Sunday, February 03, 2008

God of the Possible--maybe

I just finished reading God of the Possible, by Gregory Boyd; termed on the cover as a biblical introduction to the open view of God.

So what is Open Theology? In a nutshell, it's the theory that God does not exhaustively ordain the future in limitless detail. Instead, certain events related to God are viewed as"pre-destined" while others are open to the possibilities of people with free will asserting their choices. This is in contrast with a more traditional view that everything that happens, happens for some God-appointed reason--the whole mysterious ways explanation for indiscernable situations.

I had read a few articles about open theology four or five years ago, but went no farther than that. It seemed like one of those debates about the nature of God that no one could actually know or settle with absolute certainty. I recall reading conservative theologians labeling it as heresy, a word that was too strong for the debate in my opinion.

After reading Gregory Boyd's book about the historic Jesus, I thought this one might be interesting. I must say that I was more than a little disappointed. It is written from a very simple perspective and seems quite repetitive at points. 169 pages could have been reduced to about 80 and still hit the high points. Also, Boyd frequently makes assertions that he does not back up with quotes. He puts in end notes, but those are pretty useless if you don't have access to the same books in your home or library. I do not believe that he's being dishonest so much as he has sacrificed thoroughness in an attempt to be accessible to general readers.

The open theology debate is really just a twist on the old dilemma of trying to reconcile an all-knowing, all-powerful God with the presence of evil in the world and the concept of free will. Do we have control over our own lives? If so, how much? If God knows everything that is going to happen, then why doesn't he stop suffering and evil? Why does he allow people to be born who will commit atrocities?

Openness proponents would say that God doesn't know that people will commit evil, but because they are free agents they have the ability to commit evil. God doesn't know ahead of time about these evil choices because until they are actually committed they don't exist and they don't have to exist. People might choose not to do evil.

That thought is a little unsettling...not the "not doing evil" part, but the God really not knowing part. If God really doesn't know everything, then how do we know that evil won't triumph in the end?

And yet, the other exteme--God knowing everything, in every way--isn't much better. A God who is ultimately responsible for evil in the world, even if it is only indirectly through the actions of people making bad choices is difficult to reconcile with the "God is Love" concept. Perhaps it's not so much the concept of an all-knowing God who does not intervene that is so troubling, but the all-powerful God who doesn't use His power to halt all the suffering with which we struggle.

Boyd tries to convey that God is all-knowing in regards to reality and pre-ordained events, but can't know about something that doesn't exist, such as a married bachelor(one of his examples).

After reading the book I was not convinced by Boyd's argument. He makes all sorts of very vague and shaky statements that fall short of his goal. While discussing the implications of open theology with regard to the uncertainty and fear that one might have in dealing with a God who does not foreknow the future, I cringed at one of his illogical conclusions:

First, how is the scariness of a view relevant to the question of whether or not the view is true? There is no reason to conclude that something is true to the extent that it conforms to our wishes. Indeed, the fact that the open view doesn't conform to what we might wish were true actually provides one more reason for thinking that it is true, for reality rarely confroms to our wishes. pg 154 [emphasis mine]

What? So scary implications don't affirm the truth of an argument, but not liking the argument somehow does? That is total, nonsensical tripe. This was by far one of the more egregious leaps of logic I came across, but Boyd tends to make dalliances with similar statements throughout his book. There is too much assumption and jumping to broad conclusions and not enough detailed examination of the issues for me to recommend the book as anything more than a simple intro to the open debate.

Having said all that, I would say that my disappointment in the book does not correlate with my feelings regarding free will and the openness of God. I don't believe in God's strict control over every aspect of His creation. While there are definitely a great deal of passages to assert God's sovereignty and ultimate power, there are also many passages in which we are shown a God who gives responsibility to humans. They must make choices and decide the path they will follow. They can be influenced, but are they ultimately responsible for their own actions and decisions.

any thoughts?

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