In my first response to Roger Olson,1 I treated him as an Arminian. And that's because he calls himself an Arminian. However, he's also expressed his sympathies with open theism. But open theism is a throwback to Socinianism.
So I'll now assume, whether in fact or for the sake of argument, that Olson is an open theist, and evaluate his critique of the Reformed theodicy in light of that position. Let's begin with a few definitions.
I. The Theological Options
i) God foreknows and foreordains the future; indeed, that God foreknows the future because he foreordained the future.
ii) Calvinism affirms that God is immutable and infallible.
iii) Traditionally, Calvinism affirms that God is impassible. He isn't affected by external events, and he isn't subject to the same range of emotions that we are.2
iv) Traditionally, Calvinism recognizes that some Scriptural depictions of God are anthropomorphic. Indeed, Scripture itself draws this distinction (e.g. Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:19).
i) God foreknows the future, but he doesn't foreordain the future. It also affirms conditional election, contingent on foreseen faith.
In Arminianism, God cannot foreordain the future because his predestination would nullify libertarian freewill, and Arminian theology prioritizes libertarian freewill.
i) Socinianism or open theism denies that God even foreknows the future.
God knows all possible futures, but he doesn't know which future will eventuate. God must ask human beings what they're going to do or test them to find out what they will do. He is dependent on us for some of his information.
In open theism, God cannot foreknow the future because his prescience would nullify libertarian freedom, and open theism prioritizes libertarian freedom. Open theism takes the Arminian commitment to libertarian freewill to its logical extreme.
ii) Because open theism denies that God is omniscient (since he's ignorant of the future), God is fallible. Indeed, fallibility is the logical consequence of ignorance.3
God entertains false expectations about the future. God is genuinely surprised by the way some things turn out. God makes mistakes, which leads to divine regret for his shortsighted actions.
iii) Open theism denies that God is immutable. Rather, God often changes his mind in light of unforeseen circumstances.
iv) Open theism denies that God is impassible. God can be affected by external events. God not only knows what we feel, but he feels what we feel.
v) Open theism rejects the traditional, anthropomorphic interpretation of many passages in Scripture.
II. The Problem of Evil
Let's also define some components in the problem of evil.
A. There is a de jure aspect to the problem of evil:
1.According to the argument from evil, evil disproves the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God if there is gratuitous evil in the world—gratuitous because it serves no purpose which would justify its occurrence.
2.The problem of evil also distinguishes between moral evil and natural evil.
A natural evil is not inherently evil. It may be a natural good. But it can be an evil to the victim if you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
3.A theodicy also has a twofold aspect:
i) To show that man is culpable for evil.
ii) To show that God is inculpable for evil.
B. There is a de facto aspect to the problem of evil.
Will good triumph over evil, or will evil triumph over good? Can God keep his promises?
III. The Consequentialist Argument
Let's also say something about the legitimacy and the limitations of a consequentialist argument. Olson is mounting a consequentialist argument against Calvinism. He's arguing that Calvinism is false because it leads to unacceptable consequences respecting our doctrine of God.
1.A consequentialist argument is a good argument if you deduce (by valid inference) an unacceptable conclusion given your opponent's operating premise. If he isn't prepared to carry his own position to its logical extreme, then you've proven your point.
2.A consequentialist argument is a good argument if the logical consequences of your opponent's position lead to global scepticism. In that event, his position is self-refuting.
3.A consequentialist argument is a good argument if you are answering your opponent on his own grounds. If he is mounting a consequentialist argument, then it's fair game to counter his argument with a consequentialist argument to the contrary.
4.Conversely, it is question-begging to merely rattle off some supposedly disagreeable consequences of your opponent's position and then exclaim that his position is wrong. To merely wag an accusatory finger at something you disapprove of is no way to disprove your opponent's position.
Now, let's evaluate his alternative theodicy under the assumption that Olson is an open theist. There is, of course, some overlap between Arminianism and Socinianism, but there are also some differences which impact their respective theodicean advantages or disadvantages.
What about God's character? Is God, then, the author of evil? Most Calvinists don't want to say it. But logic seems to demand it. If God plans something and renders it certain, how is he not culpable for it? Here is where things get murky.Keep in mind that I've already responded to some of these allegations in my previous reply. I'm not going to repeat myself.
Some Calvinists will say he's not guilty because he has a good intention for the event -- to bring good out of it, but the Bible expressly forbids doing evil for the sake of good.
Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?
That seems more like the God of the Bible than the all-determining deity of Calvinism.
In this world, because of our ignorance and sinfulness, really bad things sometimes happen and people do really evil and wicked things. Not because God secretly plans and prods them, but because God has said to fallen, sinful people, "OK, not my will then, but thine be done -- for now."
And God says, "Pray because sometimes I can intervene to stop innocent suffering when people pray; that's one of my self-limitations. I don't want to do it all myself; I want your involvement and partnership in making this a better world."
It's a different picture of God than most conservative Christians grew up with, but it's the only one (so far as I can tell) that relieves God of responsibility for sin and evil and disaster and calamity.
The God of Calvinism scares me; I'm not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you've come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.4
1.How does open theism avoid saying that God is the "author of evil"? According to open theism, God permits things to happen without foreseeing the consequences. But isn't that, of itself, reckless and culpable? Isn't it blameworthy to put others at grave, unnecessary risk? To expose them to the possibility of gratuitous and irreparable harm?
Suppose I have a toddler. Suppose I don't close the bedroom windows before I go bed. It's hot, and I enjoy the cross draft. Suppose, when I wake up in the morning, the toddler is gone. He crawled out the window, wandered away during the night, and drowned in a nearby pond.
Will pleading ignorance of the outcome absolve me of blame? I didn't know that this would happen. Therefore, I'm innocent.
But isn't my ignorance culpable? Isn't that the very thing that implicates me in the death of my child? I should have anticipated that possibility, and taken precautions to childproof the house. Had I taken those elementary, preemptive actions, my child would still be alive.
According to Olson, bad things happen because we don't know any better. And a little child is a paradigm-case of someone who doesn't know any better. That's why little kids need adult supervision. And that's why it's the duty of grown-ups to look out for them. The kids have no sense of danger. And they have a limited ability to defend themselves or save themselves.
Isn't the God of open theism a very callous God? A God who shoves his children into the deep end of the pool and then stands by as they sink or swim.
A God who says to a suicidal teenager, I wish you wouldn't kill yourself. Really, I do. But it's your call. I'd never wrestle you to the ground and pry that gun from your fist, for that would violate the integrity of your unfettered freedom. Not my will, but thine be done. Bang!
Even if open theism doesn't make God the author of evil, it surely makes him the coauthor of evil.
2.Olson says it's wrong to do evil for the sake of good. Of course, that's a malicious caricature of Calvinism, but let's consider the alternative.
According to Olson, God allows evil for no good reason. How is that any improvement over the position he rejects? Assuming, for the same of argument, that it's wrong to co-opt evil as a means to a greater good, isn't it even worse to permit gratuitous evil—evil that serves no good purpose at all?
3.Open theism cannot ensure the triumph of good over evil, for open theism cannot ensure any specific outcome.
i) In open theism, God cannot keep his promises, because God can't make people do what he wants them to do. He can't guarantee that you won't commit apostasy after you get to heaven. After all, you retain your inalienable freedom, do you not?
The fact that, in this life, you decided to freely accept God's offer doesn't commit you to anything for all time. By definition, any decision you make in this life is bound to be pretty immature. Your personal experience is extremely limited. If God is free to change his mind, why shouldn't you be free to change your mind? If God in heaven can entertain regrets, why can't you entertain regrets even after you get to heaven? Including regrets about heaven itself? Eternity is a long time.
ii) And it's not simply that God can't keep his promises. You don't even know that those promises are his promises. In open theism, inspiration depends on the libertarian consent of the sacred author. So God can't guarantee that Matthew or Moses, Isaiah, John, Paul, or Luke (to name a few) were inspired.
4.Olson says he finds it hard to distinguish the God of Calvinism from the devil. Funny, since I'd say the same thing about the God of open theism.
i) According to open theism, God often doesn't know right from wrong. He doesn't know the right thing to do. That's why he regrets some of his decisions. A God who can't tell the difference between right and wrong bears a striking resemblance to the old serpent.
ii) According to open theism, God feels our pain. God changes. We change God. The world has an impact on God's character.
Now, if God can experience regret and disappointment, he can become bitter and cynical. Disappointment can have that effect on people. They become resentful and jaded. Easily or even clinically depressed. Suicidal and homicidal. The gunman who murders his wife and kids, or classmates, or coworkers before shooting himself in the head. The sniper who goes on a shooting spree, killing perfect strangers because he's mad at the world.
What assurance does open theism offer us that God won't get bored with human beings? Decide, on second thought, we're more trouble than we're worth? Decide it was a mistake to make us in the first place, and correct his mistake by wiping us out? Go on his own shooting rampage?
iii) Does God feel whatever we feel? If so, does God share the feelings of a child molester or psychotic killer?
Think of those fictional stories in which a homicide detective tries to get inside the mind of a serial killer in order to predict his next move and intercept him before he kills again. But as he identifies with the killer, in order to see the crime through his eyes, the detective is seduced by evil.
Or take the undercover cop who is corrupting by the lifestyle of the drug lords and Mafiosi he is trying to infiltrate. He started out as an idealistic young rookie, hoping to make the world a better place, but he's become disillusioned over the years. Lost his faith in humanity.
He started out with the best of intentions, but over time he becomes a dirty cop. Over time he mutates into the criminal element he used to police. He begins to perform hits for the Don. He will even murder a fellow policeman who threatens to expose him.
iv) When the Bible says that God is a jealous God, Calvinism construes this in anthropomorphic terms. But open theism eschews that approach.
So what would it mean to say that God is literally jealous? As we all know, jealousy can lurch from love to hate and murderous rage.
If we take the hermeneutical approach of open theism seriously, then God is very unpredictable. He's someone you would like to avoid at all cost—if only you could. Keep at a safe distance—the farther, the better. If you catch him in a bad mood, he'll dismember you like a troubled boy who vivisects the cat next door.
v) According to open theism, if you lack libertarian freedom, then you're no better than a robot? So, is God a libertarian agent? If not, does that make him a robot?
Assuming that God is a libertarian agent, wouldn't that have to include the power of contrary choice—the freedom to choose between good and evil?
The more I think about the God of open theism, the more the image of Damien forms in my mind. You remember Damien, don't you? You know—from The Omen?5
Damien is the Antichrist. The junior Antichrist.
Yet he starts out life as a fairly normal boy except for one thing—he's virtually omnipotent. He doesn't know at first who or what he is. He doesn't know, at first, what he's capable of doing. But when you magnify the mercurial and spiteful and vengeful moods of a child by virtual omnipotence, the path to self-discovery quickly takes a matricidal, fratricidal, homicidal turn.
What assurance can open theism offer us that it's God isn't a grade-school version of Damien, who will grow up some day to be the Antichrist, without a God to keep him in check—because they are now one and the same?
3 Open theism play semantic games with "omniscience," but I've skipping over those sophistries for the moment.
5 I'm referring to the classic version with Lee Remick and Gregory Peck.