When the Lord told Peter he would disown Him three times, was this no more than an inference from insight into Peter's character? How, then, could He have known 'three times,' which was not a function of character?:

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Prophecy