According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God's Self-Limitations (Torrnace, Pinnock)

by Roger Olson
Posted August 30, 2010

Several posters here seem to me to ignore an important presupposition of classical Arminian theology and of open theism. (I could probably list some other theologies that also affirm God’s self-limitation, but our discussion has been mostly about these.) That presupposition is that, in creation, as in incarnation (with important differences) God limits himself.

All Calvinists that I know affirm some kind of divine self-limitation, although they are much less likely to promote it as a crucial theological idea than, say, open theists. I argue that it functions as a “control datum” for classical Arminians, as well. (Reformed scholar Richard Mueller has found this through his own archeology of Arminius’ theological influences and ideas.)

The reason God is not the author of sin and evil is that he limits his power in relation to creation. By his own choice he is not, in the inimitable words of Baptist theologian E. Frank Tupper, a “do anything, anytime, anywhere kind of God.” He COULD be because he is omnipotent, but he chooses not to be that kind of God.

Why? For the sake of having real, rather than imaginary, relations with human persons.  (Perhaps also for the sake of having such relations with other kinds of persons, but we know little of that.) We all believe that, in some way or other, God limited himself in the incarnation. (Whether you are a kenoticist or not you have to believe in some kind of divine self-limitation in the incarnation. Kenoticists just take it farther than, say, two minds or two consciousnesses Christologists.) For example, he could not do miracles in certain times and places due to people’s lack of faith.

The idea of the “openness of God” to new experiences and to grief, etc., was proposed and promoted by Barthian theologian Thomas Torrance in Space, Time and Incarnation. It was actually Torrance, rather than Pinnock or any other open theist, who coined the phrase “openness of God.” (See pp. 74-75 for the entire statement about God’s entering into time with us.) Other non-open theist theologians who espouse a view of God limiting himself in relation to creation are Dallas Willard (see The Divine Conspiracy, pp. 245ff) and the previously mentioned E. Frank Tupper (see A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God, passim.)

Why do these and many other theologians posit God’s self-limitation in relation to creation? To make coherent belief in (i) genuine personal relationships between God and persons and (ii) to avoid divine determinism which inevitably makes God the author of sin and evil.

We don’t have to know all the “ins” and “outs” of God’s self-limitations to believe that he does limit himself and that his self-limitation is the reason for evil in the world. That is, it is the indirect reason but not, of course, the effectual cause. God allows evil without foreordaining it or rendering it certain. Why does he intervene to prevent or stop it sometimes and not other times? Well, we have no way of knowing that anymore than we can know why Jesus could sometimes do miracles and other times could not. The reasons are hidden in God; he has not seen fit to tell us what they are. We know faith sometimes plays a role. Sometimes obedience does. But we can’t know all the reasons.

I, for one, would rather believe God limits his power than believe that God’s power is the ulterior reason for whatever is happening [(aka, Calvinism's postulates)].

For a powerful refutation of meticulous providence see theologian David Bentley Hart’s little book The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? (Eerdmans, 2005) It’s a powerful critique of any theology that attributes all calamaties to God’s providence. Hart doesn’t quote this adage (paraphrased), but his book is consistent with it: “Nobody should articulate a theology that cannot be spoken standing in front of burning children.”

Hart warns against any theology (such as he sees in consistent Calvinism) that makes God (however inadvertently) “morally loathsome.” “[i]f indeed there were a God whose true nature–whose justice and sovereignty–were revealed in the death of a child or the dereliction of a soul or a predestined hell, then it would be no great transgression to think of [that God] as a kind of malevolent or contemptible demiurge, and to hate him, and to deny him worship, and to seek a better God than he.”

The only way to avoid that (logically, in my opinion) is to affirm God’s voluntary self-limitations in relation to creation.

Fortunately, most divine determinists (including most Calvinists and many Lutherans) DO NOT go so far as to attribute sin and evil to God. In fact, most strongly deny that God is the author of sin and evil. The point is, however, that logical consistency would seem to require that within their systems. And we all know someone who has taken it that far.

Calvinists often say that Armianians “can be” Christians by virtue of a “felicitous inconsistency.” Well, I will say the same about Calvinists at this point. Their theology requires, as a “good and necessary consequence,” that God be the author of sin and evil. That they deny he is the author of sin and evil is a felicitous inconsistency. I applaud them for not following the logic of their doctrines of providence and predestination to their natural conclusions. However, I worry that many of the “young, restless, Reformed” people will carry it that far. I have seen it done. 

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