Monday, February 07, 2005

Be wary of Ware-2

iv) If you take divine omnipresence literally, then what, literally does it mean? If God is extended in space, then what is the geometry of God? Is God Euclidean, non-Euclidean, or n-dimensional--a la string theory? Is God fine-grained or coarse-grained? Is his immanent aspect composed of subtle matter--like an ether?

These are not facetious questions. Either you can say what you mean or you can't. If you can't say what you mean-- especially when you purport to be asserting a literal claim--then what you say is meaningless. The words make sense, but the proposition is nonsense.

v) This is not just an abstruse point of philosophy. To define divine immanence in terms of literal extension in space and time is indistinguishable from pantheism.

vi) There are classical models of the Incarnation. At a mundane level, the Incarnation is a datable event--for the world itself supplies a timeframe. But at an extramundane level, there was never a time when the Son of God was not Incarnate. We find both viewpoints in Scripture itself. The Person who "became" flesh (Jn 1:14) is the same Person who was slain "before the foundation of the world" (Rev 13:8).

As Aquinas puts it:
"The statement [that] the Word was made flesh does not indicate any change in the Word, but only in the nature newly assumed into the oneness of the divine person. And the Word was made flesh through a union to flesh. Now a union is a relation. And relations newly said of God with respect to creatures do not imply a change on the side of God, but on the side of the creature relating in a new way to God," Commentary on St. John (Magi Books 1980), 1:86-87.

Now, you may disagree with Aquinas, but one of the problems is that you either choose to ignore or remain ignorant of the position you oppose.

9. In order to establish God's temporal eternality, you cite Ps 90:1-2, saying that "attempts to read this text as teaching 'timeless eternity' fail because of the clear and unmistakable temporal language," 138. By way of reply:

i) Is that it? One solitary prooftext to overthrow the traditional position?

ii) The Psalm itself is full of figurative language: God is compared to a dwelling-place, the origin of the world to a process of birth, the human life-span to a flood, a dream, spring grass, and a watch in the night. So is there some compelling reason to take the temporal language at face value?

iii) The figurative use of a spatial preposition ("before," v2) as a time-marker is a key metaphor. "Before" is literally a spatial preposition, not a temporal preposition.

iv) You yourself, when discussing the eternal degree, resort to temporal language, which you justify by saying that "temporal language is used for the sake of our finite and temporally bound understanding" (120, n.12).

But if you yourself, with the benefit of philosophical tradition which has coined some abstract jargon to express timeless relations, nevertheless find yourself falling back on temporal language to express atemporal relations, then why do you press the wording of Moses on this particular score?

True, Ps 90 is not a prooftext for God's timeless eternality, but by the same token, neither is it a prooftext for his temporal eternality. To expect that degree of technical precision overspecifies the text.

v) If we were trying to prove the timeless eternality of God from Scripture, we wouldn't necessary begin with Ps 90. Rather, we could begin with Gen 1, which opens with an absolute commencement, followed by a timeline that has a first term (day 1). Of necessity, an extramundane Creator falls outside the mundane timeframe he put into effect. And this inference is corroborated by what the NT has to say about the time/eternity divide (1 Cor 2:7; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 1:2; Jas 1:17; Jude 25).

The onus would then be upon the temporalist to prove that an economic relation has to have a retrocausal effect on the prime cause of the economic effect. This is, to say the least, a highly counterintuitive claim. I'm eager to look under the hood in order to see all the turbocharged metaphysical machinery by which you propose to power up that claim.

10. You say that:
"The impact of this conception for understanding the God-human relationship is very significant. We can really embrace the reality that God is with us in every place we are, and in every moment of our lives. The real presence and immanent nearness of God is a precious reality that we can hold dear" (139).

This is yet another orphaned assertion in search of a foster argument. But in what sense is it true?

i) How is the belief that God is in my shampoo and toothpaste, BigMac and soda pop, constitute a "very significant" and "precious reality" that I can "hold dear?"

ii) How is a physical presence which is not a felt presence, but the presence of an invisible and intangible being, a "very significant" and "precious reality" that I can "hold dear?"

iii) I'd submit that what makes the idea of God's "presence" truly significant, dear, and precious to the believer, is not the otiose idea of a physical presence which is indistinguishable from physical absence, but rather, the belief that nothing can ever come between us and God's providential care for his children.

The yearning for a palpable sense of God's presence isn't impious, but premature. There are severe limits to what we can expect to experience here-below. We must patiently await the world to come.

11. You round out this section by asking, "Shall we begrudge God this desire and plan" (139)?

What a tendentious question! It assumes that God has such a desire--which is the very point at issue--further insinuates that the reader tacitly shares this assumption, and can only deny it on pain of begrudging God. If you feel the need to take refuge in such heavy-handed sophistries in order to make your case, then do you really have a case to make?

12. You say that "a number of passages indicate the changelessness of God's essential nature (Ps 102:25-27; Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17)" (140).

In truth, they do no such thing. You've unconsciously smuggled into your prooftexting a disjunction which the verses do not bear out. For none of them affirm an "essential" nature in contradistinction to an "inessential" nature. What they indicate, rather, is the immutability of God's nature, plain and simple.

13. In attacking the doctrine of divine impassibility, you run through a number of traditional arguments (140). But you miss what may be the most important argument of all. And that is because your primary argument against God's impassibility is a powerful argument for his impassibility.

For you repeatedly and emphatically say that God is "affected" by the world he made. But having opened the floodgates, you then rush in to perform preemptive damage-control: "We must avoid thinking that we can affect God either for the better or the worse" (147).

And how can we avoid that? This is a makeshift disclaimer. Once you ascribe emotions to God, and add the further claim that we can make God happy or sad, angry or jealous by the way we act--as, indeed, you do say--then we have enormous power over God. We enjoy emotional leverage with God. God is no longer in control of his emotional life.

If you are going to contend, as you do, that a "real" relationship demands emotional reciprocity, then it's truly a two-way street from start to finish. In making the world, God assumes a risk by putting himself at risk of emotional and mental instability. He ceases to be sovereign over his own character--not to mention the character of the world he made. Instead, he is subject to our emotional exhortion. God is dethroned and imprisoned at one fell stroke.

You offer no supporting argument for your disclaimer. The disclaimer doesn't flow from the inner logic of your position. To the contrary, the leading principle seems to be inherently open-ended.

You say, for example, that the Bible attributes jealousy to God (146). And you think that this attribution describes a "real" emotion in God.

Very well, then. Jealousy is a very erratic and extreme emotion. It can lead to murderous rage, suicidal depression, or both. It can turn the object of love into an object of hate.

So if we are going to take this seriously, as you insist me must, then we cannot count on God to be faithful to us even when we're unfaithful to him. A jealous husband of a faithless wife may divorce his wife or even murder her.

What is your response? To draw an arbitrary line in the sand? To say that we should take these attributions in earnest, but then halt halfway? But this is a line in the sand drawn at low tide.

Now, the traditional answer is quite straightforward. It would treat the ascription as figurative, but raise it to a literal level of abstraction. God uses marital imagery to illustration relationship between the divine and human parties in a covenant covenant because covenant, like a marriage, is an exclusive contract. God's love, like marital love, takes the form of exclusive love, involving exclusive commitment betweenboth parties. This demarcates the nature of covenant fidelity and infidelity.

14. You assume, with little or no argument, that the anthropopathetic ascriptions of the Bible are to be taken at face value. But there are problems with that assumption:

i) Scripture does more than ascribe affective states to God. It goes on to assign these emotions to corresponding body parts (e.g., Isa 30:27-28; Lam 3:33; Hos 11:8).

So it sets up a cause-effect relation between the emotion and its point of origin. In terms of literary analysis, it would be highly artificial to take the effect literally while treating the cause figuratively. Either they are figurative or literal alike.

ii) The Bible doesn't distinguish between theomorphic and anthropomorphic emotions. In Isa 54:6-8, for instance, God depicts his relation to Israel in the classic terms of a jilted lover. Should we therefore ascribe sexual passion to God?

Again, this is not a facetious question. You opened the door to this line of inquiry. Yet you only want to open it a crack. But jealously is an effect having its cause in erotic love. How do you propose to drive a wedge between the two?

15. By putting God on a learning curve, you deny divine omniscience. Among many such statements, you say that,
"Some emotional experiences of God would arise out of his nature only in response to the conditions he meets in this created and fallen world" (148).
"Invoking again the model of the incarnation, we cannot imagine that when God creates the spatiotemporal world and chooses to inhabit all that he made, this has no effect whatsoever on him. Rather, in order for God fully to inhabit the realm of our experience, to live with us as he tells his people over and again through Scripture surely this 'adds' to God what he did not experience apart from the creation of the world" (150).
"Certainly some emotions of God found their first experiential expression only in respect to the created world" (150).
"For God, it requires entering into a new realm of his life and experience" (155).

By way of reply:
i) It will be difficult for you to carry your program to completion without divine body parts, for much of what is distinctive to human experience and our emotional life cannot be captured by a generic category of omnipresence, but is tied to the senses.

There is a way around this. That is to distinguish between a direct knowledge of abstract universals and an indirect knowledge mediated by concrete particulars. God can know the former without taking the latter route--which is a particular mode of knowledge, and not the object of knowledge.

However, this strategy would be compatible with a God who subsists outside of time and space, and therefore undercuts the rationale for your program at the outset.

ii) On the classical model, which you largely ignore, human knowledge is a property-instance of divine knowledge. Hence, there is nothing that man can know that God does not already know, for God was the one who implanted that knowledge in man in the first place.

iii) If you temporize God, then it may well follow that God would be affected by the sensible world which he "enters." So your denial of divine impassibility presupposes your denial of God's timeless eternality. Even if the inference were valid, it is no better than the operating premise.

iv) And even if you temporize God, it doesn't follow that God must await the unfolding of the historical order to feel a certain way about the events. By dint of his foreknowledge alone, God would know in advance everything that happens before it happens.

So why do you insist on this delayed effect? And why do you insist on real-time divine mood swings if, for God, the future is effectively in the past by virtue of his prevision?

v) You fail to distinguish between essential, intrinsic attributes and contingent, extrinsic relations. To revert to my earlier example, "becoming" a grandfather doesn't change anything at all in the subject.

vi) An eternalist need not deny that there may be something analogous to certain human emotions in the Godhead, or that the world furnishes a stage for the manifestation of his moral attributes.

Yet if hardly follows from this that creation entails an act of self-discovery, as though God didn't know of what he was capable until he made the world. Indeed, unless his moral attributes were essential attributes, there would be nothing to contingently exemplify in the world.

You are now guilty of reducing God to the status of a confused adolescent, for whom the creation of the world is a coming-of-age experience through which he must pass in order to achieve a state of emotional maturity.

Speaking for myself, if I really thought for a moment that this is what God was like--why, I might as well be an atheist. Such a "God," which is interchangeable with the Greek pantheon, is a "God" I'd look down on rather than up to. You're welcome to your pimply-faced "God," if you like, but a junior divinity is not my idea of God.

vii) In Scripture, the denial of divine omniscience is a sure mark of infidelity (Ps 10:11-12; 94:7-9; Isa 29:15; Jer 23:23; Ezk 8:12; 9:9).

16. On pp142-43, you could spare yourself and the average reader a good deal of unnecessary confusion by applying the elementary distinction between willing a change and changing one's will.

17. After citing Eph 2:3, you exclaim, "How can we fail to recognize here that a change has taken place in God's disposition toward us" (142).

Well, a good place to start would be by cleaning up your sloppy exegesis. Paul is not stating a temporal transition from wrath to grace. Rather, he is stating a federal transfer from Adam to Christ.

The infinite God is able to keep two ideas in his mind at once. He is able to consider the elect in Adam: to consider what they deserve, due to original sin. "Children of wrath" is an allusion to the Fall. Check the standard commentaries. And he is able to consider the elect in Christ.

Perhaps, though, you would deny this. When you say that God is "disappointed" with us (142), you evidently deny the foreknowledge of God, for God can only be "disappointed" with us if he is taken by surprise.

Indeed, such a "God" is not only near-sighted, but fallible. God can only be "disappointed" with our performance if he had entertained a false expectation that was dashed by sorry experience.

From his side of eternity, a convert to the faith can, of course, point to a "before" and "after" in his existential experience, as he went from unbeliever or nominal believer to true believer.

But it hardly follows that there must be a symmetrical readjustment on God's side of the relation. You often speak as if a "real" relationship must have this retroactive effect. But the force of your the logic is lost on me. Surely I can have a "real" relationship with a pet cat without my sprouting whiskers or retractable claws. I certainly hope so!

18. You say that "his relationality also assures us that he treats us with integrity as persons" (147)? What, exactly, is that politicized phrase supposed to mean? It sounds like the kind of touchy-feely lingo that a liberal activist would use, viz., "to deny the ordination of homosexuals does violence to the integrity of their personhood."

19. You say to the reader, "Imagine, by way of analogy, the perfect human father. Would the perfect human father, because he is perfect, be absolutely unaffected by anything his children said, or felt, or did?" (147).

Of course, the key qualifier here is "human." What makes for a perfect human father does not necessarily make for a perfect divine Father.

As in any theological exemplar/exemplum relation, we must make due allowance for disanalogy as well as analogy. Otherwise, our unbridled extrapolations from a human illustration can quickly degenerate into utter rubbish.

In Scripture, for instance, God also assumes the role of husband. Does that mean that God's spousal role should resemble every woman's sexual fantasy of an ideal mate?

20. Your book on God's Lesser Glory had some really fine material in, although a few of the arguments contained the seeds of error which comes to full flower here. Sad to say, what you present in your sequel is a double-barred heresy, with finite theism on top, and pantheism at bottom.

And in so doing you line up behind open theism and process theology. Yes, I know. You make a strenuous effort to distance yourself from either of those. But it is now apparent that you disclaimers constitute a preemptive throwaway argument to deflect attention away from your evident kinship with open theism and process theology. And it is a great pity that men who ought to know better, such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Albert Mohler, and Ligon Duncan, have fallen for the decoy. Friendship has clouded their judgment.

I don't doubt that you're a good man--a better man than I. Unfortunately, there's a kind of harm that only a good man can do--a a Finney, a Wesley, or a Ware.

****************************

1. It is quite possible that my analysis of Ware is flawed. I hope that you and others will read the book and judge it for yourself.

2. Ware is quite a fine critic of open theism. The problem is when he turns from criticism to a constructive alternative.

3. I think that Ware wants to affirm divine omniscience, but it seems to me that this is in logical tension with some of his other positions. At least, that's how it looks from my end.

4. He seems to agree with some of the methods and assumptions of open theism. He thinks he can salvage divine omniscience despite that. But this exercise is too much like trying to drill holes in a ship and plug them up at the same time. He's taking on water.

5. I think one of Ware's basic problems is that he's simply in over his head. He's a theologian, not a philosopher.

Of course, I can do him one better, for I'm equally unqualified in both fields! :-)

6. But that's not the only source of the problem. It's clear to me, in reading him, that he has a deep emotional investment in the literal immanence of God.

Now, there's a kernal of truth in this error--if you will. It reflects a pious longing which goes all the way back to Moses asking God to show him his glory. This is the perennial appeal of mysticism.

But aside from the incipient pantheism (of literal immanence), it also repristinates the old heresy of an overrealized eschatology, such as Paul had to combat from time to time.

Moving on to your comments:

<< Now, it seems to me that what is common in all of these quotes from Ware, is the repeated stress on divine *experience*. Indeed, it is the single term that ties all of the quotes together. He's probably using that term intentionally. It might be that what Ware is saying is that, although God's *propositional* knowledge is immutable and complete from eternity, his experiences change, but these experiences are not to be construed as knowledge. Knowing that water at 40 degrees is cold, and feeling a cold glass of water, are two different things, and only the former is to be construed as knowledge. If so, then as long as divine omniscience is defined propositionally, all is well. (Anthony Kenny argues something along these lines in _The God of the Philosophers_, I think.) >>

I agree that raw sensation is not an object of knowledge. A feeling has no truth-value. It's an incidental mode of knowledge, not an object of knowledge.

However, you're improving on Ware. That's not Ware's argument.

What's the point of putting God in time and space unless he gains something from the experience which would be unobtainable apart from the experience? If the knowledge of God is sealed off from this experience, then nothing is lost, but nothing is gained.

Yet Ware is opposing the classical view becomes he thinks that something, and something important, is lost in the classical view.

I also don't think that you can put God in time without turning omniscience into a potential infinite, on the A-theory of time, or an actual finite, on the B-theory of time.

<< I think there's something to be said for this inferential argument from disappointment to ignorance. Disappointment has an essentially cognitive background and input that other kinds of experience may not have. So divine omniscience could be at stake here. >>

It could be that this is just a careless choice of words on Ware's part. But in light of everything else he says, I think he must mean what he appears to mean.

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