Monday, November 22, 2004

Audio lectures

In the last few days I have been discovering the joys of downloading theology lectures and listening to them. Listening to people talk is so much less work than reading articles!

My favourite talk is James Dunn and Tom Wright “An Evening conversation on Jesus and Paul” - available here (both of their talks last ~30 minutes and are ~7MB). Dunn and Wright are probably the two best Pauline scholars of the last millennia and a half so it's quite fascinating to hear them chat about exactly what they agree and do not agree upon and why. This is not so much a lecture as a chat in front of an audience, and the discussion should be comprehensible and insightful even to non-scholars.

Particularly intriguing to me is their dispute over “faith of/in Christ”. Dunn opts for “faith in Christ” (our own faith, in Christ) while Wright opts for “faith of Christ” (Christ's own faith, in God). Both give reasonable arguments against the other's position.... supporting my opinion that they are both wrong.

In my opinion, the correct reading is that we need to have the faith of Christ. ie. faith like Christ's. This agrees with Dunn's argument that “pistis Chrisou” (faith of/in Christ) appears to something we have. And it agrees with Wright's point that the target of “pistis Christou” appears to be God, not Christ. We have the faith, God is the target of our faith, and our faith is like Christ's. We have the faith of Christ in God, the faith of Abraham in God, and it is that faith that justifies us. It just seems so blatantly obvious to me that this is what Paul means...

Friday, November 19, 2004

If I had $100 million spare...

One of the things I would do would be to sponser a full and complete modern English translation of all early Christian writings at least up to 500 AD, preferably 1000AD, and insist they be available for free on the web in addition to being sold as books.

I am absolutely sick of the difficultly in even finding out what each Father actually wrote, absolutely sick of the difficulty of tracking down Patristic works, sick of the fact that so many are not available over the web, sick of the fact that so many just don't have any english translation, and sick of the archaic language in the 19th century translations of the Nicea Fathers series.

Please, somebody, anybody, who has more money than they know what to do with, you could do a great service to scholars across the english world if you were to sponser making the writings of the Fathers available to all in English.

This rant was inspired by my discovery today that Origen (~220AD) wrote a commentary on Romans, and numerous homilies (sermons) on Romans to boot! Though I've read Origen's works in the antiquainted Nicene Father series, they never bothered to mention that a commentary on Romans existed... The only way to get a hold of the work seems to be to purchase it in two volumes at $40 US a pop... argh. In searching google on the subject it transpires that there are actually about 10 Patristics who wrote some sort of commentary on Romans... argh. Hmm, well I think there's nothing else for it, I'm just going to have to go ahead and purchase Origen commentary. As for Origen's supposed homilies on Romans, I can't track them down at all...

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Open View Theism, part 2

In the previous post I outlined some of the reasons I consider the open view to be a worthwhile hypothesis, but I realise I left out the primary intellectual reason why I find the open view compelling on a logical level.

First line of thought
Consider the question of God's relation to the world from God's point of view. God is, we shall assume, in eternity, a no-place beyond space and time and “looks” out at the temporal world and “sees” it laid out from start to finish. He thusly knows the temporal universe from start to finish, He sees what is “past” and “future” to us, all as “present” to Him, for being outside of time, all moments of time are in the present to Him.

Now, this would be fine, and we could end our statements there... if we were deists and believed God did not interact with the world. But as Christians we assert that God does interact with the world. The question then arises of how God from eternity interacts with a temporal creation. Christian theism asserts that at certain temporal moments God is interacting with the world, for example we believe that in the person of Jesus during the temporal moments we call the first century AD, God was acting in the world. In fact, we hold that God is always acting in the world, guiding it by grace.

The questions facing us become more difficult when we consider prophecy, that God can interact and tell his prophets things about the future. We know that changes to the present change the future, because the future is affected by our actions in the present. Then we face the problem: God's actions in the world, like our actions, change what the future otherwise would have been. God by His very act of giving prophecy to a prophet changes the future.

But if God is in eternity and sees the world laid out before Him, how can He “change” the future? If God enjoys a sure and certain knowledge of the state of the world from beginning to end then He seems powerless to change it. God, knowing and seeing what will happen in 700AD and wishing that this does not cannot effect a change, because then His sure and certain knowledge would have been false. If God's knowledge is sure, certain and final then He can neither change the future, nor give predictions of it to His prophets, nor touch nor effect the world in any way.

It seems then, that God's knowledge is not sure, certain and final. But rather, perhaps He “sees” the world laid out before Him from beginning to end as it potentially is. God looks out upon the world, and decides to act at a certain point in time in a certain way. Correspondingly as God acts at that point in time, there are consequences for the future, the future changes and God sees the world once more laid out anew from beginning to end in a new way. And so, it might be said, God continues to act and the world changes until God is satisfied with the Creation, and considers the act of creation complete. God like a master carpenter works away at His work piece, altering parts now here, now there, until He is satisfied with the overall piece and considers it complete.

But in this case, every time God acts in the world, His state of knowledge is that of the potential future. God, like the carpenter can look out upon His work as it currently is, and see the work in progress as it is in its present state, not in its future states. God full well knows that His very acting in the world will change the future. Thus, were God to give a prophecy to one of His prophets, a prediction about something that God foresaw happening in the future, God would know that by the very act of Him interacting in the world at that point in time, the future would be changed and thus that which God told the prophet that He foresaw may in fact not come to pass in the new future.

Just like that we have reached a form of the Open View. Even when we start out by asserting God's eternity, we inevitably return to the conclusion that all of God's acts in time must be able to change time and hence the very act of prophecy can itself falsify the prophecy. Hence, God, whenever He acts in time knows only the potential future not the actual one... all of which is perfectly in agreement with the Biblical texts on the subject (eg Jonah, Abraham etc) which depict this type of action by God.

Second line of thought
This idea above says that God can look out from eternity upon the potential world and see it laid out before Him from start to finish as it currently is, and then God can make changes like a master craftsman and see the new, altered, world laid out before Him, and so continue until He is pleased with His creation. God can supposedly look at these potential worlds and see human beings making free will decisions... what human beings? The ones in the potential worlds do not actually exist.

Dare we respond that they do actually exist? Perhaps there are actually real people out there that live their entire lives in one of the million of these potential worlds that existed as God was trying to create the actual world? This world might then be one of them - in all probability it would be! So perhaps what we, as we live out our lives, and the afterlife too don't realise is that this world isn't actually how it's meant to be, and this is just one of a million worlds that represent various stages in God's crafting the world He wants. This is totally absurd.

No, rather, the worlds that are non-final -any and all states that the universe might go through as God is working on creating the actual world- do not have actually existing people in them. But if they do not have actually existing people in them, they do not have any history that could be laid out before the eternal God... He can't observe them from eternity because there is nothing to observe. The idea of God looking out from eternity upon space-time and seeing a hypothetical world is absurd, what He'd see is the real world!

Third line of thought
The indeterminism of free will is a concept about which philosophers are divided. Some think human choice must be deterministic (ie that if you were to know everything there is to know about the universe you could predict human choices with 100% accuracy, I think this implies Calvinism), others that it must be indeterministic (ie that such information is insufficient). I am firmly in the second category (I think the first view is fundamentally flawed for a variety of reasons), and this position raises another problem.

I have before me a keyboard, I can choose to hit any key on my keyboard. I choose “7” at random. Now, we can speak, hypothetically, of a world in which I happened to choose to hit “2”. But all we speak of here is an idea. God cannot go ahead and create “the world where Andrew chooses to hit 2 on his keyboard”, because there is actually no such world. In any world God creates, God can give me a choice or not. If I have a choice, I have the choice to hit 2, 7 or B. If I do not have a choice, then God can force me to choose 2. But as long as human free will is indeterministic, then in any world that God creates where I have a choice, I have a real choice. I get put in a situation, I choose an action, and that is all there is to it. God cannot “foresee” the results of my choice, nor “pick the world” in which I make the decision He wants, because there are no results of my choice until I make them. If human choice was deterministic, God could know what I would do in any given situation, and so create a world such that I was in a situation where I would choose 2 rather than 7. But since it isn't, God can't because it is logically nonsensical.

Thus, my objection against the attempted defence of God's eternality that I explored above is that the results of human free will can only be known by putting real humans in real situations and observing the results. You cannot foreknow hypothetical worlds, you can only foreknow possibilities. (This is the main reason I oppose Molinism – it is incompatible with indeterministic free will in this way)

So it appears to be established that:
1) if God is beyond space and time and dwells in a non-temporal eternity then He cannot affect the world unless He perceives it not as fixed and definite, but as changeable by Him and His knowledge of it is knowledge of it “as it is currently/potentially” rather than knowledge of it “as it is actually”.
2) But no world can exist “potentially” and God could have no such knowledge.
3) If one holds to indeterministic free will, then the potential worlds cannot exist beyond our conception of them as possibilities.

It seems that for God to interact with the world, God must be in space and time in a way at least somewhat akin us. God is certainly before all else, and even should all else perish still God would be. But His eternality must be the fact that He endures through all time, was before all time, and will be after all time. And that is the Open View. The only logically consistent alternative seems to be a thorough-going hyper-Calvinism

Rewritten in response to Reuben's comment

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Open View

I got asked about the Open View in a previous comment, so I though I might explain it and elaborate further than I've done before about why I believe it.

The Open View (aka Open Theism, aka presentism etc) is a paradigm about God's relationship with and interaction with the world. It holds primarily that God is in a dynamic relationship with the world rather than a static one. It asserts God is actively and intrinsically involved in the story. God does not sit in eternity, watching all creation play itself out like a pre-recorded video whose contents God already knows. Rather God has goals He wants to achieve in the world, but the purposes and plans by which He tries to achieve them are open to change and revision in response to changing circumstances. God, like a master chess player, responds to the moves of His opponents with the appropriate actions. God can forsee all the possible moves His opponent might make, but will dynamically change His own actions in response to the new situation in order to best fulfill His overall goals.

The Open View's primary aim is to uphold the love of God, the dynamicness of God, the meaningfulness of human relationships with Him, and the truth of human free will. The fundamental intellectual/doctrinal proposition of the Open View is that the future is not fixed, the future does not "exist" in any meaningful way, it is not preset, it is not predetermined, it can be truly changed by humans and God. The Open View says that God does not know everything about the future because the future isn't fixed and so there is nothing to know. (Some Open Viewers say instead that the future is potentially knowable by God, but that He voluntarily relinquishes His knowledge of it for our benefit in order to facilitate free will, I do not hold this so I will ignore this version)

God can still know some things about the future - like any king, God can decide "I'm going to do X tommorrow" and do it. God can know that X will happen in the future if He decides to make X happen in the future, and being all-powerful He can do this. In fact, God could dictate the entire future if He so desired and thus have complete knowledge of it. But it is the thesis of the Open View that God does not desire to do this because God desires us to have the free will to love Him or not love Him, to work with Him or not work with Him. In any human relationship the joy comes from the interaction of two free entities who can really affect and influence each other, a relationship with a robot is not relationship at all. God can affect humans and humans can affect God, because God chooses to enter into a relationship with humanity.

God can know other things too about the future - having complete knowledge of physical law, He can predict where Jupiter will be in 10 years time with better accuracy than any astronomer, and having complete knowledge of human hearts and minds he can predict your future actions in any given situation better than even you can. God knows what is possible, what is probable, and what is certain. He knows how He Himself should best act to make more likely desired results, He can predict the future based on propability, or He can decree it based on divine fiat, or He can leave it completely open to human choice.

That is the open view - that the future is "open" to change, it is not closed, not fixed, not immutable, but rather God and man work together in a dynamic relationship toward a better future. God has goals which are fixed, but plans which are revisable. As circumstances change, so God alters how He is interacting with the world in such a way as to best acheive His goals. The glory of God is that He is so great He can acheive that which He wants to achieve through all things. God is not so powerless that He cannot cope if one atom goes the wrong way. Though things may go awry, and people may oppose His plans, God can adapt, change and so work out His goals, working for good with those who love him, those He calls according to His purposes, working out His ultimate plans to glorify creation and bring it all back unto Himself. God's sovereign glory is shown in the fact that though all the creation itself opposes Him, still He can lovingly call it back to Himself, and though all evil takes the board against Him still He can adapt His plans to evil's every move and win no matter what comes. He lets evil do its worst and beats it still.

There are several reasons I strongly advocate the open view:

1) It is strongly evidenced in the Bible, and I am convinced it is the most biblical view of the various positions on God's foreknowledge. The moment I started taking the open view seriously was when I read a debate on whether the open view was biblical in which the open viewer absolutely thrashed his competent opponent. In the Bible we find numerous references to God changing his mind, wishing He'd acted differently, giving conditional prophesies, admitting He hadn't anticipated the current state of affairs, not finding out things until after they happen etc. By contrast there are very few verses that could be thought to imply that God completely knows a fixed future and they are comparatively easy to understand differently.

2) The open view helps answer such questions as "why did God create the individual people if he knew they would suffer eternally?" and enlightens us futher as to the problem of why there is evil in the world and how God is battling against it.

3) It fits in beautifully with the Eastern Orthodox/Christus Victor paradigm of God's redemption of mankind from the devil, the dynamic deification of man from all evil. If an inanimate object is "perfect" then it is changeless - a diamond might be said to be a perfect and flawless diamond. But life is inherently changing, it is inherently dynamic. So if life is said to reach perfection, then it becomes difficult to maintain that perfection can be an unchanging state - otherwise perfect life would not be life, it would be death. Rather perfect life is something that is constantly changing while remaining the same - the deified man who is ever being changed from glory to glory, God whose mercies are renewed every morning. The understanding of perfection that seems to be advocated in the doctrine of deification is one of dynamic perfection, not static perfection, a constant change and continual renewal. And so, if we are to say that God is perfect, we must mean that God is Himself ever changing from glory to glory, that He is not some static timeless entity but that He is ever being remanifested anew through all time and beyond in renewed splendour.

4) The open view is a powerful, compelling and moving story of God's interaction with man. It is intellectually fulfilling and emotionally forceful.

Two reasons I am unhappy about the Open View are:

A) It's not the standard view held by the Eastern Orthodox, who strongly advocate the position that God sits in eternity and knows all of time. Orthodox tend to be unhappy with even the suggestion that the open view might be applied to the energies, nevermind the essence of God. (Orthodox theology distinguishes between that which God is in Himself - His Essence, and the relational aspect of God, that which God is as He relates to the creation - His Energies)

B) At lot of the Fathers quite clearly advocated doctrines that the open view would oppose - that God has complete knowledge of the future and that God is not in any way affected by humanity. However on the other hand, some Fathers did not (I intend to research more in the future to what degree the Open View can legitimately claim representation in the Fathers). The Fathers who were more influenced by Greek philosophy seem to have accepted more the platonic doctrines regarding God's complete knowledge of the future and his impassibility. But Calcidius (a Christian writer of the late 4th century) definitely was an open viewer, in his commentary on Plato's "On Fate" he asserts that contrary to Plato the Christian doctrine about the future is that the future is dependent upon free will and God can only know the various contingencies. I think Irenaeus and Athanasius (who are relatively uninfluenced by Greek philosophy) might be open viewers but I'll need to look at their writings more carefully.

So there you have it Karl, I'm a heretic and that's why! ;) And, furthermore, I'm doing the protestant trick of mining the Fathers to support my own heresy too... I'm open to being convinced that the Open View is wrong and the the traditional view is right, but I just don't think it is. The traditional Orthodox view on foreknowledge seems to boil down to pan-standard arminianism or Molinism depending of how you interpret it, neither of which I like.
If you want to know more about the Open View there is quite a good site here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

An analogy

I was reflecting on the nature of sin and how different Christians view the problem of sin and salvation and why I think some just miss the point, and I came up with this analogy to best explain it...

Sin is like drug abuse. In sinning we are like a drug user, we do something that is contrary to the law and in the process give ourselves AIDS and get ourselves addicted to drugs.

What do we mean, in an everyday sense of the word, to say that such a drug user is "saved"? Presumably we mean that they are freed from their drug addiction, rehabilitated to a normal life and their disease is being treated.

Thus when Christians come to speak of salvation by God, it is on the face of it quite obvious what salvation is and how it's going to work. Salvation is going to be God out of love saving man from the sin that is destroying him.

Yet many Christians think the point is not in fact about God actually rescuing anyone from sin, just about God not punishing people. The focus is moved from the fact that sin destroys us to the fact that it breaks the cosmic law, and we are then "saved" from God's punishment rather than from the destructive nature of our condition. The trouble is that this does not address the problem. So the judge gives "not-guilty" verdict to a drug-user, but if the drug user is dying of AIDS, then frankly who cares?

That is not salvation, and that is not what the NT writers talk about. In the weekend I sat down and read the NT from Ephesians to Jude in one sitting thinking about this, and I was stuck by how time and again the writers turn constantly to to the fact that God has actually rescued us from the powers of darkness that were enslaving us. He has actually freed us from our addiction to sin, actually healed us from the diseases it brings on us. Any type of Christianity which leaves that bit out has quite simply missed the point.