Monday, May 19, 2008

Does God change his mind?

alan rhoda said...

Hi Vic,__Some open theists (e.g., John Sanders) believe that God can and sometimes does literally change his mind in response to creation. Others, such as Greg Boyd and myself, believe that God does exhaustive contingency planning from the beginning. (And given that He can, why wouldn't he?) We would say that what changes in these passages is not literally God's mind or will. Rather, what changes is which of God's original conditional resolutions is applicable to the current situation.

This is a very ironic development. The compromise position of Boyd and Rhoda manages to combine the disadvantages of standard open theism without its putative (albeit specious) advantages.

1.One putative (albeit specious) advantage of open theism is that it supposedly takes the Bible at face value. If, however, Boyd and Rhoda don’t take the stock neotheist prooftexts literally, then their hermeneutical approach has no advantage over the “Platonic” exegesis of Calvinism at this juncture.

They’re still treating these passages as essentially anthropomorphic or anthropopathetic. So there’s no hermeneutical difference.

2.Perhaps they’d say they retain the other putative (albeit specious) advantage of open theism. It’s still “relational.” Dynamic. Responsive. Lots of reciprocity.

But even if you think that’s a theological virtue, it seems to me that this is a charade. For even in open theism, God and man are hardly equal partners in the transaction. Man is very much the junior partner.

What’s the point of God endowing man with libertarian freedom if God has a contingency plan for everything that man may do with his freedom? It’s like Capablanca playing chess with a four-year-old.

It seems to me that open theism lacks the courage of its convictions. It flirts with radical freedom, but it also wants a safety net.

Logically, open theism should embrace deism. If libertarian freedom is all-important, then human beings should be free to make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences. God shouldn’t ride to the rescue. That would spoil the significance of their freedom. Where there’s no genuine risk, there’s no genuine freedom.

Open theism is libertarianism for yuppies. Like rich people who hire companies to kidnap them for the thrill.

3.Ironically, open theism is far more ruthless than Calvinism. In Calvinism, God knows exactly who will be harmed, and why. Also, there’s a sense in which, in Calvinism, there are no innocent victims (although one human being may wrong another).

But in open theism, God doesn’t know in advance what the body-count will be. And there may be a lot of collateral damage along the way.

People turn to Arminianism because they think that Calvinism is callous, then they turn to open theism, which is far more callous than anything you find in Calvinism. Open theism is clumsy and fatalistic.


  1. I'm going to ask something only tangentially related to the topic at hand if I mentioned anthropopathisms. I remember you had mentioned in the combox of an earlier post that you regard references to God's emotions in Scripture as anthropopathic.

    Now, most of the references that I've seen to anthropoathisms in the past have been with regard to God's immutibility. God doesn't actually change His mind, or fly into rages, or become overwhelmed suddenly with grief. God has emotions, but they are constant and unchanging. Now, if I read you correctly, you seem to be saying that the emotions themselves are anthropopathic. Meaning, I suppose that God...doesn't have emotions at all? Or perhaps that His emotions aren't like our emotions? Any clarification would help.

  2. This is not to deny that God may have something analogous to certain human emotions. But some human emotions are grounded in our finitude or fallenness. Our sin. Our hormones. Our embodiedness. Our shortsightedness. Our disappointments and frustrations. Ilness. Loneliness. And so on and so forth.

    It's not possible for an omniscient, omnipotent, incorporeal Being to have these emotions. Other emotions, yes—but not these.