Sunday, November 16, 2008

God's foreknowledge as a result of his sovereignty

In my last post I criticized Greg Boyd's otherwise-excellent arguments in "God of the Possible" as giving insufficient attention to God's sovereignty as an important key to understanding his foreknowledge. I suggested that while Boyd correctly answers his objectors toward the end of the book, by saying that the Open View of God does not diminish--and may in fact enhance--the view of God's authority, he could have applied the fact of God's sovereign nature to the question at hand to far greater effect. In this post I will elaborate on why I think it matters.

The classical view of God's foreknowledge, which Boyd describes well, seems to me to imply that part of the foundation of God's authority rests on the fact of his settled foreknowledge about all that will happen. Though I am vastly oversimplifying, in essence the thought seems to be that God's power and/or authority depend at least in part on God's omniscience--his ability to see the end from the beginning--to "know all things."

I submit this is getting the cart before the horse, and the fact that Boyd does not point this out complicates his own explanation about the future being "partially open" and "partially settled." I suggest rather that God has settled in his mind that there are certain things he's going to do, and certain outcomes that he is going to ensure take place. Those things are "settled" for the simple reason that God has resolved that he will do them. Isaiah 45:23 is a great example of this, where God says "I swear by myself" that one day everyone will acknowledge he's the only God. This is not conditional on anything, but nor is it a passively-settled future event. It's something God is going to accomplish, and he knows he can and will do it. His foreknowledge, therefore, is absolutely settled because God the omnipotent can deliver on his commitment.

In the same vein, however, those things that God in his sovereignty has delegated to his creatures to decide, remain uncertain until his free moral agents choose among the possibilities. Here Boyd makes a very plausible case that God, being infinite in knowledge, can forsee all of the possible choices we might make, and even rank them in probability based upon our character and the character of other players, environmental factors, etc. that lead us to decide as we do. This perspective permeates the book, but one good place to see it is in his question 6 discussion on pp 126 and following, where he offers the analogy of God as the "infinitely intelligent chess player" who can anticipate all our possible moves. As Boyd correctly points out, this actually requires a lot more intellectual horsepower than simply to know the one fully-determined script that everything is going to follow, and thus an open view of God actually posits a more intelligent, more wise, more glorious perspective for God than that of exhaustive, settled foreknowledge.

Even if the choice we make from among the possibilities is one that God did not expect or desire (and Boyd makes an unambiguous Scriptural case for this happening), this does not diminish the fact of his sovereignty in the slightest, because regardless of the outcome of our choices, he is confident in his power (and so ought we to be) to take whatever mess we make and still accomplish his good purpose. Put crudely, we have the ability to screw things up because that's one of the possible consequences of the freedom to choose, which God has granted. However--and this is cause for joy--we don't have the ability to screw them up beyond repair. THAT is God's sovereignty (and his grace) in full force!


robbie said...

isn't that book great. My favorite part about it is the sheer volume of passages he pulls out that blatantly make his point there were very few that seemed like he was stretching them at all. I am particularly fond of how he goes over Jeremiah 18 where the Lord himself talks about how he reserves the right to change his mind , and asks the question, "how could he possibly explain it clearer than this"(pg. 77). If God were to tell us that he does change his mind how could he communicate it more clearly than that passage. Especially verses 7-10.

J said...

Perhaps we are loathe to abandon the idea of God not knowing and controlling all things because we do not wish to make a decision that "God did not anticipate or desire" After all, who among us wishes to be the one who "lets God down" with our poor choices?

Dan Martin said...

'who among us wishes to be the one who "lets God down" with our poor choices?'

Interesting point, J. Of course I would counter that the history of God lovingly redeeming his people from their screwed-up choices should give us the hope that even when we DO let him down, he graciously comes through in his power and redeems the situation--and us, if we are willing.

Yunnan said...

A great passage in a Greek Orthodox reader says something like, "God is powerless in the face of human choice." I wish I could find the source name, but it is stored in America and I live in China. The Greeks also say that God's omnipotence is demonstrated more by the above than by the classical understanding of foreknowledge and omnipotence.

Anyway, you have interesting posts which resonate with much of my thinking. I regularly ask people, "So, how was your day? By the way, where does your hermeneutic come from?"

Dan Martin said...

I would love to know more on that point, Yunnan. Google here in the U.S. doesn't turn up a hit on that exact phrase. I would be interested to hear what the Orthodox communion means by it, though. If you or others can find a citation I would be grateful.

I would certainly qualify the point as I see it. . .not to say that God is "powerless," but rather that "in his sovereign will he has fully delegated certain power to others, and he does not go back on his word." Even allowing someone to make the wrong choice is an exercise of authority.

Yunnan said...

Yes, a lot of people seem uncomfortable with that formulation. I'm not particularly bothered by it, but one can also say God has chosen to be powerless in that way, and maybe that's a more comfortable way of putting it.

Concerning your inerrancy posts, I have a great little book, no longer in print, called "Inerrancy and Common Sense" (Baker Book House, 1980). Of the many contributors, J. Ramsey Michaels's essay makes the most sense to me, though we still have some differences. I have it scanned if you would like it as an attachment, or you can probably find the book used. That selection and the epilogue of C.S. Lewis's "The Discarded Image" have greatly influenced my thinking (I also have that one scanned).

Dan Martin said...

Actually, Yunnan, I would enjoy seeing the resources you mention. Blogger doesn't have a PM option, and I don't want to publish a regular email address for obvious reasons, but drop me a note at temp (at) tractor (dash) equip (dot) com and I'll reply to you with a regular email address.