Friday, October 19, 2007

Theological freefall

Filed under: From the Fathers — P. Andrew Sandlin

I would add that the classical conception of God is flawed by the same factor. Pinnock, Nash et al. have shown beyond doubt that the ideas of an impassible, static, timeless deity are pagan (Hellenic) to the core.

Whoever this god is (and snatches of him are found no less in the Westminster Confession than in Rome), He is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ — the God who covenants with His people, risks His love, changes His mind, gets mad, grieves over betrayal, sends lying spirits, tempts Satan to tempt His faithful ones, drowns nearly an entire race, calls things that are not as though they are.

Both Open Theism and classical (pagan) theology proper postulate a false god.

1.I’m beginning to think that neotheism (i.e. open theism) is the Gnosticism of our time. Gnosticism was more than a heresy: it was a heretical hermeneutic, and therein lay its power.

If you mount a full frontal assault on the inspiration and authority of Scripture, Christians will get their back up. Tactically speaking, the shrewder way to undermine the Christian faith is not to deny Scripture, but to reinterpret Scripture.

2.Neotheism is appealing to a lot of evangelicals in part because it plays to the “plain sense” of Scripture, as over against those “scholastic” or “Hellenistic” categories. But I have several problems with this facile appeal:

i) Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye also appeal to the “plain sense” of Scripture. But Vern Poythress has done a good job of exposing the ambiguities and superficialities of this appeal. What it most often means is that the modern reader simply swaps in a modern meaning, based on his own cultural frame of reference.

ii) I don’t think that neotheism knows its way around narrative theology. Narrative theology is like a musical composition. You have to hear an entire piece of music from beginning to end to know where it’s going. Narrative theology moves is cycles, where the reader must judge what was said before by the complete narrative arc. Neotheism isolates individual verses without viewing the whole story in retrospect.

In a sense, narrative theology moves on two different planes. There’s the experience of the human participant, moving into the future. From the eye-level perspective of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, or David (to take a few examples), it looks as though events are spiraling out of control. God makes a promise, but then the beneficiary is exposed to a series of setbacks which seem to derail the promise.

But from the God’s-eye viewpoint the omniscient narrator, this zigzag pattern is the very process by which the appointed end is being realized. God’s sovereign orchestration of events is accentuated by what prematurely appears to be one reversal after another.

iii) Scripture also ascribes to God a number of attributes which are inconsistent with neotheism.

iv) Finally, Scripture is self-aware of the distinction between literal God-talk and anthropomorphic idioms (e.g. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29).

3.The fact that Sandlin is taking his cue from the likes of Pinnock is pretty incriminating. Pinnock is a militant open theist as well as a blasphemous annihilationist who is also making overtures to Mormonism.

And what does Pinnock actually know about Greek philosophy? Is he another A. H. Armstrong or W. K. C. Guthrie?

Even if, for the sake of argument, Classical Christian theism is “Hellenistic to the core,” Sandlin and Pinnock replace Greek philosophical theology with Classical Greek mythology. Their God is a petulant and omnipotent man-child, like Gen. Trelane in the Squire of Gothos.

As to Nash, I think he was wrong on the subject of divine eternality, but as I recall, he didn’t begin to draw all the conclusions from his version of divine eternality (as everlasting rather than timeless) that Sandlin is doing, so it’s deceptive to invoke Nash at this point.

4.Then you have Sandlin’s hackneyed caricature of Classical Christian theism. but Classical Christian theism doesn’t maintain that God is “static”, as if God were a do-nothing. To the contrary, God is clearly an agent in Classical Christian theism. Is Sandlin trying to deceive his readers?

5.Then you also have him jumble together a number of a diverse propositions, as if you must either affirm them in toto or deny them in toto. But Classical Christian theism doesn’t deny that God is a God who covenants with his people, dispatches lying spirits, allows Satan to test Job, sends the flood, or calls things that are not as though they are.

Where does Sandlin come up with the idea that these actions are incompatible with a timeless, impassible God? Is he trying to deceive the reader, or is he really that theologically ignorant and muddleheaded?

6.On the other hand, Classical Christian theism and/or Reformed theism do, in fact, deny that God literally risks His love, changes His mind, gets mad, grieves over betrayal. That is to their credit, and not their discredit.

Sandlin’s litany is textbook open theism. Sandlin says that open theism postulates a false God, but he himself is endorsing open theism, both in substance and theological method. He’s filtering Scripture through the same interpretive grid, as a result of which he’s arriving at neotheistic conclusions respecting the nature of God.

7.Let’s stipulate to these assumptions for the sake of argument. In sending the flood, God isn’t putting himself at risk. God is not a victim of the flood. God is not a casualty of the flood. It’s human beings who assume all the risk. God is putting them in harm’s way. They are the injured party.

So, even on neotheist assumptions, God is not at all like a suitor who takes a risk in courting a woman who may spurn his affections. To the contrary, it’s the human parties who are endangered in this transaction. They are the fatalities.
How is God risking his love? Didn’t he know the outcome?

Is Sandlin suggesting that God is codependent on human affection? Is heaven a celestial soap opera?

8.What does Sandlin literally mean when he says that God changes his mind or gets angry? To get angry implies that you are angry some of the time, but not all of the time. Sometimes you’re angry, and sometimes your not.

Why would God get mad? Doesn’t he know the future? Was he caught off guard? If he could see it coming, why did he lose his temper?

Does Sandlin seriously think that God flies into a rage? Does he suppose that God drowned the human race in a fit of pique, then changed his mind the day after—like a drunk who slept off one martini too many. “Sorry, fellas, I didn’t mean to drown you all. It was the drink talking. On second thought, if I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t send the flood, but it’s too late now to undo all the damage.”

Does Sandlin imagine that God’s emotional equilibrium is at the mercy of sinners? We can jerk him around and push his buttons? Does Sandlin think we have that kind of control over God? We can make him laugh or cry on cue? What kind of God does Sandlin believe in?

9.Just as immutability doesn’t mean that God is a do-nothing, impassibility doesn’t mean that God is uncaring. But God is caring on his own terms. He isn’t subject to outside forces. We’re in no position to yank his chain.

There’s no reason to deny that God has something analogous to certain human emotions, but we must also make allowance for the difference between God and man. He has certain timeless attitudes and dispositions. He approves of justice and disapproves of injustice.

10.Assuming that Sandlin is a church officer in a Reformed denomination, he should be subjected to church discipline, and perhaps defrocked.


  1. One thing that's always confused me about divine immutibility, along with God's timelessness is the concept of God's wrath. We know it exists (e.g., Rom 1:18), but we'd have to assume it exists after the glorification as well. But what's there to be wrathful about once sin is out of the picture. It's rather a simplistic objection though, and I'm sure there's something I'm overlooking.

  2. There's no shift in God's mind, but he can view us from more than one conceivable angle. He can view sinners in terms of what they deserve, in and of themselves—outside of Christ—but he can also view them in union with Christ. He can see us in more than one possible world at a time (as it were).

    Indeed, both perspectives are required. It's only because we are damnable sinners that God can elect us with a view to redemption.

  3. Steve's point is good. There are two perspectives. God says he "hates all those who work iniquity." Ps. 5:5 "you hate all those who work iniquity." But, what else do we find? Ephesians 2:4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved."

    You see this idea in 1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." But we were workers of iniquity, so he also hated us.

  4. Who are you to question what Clark Pinnock knows? He's brilliant and you aren't.

    Pinnock started where you are and saw truth. I doubt you ever will.

  5. And Pinnock's work is readable. I pretty well give up on yours.

  6. Randy McRoberts said...
    And Pinnock's work is readable. I pretty well give up on yours.


    The Dick & Jane books are very readable too. You might wish to get your feet wet with"Fun with Dick and Jane" before you venture into deeper literary waters. We wouldn't want you to drown in polysyllabic ponds. And please avoid dependent clauses unless a lifeguard is on duty.

  7. Hays,
    Are you Nuts? This is eisegesis galore: you are reading into words stuff that is just not there, nor intimated. Now this may serve some agenda you have or what not, but frankly this is a shoddy attempt at engagement. At least complain about something that someone is actually saying!

  8. Ryan said:
    Are you Nuts? This is eisegesis galore: you are reading into words stuff that is just not there, nor intimated. Now this may serve some agenda you have or what not, but frankly this is a shoddy attempt at engagement. At least complain about something that someone is actually saying!


    Now that you've favored us with your assertion, where is your supporting argument?