Friday, December 31, 2010

Across the Spectrum: Chapters 2 & 3 - Providence and Foreknowledge

This post is a continuation from the previous post...

Chapter 2: The Providence Debate

Position 1: God is sovereign over all things (Calvinist)
Position 2: God limits his control by granting freedom (Arminian)

The Calvinist position is, essentially, this: that everything that happens was pre-ordained and planned by God. If you are saved, it is because God chose you to be one of the 'Elect', if you are damned, this is because God created you to be a 'creature of wrath'. You have no say in the matter. The Arminian position is that while God could have supreme control of everything, he chooses not to, in order to allow us to have the choice to love him or reject him.

As will be repeated in future comments on later chapters, while I was raised a Calvinist, I have had much more of an Arminian outlook for many years now. I just don't find the Calvinist beliefs particularly consistent with life experience, common sense or, indeed, a belief in a loving and just God - which is supposedly what Calvinism is all about. The Calvinist stance seems to be based on the assumption that because God has complete sovereignty over everything, he must assert complete authority over everything. Why? There's lots of things I can do, but choose not to, or only do them occasionally. Why should it be any different for God? The Calvinist approach seems to limit God's own free will, by asserting that because he can act a certain way, therefore he must act that way. Surely God can choose how he wants to act?

I once started reading J.I. Packer's book on evangelism and sovereignty - basically, what is the point of evangelism if God chooses who will be saved anyway? - and got a couple of chapters in before I realised that I really wasn't interested in the 'problem' the book was addressing. God is God as he is, not as Calvin imagined him to be.

Chapter 3: The Foreknowledge Debate
Position 1: God foreknows all that shall come to pass (Classical view)
Position 2: God knows all that shall be and all that may be (Open view)

This is another debate that I'm actually not that interested in. It doesn't really question the nature of God, but rather questions the nature of reality. Is the future pre-determined or is probability real? In a moment, I am going to walk to my fridge and get a drink of fruit juice. In the fridge there is a carton of apple juice and one of orange juice. Some days I have one, some days I have the other. Is it predetermined that I will have one or the other today or are both futures equally real possibilities? Does God know which I will choose or does he simply know that I will choose one of them, because I'm thirsty? The classical view is that God knows exactly what will be because the future is predetermined and foreknown. The open view is that both possible futures are just that: possible. That is, both are potentially real. God knows both futures but doesn't (indeed, can't) know which it will be. The classical viewpoint is that this limits God's foreknowledge, so can't be the case.

Half a sec... Mmmm. Nice drink of orange juice... Now where was I?

The main objection to the 'open' view seems (to me) to be based on a false assumption. For example, the reasoning goes like this - God planned that Jesus would be crucified, in order to achieve the salvation plan, if probability was in play, there is a chance that Judas wouldn't have betrayed Jesus, or Pilate could have released him without charge, etc. Basically, if its all a mess of probabilities, then the crucifixion might never have happened, and then where would we be?

The false assumption in there is that all God's activity happened at the start of time when he set the ball rolling, and that he is not required to be an active participant in ongoing history. Why? If God decides to achieve something, I'm sure he's big and powerful enough to ensure it happens, even in the midst of messy probabilities. Maybe we view prophesy in the wrong way. Maybe its not predictions of the future, but rather declarations by God of what he will do, irrespective of the flow of probability.

So I don't really see a problem here. I'm happy to accept that much of the future is unwritten, but some important parts of it are pre-planned.

No comments: