Is God Dependent On Us?

Monday, July 16th 2007
Nov/Dec 1999

The last issue of MR was devoted to a critical examination of contemporary evangelical challenges to the classical doctrine of God. To conclude these discussions, we are including in this issue both a review by Paul Helm of John Sanders' attempt to articulate an "Open" view of providence, and the following interview with an outspoken "openness of God" theologian, Gregory Boyd. (1)

MR: Briefly explain the "Openness of God" position, and its relation to the classical doctrine of God.
GB: In my view, the "Openness of God" position is more about creation than it is about God. I'd rather call it "the openness of creation" position, or "open creationism." The view simply states that the future is partly open to possibilities, and since God is omniscient and knows all of reality just like it is, he knows the future as being partly open to possibilities. In the classical view of God, the future is eternally settled. For God there are no genuine possibilities-no genuine "maybes."

MR: Why do you think this alternative has attracted support at this time even among a growing number of evangelicals?
GB: There are many factors, but one of the most important surely has to do with the fact that throughout the twentieth century we have been witnessing the gradual demise of the traditional western understanding of reality which was erected on the twin foundational pillars of ancient Greek philosophy and enlightenment rationalism. In many areas of science, for example, we have been witnessing the emergence of a more dynamic view of reality in which time as an irreversible process plays a central role. In my view, this paradigm shift has been positive, for it has allowed people to read Scripture and to think about God and the world in ways that are less influenced by Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and Newton.

MR: How can we justify Christian confidence in God's promise of redemption if God does not even know all future events, much less have control over them?
GB: I justify it by appealing to God's Word. God says he'll redeem those who put their trust in him, and I believe it. God wouldn't promise something he couldn't pull off. I do not see that this promise logically entails that all future events be settled, either in God's will or God's mind. And I do not see that Scripture teaches that all future events be settled. In my view, it is a very insecure deity who needs to control everything in order to ensure anything.

MR: A typical objection to the classical doctrine of God has been that it rests too much on pagan (specifically, Stoic) philosophy. Whether or not that is true, is it not the case that your position reflects modernity's interests in and notions of human autonomy, experience, and reasonableness? Clark Pinnock, for instance, has said that he and his circle have "finally made our peace with the culture of modernity." Is that success or defeat?
GB: I do not know what Pinnock meant when he spoke about "coming to peace" with the "culture of modernity." If he meant that the Open view is completely harmonious with the "culture of modernity"-which you seem to imply-I would strongly disagree with him. But I doubt this is what he meant. In any case, in my view, the freedom which the Open view attributes to free moral agents is no different than what traditional Arminianism ascribed to them: it is just worked out with less influence from the pagan sources mentioned in the question.

MR: Throughout much of this century, process thought (viz., the unity of God and world in a single process of constant change) has gained popularity among mainline theologians. To what extent do you think this new trend in evangelical thinking is indebted to process theology?
GB: None. Despite uninformed protests to the contrary, the two movements have next to nothing in common. They both affirm that the future partly consists in possibilities, and that is it. Some Open theists (such as myself) find certain arguments of Process theologians for a dynamic view of reality, for a responsive God, and/or for a partly open future persuasive. But I don't know of any who have become Open theists for that reason. They are Open theists because they believe Scripture teaches this. Consider that L. D. McCabe, the renowned Methodist professor and chancellor of Ohio Wesleyan University in the nineteenth century, was a widely published "Open theist" seventy years before Whitehead published Process and Reality. Others in the nineteenth century held this view as well (and, incidentally, were not judged as being "heretical" for doing so).

MR: If God depends on the world (and on us), at least to some extent, for his happiness, knowledge, power, and success, can we really ascribe all glory and praise to God?
GB: If God had to depend on something other than himself, my answer would be no. But by the same token, if God had to avoid all forms of dependency in order to be great, I would also say no. In my view, we can ascribe all glory and praise to God only when we recognize that he is free to be independent insofar as he chooses, and free to be dependent insofar as he chooses. The classical tradition denied God the second freedom, at least by logical implication, for it assumed that all forms of dependency exemplify weakness. But why think that? Doesn't Scripture consistently depict God as suffering heartbreak and frustration when we turn from him and as changing his mind about us when we change our mind about him (e.g., Jer. 18)? And doesn't this imply that God has chosen, by his own sovereign volition, to have his happiness and his planning to some extent dependent on what we do? Moreover, don't we ordinarily see people who allow themselves to become dependent in certain ways on others whom they love as exemplifying a strength, not a weakness? Isn't the unwillingness to do this a sign of insecurity and weakness?

MR: What direction(s) do you think this new perspective will take in evangelical theology and do you think that classical theism will weather the storm?
GB: I do not see that this "new perspective" leads forward in any particular direction, though I do believe that it will bear a great deal of kingdom fruit as it gets increasingly worked out in the Church's theology and life. Among other things, I hope and pray that the Church will become more aggressive in engaging in spiritual warfare as it frees itself from the illusion that everything in history follows a divine blueprint. Will classical theology weather the storm? If you mean by "classical theology" the view that God is altogether devoid of change, potentiality, and passion, and that God experiences all of history in an eternal instant-I hope not. For I see this view of God as being far more compatible with Aristotle than with the Bible.

MR: What do you think is the heart of evangelical theology? What are the three or four central tenets? Or, put another way, what would place a professing evangelical outside the bounds of the tradition, as far as you are concerned?
GB: If someone alleges that Scripture is mistaken in something it teaches, if they deny that Christ is Lord or that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if they deny that God is Creator of all that is or that he is the sovereign Lord of history, working in history to accomplish his desired objectives, I would have trouble calling them "evangelical."

Monday, July 16th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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