Life is not a game of chess

Chess Pieces
Is this all we are to God?

OK, so you know by now that the authors of this blog subscribe to the Open View of God, also called Open Theism.  It’s one of the four points of our ROCK summary of faith distinctives.  A key point all Open Theists make is that God does not know a settled, determined future–not because God’s knowledge is limited, but because no settled, determined future exists to be known.  I agree.  But in its place, prominent Open Theists describe God as knowing the vast combination of possible choices his created agents may make, comprehending and planning against these possibilities rather like an “infinitely intelligent chess player” who knows all the possible moves on the board, and has expert strategies to deal with all of them.  I’m not so sure about this part.

Ben said it this way last post on open theism:  “So does God know what i’m going to have for lunch in 15 years. Yep, he knows I will have x, or x, or x, or x, or x etc and he knows I won’t have x, or x, or x, or x etc – absolutely. Divine foreknowledge is foreknowledge none the less regardless of the manner in which it is known.”  Hold that thought…we’ll be coming back to it.

In addition to the incredible resource Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible has been for me, Ben pointed me to two other articles that masterfully lay out elements of the Open View of God, and which I heartily recommend interested readers should check out.  The first is Thomas Belt’s masterful apology for Open Theism, written to the Commission on Doctrinal Purity of the Assemblies of God church.   The second is Dennis Bratcher’s incisive article God’s Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Human Freedom.  To these, I would add a third article by Notre Dame professor Dr. Alan Rhoda, Generic Open Theism and Some Varieties Thereof (Religious Studies 44 (2008): 225–234) as a very interesting analysis of the logic of Open Theism.

Belt and Boyd both use the analogy of the Infinitely Intelligent Chess Player to describe how an omniscient God must know not just a single, settled compendium of future events, but rather all the various possibility-trees that might branch from the infinite combinations of choices we might make.  That’s what Ben was saying about his future lunch.  Bratcher steps back and explains why this discussion came to be, and in the process I think he shines a light on the error in the argument:

The kinds of questions asked in the early church, especially following Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries, were metaphysical ontological questions about ultimate reality. And those questions were rooted in the Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophies that saw God and human existence in absolute or idealistic terms. God was defined by asking logical questions, and reaching logical answers. Basically, a view of God was developed whereby God was defined in terms of what a god ought to be to be God. While the results may not be totally invalid, they are obviously limited, and a departure from Scripture and God’s own revelation about himself in human history.

This explanation by Bratcher is key.  The very notion of God’s “having” to be omniscient is itself not a doctrine of the Bible, but rather part of Plato’s ideal of what a supreme God must be like–an ideal which Augustine adopted and “Christianized.”  Bratcher goes on to state that all of our beloved “omni-” doctrines (omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc.) actually arise from the logical conceptions of what God “ought” to be.  As he sums up his own point, I simply do not think these formulations are at all adequate, simply because they are our definition of what we want in a God or what a god by our definition should be, which does not necessarily define God very adequately. They are far too limiting, at the very point that they claim to be all encompassing! In other words, God does not have to be what we say he is, no matter how “big” or “omni-” we try to make what we say.

Now let me hasten to add that there are plenty of Biblical passages that tell us God is well aware of all that happens in his creation–not least Jesus’ own statement in Matt. 10:29.  I am not arguing that God knows less than everything that is to be known.  However, it is important to recognize that insisting on God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future–whether settled OR as possibilities–comes from extrabiblical sources.

It is only once we conclude that our doctrine of omniscience requires God to know everything about the future, that the question of  just what God foreknows becomes a “problem.”  The Infinitely Intelligent Chess Player, it seems to me, is the Open Theists solution to the problem our own logic created…a problem they should have called out at the same time they called out deterministic doctrines of the future.  Failing to do so, they have merely moved the foreknowledge problem down the road a piece without addressing the same flaw in their own logic.  I’m no trained philosopher, so I may get this technically wrong, but conceptually I’m going to try anyway:

Open Theism starts–never forget this–not from logical assumptions, but from observing that the God represented in our scriptures is a dynamic, interactive God who changes his mind, his plans, and his behavior in interaction with his creatures.  This is not wishful thinking and it’s not secular philosophy, it’s how the stories actually read.  Open Theists simply insist that no rationalization or mental gymnastics need be applied to the Biblical accounts of God dealing with his own people.  We do happen to think that this view also makes more logical sense, as Rhoda explains in the paper I cited above (see pp. 3&4).  As Rhoda explains it, Open Theists first of all believe in a necessary God who is maximally powerful, knowing, and good.  Where they depart from other orthodox Christians is in their conception of the future as open in two respects (and here I quote):

  • Causal openness: The future is causally open at time t with respect to state of affairs X and future time t* if and only if, given all that exists as of time t, it is really possible both that X obtains at t* and that X does not obtain at t*. (In other words, whether X obtains at t* or not is, as of t, a future contingent.)
  • Epistemic openness: The future is epistemically open for person S at time t with respect to some conceivable future state of affairs X if and only if for some future time t* neither ‘X will obtain at t*’ nor ‘X will not obtain at t*’ is known by S at t.

Rhoda then characterizes Open Theism as the contention that (1) the future is to some extent causally open (there are “future contingencies”), and (2) the future is to some extent epistemically open for God.

So far, so good.  But when Boyd, Belt, my buddy Ben (sheesh, do you have to have a “B” name for this discussion?) and others state that God has got all the possibilities contained in his (obviously huge) mind, I think they’re just kicking the can down the road a little further.  For all possible contingencies to be known–whether or not they will be chosen–it seems to me that those contingencies themselves have to be pre-defined by someone or something (let us assume that is God).  Taking the chess analogy a little further, every piece on the chessboard is placed in a specific location to start the game, and can only move in pre-determined patterns according to a pre-determined sequence.  There are myriad choices within the game, but no chess player, for example, can move his knight three places forward in a straight line.  A sufficiently-intelligent chess player can indeed keep all those choices cataloged and have a plan or strategy to deal with each, but he can never come up with a new and creative move of an individual piece.

I’m not convinced that’s what our free agency looks like.  True, God does give some binary choices, such as the good/evil life/death choice he set before the Israelites in Deut. 30:19.  But he also allows us freer creativity than that.  I think of the (admittedly maybe symbolic) naming of the animals in Gen. 2.  This story does not have God presenting Adam with a list of names to choose…he said in effect “what do you want to call this one?”  I think in some ways we’ve allowed our minds to become enslaved go good old Greek binary logic:  either this will happen, or it won’t; you can do x or y; this statement is true or false.  We have failed to recognize either the analog randomness (not all is quantum theory) or just plain craziness of humanity, let alone the rest of creation.  The reality, I think, is quite a bit messier than even an infinite possibility tree can encompass.

This is why I keep harping on God’s sovereignty as the lynchpin of my own Open View.  Whatever there is to be known, I agree God knows it, but I don’t think it matters nearly as much as my brethren seem to think it does.  The important thing, both for God’s rule and reign and for our ability to trust him, is that God as Sovereign has both the right and the power to accomplish his will in the world, even while dynamically interacting with a creation that is sometimes random and sometimes downright rebellious. Understanding that this supreme Sovereign has graciously delegated to his creatures, the ability and the liberty to love or hate him, to obey or disobey him, to seek or reject him, is the ultimate evidence that our Sovereign is also supremely good.

27 thoughts on “Life is not a game of chess”

  1. Ben Bajarin

    Great post Dan. I do resonate with many of your points. I agree that most important of all is God’s sovereignty and His ability as revealed through the text to accomplish that in which he purposes.

    I’m absolutely convinced that is the most important thing to realize and respect and be in awe over.

    I think the most salient thing in all the articles you mentioned was how the histories of stringent doctrinal issues that came out and were argued were responses to culture at time periods in the last 2000 years. And most importantly and absolutely true is that in those 2000 years man has gone down a path of forcing the text to say things about God and that the bible never says.

    As in Bratcher’s great quote which you highlighted. I resonate a good deal with the Wesley tradition and the Anglican as well as they stay true to the course to seek and believe whatever is true, not what culture, man, philosophy or dogmatic doctrine and even tradition try to say about God in order to make God more of the God they want him to be.

    We need to let God be supremely sovereign as he is and just worry about our task of simply serving him and living in the sovereign and saving way of Jesus.

  2. Kurt Willems

    Dan, you make some interesting distinctions. Don’t have time to comment more fully but wanted to say that this gives me something to think about. I plan to write some about this soon and will interact with ya then…

  3. Kurt Willems

    Dan… Here is my concern with your critique. First let me say that I am intrigued by your critique and think that there is much here to be considered. Does the bible claim that God knows the future exhaustively (even if a series of possibilities) is the view we come from? I am not sure off of the top of my head and perhaps that is a conversation I need to keep open. However, my concern is that the image of a chess player is one that can be understood by the common person. It is something I can explain to non theological types. Not sure how to relate this to folks without that image, at least in a way that frees us from some of the technical jargon that they are uninterested in.

    Also, Boyd has revised this some in a sermon from his “Animate” series he did a year or so ago. He says that the image isn’t “intimate” enough because it seems that the God of the Bible isn’t simply the chess player but also risks vulnerability by getting on the board itself and entering into our mess. This point may be unrelated to your main point, but maybe interesting nonetheless….

  4. Dan Martin

    Your point (or your representation of Greg’s point) is interesting, Kurt. You’re right that it wasn’t my point though… ;{)

    My point is that Boyd and the others are spending too much time and effort on the type of foreknowledge God has (that is, possibilities instead of certainties) rather than what I think is a far more important and useful focus on God’s sovereignty. If we accept that God has, as I’ve said, the right and the power to accomplish whatever he wants, then it doesn’t really matter what he knows ahead of time vs. at the instant it becomes true. Either way, he’s able to respond effectively at that point, to keep his ultimate will on track. This also means that anything God foretells as his intent…is true not because he foreknows it, but rather because he’s purposed it and no one can thwart what God has resolved to do.

    In this approach, as I said, the degree or depth or character of God’s foreknowledge becomes immaterial to the reality of his reign. At best, it’s just a fact. At worst, it’s an inaccurate distraction. No big deal either way.

    The other problem, and the reason I objected to the chess analogy (or any other notion that God actually exhaustively knows all possibilities) is that an exhaustive list of possibilities leaves us with a menu of choices, but not (I think) the true free agency of God’s creative image-bearers. This is a lesser objection, but one that I think still merits consideration. What I’m getting at here is closer to Wright’s notion that God has given us a framework within which to improvise (the “fifth act”). That improvisation may in fact be truly free, open, and to that extent not foreknown, without changing the sovereign authority of Him who delegated it to us in the first place.

    Does this make more sense?

  5. Greg Leekley

    FYI, I am NOT a theologian and have not thought near as much about this as you guys but I do love to read the Bible and think deeply about its many mysteries. Let’s throw in a third alternative that is not so tightly constricted to the “either/or” choice here…what if in the nature of God the answer is instead “both/and?”

    While I don’t know the tenants of Open Theism I’ll assume only your wording: “Open Theism starts–never forget this–not from logical assumptions, but from observing that the God represented in our scriptures is a dynamic, interactive God who changes his mind, his plans, and his behavior in interaction with his creatures.”
    What if the observations we are making of God within these portions of scripture are referencing a single component and context of His greater Triune nature? It would seem then that you could have a duality where both arguments are right but only from a single and not holistic view of our God. We know this true in the context of the Son’s incarnation given He said only the Father knows the day and the hour of the end of the world as we know it in Matthew 24:36. That says two things: the Father ALONE (“Monos” in the Greek) DOES know as the architect absolutely; and the Son DOES NOT and if taken literally nor does the ever dynamic and creative Spirit of God know. Many if not most of the God references within the Old Testament especially those involving interaction with His created people were indeed referencing the pre-incarnate Son. However, John 17:4-5 suggests that the Son’s limitations stretched beyond His being lowered below the angels during His incarnation (Hebrews 2:9) given that His glory was also mysteriously altered in preparation for the world in which we live given the language “glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” and hinted at again in Hebrews 1:1-4.

    The idea here is that God in His wisdom chooses to limit the knowledge of at least a portion of His complex unity for the purpose of a dynamic walk and relationship while at the same time having total sovereignty from a more traditional absolute perspective. God can trust Himself to delegate to Himself to make the right calls and stay by His Spirit fully united without being a simple unit displaying uniformity rather than unity within His nature. If He chose, He could BOTH walk with us dynamically within the time space continuum experiencing things unfold AND also see it absolutely as if events were hard coded from a perch outside that same time space continuum. The Spirit after all “searches” the depths of God. It is therefore entirely possible that elements of His triune nature are classically omniscient and elements are from scriptural example as well as our relational perspective actually walking along side and experiencing the full ride. We walk with Him by faith and are enjoined by His Spirit as the Son’s body into the full relationship that exists within His dynamic and relational Triune nature.

    There is indeed much at play here with regard to issues of both God’s knowledge and sovereign administration beyond our existence in this world for the sake of His testimony that transcends to the summing up of all things BOTH in heaven AND on earth (Ephesians 1:10) as we see in Ephesians 3:9-10… ”and bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might NOW be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” All of this suggests that on one hand God does know in events absolutely in advance but purposefully secures and hides many facts until the proper time given the spiritual battleground we find ourselves in given the fight is NOT with flesh or blood but indeed with the powers and principalities. When we get to the other side we may well find that God did necessarily play chess to Satan’s checkers in the heavens but at the same was willing to take the ultimate consequence and model faith on earth in order to both win and secure His bride and body that even now He mysteriously walks beside and within. “Both/and” perhaps rather than “either/or.”

  6. Dan Martin Post Author

    Greg, thanks for joining the discussion. We’re not theologians either…we’re just disciples reading our Bibles and wondering why they seem to say something different from what the “authorities” tell us. So you’re in good company.

    In response to your comment…if you look around a little here on the blog you’ll see that I’m not comfortable with the usual constructs of Trinitarian theology either. Those passages you called out where Jesus didn’t know what the Father knows…if you don’t try to squeeze them into the extrabiblical Trinitarian mold, you can instead conclude that Jesus–at least while on earth, but perhaps in eternity past and future too–sees/saw himself as distinct from and other than the Father. I discuss this a bit more in my post Reexamining the Trinity – Jesus. So I guess this at least partly begs the question you pose regarding differing levels of knowledge for different Persons of the Trinity…I respond rather that the notion of the Trinity itself needs more critical examination than it gets.

    Moving on to the question of knowledge…the problem I have with the “both/and” proposition you offer is the fundamental one that I illustrated from Rhoda’s work. Something is only truly open (that is, to free will and choice) if at the present time, either of the possible outcomes (X or not X) have the honest-to-goodness chance of being true. Secondly, if something honestly could be either X or not X at some future time, then it is not knowable a this time, or conversely if it is knowable now (by anyone, including an extratemporal omniscient being), then it is not truly possible that either X or not X could be the future result.

    In other words, if an outcome is known with certainty (by anyone, anywhere, even the extratemporal God), then it is determined. If it is determined, then whoever thinks they might have a choice in the matter, doesn’t, and we might as well all be Calvinists.

    The more I think about this (and I’m truly neither a theologian nor a philosopher), the more convinced I am that the only viable options are strict Calvinism and Open Theism…the in-betweens just don’t work out. And I’m also convinced that if Calvinism is true, then God is not just, all of their protestations notwithstanding. That may seem extreme, but it’s the only formulation that makes sense to me.

    Having said that, I want to reinforce (VERY positively) your offering that God in his wisdom might choose to limit his knowledge in some way. I think this is an important point that too many overlook. I refer to it as God delegating authority. When a superior delegates authority to an inferior, it in no way diminishes the authority of the superior–without whom the inferior has no standing at all. This is the “sovereignty” key that–to me at least–unlocks the puzzle.

  7. Dan Martin Post Author

    Greg, it occurs to me I should make one follow-up point. I don’t dispute that God is omniscient. Problem is with the definition of the term. I use “omniscient” to mean “knows all that there is to know,” while I think some use the term to mean “knows all that we conceive anyone MIGHT know.” These are not equivalent constructs. If the future acts of a free agent are not knowable (because they have yet to happen and so are not settled), then those acts do not fall within the set of “all their is to know.” Hence, omniscience is not compromised.

  8. Greg Leekley

    Thanks Dan. Prior to yesterday I had not heard of this site or debate but I discovered it as a friend of Ben’s after seeing a Facebook link. I know you are pretty invested here and wouldn’t “nail it to the door” so to speak if you hadn’t already come to a pretty concrete conclusion. None the less, I wanted to prompt you to consider that there are other possibilities within the mysteries of God that are not as black and white as we might want them to be and they fall outside the scope of all our experience and ability to fully grasp through reason. It’s not that God is not reasonable but that He is bigger than the both of us and cannot be reduced to a nice and comfortable box on either side. His ways, after all, are not our ways even though we do in fact get glimpses through the glass darkly. I trust that you know that we cannot lean to our own understanding while simultaneously trusting Him with our heart. I’m not trying to be a party foul here but consider a few things based on your last post…

    “In other words, if an outcome is known with certainty (by anyone, anywhere, even the extratemporal God), then it is determined.”

    The further domino in your logic then concludes…

    “And I’m also convinced that if Calvinism is true, then God is not just, all of their protestations notwithstanding.”… “That may seem extreme, but it’s the only formulation that makes sense to me.”

    Three thoughts:
    (1) Paul makes the rhetorical argument very hard in Romans 9 that God IS JUST even IF (Romans 9:14,19,22) it is true (…we may not comprehend it or understand how but we must believe it and I personally trust Paul and his apostolic authority. Notice the language in the three verses and the beginning of verse 22 starting with “What if.” So to begin here it seems we must believe in God’s justice in spite of how it might sit in our not fully informed souls not according to “their (Calvinists) protestations” but the apostle Paul’s. Now I’m saying that IT IS this way, but Paul is saying that EVEN IF IT IS then we still must trust in His justness. Paul wouldn’t have made that argument if he didn’t already know where our thoughts were taking us as you yourself posted very clearly and honestly.
    (2) There are many examples of things being “determined” in scripture. Take Daniel 9:24-27 for its explicit use of even the word twice and how the historical parts of the prophecy played out with dramatic precision. The 9th chapter even begins (Daniel 1:1-2) with the fact that Daniel is noticing that it was 70 years that they were to be in Babylonian captivity having observed the number of the years in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11). These things HAD to happen and were determined, but they wouldn’t have if Israel had taken their sabbatical years as God warned in the Torah. Exactly according to the timetable found in His Word, Jerusalem and the Temple would be rebuilt; the Messiah would come; the Messiah would be killed; the city and temple destroyed; …and the rest I’ll leave to eschatology, but still an issue of trusting in His plan and word versus say some for of “replacement” theology. God’s full redemptive plan is secured ONLY by Him and we have ONLY His covenantal word which includes people, events and timing and no plan “B.”
    (3) These scriptural truths aside, God works mysteriously through free agents and is completely just. So there is a “both/and” concurrence in God’s method’s that we cannot fully grasp this side of the divide. Was the Bible written by God or by man?…Yes…was Jesus God or man…Yes! Can God know the events in advance and still allow freedom and even experience the events in sequence as they unfold sympathetically along side us…Yes! He’s God and nothing is impossible for Him as you believe but here is the thing…that MUST include His ability to pull off the illogical to you just as He did for the world in His first coming.

    Back to a possible point of reconciling the mystery via different points of reference within the echad of God. I suggest this not because the issue needs to be reconciled rather to point out that within our observations of the Open theology scriptural references, we are indeed only referencing at times a part of God’s being. The fact that the echad of our Lord includes even two parts, and not the three that I believe, gives a crack in the door and adds a wrinkle here to consider. On a separate note with regards to the Spirit being capable of bridging knowledge differentials (though we also know from the full council of scripture that the Spirit does not always do so)…
    1 Corinthians 2:10-11
    For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God.

    So regardless of other thoughts on the definition and nature of the Spirit, we are led by scripture to observe a relational and dynamic nature within the Hebrew (not church) notion of the echad of God Himself. If that echad is not mere illusion within scripture (I, by faith, believe that it is real), then we can also now share in that real dynamic even while being subject to some mystery of His sovereignty including His foreknowledge of events played out by willing free agents. That IS a mystery! When we swing too hard in either direction and cherry pick scripture in order to back our personal felt perspective then we will inevitably fall out of the exegetical logic of other parts of scripture. We must accept the fact that we, by faith, worship a God who hides Himself (Isaiah 45:15), but Who has earned the right to be trusted (not that He needed to earn it but He still chose to) and Who I personally believe gets a twinkle in His eye at the question of HOW can it be “Both/And!” as He patiently holds His full revelation until the fullness of time has come. Shalom, Greg

  9. Greg Leekley

    Oops, BIG typo…I meant to say in point 1 regarding Romans 9:22:
    Now I’m NOT saying that IT IS this way, but Paul is saying in verse 22 that EVEN IF IT IS then we still must trust in His justness. Paul wouldn’t have made that argument if he didn’t already know where our thoughts were taking us as you yourself posted very clearly and honestly.

  10. Dan Martin

    Greg, I think we may be talking past each other a little and not seeing that we’re closer in the essentials than might at first appear.

    First on your point about Calvinism, God’s justice, and Romans 9. Note that I said IF Calvinism is true then God is not just. I fully accept (as I believe you clearly do) that God is, in fact, just, and therefore (along with many far more exegetical issues) I conclude that Calvin was wrong. To me the scriptural case against absolute determinism, as well as other points of Calvinist orthodoxy, is quite strong.

    But second, notice that I said “absolute determinism” just now. I do not dispute that God does predict a variety of things in the Bible, and the Daniel references you cite are a good example. However if you go back into my writing on God’s sovereignty, you’ll see that I have stated unambiguously that when God purposes to DO something, his sovereign power and right are such that it will be done. I have never suggested otherwise…what I have suggested is that those places where God has made (through his human interlocutors) an absolute prediction, it was not based so much upon foreknowledge, but upon a specific purpose God intended to fulfill.

    What I have opposed, however, was the notion on one hand, that God specifically purposes everything and therefore determines it all–this would be the Calvinist perspective–or that on the other hand God foreknows certain things that he has left in our camp to do as we choose. It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario. God can choose to accomplish some things (as Biblically he clearly has done) and leave a lot more open to his agents to improvise, which I think is also a Biblically-accurate characterization.

    Is your alternate notion a possibility? Well, if I’m willing to believe (as I do) that Jesus was divine and yet truly saw–and still sees–himself as subordinate to and other than the Father, then I certainly shouldn’t have a problem with your proposition which sounds closer (to me at least) to the classical view of Kenosis. At the very least, I resonate with and affirm your gentle reminder that God is bigger and less-comprehensible than the both of us!

    And this perhaps get to the core of the matter. While I am strongly impelled by the concept of the Open View, and I believe it represents the Biblical account far more faithfully and with far fewer mental gymnastics than the more determinist views (either of the Calvinist or Arminian variety, for that matter), I do not declare any Christian believer outside the pale of God’s grace for disagreeing with me. The reverse is not true, in my experience, of those who hold tightly to the classical creeds.

  11. Dan Martin

    Now I’m NOT saying that IT IS this way, but Paul is saying in verse 22 that EVEN IF IT IS then we still must trust in His justness. Paul wouldn’t have made that argument if he didn’t already know where our thoughts were taking us as you yourself posted very clearly and honestly.

    You’re right, I think that probably is what Paul is saying…though in context he’s saying it about Israel and not Calvinist soteriology. But in either case, I’m not sure I agree with Paul on this point. To be sure, Paul was himself posing a hypothetical (as you acknowledged yourself). Paul’s reasoning seems to me that “even if God does something patently unjust in our view, since God defines justice, it’s our definition that must be wrong.” While in one sense I agree with him, in another I think his hypothetical flies so fully in the face of the character of God represented in the fuller testimony of scripture, that I can’t accept it.

  12. Dan Martin

    …realized I should have clarified my statement about Calvinism two comments back: My judgment is that one of the darkest and most offensive errors in Calvinist doctrine is precisely the fact that it portrays a just God as unjust, and then tells us to just believe us that he’s both the monster that doctrine portrays, and just.

  13. Greg Leekley

    Thanks Dan for laboring with me here given I have only read this thread and am often imprecise in my articulation. I love your transparent nature as it allows a cut to the chase so to speak. We may be talking past one another in one sense but not on perhaps the most critical of points. I guess I am challenging you to trust scripture as His word and not reject it based on what could be a straw man that can only be understood as such outside our realm of current comprehension. In other words, agree with scripture even when it doesn’t sit right and chalk it up to trusting in God with all your heart and leaning not to your own understanding.

    You nailed my concern when you replied the following:
    “…I’m not sure I agree with Paul on this point. …While in one sense I agree with him, in another I think his hypothetical flies so fully in the face of the character of God represented in the fuller testimony of scripture, that I can’t accept it.”

    While I can appreciate not buying fully into classic church doctrine and/or creeds, I am a bit surprised that your “not sure” and then at the end with “I can’t accept it” break with Paul as a true foundational apostle and not a product of man’s church governance legacy. Though Paul’s credentials are enough, Paul begins Romans chapter 9 with “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit…(Romans 9:1).” Your intellectual honesty and character to not need to fit in is to be applauded, but please consider that in this case your left with potentially being willing to respectfully disagree with a Spirit led apostolic message. If here with Paul then where else? It’s not the courage of your convictions or the amount of your faith, but rather the object of your faith that matters most.

    This portion is not a tangential message about Israel but a foundational message of our faith and the pinnacle of God’s promise revealed in these chapters more than anywhere else in scripture. There were no chapter breaks and this is all one continuous promise of God where Paul is seeking to assure gentiles of God’s faithfulness relative to the promise given at the end of Romans 8:37-39 in light of Israel’s current bleak corporate condition apart from the remnant. Romans urgent message in chapters 9-11 like Ephesians 2-3 helps us to understand God’s purpose and plan as it relates to gentiles being graphed into the promises and covenant given to Abraham and Israel and how in the future God’s promises made with show true in spite of what it may look like at that moment to mere human observation.

    That’s faith. Trusting in BOTH what you know in your heart to be true about God’s proven character of love AND the hard parts found in His word by faith. When we one day know Him as we have been known, we will NOT be disappointed but we will ALL no doubt think, oh…I didn’t know…I could not have known…I see now why you didn’t tell me everything then…I wish I’d known or trusted more on your word given what I know fully now. Let the scripture be authoritative for your faith. Just a thought as you evolve and fine-tune your positions.

  14. Dan Martin

    I think you may be reading more into my comments than I intended, Greg, but in part you’re also working without the background of my perspective on Scripture. If you want to do a whole bunch of reading, take a look at my entire series on Biblical Inspiration in the index at the upper-right and it’ll put a lot of things into view for you, I’d think. Paradoxically, perhaps, my perspective is that by truly respecting Scripture as the authority to characterize itself, the entire characterization of our canon as the “word of God” is an extrabiblical and false notion, one that leads to a form of idolatry of the text among far too many Christians.

    But beyond that, I submit it’s no less noble for me to question Paul’s words in the light of the full spirit of Scripture, than it was for the Bereans of Acts 17:11. If they could reality-check Paul’s words (and he was already an apostle then), I think it’s not beyond the pale for you and me.

    Finally, you are absolutely right that the message of Romans is a powerful one of God’s extending grace to include the Gentiles (including you and me) in a promise that had previously been believed by the Jews (inaccurately, if you read the prophets) to be their exclusive domain. That is a great and glorious message.

    You’re right. At the end of the day, God is faithful…and I would add, sovereign. The church may have butchered the meaning of both words over the years, but the truth of them as characteristics of a God we can very much trust, remains. In this, I sense, we both agree.

    Pax Christi!

  15. Greg Leekley

    Ok so I went back and read some of the ancillary topics at play here and LOVE the method of coming at the text with fresh unbiased eyes without the years of doctrine, culture and traditional interpretation. Slowing down the thinking and intentionally letting the text speak exegetically for itself while resisting ALL eisegetical responses is awesome for learning. BTW, please just let me know if this is not the proper forum for this discussion or intent of the blog and I’ll pipe down right away:)

    Two parting thoughts. First, I see Paul’s language rising to the level of your hermeneutic method in terms of are they saying they are speaking for the Lord, etc. If not how would you read Ephesians 1:1 and Ephesians 2:19-22 with special emphasis on verse 21 where the Apostles are the foundation we build upon and are classified as past tense in terms of foundation being laid? One one hand this portion goes against the idea that Apostolic authority as Paul had somehow continuing within the Church, on the other hand it also solidifies the notion that Paul is to be taken with complete authority as if Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The New Covenant would need a Torah of Messiah with His new jurisdiction and provide an authoritative foundation for living as the Torah of Moses did within the Old Covenant scriptures.

    As an aside under this hermeneutic it would relief the idea of the Spirit being optional in the believer as Paul is in the context of saying it is merely his “opinion” in 1Corinthians 7:40 that the girl remain as she is but he then is qualifying that he believes his wisdom on this matter is of the Spirit. In Romans 9 we have no such luxury returning to the core of the topic at hand. In Romans 9:1, Paul who is claiming his authority as an Apostle to each is from Jesus Himself elsewhere is now upping the anti that this very stream of thought is Spirit led. We are faced with a massive up or down vote on Paul and his Apostleship and authority. I believe in his Apostleship and it’s authority through the text being taken at face value and in context.

    Assuming then that Paul’s perspective in Romans 9 is Spirit led then one must assume it is the right perspective for us to rhetorically have in terms of God’s justice. That, I would agree by faith, is the right perspective even while I confess it does not sit right and that fact is the very reason why Paul wrote it as he did.

    Secondly, not to repeat but to repeat with specific focus:)… I see no reason why mere knowledge certain of future events within one element of the triune nature of God has any thing to do with justice even under a non scriptural personal intellectual perspective. I observe you saying that you feel that the case but don’t see the logic. I’m also suggesting that their is mystery still within this topic that render our perspective incomplete and I’ll equipped to pass intellectual judgment. An example of how that could be so on the logic side and not biblical side of the debate would be for one element of the Triune nature of our God to be in the “know” from a perspective outside time and space while another element is exercising sovereign authority according to the will of the Father under your current scriptural observation and pervasive opinion of ALL elements of God which one must observe as an extra-biblical or partial biblical opinion/interpretation.

  16. Greg Leekley

    Auto spellimg is wreaking havoc! Ill equipped not I’ll equipped in the last paragraph is just one that needs correcting:). I’ll try and proof better before pressing submit form here on!

  17. Dan Martin Post Author

    Greg, this is not at all an inappropriate forum, and your discussion…in particular your challenging me on scriptural and brotherly grounds, is welcome. It’s why this forum is here, and I hope you feel welcome to continue.

    I appreciate your kind words regarding my approach. It’s an imperfectly-applied discipline, I admit, but I appreciate your recognition of my attempt.

    I’m in a bit of a hurry this morning so I don’t have the time to give you as in-depth a response as your comment deserves, but let me address a couple quick points. First of all, I think you may be reading too much authority into Paul’s use of the term “apostle” to describe himself. In the original language, ἀπόστολος just means “one who is sent,” often as a messenger or even an ambassador. Take a look at this reference from Liddell Scott for the richer meaning of the word. See also my Mom’s article on the word over at Pioneer’s New Testament. To use the term “Apostle” as Christians have since the second or third century, as a title of authority in the church, or as one who had special, unquestioned canonical authority in doctrinal matters, is a pretty serious category mistake.

    Second to address your extrabiblical logic question, here is the flow of my thought:

    1) If any being, even including your postulated extratemporal person of the Trinity, can foreknow an event with certainty, then that event–as foreknown–is no longer open to question; that is, there is no possibility that it will come to pass as other than foreknown.

    2) No actor or agent is truly free to commit or not to commit an act that is foreknown as in (1). To the extent this is true of one’s choice(s) toward salvation or damnation, then to that precise extent, the person’s salvation or damnation is predestined and not subject to free choice.

    3) Contra Calvin, if anyone is damned to eternal punishment for a situation/choice/series of actions over which he had no control because they were predestined, then that person is being unjustly held to account for things he could not have chosen otherwise.

    4) To the extent that (3) describes God’s behavior, God is unjust.

    5) Since we know that God is just, the situation described above must be false.

    Of course, I believe there are exegetical reasons this is true as well, but that’s the logic.

  18. Greg Leekley

    Thanks Dan. Just two last thoughts to chew on and I’ll let this one alone…really!:)

    First, I am not so much interested in the term “Apostle” as in title and all that might have in terms of definition and precedent. I am referring to Paul’s own description in Ephesians that his teaching is foundational & authoritative from Messiah in a unique sense that can’t be duplicated by others in the future who would be only able to build upon but not edit, amend or replace.

    Secondly, to better separate the issue I have in the first two assumptions in your logic of justice and fairness that if there is foreknowledge no actor is genuinely free. The two issues must be separated in my opinion from a logic standpoint and physics. While I do believe that God is operating both inside and outside of our time and space continuum as we commonly think of it, that common perspective may be skewing your comprehension of “foreknowledge.” If the “I Am” is outside that spectrum there is no “fore” knowledge just “observation” from that unique perch perhaps. Time feels like it’s passing at the same rate at every speed and gravity but we know this is just an illusion. Here is an illustration based on the theory of relativity: Say I board a space ship that has an AP News feed aboard (or even strap a side-car onto a bundle of light photons) and accelerate to the speed of light…as I approach that speed, time slows for me and I watch events on earth pass before my eyes and as I reach light speed, time stops all together and I see the vents on earth in an instant. Now lets say that I can divide myself into two selves while sharing thoughts and information through my one spirit that is not subject to the relative rules within time and space at all. Me on the spaceship would witness everything in the future as now as I see and observe lifetimes of events all at once back on earth; while me on earth would perceive these events stretching slowly over time. The knowledge I have on the spaceship has no effect what-so-ever in terms of the free agents that I am observing on earth in a constant state and only God knows what happens going beyond the speed of light…

    The nearest star to our solar system is 4.5 light years away or 25 trillion miles away. By saying God at some level doesn’t have foreknowledge, I hear you saying that light travels faster throughout the universe than God who cannot keep pace with the physical world He has created and His sovereignty is also now also impaired albeit from a different perspective you are used to debating. It seems then you must separate knowledge from free agency at the very least as you work through the fact that we really are free agents and resist the hard core Calvinism that I myself take issue with in the extreme. When we see light from a star we see what happened real time thousands of years ago but God doesn’t He saw it then and now since He is the I Am.

    I go back to believing His ways are not our ways and God can have “foreknowledge” from your perspective and you still have free agency with Him theoretically merely observing you. He can hold real relationship and answer prayer etc. all at the same time, He is.

  19. Dan Martin

    Greg, I haven’t been ignoring you, but work has kept me too busy to spend the time interacting with your post that it deserves until now. Please don’t take my delay in any way as a lack of interest in your challenges. Taking them in the order you offered them:

    I challenge you to justify your characterization of Paul: “his teaching is foundational & authoritative from Messiah in a unique sense that can’t be duplicated…” I don’t think Paul would agree with that statement. Paul certainly saw himself as guided by the Holy Spirit. I don’t see any evidence in his letters to suggest that he thought he was writing down authoritative statements that were not subject to challenge except in a few very specific cases (e.g. Gal. 1:8). What’s your foundation for this statement in its generality?

    To address your issue of foreknowledge vis-a-vis relativity: understand that the theory of relativity states that it is impossible for any body to achieve the speed of light. One might argue (interestingly, I’ll grant) that since God is light he’s the exception to that law…but to carry on your example, when traveling at the speed of light, you presuppose that it would be possible to observe anything at all. Maybe the lightspeed traveler sees all the events in an instant…but since time was slowing (to him) as he accelerates, maybe he sees absolutely nothing. Time stopping and time appearing as an undifferentiated whole are two extremely different things.

    But the more important logical fallacy–really, a non-sequitur more than a fallacy–is your statement “The knowledge I have on the spaceship has no effect what-so-ever in terms of the free agents that I am observing on earth in a constant state…” Of course the knowledge has no effect on the agent. That isn’t the point. The point is that “knowledge” can only be had about things that are “knowable,” and I contend (in harmony with the explanation of Rhoda I put in my original post) that to be knowable, a thing must first exist. That’s the whole crux of the argument. If God (or anybody else) knows something definitively–even from an extratemporal perspective–then that something is in some sense a settled event that exists immutably in some manner. Any event that is still open to choice and to free will does not yet exist and is therefore not yet knowable even by an omniscient being (for, as I said before, omniscience is simply the knowing of all that is knowable).

    Of course, the other fallacy is the concept that God is extratemporal at all. This is Platonic, not Biblical–Plato reasoned that anything perfect could not be changing, progressing, or improving and therefore to be perfect, God had to be outside of time. On the other hand, in our scripture, God is represented as eternal. Eternality–existence infinite in past and/or future–is not synonymous with extratemporality and it’s an error to conflate the two.

    Finally, while you already know I’m not a classic Trinitarian, I would ask you how the eternal union and fellowship usually considered part of the Triune existence, can possibly work with your proposition of one hypostasis of the Trinity being extratemporal while another exists in time. I’m guessing that doesn’t hold together.

  20. Greg Leekley

    Please also forgive my slow response. I checked for a while and then had stopped and without an alert that there was an update I simply hadn’t gone back in quite a while.

    You wrote: “I challenge you to justify your characterization of Paul: “his teaching is foundational & authoritative from Messiah in a unique sense that can’t be duplicated…”

    I’d point to two portions:
    1 Corinthians 4:1-6 (especially conclusion in verse 6)
    1 Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
    2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.
    3 But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.
    4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.
    5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
    6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn NOT TO EXCEED WHAT IS WRITTEN, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.

    Now in Ephesians 2:19-22 (especially verse 20)
    19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,
    20 having BEEN BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone,
    21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord,
    22 in whom YOU also are BEING BUILT together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

    There are others but I think it important to point out that Paul believed he had uniquely been chosen to be a steward of mysteries not previously comprehended until them as foundational apostles in a past tense to be built upon but not added to.

    Ephesians 3:2-5 (especially here in 5)
    4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand MY INSIGHT into the mystery of Christ,
    5 which in other generations was NOT MADE KNOWN TO THE SONS OF MEN, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;

    Not revealed in the past and now foundational past tense only in its unique nature (Ephesians 2:20) to be built upon but not added to in terms of going beyond or exceed them as stewards of the mysteries for which they took great care in writing knowing they would be judged.

  21. Greg Leekley

    On the fore-knowledge relativity thing, you are right to grant God as an exception as light, to not be bound to the rules of our physical limitations and dimensionality but we are still slightly missing one another here I think.

    The person on the “light” ship can see all time under the gravitational pull and speed of earth in an instant but is observing things by relative position in our future that will EXSIST for us but he is looking at what will exist in our future as past or present tense. The point is that time is relative and knowledge does not in and of itself therefore say anything about effect and therefore there is no difference between me here on earth watching time pass and observing existence and another at light speed observing that same existence. The “exist” part is the same. No different than two different people observing an existing ball thrown on a train at 50 mph. The person on the train sees a slow ball at say 10 mph and the person outside beside the track looking into the train sees a ball moving 60 mph. The same is true for time as it is just as relative.

    We wouldn’t have any issue if it were left right there I think after wrestling long enough. The challenge comes under the scenario of the same person being able to be in two relative positions at once and in communication with themselves faster than speed of light or thought. God is not bound by our limitations of time and space and He can move FASTER across our universe than the mere speed of light, which would take billions of light years. My point is that trying to come down hard on this point is pointless as His ways are not our ways and we must be careful to not lean on our own understanding when dealing with what is clear unknowable mystery. Its like a being in two dimensional land trying to be definitive within that clear limitation about how it works in more than four dimensions when we don’t even know what the dimensions are. What is for us a seemingly irreconcilable choice is from a different perch, at the very least, the possibly of a both/and rather than either/or choice.

  22. Greg Leekley

    One more bible quote on the unique insights Paul was by grace given into the mysteries…
    1 Peter 3:14-16 14
    14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,
    15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you,
    16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, …”

    Interesting that Peter referred to him and his insight this way I thought.

  23. Dan Martin

    Interesting that Peter referred to him and his insight this way I thought.

    Yup. Even the apostle Peter thinks Paul’s hard to understand and easy to twist. Not much has changed in 2k years…lol

    I don’t think attributing “wisdom” to Paul…even “given” wisdom, puts Paul in any particularly authoritative position…particularly the way modern theologians interpret him.

  24. Greg Leekley

    LOL, and as to the other three portions including the Ephesians, where it is unique mystery not made known to the sons of man, and proclaimed “foundation” written not be gone beyond?:)

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