Everything is about God, the Living God, one way or another. All good things flow from God; all evil is in opposition to Him. And so this debate too is all about God.
Sam, I am sure you will agree that of the Open View of the future or the Settled View, whichever position truly exalts God, that is the correct view. So the contest is on! And a beautiful contest it is: two men who love the LORD
, seeking to exalt Him above all else!
Does God know our entire future? If He does, I call this the Settled View, then a question arises as to whether God wills for evil to occur, regarding human versus divine responsibility for sin and suffering. Some Settled View proponents say that God has “simple foreknowledge” by which He does not mandate all the future but rather plans His own actions and sees the rest of the future as an observer. Other Settled View proponents say that God not only sees, but also that He has preordained the future. The Open View, alternatively, reports that the future is not settled, and that the responsibility for wickedness thus lies obviously with those in rebellion against God, for cruelties are not required to occur as in the Settled View.
The Settled View, the traditional view of divine exhaustive foreknowledge, holds that God knows everything that will ever happen, eternally, both within the Godhead and without. The Open View teaches that God can change the future. He interacts with the flow of history and changes the outcome of the future as it unfolds by His decisions and actions. Notice that this explanation does not mention human free will. True Openness is based upon God Himself and not upon creaturely free will. Openness exists independent of man’s free will because Openness describes God as He always has been and will be, including throughout eternity past. The Open View cannot be based upon any human factor if in fact it also correctly describes God prior to creation. For Openness holds that the three Persons of the Trinity always had freedom to interact within the Godhead without the constraint of their future being eternally settled. God is at liberty to think something original, to say something different, and to do something new. So at its core, the Openness teaches that God is free. Thus the future is open to God. The LORD
can change the future in ways that Settled View proponents deny, but God is able to do this.
With your indulgence, I will answer three of your four questions in the second round, and below I will answer your second question. SLQ2: How should one determine the presence of anthropomorphisms in the Scripture? Anthropomorphism is a kind of figure of speech, and in theology, that term means attributing to God human characteristics as a way of illustrating some truth. “The LORD
’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save” (Isa. 59:1) does not mean that God has appendages, but that He is capable of providing salvation. So how do we know whether any Bible verse intends a figurative or a more literal meaning? How do we determine whether or not God has arms, or if He can do a new thing? The answer lies in context, that is, in understanding the greater context, found foremost in the nature of God, and secondarily in the overall plot of the story in His revealed Word.
For God in wisdom created and uses language such that words have a range of meaning, and frequently we seriously err if we exaggerate or misconstrue the text simply by taking the words literally or interpreting them solely by their immediate context. Sometimes definitions of words sufficiently convey the meaning of a statement: “There was a wedding in Cana,” (John 2:1). At other times, the meaning comes through the immediate context of the chapter: “the light shines in the darkness,” (John 1:5). Sometimes the entire context of the book is needed to properly understand a phrase: “Follow Me,” (John 21:19). And at other times, the meaning comes through knowing the true nature of God, and the overall message of the entire Bible: “I said, ‘You are gods,’” (John 10:34). Thus if we take Christ’s words here literally, we would exaggerate His point, and reinforce a Mormon-like polytheism.
The word “all” is frequently used as a figure of speech, and when related to God, it is rightly interpreted as literal (meaning without exception) or figurative (meaning most, many or some) based upon God’s actual nature. In the context of our “adoption as sons,” Paul writes that believers are “predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all
things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Yet he also writes that: “God… desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:3-4). If God works “all” things, and desires salvation for “all,” then one of these ALLs must not be literal, but is used as a figure of speech, meaning many
. So we must start by looking at the widest possible context, that is, at the nature of God Himself, to see why the Settled View interprets verses one way, and the Open View another way.
I broadly apply the label Calvinist, after John Calvin, the sixteenth-century French theologian, to Christians who generally hold to a systematic theology which makes much of predestination. Calvinists interpret all
in Ephesians and Timothy according to the Settled View understanding of the attributes of God, such as immutability, omnipotence, and omniscience, each defended by a handful of scriptural proof texts and by pointing out that these doctrines comprise Christianity’s primary historical and philosophical position. The Open View interprets all
by the aspects of God we find emphasized in Scripture repeatedly describing Him with attributes such as living, loving, and good.
So lets contrast the traditional doctrine of the attributes of God with what I call the Open View doctrine of God. As you read through this list of the attributes of God, which portends Calvinism, ask yourself whether or not these doctrines have significant Scriptural support, or whether they are humanist philosophy propped up with weak proof-texts, which have undermined our understanding of the actual glory of God’s glory.
Pagan Greek philosophers described attributes of God that are similar to key Calvinist attributes, and I will quote these in a later post. And some of the most influential Christian theologians put a premium on Bible interpretation that is consistent with pagan, neo-Platonic conceptions of God, and I will quote these also. And what’s more, I will show that through many centuries, Christian theological training has included an inordinate study of classics like Plato, and for centuries theologians were more indebted to Aristotle than to Paul, let alone Moses. And after a thousand years of this sad condition, even the Protestant Reformation refused to properly break with this humanist influence on the Church. And so reformers set up schools to train ministers in the Scripture, in language, and in the Classics
(Greek philosophy). And what’s more, after more than fifteen hundred years, it is only through the Openness effort to recapture the truth of the Living God that this infiltration of humanism is being exposed. Thus, I ask the question: has pagan philosophy colored the Christian doctrine of God? The evidence that this has happened is startling, compelling, and requires a reconsideration of the Scripture after consciously rejecting all Greek influence. Let’s review the attributes we’ve been taught:
God’s Attributes: Settled View
The attributes of God that most influence Calvinist theology include Omniscience, Omnipresence, Omnipotence, Impassibility, and Immutability. And side-by-side with these doctrines, Calvinists make sovereignty foundational. The Open View stands primarily upon God’s fundamental attributes as emphasized not in philosophy but in the Bible, of the LORD
as being Living, Personal, Relational, Good, and Loving.
Attributes of God
For the most part, Settled View adherents accept the teachings and the importance of the Calvinist list of attributes. The three OMNIs are Latin terms, meaning that God is all knowing, He’s everywhere, and He has all power. But these are more Roman philosophical exaggerations than they are biblical truths. And these words are not transliterations, so they do not appear in the Bible in its original languages. But in English, my New King James has only one instance of one of them, omnipotent, from a compound Greek word, but should its prefix “all” be taken literally? Let’s start with that attribute.
Prior to creation, God of course, had all power, literally and without exception, but that power included the ability to create and to delegate. And then God created eternal beings, permanently delegating some power and authority to those creatures. With majesty and courage, God became the Creator, who made humans and also the angelic “spirituals hosts” whom Scripture identifies as Thrones, Dominions, Powers, Principalities, Rulers, and Authorities (Rom. 8:38; Eph. 3:10; etc.). These titles declare that God delegated power and authority, showing that the non-biblical, Latin concept of absolute omnipotence is exaggerated, and wrongly implies that God retains all power for Himself, which would mean that He could never truly have delegated anything. The Bible presents God as selfless, humble, and willing to share of His own with His creatures. “God is love,” and love is giving, for love “does not seek its own.” In light of Scripture we can judge the philosophical concept of total omnipotence as selfishness, as compared to the utterly giving nature of the Living God. Jesus Christ is the best representation mankind has of what God really is like, His deepest attributes. And through the Incarnation, Jesus did not
empty Himself of the most fundamental attributes of God such as being living and good. But Christ did empty Himself of God’s more superficial attributes. He “emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:7 ASV; Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich; etc.) of qualities such as power, presence, and knowledge, but not of love. Christ’s selflessness (Phil. 2:5-8) indisputably exalts Him. And look at the sad tradeoff. Raw omnipotence swaps the unselfishness of God for the philosophical error that God hordes all power. From the perspective of the plot of the Bible, we see two things. The entire war between good and evil plainly reveals God’s delegation of power. And the Latin concept of utter omnipotence diminishes the understanding of God’s glory, for the last shall be first, and the least is the greatest, and God Himself delegates power and becomes the servant of all.
Even though God has delegated enormous power to billions of creatures, still He retains far more power than they collectively possess. So He will prevail over His enemies. Thus, Scripture refutes the traditional philosophical definition of omnipotence.
Impassibility means that God has no emotion. C.S. Lewis, a man I love but disagree with on this point, wrote that, “We correctly deny that God has passions… He cannot be affected by love…” (Miracles
, 1960, pp. 92 93). Where in the world did Lewis get this notion from? Not from Scripture. This error shows the extent of humanist influence on popular Christian belief. Some of the traditional philosophical attributes of God are simply exaggerations, and only the exaggerated part leads to error; for example, God does have power, yes, but to wrongly assume He retains all power
denies delegation. However, like absolute
immutability which denies that God can change at all
, the doctrine of impassibility is also false. We will see below that God can change, as when God the Son became flesh. And so too, God does have emotion. To establish that God is not “affected by love,” and that He has no emotion, you have to neutralize key passages throughout the entire Scripture, by simply deeming them as anthropomorphisms, as figures of speech, for Greek philosophical reasons. However, He is the Living God, relational, responsive, and loving, who created man for fellowship (1 John 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9). Because God is love, Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the LORD
(Mat. 22:36-38), which God decreed both for our good (Rom. 8:28), and for His pleasure
(Ps. 149:4; etc.).
Pagan Greek philosophers assumed that God cannot change in any way whatsoever, and that assumption denies Him even passion and emotion. Then Christian theologians, including those of foremost influence like St. Augustine, have celebrated interpretations of Scripture consistent with such pagan humanist philosophy. So in all the passages where God’s passion is evident, Calvinists neutralize these in deference to humanist influence. Many Settled View proponents, with many Calvinists, take scriptures that reveal divine emotion as merely figures of speech, figures however, for which they typically have offered no interpretation. Rather, we are persons only because He is a personal God; we have emotion because He has passion; and relationship is all important because He is relational. The Holy Spirit “grieves,” Jesus wept, and the Father will “rejoice” (Eph. 4:30; John 11:35; Deut. 30:9). Love does affect God (Deut. 7:9)! We exalt God by acknowledging His personality, emotion and passion; we denigrate God in our own eyes by stripping Him of that which makes Him personal. The ways in which the Settled View diminishes God’s glory and the Open View exalts Him are as many as the differences between a relational Person and a non-relational entity.
Omnipresence means that God is everywhere. If you think of quantity versus quality, the classical attributes are quantitative, whereas the real fundamental attributes like living, relational, and loving are qualitative. And as a quantity attribute, omnipresence means that God is absolutely everywhere, without exception. But, is He in Hell? Will He forever be in the Lake of Fire? Consider the trade-off here. To defend this Latin quantitative concept, the Calvinist will sacrifice God’s qualitative attribute of goodness. To keep God forever in hell theologians would have to overcome His abhorrence of evil. Rather, God’s goodness puts Him at enmity against the wicked, and in justice He sentences them to eternity out of His presence
. Christians rightly warn unbelievers of eternal separation from God. It’s not worth undermining that Gospel reality to prop up an exaggeration. God lives in heaven, not in Hell. The lost will go to Hell where they will live apart from God’s presence, forever. To the wicked He says, “I… will cast you out of My presence” (Jer. 23:39).
Imprisonment keeps people where they do not want to be, and God will imprison the wicked, but no one is going to imprison God, by forcing Him to be anywhere He doesn’t want to be. God cannot be forced into a cesspool, real or figurative. But yes, even before the cross, God’s Spirit accompanied the righteous after death (Ps. 139:8). And God inhabits praise (Ps. 22:3, KJV), but not curses, and yet the wicked cannot hide or get away from God. Further, the fundamental attributes of God are eternal, whereas it is a temporal matter of whether He is present in created locations such as in Hell or inside frozen Pluto. Such locations did not exist eternally, and thus any reference to location must describe a lesser attribute, than for example, goodness, which is fully eternal. These basic biblical teachings, including that of eternal separation from God, show that the non-biblical term “omnipresence” exaggerates the truth. The true doctrine of God’s presence is this: God is wherever He wants to be. For God is sentient, and willful, and selective. And raw omnipresence diminishes His glory, describing not God but a divine metaphysical equation. Whereas His presence
is not a slave to inevitability, but in righteousness He decides where He will be, and where He will not be. And this exalts Him!
Omniscience means that God knows everything, exhaustively, and without exception. Does Scripture really teach this, or is this another philosophical invention? Memories of perversion burden God, and nothing requires Him to retain pristine recollections of every filthy deed. “You have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities” (Isa. 43:24). God wants to put these wicked things out of His mind because it is ugly to remember them. “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Isa. 43:25; etc.).
When God says to the wicked, “I, even I, will utterly forget you” (Jer. 23:39), we rightly constrain this as a figure of speech, not meaning that God will no longer even recall men like Esau or Judas, but that His mercy toward the wicked will not endure forever. So, when God says that memory of filth is a burden that He wants to blot out of His mind, we weigh that against our philosophical doctrine of omniscience. Settled View proponents prioritize the quantitative aspect of vast knowledge above the qualitative attributes of God as good and personal. The Settled View denies out-of-hand the possibility that God’s loathing of sin might bring Him to limit His recollection of lewd acts. A pornography video does not have to play eternally in God’s mind.
Passages of God’s desire to forget sin are far more literal and “exhaustive” than any strained “proof-texts” for omniscience. We know that because these passages flow from the goodness and righteousness of God, whereas the omniscience “proof-texts” deal with quantity rather than quality. Thus they exaggerate the superficial at the expense of the substantive. No one can impose vulgar duty on God. Such basic biblical teaching shows that the non-biblical term “omniscience” overstates the truth. What is the true doctrine of God’s knowledge? God knows everything knowable that He wants to know. God does not want
to know everything! And yes, He knows how many hairs are on your head, but He doesn’t know how many hairs are on the boogeyman’s head, because there is no boogeyman. God can do that which is doable, and He can know that which is knowable. So He knows, or at least He can determine instantly if He wants to know, how many hairs are on your head. And if He wants to lengthen the life of sparrows, God can instantly locate and strengthen them all. There are beings who keep track of endless reams of meaningless data, but God is not a bureaucrat. Does God keep track of every molecule in every roll of toilet paper, to trace its path from tree to the mill, to the store, to your sewer pipe, and back again? Does this interest God? The LORD
has a purpose for His knowledge. God created man in His likeness, able to intuitively dismiss infinite piles of data as unimportant and endless possibilities as meaningless. God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9), but they are not lower. He reveals that He has no desire to retain Memorex memories of endless sadism, sodomy, and rape, and He need not keep infinite charts analyzing the base bodily functions of all animals. So while the unbiblical concept of omniscience demeans God, the true doctrine of His knowledge exalts Him in wisdom. God knows everything knowable that He wants to know.
Immutability is not what it used to be. The doctrine of immutability imported into Christianity the pagan Greek conception that God is utterly
unchangeable. But now even Calvinists are considering a reformulation of that teaching. Centuries of a cold philosophical conception of a non-relational God has had unintended consequences including a chilling effect even on human relationships, where even the church historically did little until recently to advance deep relationships between father and son, husband and wife, etc. Yet in reality, nothing is more important than relationship, even within the Godhead. And the force of that reality has exposed immutability
as the philosophical barrier to all relationship.
Calvinist Bruce Ware of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a popular anti-openness author, published a Reformulation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God
in 1986. His “reformulation” states that “Scripture does not lead us to think of God as unchangeable in every respect (absolute immutability)… [but] God is changeable in relationship
with his creation, particularly with human and angelic moral creatures…” (Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, 2000, p. 73). Open theists take Ware’s reformulation as an indicator of the vital force of “the contemporary open theism movement” (p. 31, which Ware predates to his 1986 article). For we are reviving the understanding of God as actually experiencing relationship with His creatures. After centuries of the traditional attributes promoting a stagnant God even in regards to believers, Ware’s reformulation is squarely in the direction of Openness! Openness puts at the center of doctrine the truth that God is relational. And relationship requires actual two-way experience. Whereas the traditional doctrine of immutability followed the Greeks, through Augustine, in denying any change whatsoever to God, which depicted Him more like a cold stone idol than like the God of Scripture. However the Living Truth is now being resurrected in our minds, as the power of relationship takes on the Body of Christ by force.
God is immutable, that is, unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Ps. 102:27; Heb. 1:12; 13:8; James 1:17), not absolutely but in His goodness. “The goodness of God endures continually
” (Ps. 52:1), because of His commitment to righteousness (Jer. 9:24; Ps. 33:5). Thus His counsel (His will) is immutably good (Heb. 6:17-18), and unlike the Greek gods, we can therefore depend upon Him, because He is not arbitrary, biased, partial, or capricious. But He is not generally unchangeable. God’s “relational mutability” (Ware, p. 73) did not come into existence with mankind, but co-exists with the eternally relational persons of the Trinity.
Sam, I know that you don’t have to defend Ware. But think about this. Ware implies that the persons of the Trinity would change less from interaction with one another than with their “moral creatures.” But Ware’s arbitrary constraint overlooks the infinite, eternal, and vital aspects of the divine relationship. However, because the Bible is God’s record of His love for man
, therefore most of the scriptural evidence we have of His mutability comes in His interaction with His creation. God the Son was not always a man. He “became flesh” (John 1:14). Became
is a change word. The Incarnation is not just a figure of speech, and it shows that God can undergo infinite change. And it was not His flesh which “became flesh;” nor did His humanness empty itself to become man. The change was to Himself as God the Son, becoming something greater still. For He must increase! The Father “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6) and Christ has “become
a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). The Father does not eternally pour out wrath on His Son. The cross was a singularity, and no other event will ever reach that level of exceptional change.
Change is a necessary part of life. And since thirty times God is called the “Living God,” He must be able to change. The definitions for living
repeatedly use words such as active
. Life requires change, stone idols do not. Thus it is the epitome of putting God in a box to deny Him infinite change.
Calvinists, Augustinians before them, and the Greeks before them, allowed the philosophical notion of absolute immutability to rob man’s understanding of God as warm and relational. This error fed the harsh representation of God that led to centuries of a stagnant Christianity represented by cold basilicas, and led to theologians who were more comfortable studying Sophocles than Solomon, and led historically to the obligatory training of theologians in the Classics (pagan Greek philosophy). When the schoolboy begins with a mistake on a math problem, he will end with the wrong answer. The error of utter immutability is such a central doctrinal error that Christians must consciously back up, and reformulate not only immutability, but all our doctrine which logically proceeded from that humanist philosophical error. So we welcome Bruce Ware, the anti-openness author, in His effort to reformulate immutability, in a big step toward the Open View. For Calvinists wrongly claim that sovereignty is at the heart of their theology (and I will address sovereignty after presenting the Open View Attributes). In actuality, the pagan notion of utter immutability has been at the heart of Augustinian and Calvinist doctrine these many centuries. And the Openness push (along with the general force of Christian history) to recover God as relational, is now making inroads into Calvinism, and there is a crack in the dike. And people are spilling through, and sometimes whole congregations. Ware’s reformulation implicitly admits the harm done to Christianity way back when theologians imported the pagan version of utter immutability into our theology, an error which undermined our understanding of the Living God as relational.
So Dr. Lamerson, I ask you and the readers to keep an open mind, and not dismiss the view of God and the future that I myself accepted after I consciously threw off pagan Greek influence and allowed God to reveal Himself in Scripture, unencumbered by humanist philosophy.
God’s Attributes: Open View
Openness is based on God as the Living God
. The five most fundamental attributes of God are that He is Living, Personal, Relational, Good, and Loving. These faithfully represent God the way that Scripture presents Him, and starkly contrast with the Greek and Roman philosophical construction of God. The Openness attributes are heavy on scriptural influence, and light on man’s philosophy. Children can understand the most important aspects of God. For “out of the mouth of babes… You have perfected praise” (Mat. 21:16) for “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 19:14). Whereas adults wrestling with the metaphysical conjectures of intellectuals must first learn even how to pronounce omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence, immutability, and impassibility. Thus Scripture warns us against human philosophy over substance (Col. 2:8), and who can deny the Calvinist emphasis on the writings and traditions of men.
The central of the five Openness attributes is relational
, which is far more important than the concept of sovereignty
, for God is relational even within the godhead, apart from any consideration of the creation. The Father loves the Son; the Son willingly submits to the Father; the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son. God inspired the entire Scripture, from beginning to end, as the purest romance novel, God’s love story, of Father for Son, and of their passionate devotion to His children, and His desire for a relationship with them. God is also the Judge, meting out vengeance and filled with wrath toward those who destroy themselves and others, but this was not His chief hope for them. For God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11), and love “does not rejoice in iniquity” (1 Cor. 13:6). But if Calvinists elevate “immutability” above “good and loving,” as Augustine did, then you will negate even such powerful passages as these, and you can devise a god who creates children without hope, to watch them tormented forever, all to glorify Himself.
Now, let me demonstrate the answer to SLQ2, by interpreting “God… desires all men to be saved” (1 Tim 2:3-4), twice, first by the philosophical attributes and then by biblical attributes.
: If the fundamental description of your God is utter immutability, i.e. no change, then you interpret “God… desires all men to be saved” as referring only to the elect who eventually do get saved. Regarding the others whom He created without any actual hope for salvation, considerations such as His love and His justice are theologically subordinated to His utter immutability. If for eternity past God has known (or even decreed) the certain damnation of everyone, by name, who will ever be lost, then He would not proclaim His desire for their salvation. Therefore we constrain all declarations of God’s good will toward men so that they do not undermine His immutability (as per Augustine).
: On the other hand, if the fundamental description of your God is that He is Living, Personal, Relational, Good, and Loving, then “God… desires all men to be saved.” Really. We need not subordinate this declaration of God’s love to any philosophical tradition. We can let John 3:16 and this passage speak unencumbered of God’s love for the world. The primacy of His attributes as Living, Personal, Relational, Good, and Loving require that all beings created in His “likeness” were made to live in a personal, good and loving relationship with Him.
So as it is with disagreements, it is the presuppositions that drive the dispute. Traditional theologians have taken an efficient path, to get from the God who wants to be merciful to all, to the God who creates people at least with the certain knowledge, or even for the intended purpose, of their eternal torment. Replacing the biblical attributes of God with a philosophical construct, tradition has replaced the Living God of justice who “shows no partiality” (Deut. 10:17), with the static God who only
shows partiality. The Settled View, Calvinism, and the Reformed tradition have bowed to man’s philosophy, distorting our understanding of the fundamental attributes of God, replacing the personal God of goodness and love, with the untouchable, unaffected, unresponsive cold deity of pagan Greek imagination.
Strong debate exists over the proof texts for the classical divine attributes, but even the opponents of the Open View will agree wholeheartedly with the vast majority of the proof texts for the Open View attributes. And while proof texts for the classical attributes are few in number and typically strained, the verses below fully support the five Open View attributes, and they can be multiplied by the dozens and even by the hundreds.
: Scripture repeatedly mentions the “living God” (Mat. 16:16) as opposed to the stone-cold, relatively immutable “lifeless
forms of your idols” (Lev. 26:30).
: Christ is “the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3) so God could say, “Let Us make man in Our image” (Gen. 1:26).
: God is Father and Son; and the Trinity is the very fount of relationship, for it is “the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Rom. 8:15). And Boaz as a type of Christ, our kinsman redeemer, says, “it is true that I am a close relative” (Ruth 3:12).
: “Good and upright is the LORD
” (Ps. 25:8), and “They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness, and shall sing of Your righteousness” (Ps. 145:7).
: “Your [God’s] lovingkindness is better than life” (Ps. 63:3), so John declared, writing of “the love that God has for us [that] God is love…” (1 John 4:16).
These are the five fundamental attributes of God which should be taught in every systematic theology textbook. At Knox Theological Seminary, where Dr. Lamerson teaches, they use Reymond’s A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith
. See the graphic below from Reymond’s table of contents (pp. viii-ix) which, under Greek influence, gives an inordinate amount of attention, subsections, and pages to immutability (unchangeableness), and not just unchangeable in goodness, but even “in His Being.” Openness celebrates the true power of God, and His realistic knowledge, and actual presence, all as in Scripture. But adding to God’s Word does not improve it [Rev. 22:18]. God’s glory needs no exaggeration. Just as harmful as faking a miracle is the exaggeration of attributes. This scan from a Knox textbook shows this distorted emphasis:
A few weeks ago I was at the Christian Booksellers Association convention, giving a presentation on Christian Political Strategy at a table in an exhibitor’s booth. (Coincidentally, I was in R. C. Sproul’s booth, who is a leading Calvinist, who was a few feet away autographing books). There, the executive producer to R.C. Sproul’s radio program, John Duncan, said to me something I’ve heard a hundred of times in thirty years of discussing theology, that: “Calvinism is based on sovereignty!” And I asked, “What about immutability,” to which he answered, “Yes, sovereignty, and
God has greater and lesser attributes. And there are more important and less important roles He performs. The Father’s love for His Son is more vital than His concern for a falling sparrow. Sovereignty is a lesser attribute, if it even can be called an attribute. Sovereignty is defined in terms of the creation
. The primary attributes of God are true of God Himself, within Him, apart from anything external. God’s sovereignty over creation is a lesser attribute, because its very definition requires considerations other than Himself. Of course, as His creatures, nothing is more important than God’s relationship to us. Theologically speaking, however, sovereignty is a lesser attribute since those that are fully defined within the Godhead have natural preeminence over those that can be exercised only in conjunction with the creation.
But what if we elevate sovereignty above the Openness attributes? Sovereignty speaks of control. And a sovereign (which word in various languages means a ruler, a lord) can be a benevolent monarch, or a wicked king. If theologians elevate the concept of sovereignty above God’s attributes of goodness and love, then they have no qualms about describing a God who creates children for the purpose of tormenting them forever. They don’t even wince. Whereas, when we properly elevate God’s love and righteousness, which are pre-eminent, above His need for control, we rightly declare with Paul that God wills that all be saved.
Psalms, the lengthiest book in Scripture with 150 chapters, provides an inspired record of how to properly glorify God. And Psalms ignores or downplays the Greek and Roman philosophical attributes of the OMNIs and IMs, and even of Sovereignty, while emphasizing the Openness biblical attributes of God. For example, omnipotence speaks of power, and yes, creation and miracles do give testimony to God’s power. However the Psalms downplay God’s power as compared to His goodness
and justice! Regarding power, the psalmists credit God for creation in only 45 verses, and praise Him for miracles in only 100. Most of the remaining 94 percent of the 2,461 verses in Psalms emphasize the theme of God’s righteousness, and its corollary of warning to His enemies. (My book, The Plot
, documents this.) Psalms does not make pre-eminent God’s location (omnipresence), or His lack of emotion (impassibility), or His omniscience (what did He know, and when did He know it). Further, Psalms even indicates that Sovereignty, which speaks of God’s rule over creation, is not a foundational attribute of God, for it is His goodness which provides the basis for God’s rule. For “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne” (Ps. 97:2)!
I pray that this Battle Royale X will deter Christians from exaggerating lesser divine attributes (of location, control, knowledge, and power) and from fabricating others (like emotional sterility and utter immutability). For as in Psalm 107:8, I pray, “Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD
for His goodness.”
Sam, calling on your patience, I will answer your other three questions in Round Two. But regarding SLQ2, “How should one determine the presence of anthropomorphisms in the Scripture,” let me answer directly, as I hope to do with for every question:
: We should interpret the Bible’s figures of speech, including anthropomorphisms, through the greater context, which is found foremost in a correct understanding of the nature of God (living, personal, relational, good, and loving), and secondarily in the overall plot of the story in His Word (creation, the ongoing rebellion, God’s work of reconciliation, and the eternal consequences). And we should reject interpretations driven by humanist philosophical constructs, especially when they produce tension with the divine attributes as repeatedly emphasized in Scripture.
: Sam, do you agree with me that the classical doctrine of utter immutability needs reformulation in order to explicitly acknowledge that God is able to change (for example, as Ware says, especially to allow for true relationship)?
: Do you agree that righteousness is the foundation of God’s sovereignty?
: Do you agree that the five divine attributes of living, personal, relational, good, and loving, are more fundamental and take precedence over matters of location, knowledge, stoicism, power, and control?
Pastor Bob Enyart
Denver Bible Church