Jul 292012
 

I've thoroughly enjoyed reading Greg Boyd's book God of the Possible, in which Boyd lays out a very strong textual-based argument for open theism.

To be honest, I didn't know much about open theism before reading the book. All I had ever heard was that open theists assert that God "doesn't know the future" and that the future is therefore not yet determined.

Boyd's brand of open theism doesn't go that far, and it is the restraint in his viewpoint that appeals to me. In short, Boyd argues that, while God must experience time in much the same manner that we do, God also knows all of the possibilities of the future. He determines, based on that knowledge, certain things that will happen with absolute certainty. However, the future is not exhaustively determined. That is, there are some things that God has left to the free actions of humanity.

Boyd, who writes as always from an evangelical viewpoint of scripture, is mostly concerned with making out the case that his viewpoint is compatible with scripture. I was easily sold on it. The viewpoint of classical theology, which holds that God has absolute foreknowledge of everything that will happen in the future, just doesn't fit with the descriptions we get in scripture – where God is frequently surpirsed, taken aback, even sorrowful for the things God has done.

To be honest, I wasn't so much left thinking "Wow! that is interesting and new!" as I was thinking "Yes, of course thats it. Nothing else really fits what you read in scripture." In other words, Boyd hasn't so much "sold" me on his perspective as he has given me a vocabulary to describe what I suspected was the case all along.

Boyd doesn't seem to have much interest in creation theology (i.e., the idea that God's redemptive move is to renew creation), at least in this book, but I think the open perspective fits it quite well. How is God to delight in, be surprised by, and wring his hands over our world and its people if the universe is doing nothing other than playing out a clockwork script that God has already written and that knows in every detail?

I recommend this book to anyone who has struggled to make the square peg of "divine foreknowledge" fit with the round hole of the God that we encounter in scripture.

  • Tmartin_prof

    Good review. Thanks.

    Wondering if you had a typo. that you wanted correct though (see third to last word from my quote of your blog entry

    “The viewpoint of classical theology, which holds that God has absolute foreknowledge of everything that will happen in the future, just doesn’t fit with the descriptions we get in scripture – where God is frequently surpirsed, taken aback, even sorrowful for the things God has done.”

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    Thanks for reading. I assume you are asking about whether I meant to say that God can be sorrowful about things that God has done. Not a typo. See, e.g., Gen 6:6 (“And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”). Open theism takes this statement as it is made – at this point in history, humanity hadn’t turned out the way God had hoped. Humanity’s wickedness before the flood was truly an unexpected thing. This does not mean, Boyd will say, that God was unaware of the *potential* for this outcome. It simply means it was not a part of his dream for creation.

  • Steve Allison

    This all presumes an anthropomorphic God who thinks in a human language with the same kind of emotions that we have.  I’m more fascinated these days with the becoming God of process theology and apophatic considerations. I would like to take a look at the book.  Would do me good.

  • Steve Allison

     This all presumes an anthropomorphic God who thinks in a human language with the same kind of emotions that we have.  I’m more fascinated these days with the becoming God of process theology and apophatic considerations. I would like to take a look at the book.  Would do me good.

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    Steve-

    You might be interested to know that Boyd is quite insistent that this is NOT process theology. He believes in a creator/God who is omnipotent and, in a sense omniscient. He knows all possibilities for the future, and can even decide he will do certain things in the future for certain. However, SOME possibilities are left open – this is where true human freedom is at play.

    If I understand it correctly, open theology is not process, but process is (necessarily) open.

  • pomke

    I’d always thought (and I can’t tell you why or where this came from) that God, being the creator of everything (including time) logically stands outside of creation and can therefore ‘see’ all time at once. We’re travelling along a timeline which God sees in its entirety, beginning to end, how else could we be known to God before the world began? More poignantly this would mean when God sees us he sees ALL of us, from the moment we’re born untill the moment we’re dying, that moment we did something heroic and the time we did something horrible, all at once.

    This doesn’t impose pre-destination for me, nor does it prevent God from working to change my behaviour when he finds it wanting, nor the concept of God finding something disappointing, surprising etc. If we can say that God created time, controls time and exists apart from time (which we must) – And we as beings constrained to experience time as an immutable state of our environment, really there is nothing we can say about how God works, it is impossible for us to know without it being revealed to us by God how he can at the same time see everything forever, but also act within that to change and respond.

    Some things are just not ours to understand.

  • Tim

    I am wondering if it is alright to press you on this point “God outside of time”. I don’t believe the Bible ever says this, indirectly or directly. In fact I wonder, with full respect to you, if the concept of “being outside of time”, is a coherent concept. Outside of sequence? This notion comes from the idea that time is a created thing, rather than simply a description of the succession of events – this happened, then that happened…etc etc. In fact where did this idea of being outside of time ever come from? I’m not sure…..Greek Philosophy perhaps?

  • http://theoprudence.com/ Matt

    Yes. That is exactly Boyd’s argument. A lot of the ideas that drive classical theology are derived from Plato, rather than the Jewish tradition that gave rise to the early Christian community. The Greeks gave us the “God outside of time,” but the Jews always believed in a God who hoped, dreamed, and waited for outcomes, who could be surprised and grieved by the things that people do, and who sometimes reacts to the things that happen in his creation, rather than pre-determining them.