Posted by jlwile on June 20, 2009
In order to evaluate the Open Theology trend that is beginning to take root in some parts of modern Christendom, it was decided that the New School of Athens should be formed. Its two founding members, Platica and Aristay, met for the first time today to begin a discussion of the book entitled, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Platica comes from a predominantly Calvinist upbringing, while her student, Aristay, comes from an Arminianist point of view. A report of the lively discussion between them appears below the fold.
In general, both Platica and Aristay were favorably disposed to the contents of the book. While Aristay has finished it already, the more contemplative Platica has so far read only the first two chapters. The main point of Chapter 1 (that God IS love) brought forth this exchange:
Platica: This view of God is comforting, as it does not allow for God to act outside His nature. I am not comfortable with a God who can act capriciously.
Aristay: I am afraid I don’t understand. God is omniscient. In this view of God, He acts outside His nature by willingly choosing to not know certain things.
Platica: Ah, Aristay…you make the same mistake that Calvin made. Omniscience is not part of God’s nature, it is merely one of His attributes. Calvin made the unfortunate decision to place God’s omniscience and omnipotence above God’s actual nature. As a result, he produced a God who capriciously chooses who is to be saved and who is to be damned. In the open view of God, His nature is love. Because God IS love, His nature requires Him to enter into a real relationship with us. Rather than being the “unmovable first mover” who Augustine imagined, He is constantly moved, because He is in a loving relationship with us. This is simply the wonderful consequence of God being who He is. As a result, He chooses to not always utilize some of His attributes, including His omniscience.
Aristay: But doesn’t this view diminish God? After all, if God chooses to not know some things so that He can truly be in a relationship with us, does he not “sully” himself to some extent?
Platica: Indeed, He does, Aristay, but that is the essence of the Incarnation. While Christ is God, He nevertheless entered into creation and chose to require food, water, rest, and so forth. He willingly “sullied” Himself so that He could bring us to His father. Why would the Father not also “sully” Himself so as to be in a real relationship with us?
Aristay: That helps. In fact, it helps me with the Incarnation as well. I have always struggled with the traditional view that Christ was 100% God and 100% man.
Platica: (a bit uncomfortably) You don’t believe that? Why?
Aristay: Because it is simply not logical. I have no problem with certain concepts of God being illogical. The Trinity is illogical, but it describes a transcendent God that the human mind cannot possibly understand. As a result, I have no problem with that. However, Christ was specifically supposed to be someone we could understand. Since it is impossible to understand someone who is 100% God and 100% man, I have a hard time believing it is true.
Platica: But how does the open view of God resolve this?
Aristay: Because, as I understand it, the open view of God says that even the Father (who is not man at all) willingly puts aside some of His attributes to enter into a relationship with us. Thus, Jesus wasn’t 100% God and 100% man. He was 100% God who, like his father, willingly put aside many of His attributes to become a person to whom we could relate. He willingly decided to choose to experience hunger, thirst, temptation, loss, even death. He didn’t experience these things because he was human. He experienced these things because He put aside the divine attributes that kept Him from experiencing them. That didn’t make Him any less divine, however, as the divine nature actually required him to put aside those attributes for the purpose of the plan of salvation.
It was not clear from the discussion whether or not Platica agreed with her student on this point. Nevertheless, she was at least open to the idea. At this point, Platica asked a question of her student:
Platica: So far, I am willing to consider the contents of this book because of my dissatisfaction with Calvinism. As an Arminianist, why are you willing to consider this view of God?
After struggling with the question for a moment, Aristay was able to come up with a response, which produced the following exchange:
Aristay: There are probably two fundamental reasons. First, I do not like the idea that we have to ignore parts of Scripture in order to “protect” God’s nature. There are times in Scripture (like in the book of Jonah), that really do seem to indicate that God changes His mind. He planned on one course of action, but the response of His creation made Him change those plans. I do not like the idea of ignoring the plain meaning of the text because of some overarching view of God.
Platica: It does seem odd, doesn’t it? Christians have the direct revelation of God Himself. Why do we subordinate what that revelation says simply because it leads to a view of God that we don’t like?
Aristay: I think there are times that you must, but those times should be limited.
Platica: Such as?
Aristay: Well…in Genesis 3 God asks Adam things like, “Where are you?” and “Who told you that you were naked?” God obviously knew the answers to those questions, but it is easy to understand why He would ask them – to get Adam to talk to him.
Platica: So why can’t the book of Jonah be interpreted in a similar fashion?
Aristay: Because it is the point of the entire book! If we decide that God never planned on destroying Ninevah all along, the entire book of Jonah is built on a lie.
Platica: And the Calvinists say open theism diminishes God! You had a second reason for being willing to consider the contents of this book…
Aristay: The other one is that even in the Arminianist view of God, prayer does no good. It is only for your benefit. It does not influence God one bit.
Platica: I don’t understand. The Calvinist view clearly teaches that prayer has no effect on God. However, I would think the Arminianist view would allow for prayers to affect God.
Aristay: (Eager to actually be the teacher for once) No, it doesn’t. There is the obvious tension between God’s omniscience and His willingness to allow free will. To get around it, Arminianists view God as sitting outside of time, looking at the history and future of the universe as if He is looking at a filmstrip. Each frame of the filmstrip is a moment of time, and God sees it all at once. Thus, he has not predestined things, but he already sees the outcome of all freewill actions. As such, He cannot go in and change something, as that would destroy someone else’s freewill action. He can’t step on your free will because of my request, and ultimately, to change the past, present, or future of the universe would do just that. As a result, He simply cannot grant your requests. You can pray to Him, and that will give you comfort, but it has all been worked out already, so your prayers will have no real effect.
Platica: But the view of God given in this book allows Him to respond to prayer.
Aristay: Not necessarily. It allows Him to respond to some prayers, but not all of them. In this book’s view of God, He will not force someone to do something the person doesn’t want to do, unless the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. Thus, when I ask Him to keep my brother from doing something stupid that I know will make my brother’s life miserable, God will not directly intervene. He might put some people in my brother’s way to try to convince my brother to change his mind, but unless the fate of the universe hangs in the balance, God will not force my brother to change his mind. There is still a paradox, then. Some prayers seem to affect God more than other prayers.
Platica: There will always be a paradox with prayer. I think the goal is to find a paradox you can live with. I can certainly live with that paradox.
The discussion then moved to the second chapter. This is one of the main chapters Aristay wanted Platica to evaluate, as Platica’s knowledge of philosophy goes well beyond his own. Aristay was certainly not disappointed. First, she quickly surmised one point of confusion in Aristay’s thinking. She noticed that what Aristay thought was the Stoic view of God was actually the Gnostic view of God. In the process of clearing up that silly error in Aristay’s thinking, this interesting exchange occurred:
Aristay: One of the main points of this book is that the Christian view of God has been polluted by the pagan, Greek view of God. Why would the early Christian theologians bother to incorporate Greek views of God into their theology? The Apostles had the direct revelation of Jesus, and the early theologians had the Apostles’ writings and the Apostles’ disciples. Why bother to add anything else?
Platica: The two reasons I immediately thought of were: (1) To make the Biblical God more relevant to the Greeks for evangelistic purposes and (2) To make the Biblical God more “intellectually acceptable.” This book offers a third reason – one I had not considered. They wanted to use Greek philosophy to refute polytheism. It was a powerful tool for that purpose, but ultimately, it polluted the early Christian theologians’ view of God.
The discussion then moved to the Greek view of God itself. Platica patiently helped Aristay understand the concept of the umovable first mover that Augustine (of whom Platica is NOT a fan) so strongly incorporated into his theology. At that point, Platica had to clear up yet another point of confusion for Aristay:
Aristay: Now I have read a lot of Aristotle, and as I understand it, he was one of the big proponents of the umovable first mover. He thought that God didn’t have to act to create motion. Instead, God is so perfect and so beautiful that the universe naturally began moving towards him.
Platica: That is what he taught.
Aristay: But doesn’t that contradict his scientific philosophy? He said that when you kick a rock, it comes to rest because that’s the preferred state of matter. How can the universe be moving towards God if its preferred state is at rest?
Platica: Simple, my bewildered student: God is so magnificent that the FORCE of His perfection is stronger than the preferred state of matter.
Arsitay was once again amazed at Platica’s keen insight. He then quickly went on to assure Platica that he did not believe in Aristotle’s view that matter had a preferred state of motion. Indeed, Newton brilliantly showed that to be incorrect. Platica then interjected this important point:
Platica: The classical philosophers had a problem with the idea that God could change, since in their mind, any change would imply a lack of perfection to begin with. If God is perfect, He has no reason to change. However, in our culture today, we don’t have a problem with change. Change doesn’t necessarily imply that the original state was bad. Instead, change is an innovator that can make an already perfect state even better. That’s the capitalist view, in any event. That may be why it is easier for us to consider this open view of God than it was for the early Christians.
These were the high points from the inaugural meeting of the New School of Athens. After Platica has a chance to read the third chapter, a new meeting will be called. Rest assured, you will be able to read the results of that meeting here.