Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pacifism and open theism

Over the last several weeks I’ve received some form of this question almost every day. In some cases the question is asked rhetorically, as though the very question exposes the absurdity of suggesting we are to love this terroristic group. Other times the question is asked with a pragmatic twist. One person recently said to me: “If everyone just laid down their arms and loved ISIS, America would before long be under their barbaric rule. Is that what you really want?” I assured him that it was not.
To begin, it’s first important to remember that the teaching of Jesus, Paul and the rest of the New Testament about never retaliating and about instead choosing to love, bless, pray for, and do good to our enemies is emphatic, unambiguous, and never once qualified (e.g. Mt 5:21-6, 38-48; Lk 6:27-36; Rom 12:14-21). Indeed, Jesus goes so far as to make our willingness to unconditionally love enemies the pre-condition for being considered a “child of your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:44-5; Lk 6:35-6). While this radical mandate may violate our core intuitions about justified violence, and while it certainly flies in the face of many people’s pragmatic concerns, if we confess Jesus as Lord, I submit that this simply means there must be something amiss with our intuitions and pragmatic concerns. If Jesus is in fact Lord, faithfulness to his teaching and example must trump all other considerations. Otherwise we must face Jesus’ pointed question: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say” (Lk 6:46)?
Second, it’s important to note that the pragmatic concern about what would happen if everyone obeyed Jesus and therefore loved ISIS is a Christendom-type concern, for it presupposes that part of the job of Christians is to run the world. 
- See more at:

That sounds very pious. But does it withstand scrutiny?

i) Boyd rejects the inerrancy of Scripture. So even if we grant his interpretation, why assume the Sermon on the Mount is the teaching of Jesus rather than the teaching of the anonymous redactor who composed Matthew? Given his repudiation of inerrancy Scripture, why not assume Jesus is just a character in the Gospel, for whom the redactor made-up speeches which reflect the views of the redactor rather than the historical Jesus?

It's funny how compartmentalized people like Boyd can be. He acts as if he can reject Biblical inerrancy, but keep everything else in check. As if, having denied Biblical inerrancy, he can go right ahead and prooftext his theology. 

ii) Up to a point, I agree with Boyd that if his interpretation is correct, then Christians are duty-bound to take our lumps. 

iii) His misrepresents the opposing argument. Military opposition to ISIS is not about a "Christendom-type concern." It's not about Christians "running the world." 

Rather, it's about protecting persecuted Christians. It's about self-defense. 

Now, as a pacifist, Boyd rejects that. But my point is that he's burning a straw man. Wanting to protect your loved ones from Muslim terrorists is hardly equivalent to running the world.

iv) There is, though, a deeper problem with Boyd's position. This isn't your grandfather's Anabaptism. This is a synthesis of pacifism and open theism. That's a different animal.

v) Jesus isn't Lord in open theism in the same sense that Jesus is Lord in Calvinism, classical theism, or even classical Arminianism. You can't just swap out one theism, swap in another theism, but leave everything else intact. It's like the Mormon Jesus. 

vI) Suppose, for the sake of argument, that open theism is true. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Jesus taught pacifism. Should we obey Jesus? Should we submit to Jesus?

Before answering that question, let's take a comparison. In Calvinism, God acts in the best long-term interests of his people. He doesn't always protect his people from harm, not because he is unable to, but because, in his inscrutable wisdom, it's sometimes better to let Christians suffer. God can be trusted to care for our ultimate welfare, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. We submit to God because he's trustworthy. He has our best interests at heart. 

vii) Now contrast that with open theism. In open theism, even if God means well, there are many situations in which God can't protect you. He forfeited the ability to protect you when he chose to endow creatures with libertarian freedom. 

But in that event, there are many situations in which God has left us to fend for ourselves. We can't count on God to look out for our wellbeing. God is not in control. He ceded control to the vicissitudes of chance. 

In addition, God doesn't even know what's in our best interests. If you don't know the future, you don't know what's best for you. 

It's like a game of chess. Chess is a series of moves and countermoves. What's the best move? That's not something you know in advance. Your next move depends one what your opponent does. You have to wait and see what move he makes. Only then are you in a position to judge the best move to counter the his move. The next move depends on the last move. The best move in relation to the last move. 

The God of open theism doesn't know if Ted Bundy will escape. He doesn't know what free creatures intend to do before they themselves intend to do it. In freewill theism, our intentions are not the causal result of prior mental states. 

Even if he knows that Bundy is planning to escape, he doesn't know if that will succeed. For the success of Bundy's plan depends on the failure of other free agents (e.g. prison guards). And that's unpredictable.

Even if Bundy escapes, God doesn't know what Bundy will do next unless Bundy knows what he will do next. God doesn't know if, when, where, or who Bundy will murder next. 

But in that event, why should we obey God? Why should we obey a God who can't protect us? Who doesn't know what's best for us?

If open theism is true, then God has put us in a situation where we can't rely on him. He's essentially undependable. At best, he means well. But that's ignorant and ineffectual. God can't be trusted to do right by us. 

We are vulnerable. God is not. To be blunt, the God of open theism doesn't have the right to tell us to disarm. He can't protect us. And he doesn't know ahead of time if the unforeseeable outcome will turn out for our good. And after the fact, it's too late. He cut us adrift. 

viii) This isn't like Arminians who say the God of Calvinism is unworthy of our worship. I'm not judging open theism by my own standards. Rather, I'm taking the yardstick which open theism hands me, and returning the favor. Measuring open theism by its own yardstick. 


  1. As in your other post Steve, I agree for the most part. But I'm still trying to wrap my head around this argument that God's knowing what is best for someone is only possible if certain things happen. For me the logic doesn't follow. It seems to me God may know what move, in a game of chess, is best, even for his opponent. But simply because his opponent chooses the 2nd best move, does that mean God could not know what would have been the best possible move?

    1. What is best in any particular situation depends on the situation. You can't prepare for something you can't anticipate.

      You're confusing abstract knowledge with concrete knowledge. God knowing what *would* be best in a hypothetical situation isn't helpful unless the hypothetical situation happens to correspond to reality.

      A doctor can't know what is best for his patient without an accurate diagnosis. A doctor knows how to treat many *possible* illnesses. But that's useless in treating a patient unless he also knows what the actual illness is. The treatment for cancer isn't the treatment for pneumonia. Knowing all the best treatments for every disease won't cure his patient absent knowing what's wrong with his patient.

    2. In Calvinism exactly what happens has to be best. In open theism exactly what happens can be best, less good, or the worst. In the world of sin that we live in I chose open theism.

  2. Sorry, let me also add that I find it perplexing that hard lined pacifists quote the "love your enemies" passages as if it means in every possible situation including self-defense or defense of others. An evil man may hold children hostages and dealing with him may be the only way to show love to the children. If I show him love, how do I love the children when he guns them down? It's a catch 22. I don't think Jesus was speaking in such a broad sense that it means taking out a terrorist of this sort is unloving. It's not like you can't wait to kill the guy for the sake of arbitrary hatred. We might hate his actions and have to act harshly in order to love those children. I don't get extreme pacifism.