Sunday, 29 March 2015

Open theism and you and me

Hi everyone - for anyone who has seen episode 80 of Trinities - this has lead me to two quite different types of objection.

Firstly, I did not even know about the open theism objection to classic predestination theologies before, and I warmed to it. I had never really taken time to question if there was any impact on our freedom to choose if God had perfect fore-knowledge of all the choices we would make, that the future was already completely "settled" in all its details. Discussing with my good friend D., I realised there were other unwanted implications too:

1. The God who expresses emotions seems to be genuinely responding to events as they unfold. There does not seem either to be any pretence there nor any sense of "going through the motions" to get to the perfectly pre-planned outcomes.

2. A perfect fore-knowledge of every single event from big to small requires no knowledge of all the alternative possibilities. (The open theist has grounds to claim that their God is actually larger - he has introduced choice and freedom outside of Himself, therefore there are things that He cannot perfectly foreknow until we make those choices. He is also remaining free to interact and intervene and inspire and draw toward Himself, which requires an infinitely more knowledgeable God than the Calvinist one)

Secondly, I have a counter-objection! The example  Dale Tuggy is exploring here concerns his possibility to lie tomorrow, that is to say, to sin. If God's foreknowledge is limited to the mega-events of creation and redemption history, or the "broad brushstrokes", where can little 'ol you and me fit in? In what sense was I not settled in advance? I am not referring to the 35-year-old John today, I am referring to the embryo 36 years ago. In order for any of us to come about, to be born, to exist today, is so incredibly unlikely that it begs the adjective "miraculous". If anything had turned out slightly differently (I already covered good from evil in this previous post), then I simply wouldn't be. If either of my parents (or grandparents...) had made the slightest different choice, then biologically I wouldn't be! The following does not seem to be simultaneously true:
- God leaves some things (like human choices) "open"
- God planned you.

This counter-objection becomes even stronger when we look at the rather horrid example of a baby born through rape or adultery. Theological mysteries surround this for both Calvinist and Open Theist perspectives. But since we are looking at Open Theist problems, how can God not know whether someone would choose to sin in this way and yet perfectly plan the resulting individual?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Acts 2 and the quest for the tri-personal God

My survey is making good progress and the results continue to intrigue me. It generally makes little sense revealing them as I go along as the  whole point is to try and appraise the big picture. However, as an exception, this evening, I want to peek into Acts Chapter 2, which many believers like me have heard a lot. This is mainstream, often-visited Scripture, if you know what I mean.

Remember that my project is to identify texts that seem to pave the way for something that will culminate in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan creed of 381, where the Father, Son and Spirit are all equally God, consubstantial and co-eternal. Where I get (or others have gotten) any whiff of that possibility, the passage gets noted according to a whole bunch of different criteria. I call these texts "suggestive". On the other hand, where I come across those kinds of texts that seem very alien to those fourth century descriptions of God, I note those also; I call these "dissuasive". Acts 2 is one of the most dissuasive chapters of the New Testament I have come across thus far. Here it is with my bolding:

22‘Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. ....

30But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear....

36‘Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’

This is a highly dissuasive passage. I have a feeling Acts is going to be quite a dissuasive book actually.

[FYI I am no longer working on the on-line version of my survey as it is considerably slower than using offline tools, apologies]

Monday, 23 March 2015

Jesus with his prophetic hat on

When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near....
At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 

Luke 21:27&33

Ready for some me-controversy? Many scholars these days see judgements and warnings like these to be specifically related to the fall of Jerusalem in 68. See v20 for example: When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies...

When Jesus says "at THAT time", it might feel familiar to you. In the sense Old-Testament-prophetic familiar. We already know that at least on Earth, Jesus did not have perfect knowledge, and neither did the prophets, God spokespersons. They would sometimes telescope several events together, focusing more on grand-scale events. Could that be what is happening here? How else can we understand that "that"?

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Vessels prepared for destruction

This week's Trinities episode is a response to Calvinistic / Augustinian theology, which is very strong on the sovereignty of God, predestination, etc.

Really interesting.

Here are the key verses used by the case-in-point spokesperson, John Piper, with some key words put in bold for some comments a bit later:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory...?

Romans 9:22-23, ESV.

The context of Romans 9 is, of course, the issue of Israel and the gentiles, and the big question of who are the chosen people of God?

The Piper interpretation is not the only one, I hope to give my opinion of the alternative in a separate post. For the record, one of my favourite Christian books I have ever read, was the Pleasures of God, a great Piper read. I love the sense of sovereignty in his writings, the way he draws out from Scripture that God is ultimately in charge. It is reassuring.

This episode from Dale Tuggy's viewpoint recontextualises this sense of reassurance, for it is reassuring for us who do believe - we were chosen for grace. For those that do not, the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, the situation is much less clear. The predestination version is that God knew and planned the whole deal. Any perceived freedom and decision-making that we might experience is totally within those immovable confines.

The conclusion of Piper's reasoning is that we cannot fully understand and glorify God for the depths and wonder of this grace of selection if we cannot witness or understand the horrendous, yet deserved, eternal torment of those predestined to receive it. This is not my view.

Couple of quick notes, some of which is from memory from what I recall of Fudge's the Fire that Consumes:

  • The question of God's patience is utterly mysterious to me. The God who transcends time and space should not experience the pain of waiting unless somehow under the laws of that universe. This raises the question again of God - not just the Son - having entered into this world to interact with us in meaningful ways.
  • Is it really so clear that vessels must always refer to individual human beings? Yes, individuals are mentioned, such as Pharaoh, and Isaac. But these are already ancient forefathers at the time of writing, representing nations today. Scripture is pretty big on the whole issue of mediation. Much ink has been spilled on the dia role of Christ (e.g. through whom all things were created). A vessel is also a way of transiting something, like coal, potatoes, and wrath or grace. A fuller answer requires a word study on the Greek word for "vessel".
  • This very example is undoubtedly one of the annihilationists' classics, because it includes the word "destruction". That is to say, that the judgement to be experienced by those were not predestined to receive the grace of God in Christ, is not one of eternal torment, but of judgement and then total destruction, ultimate death. The number of eternal torment passages and total destruction passages are roughly equal in number in the Bible.
So where is my and your freedom to move, think and have our being within this pre-destination framework? Where is responsibility? Where is the choice to obey or the need to teach obedience? Where is the joy of a planned and unilaterally planned relationship? I am reminded once again of Rob Bell's flat tyre image in his opening chapter of Love Wins.

Do these questions trouble God? Nothing troubles him really, right? Is he fully conscious and aware of all that happened, is happening and will happen? I think the Scriptures say so. Does he plan it all down to the last detail? I think that will be the point of the other post I mentioned.

Good night!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

"Jésus, sois le centre"

Episode 78 of the Trinities podcast has given me a new glimpse about what may have happened to the trinity in modern charismatic churches, and also expressed in the worship these churches compose and practice.
Chad McIntosh, the new Trinities collaborator, has this rather out-there idea, which I am beginning to think is actually making some very real sense to me, about God as a person (his main work that he will publish, and I will definitely get, is called "God of the Groups"). His point is that really a lot of church faith, in practice, works itself out more as God is a person (more than "he" is three persons). And McIntosh's point is that this is entirely possible because there are intrinsic persons, and functional persons.
Intrinsic persons, as we would usually imagine them, including people who have absolutely no brain activity on life-support, etc.
Functional persons, e.g. a group spoken of as a person, such as a general ("Grant") who sent his platoon out against the enemy, but McIntosh says "it would make sense to say that "Grant had a bad day"" referring to the squad that got annihilated.
Where I felt McIntosh needed to be a little tighter I felt was on the Personhood criteria, morally responsible, free will, self-conscious (how is a foetus self-conscious?). But, basically, he argues that some non-intrinsic persons, like groups, robots too, could satisfy some of the key personhood criteria, in a way that (both Tuggy and McIntosh clarify this) is non-cumulative with intrinsic persons.
So, as some know, I have been finding the worship and focus of charismatic church to be highly Jesus-focussed at the expense of the Father (or rather Christians' access to the Father) in particular, even though he is the one that is most clearly and explicitly identified in the New Testament as God, and even by Jesus, in John's own memory (e.g. "I am ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God"). I definitely do not think that this is something unique to my church! For a time I had been thinking that what was essentially being practiced was a kind of functional unitarianism; the trinity collapsed into Jesus, the second person. Yes we profess when pushed the Trinitarian position, with some occasional Fatherhood of God teaching and worship, but basically, Jésus, sois le centre. (I am part of a French charismatic church in Marseille; this morning we sang about "Jesus' house" a.k.a my Father's house has many rooms, Jesus' paternity, etc, etc, etc.)
BUT, what I am now wondering, is with McIntosh's view of a group being identifiable as a person, if actually what might have happened is that we have named the group of co-eternal co-equal consubstantial persons, "Jesus", in charismatic circles I mean. This would be me trying to recognise a truer and firmer triune focus to who we are and what we believe as a charismatic evangelical church, and our attempt to live that out in a way that human beings are kind of pre-programmed to have relationships, that persons around me are persons and that the one God - for us to have a relationship with him - must be a person.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015


Recently monogenes (only begotten) came to my attention, and I am so glad that it has. For one thing, it opened a new blue sub-category (blue in my study is a colour code that signifies that a passage could be suggestive of something that later could be interpreted according to a Triune-God perspective, from the late fourth century onward), just for these special mentions by John.

Really interesting what came out of the study. I learned the following:
  • Only John uses this only-begotten language of Jesus.
  • Of the other New Testament references, we note
    • It's boys and girls
    • There is always a high risk of death or death has already come to the monogenes.
    • There is a specific reference by the Hebrews writer to Isaac, the monogenes of Abraham (even though there was an older half-brother)
  • In all they number 9.
The problem that Trinitarians must still face is the "of" that is required, at least in English, between "only begotten [son]" and "God": only begotten of God. What would have been really ideal for Trinitarian theology, I think, would have been if the authors had used the preposition "in" - the only begotten son in God. Jurgen Moltmann advocates this solution in a similar problem, The Crucified God. Here Moltmann says that it is more accurate to talk not so much of the death of God as of the death in God.

Returning to monogenes and John, I am now wondering if John, writing later, used this expression specifically with the sacrifice story in Genesis 22 in mind. I was initially a little disappointed to note, I must admit, that the Septuagint (LXX) Greek uses a different expression than monogenes.

"τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν ὃν ἠγάπησας"

But check out what it means: your beloved son you love (the beloved son of you that you love). That's a lot of love! There is nothing here explicitly "mono", but it is carried by singular definite articles and this "love focus". So the idea remains very consistent between monogenes and τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν. We could legitimately wonder, as John taught his church group/disciples, did he discover the strong parallels in the Isaac story, teach that and subsequently adopt this into a working title for Jesus? Or was the monogenes description sufficiently circulated in the story-telling of the Isaac history in first century Judaism and Christianity, as evidenced by Hebrews, to be prepared for John in a similar way to logos (see Philo)? Really interestingly, Philo, who shows scant if any evidence of knowledge of the events of Jesus in Palestine and Jerusalem, already equates God's utterance (logos) with being his first-born son. I'm checking up on this.

In any case, this reflection on the context of death, breaking or abandon of one so unbelievably precious was powerfully reinforced for five of us this evening in a small house group setting. So nice when theology finds its way out into people's lives! We realised that you simply cannot realise how precious something is to you without some kind of knowledge of how terrible it would be to lose it.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Quirinius, Governor of Syria - Luke 2 - and difficult alignment with Matthew

In Luke 2, I recently discovered a slight problem. I would prefer these kinds of issues were not present in the Bible I love, please let me assure you! But pretending they are not there when we have the wisdom and maturity needed - especially if we want to be ready for other's questions - is not wise.

So what is the problem?

Luke says this at the opening of Chapter 2:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 

There is nothing symbolic here, this is just Luke providing us historical information to help frame what is to come in the account of Jesus (and possibly increase the historical soundness of that account too). So what does Luke say about King Herod? A heck of a lot less than Matthew. King Herod gets a single mention in Chapter 1:5.

(1:5) Herod + "After this" (v24, presumably not too long after?) + five months seclusion for Elizabeth + 3 months of Mary staying with Elizabeth. Then, after John's birth and naming, v80 states:

And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.

Chapter 2 begins as already mentioned above (In those days...). Since 1:80 seems to take us right up to John's public ministry, it seems safer to consider the "In those days" to go back, although how far back? The issue we have is Herod the Great's reign ended a decade earlier than Quirinius (full name is Publius Sulpicius Quirinius), who was actually taking over from Herod Archelaus, Herod the Great's (kind of) successor.

Apparently, most scholars have chosen to go with Luke getting his dates mixed up, making a small mistake here. Looking just at Luke, I wondered why this was the only option. Luke is writing I guess sixty years later and consulting various sources is doing the best he can to situate the significant chronology of events. Why could it not be that "In those days" referred to a decade or so after John's birth, during his childhood, John being an older cousin by ten years would work fine, right? That would also allow Herod (the Great) to be firmly out of the picture (i.e. "dead", Matthew 2:19).

Unfortunately for this little idea of mine, that does not go down too well for scholars trying to reconcile the Luke account with the Matthew account, which has Herod everywhere, right up to Jesus being at least one (assuming the 2-year old genocide ruling included a safety margin for big babies), probably older (plus the time waiting in Egypt for Herod to die). And according to Luke, Quirinius was already appointed governor of Syria by Augustus. That is the time-marker for the census preceding Jesus' birth.

So Matthew combined with Luke gives Herod as local ruler and Quirinius as governor of Syria as contemporaries.

So, if apologetics is your forté, I would be very interested to know what a good response is to this apparent discrepancy. Thanks!

UPDATE: Some technical responses can be found here, although they are more focussed on Luke than Matthew-Luke consistency.