Thinking Out Loud

May 2, 2017

Background to Yesterday’s Article

I’m posting this a little later in the morning in order to keep yesterday’s post here pinned to the top for a few hours longer. I am sure it left some of you thinking, ‘That’s a long way to go to make a point.’

I fully realize that any suggestion that there are things God doesn’t know cuts deep to the heart of some peoples’ theology. However, I never said that. Rather, I see God closing his eyes vis-a-vis the future and saying, ‘Okay. Surprise me!’ There’s a huge difference.

Is it central to core doctrine? Absolutely not. I do see it however as part of God delighting in us or in more KJV terms joying over us.

The first exposure I had to anything like this was Garry Freisen’s book Decision Making in the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View. It was originally published in the early 1980s (I think) and an updated anniversary edition is still available. The book ran counter to the idea that there was one college you were to attend, one person you were to marry, one city in which you were to live and one career path you were to follow.

Some of the people who liked the book were still reluctant to give up the idea of God’s complete foreknowledge and control. This reviewer wrote, “God has already sovereignly determined which tennis shoes we will wear that day, but we shouldn’t waste half the day waiting for a swoosh to appear in the clouds.  So long as there is no biblical principle being violated, just put on some shoes and get busy.” The word determined is interesting here.

On an older Walk In The Word radio program, James MacDonald spoke of being told that there was a dot that represented the center of God’s will; as opposed to Freisen’s idea that there is a circle of possibilities and as long as you stay within that circle you remain in God’s will. Describing his spiritually formative years, MacDonald intones:

Don’t get caught
Off the dot
That’s what I was taught.

I think the thing with Friesen’s book is that represented the first time in my life I became part aware of the cycle of un-learning which is necessary for those of us who grew up in the church, and wrote all our beliefs — or at least what we thought was being taught to us — in wet cement and then watched it harden. As we grow older, unless we’re completely closed-minded, we realize that we need to deconstruct some of those things and re-learn.

People who didn’t grow up in church may not have such hard and fast convictions on matters such as this. For those of were in church starting at minus-nine-months, we can fall into ‘Elder Brother Syndrome;’ and feel that our understanding is the correct one. Or the one Pastor John [MacArthur, Piper, Hagee, Steinbeck] teaches. Or the one our own pastor shared in a sermon eight years ago. Hey… it beats doing the research or thinking about it for ourselves.

Then along comes Greg Boyd et al and reintroduces the idea of Openness Theism — I say reintroduces because usually these ideas are not new in the grand scheme of Christian philosophy and thought — and everyone gets in an uproar because it’s slightly new to their ears, therefore it can’t be right.

So don’t ask me where yesterday’s story came from. I’m told a mother can have ten children in yet in a way that is mathematically absurd, give each one of them all her love. The mom in the story yesterday has seven kids, but we really only see her dealings with one of them. Five of them apparently aren’t even home from school yet. She’s focused just on that one but she realizes that the one child’s Fall choices when it comes to the city athletics program impacts the other children, their future, and the schedule her and her husband face getting the kids to lessons, practices, games and other activities.

If she can run all the sequences and possibilities, I think God, who is infinitely above anything we could imagine is capable of running an infinite number of sequences and possibilities for us. I can’t say he has determined our choices. Not every time. Not every choice. Sorry.

To say otherwise is to put him and us in a box. Rather I see him saying, ‘So what’s it gonna be?’

Can anything we do be a surprise to God? Theologically speaking, no; but God can allow himself to be surprised. Nothing Adam and Eve did in Eden surprised him because that was part of a much grander scheme. But your choice as to whether to live in Cleveland or Dayton; whether to marry Rebecca or Morgan; whether to study Public Relations or Information Technology; and whether to go to a local college or one out of town; all of these represent choices he could be leaving entirely up to you.

Once you have decided, he simply presses “Update” and then, if he so desires, he can have foreknowledge of an infinite number of other possibilities. 

I don’t see a Biblical conflict here.

 

 

 

 

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May 1, 2017

Open Theology and a 10-Year-Old Girl

It was the first of May and already the city’s Parks and Recreation Department Fall registration brochure had shown up in the mail. Amanda flipped over to the page “New This Year” and let out a sigh. This news was not going to go over very well.

Madison arrived home from school and Amanda said, “After you get your snack we need to talk.”

She grabbed her snack as her older brother Luke walked in the door and ran to the fridge before heading off to his game console.

Madison placed the straw in the juice pack and then returned to the living room where her mom was waiting. “Is something wrong?” she asked.

Amanda explained that the Fall sports schedule had arrived. “Madison, they’ve moved swimming and it’s now the same night as your indoor soccer league.”

She waited for Madison to process the impact of her words. Finally she said, “Well, I can do the next swimming level at Eastside pool, right?”

Amanda was impressed with the girl’s resourcefulness. However, “They’re changing all the pool times, and Eastside has Level 3 the same night as you have choir. Plus it’s a 30-minute drive.”

Madison would not be swayed. “Maybe I could do Level 3 at the private aquatic place where Zoe goes. I could get a ride with her parents?” She raised her voice at the end of the sentence as if waiting for rubber-stamped approval.

Amanda sighed for the second time that hour. “Honey, we just can’t afford to send you there. Remember, we’re a family of seven kids, and if we make an exception for you we have to pay extra for programs for everyone. Besides, it’s the same night as we’re driving Luke across town his youth group, and we’d miss some of your competitions.”

Wheels in the ten-year-old’s brain were still turning. “Luke’s old enough to take a bus.”

“Luke’s old enough to take the bus there, but he’s not old enough to take the bus home at 9:00 when it ends; especially in the winter.”

“Maybe there’s someone else who lives in Westside who goes to Luke’s church.”

“We’ve already looked into that with their student ministry director. We’re kind of an exception.”

“Well Luke could find a church close to home with a youth group that works.”

“He’s already raising money for a February missions trip with that church that your cousins are also going on. We’re not going to take that away from him.”

Madison was realizing that much of this was coming down to choice and that while her mom could just tell her what to do, she was being forced to make the choice for herself.  Finally she said, “Well, I guess I could just skip indoor soccer for a season.”

At this, Amanda realized full disclosure required her to tell the whole story; “Maddy, you can easily take a year off soccer, but when you go back in, you’ll have to go through tryouts all over again. You’ll be competing with all the kids who want to get on that team at that level. If they’re really good, you could get cut.”

Madison looked at the recently-won soccer trophy still in a place of prominence in the living room. “But Mom; I’m really good at soccer.”

Amanda shot back, “Does that mean you don’t want to give it up; you’re willing to give it up; or that you’re confident you’d get back with your teammates a year later? Also what if Level 4 swimming is scheduled opposite soccer in the new year?”

The girl was processing this. “Well, we won the finals, but I did miss three open shots in that game. If it’s the same coach a year from now, and he remembers that, he may want to cut me.”

And then she paused.

A long pause.

Finally she said, “Mom, this is really, really complicated. When is the registration deadline for swimming and soccer?”

“June 15th. Or as long as there are openings.”

“Can I drop choir?”

“Yes, but choir isn’t impacted by this. Unless you think Eastside is still a possibility. But I’m not sure it is.”

Finally the little girl crunched up the snack pack and the juice box and said, “Mom, I’m going to my room to pray about this.”

Amanda smiled and once the girl was out of earshot whispered quietly, “Maybe I should have thought of that.”


One decision affects another. At Quara.com an image of the “most epic flow chart ever.”

Amanda’s frustration with the city for changing some of the nights for pool activities was triggered not so much by the dilemma facing Madison as it was trying to run all the different scenarios of how this affected her six other siblings.

For example, making an exception for Madison when she’d already turned down her older sister Sydney when faced with similar scheduling conflicts. Or setting a precedent with Madison when her youngest brother Aiden clearly wanted to get into aquatics. And the costs. And the busyness placed on her and her husband ferrying kids to activities. And wondering down the road, which route would better serve her daughter when she reached high school athletics: Soccer or swimming?

She knew clearly which choice she wanted Madison to make. She had a favorite in her mental road-map for Maddy’s life. But it was going to be her daughter’s choice. Not hers. And Amanda has already run the various sequences in her head for Maddy’s decision and how it impacts the fall season for her, her husband, and the six other kids; and how it could impact Madison for the winter schedule and the many seasons which follow.

No matter what Madison chooses, Amanda is still the parent. She’s still in charge. She’s still guiding and directing her daughter’s life. But she’s offering her daughter the luxury — the latitude — of free choice. To make her own decisions and deal with the consequences.


What Amanda is being forced to do on a small scale, God is capable of doing on a grand scale.

To me, this story effectively illustrates the concept of open theology. Only God is capable of running all the various scenarios and sequences for billions of us. He is omnipotent, omniscient and has omniprocessing. (Try finding that one in a theological textbook.)

He’s still in charge. He’s still the sovereign. No matter what we choose. He’s still guiding. He still has some personal favorite choices he’d like us to make (because he can see all the sequences) but he’s offering us the luxury — and latitude — of free choice. He can even close his eyes to the future and let our choice surprise him.

And doing so doesn’t rob him of an iota of sovereignty.

It’s how he made us.

It’s how he designed the system to operate.

And it delights him to no end to watch us working it all through.

 

 

 

June 2, 2012

Southern Baptists Affirm Non-Calvinist Distinctives

Apparently, this blogger isn’t the only one concerned with the way New Calvinist media — especially books and blogs — are dominating mainstream Evangelicalism.  On Thursday,

“A group of current and former Southern Baptist leaders has signed a statement affirming what they call the “traditional Southern Baptist” understanding of the doctrine of salvation, with the goal of drawing a distinction with the beliefs of “New Calvinism.”

“The statement was posted May 31 at SBCToday.com and includes a preamble and 10 articles…”

The suggestion is that New Calvinism — or what I’ve referred to on this blog as militant Calvinism —  is aggressively infiltrating Baptist thought in order to become the default doctrine.  On a personal level, I’ve seen it happen here in Canada where Baptist bloggers have so strongly identified with the writings of YRR (Young, Restless and Reformed) authors that it defies understanding why they haven’t left their Baptist denomination in favor of the Christian Reformed Church.

The document further asserts that the “vast majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists and that they do not want Calvinism to become the standard view in Southern Baptist life.”

“We believe it is time to move beyond Calvinism as a reference point for Baptist soteriology,” the statement reads. Soteriology is the study of the doctrine of salvation.

Each of the 10 articles includes a statement of what the signers affirm and what they deny. For instance, on the article about the Grace of God, the document says:

“We affirm that grace is God’s generous decision to provide salvation for any person by taking all of the initiative in providing atonement, in freely offering the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in uniting the believer to Christ through the Holy Spirit by faith.”

The statement then adds:

“We deny that grace negates the necessity of a free response of faith or that it cannot be resisted. We deny that the response of faith is in any way a meritorious work that earns salvation.”

To read this statement in full, along with a reprint of the original ten-point statement, click here.

For the most part, the Reformed-dominated blogosphere has been somewhat silent on this, with most responses coming from within the Baptist movement where the SBC Today web page is more closely monitored.

Tom Ascol at Founder’s Ministries Blog disagrees with the document and has published three blog posts (so far, more to follow)  to respond. Before expressing concerns in part three however, he does provide a charitable, concise summary:

In essence, I believe that those who have published it are concerned by the rise of Calvinism among Southern Baptists at all levels of convention life, from local churches all the way down to various institutions and agencies. They think that Calvinism represents the views of only a small minority  while their own views represent the vast majority of Southern Baptists. They are concerned to be identified positively by what they do believe rather than negatively by what they do not believe (“non-Calvinist”). They have offered this document as a testimony to their beliefs and invite other Southern Baptists to sign it to show just how many agree with their views. By doing so, they do not want to intimidate or exclude Southern Baptist Calvinists, but rather are interested in asserting what they are convinced that most Southern Baptists believe on the doctrine of salvation.

[above link for this article, also available: Part One and Part Two]

At Pulpit and Pen, Jordan Hall writes:

…For example, consider the irony of articulating the “historic, traditional beliefs of Southern Baptists” by creating a new document. The premise itself is laughable. Could it just be our historic confessions and creeds do not suffice because they are, inherently, Calvinistic?

At the site BaptistTwentyOne, Jon Akin writes,

The statement is divisive for three reasons:

  • It inaccurately and unfairly describes the theology of the “New Calvinists.”
  • It implies that “New Calvinists” are having a detrimental impact on “contemporary mission and ministry” in the SBC without a shred of proof to back that up. It claims that the SBC has reached around the world with the Gospel “without ascribing to Calvinism,” and therefore fails to properly recognize that many godly Calvinists have contributed to the spread of the gospel through SBC cooperation in our history.
  • It is trying to unite a segment of Southern Baptist around a new theological statement, when the BFM2000 is enough to unite us in theology and mission.

and also

  • I could be wrong, and would be happy to admit it, but I don’t know any Calvinist who is arguing in print or sermon to make “Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation, “ or “the standard view in Southern Baptist life.”
  • The statement consistently responds to double predestination, therefore implying that this is the standard position of “New Calvinists,” when in reality it is a minority position, almost certainly an extreme minority. The statement only argues against double predestination and never really addresses what the biblical word “predestination” actually means in the text. The authors make it sound like the “New Calvinism” is fighting for double predestination, and that is simply not accurate.

Josh Buice at Delivered by Grace writes:

… As we move forward, do we want to be considered the “Fightin’ Baptists” or the “Religious version of the Hatifelds and McCoys?”…

…Furthermore, when SBC pastors, leaders, and professors sign this letter, it’s almost as if a line is being drawn in the sand and a request is being made for action.  What should the action be? …

… Have we forgotten our history as Southern Baptists where we had Calvinists such as Lottie Moon, James P. Boyce, John L. Dagg, A.T. Robertson, John A. Broadus, and many others who served in our convention along with those who were less Calvinistic (Reformed) in their doctrine?  They didn’t fight over it, throw mud, and pull out the heresy sword to use on one another.  In recent history we have had Albert Mohler serving together with Adrian Rogers.  Why are we headed down the broken road of schism over Calvinism today?…

There is more available online, and there will be even more as you’re reading this.  William F. Leonhart III, provides some historical context; apparently this isn’t the first time.

We’ll give Jordan Hall the last word on this:

Perhaps most offensive is [David] Hankins’ appeal to consensus. He says multiple times that “the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Calvinism.” He may be right. Statistics show that the majority of Southern Baptists do not embrace Christianity, let alone Calvinism. The majority of Southern Baptists can’t be found on Sunday morning. The majority of Southern Baptists are on Synergist church-rolls and are either dead or apostate because of the watered-down and anemic, shallow theology of Finney-style revivalism and easy-believism, decision-regeration that has eaten away at the SBC like a cancer. But Hankins is right; the majority of Southern Baptists are not Calvinists.

But c’mon Jordan, tell us what you really think.

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