The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

The Seamless Story of Scripture

Seamless Story of ScriptureA lot of times, the distinctions between the Old and New Testaments are exaggerated and caricatured. People talk about “the God of the Old Testament” versus “the God of the New Testament.” They will (mistakenly) emphasize that the Old Testament is all about law while the New Testament is all about grace. They may even argue that we don’t even need the Old Testament, because as Christians, we live under a different age. I have written about some of these problems before.

Increasingly though, as I study more and more, I am struck by just how well the two testaments of God’s Word—Old and New—fit together. This year for my daily Bible reading, instead of reading, I have actually been listening to Scripture, specifically to Max McLean’s reading of the ESV while I drive around in my car. This is the first time that I have attempted to make it through the entire Bible by listening to it, and it has been interesting, and has brought out certain elements of the text that I had missed before. One example of this occurred just yesterday, as I was driving in the car and the recordings transitioned from the end of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New.

The end of Malachi reads:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

(Malachi 4.5-6)

Transitioning into Matthew, you get the genealogy and birth story of Jesus, and then we get this:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

(Matthew 3.1-6 )

I have long known that John the Baptist was the “second Elijah” prophesied about in the Old Testament, who would prepare people for Jesus to come, and I think I knew that Malachi contained such a prophecy (in addition to Isaiah, etc.), but the unity of these two books was never emphasized to me as much as it was yesterday, when I heard both of these passages back-to-back in one short car ride. Matthew picks up where Malachi left off: with the coming of God’s representative who would prepare people for the coming of God Himself in the flesh.

This might be a really obvious example that you have noticed before, but for me, it is a reminder of a great truth: Scripture is not comprised of two disjointed halves, but is instead a seamless whole—a well-woven story crafted by God’s Spirit, relating God’s creation of the world and His quest to redeem and reconcile that creation.

God, Free Will, and the Future: Gregory Boyd’s Open Theism

God, Free Will, and the Future

Introduction

The twentieth century witnessed a variety of significant developments across the theological spectrum. One recent development that has made considerable waves in evangelical theology and continues to spark much discussion today is open theism.[1] Fundamentally, open theism is a re-visioning of the classical theist idea that God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events. Instead, openness theologians argue that although the future is partly known by God, it is also partly “open” in the sense that what transpires genuinely depends on the decisions made by free agents, and that God does not know exactly what will occur until these decisions are made.

There are many scholars associated with the open theist perspective, but perhaps the best known and most influential is Gregory Boyd, a theologian, author, college professor, and church pastor who has written extensively on the subject.[2] This paper will seek to present the salient features of Boyd’s open theism and then critically interact with his views and also suggest how he might respond to the criticisms presented.

An Outline of Gregory Boyd’s Open Theism

Boyd first referenced his open theist views somewhat in passing in his popular Letters From a Skeptic, which consisted of a series of correspondence between himself and his initially unbelieving father.[3] Since then, Boyd has written more about open theism, and although he upholds the basic framework of the openness model, he has also produced substantive developments to it. First, Boyd has tried to move the openness discussion away from strictly philosophical and theological grounds by examining the testimony of scripture in detail.[4] Second, he emphasizes the ways that Satan and his demons have rebelled against God and thus, limit his control of the world.[5] Third and most recently, Boyd has brought a distinctly christocentric focus to the open theism debate, arguing that models seeking to explain the interaction between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom should accurately reflect his character as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.[6]

Boyd questions the classical theist position, arguing that the notion that God possesses exhaustive knowledge of future events is influenced more by Greek philosophy than by the teachings of scripture.[7] As noted above, he goes to great pains to establish the biblical basis for his viewpoint, but it is undeniable that his theological and philosophical commitments play a dominant role in his views. In addition to these three categories, Boyd also makes pastoral and scientific arguments for the open perspective. Boyd’s views will be examined according to these five categories.

Theologically, Boyd begins with the conviction that God is love and this fundamental characteristic lies behind his purposes for creation:

“Throughout its narrative the Bible shows us that God created the world out of his triune love with the goal of acquiring for himself a people who would participate in and reflect the splendor of his triune love. More specifically, God’s goal from the dawn of history has been to have a church, a bride, who would say yes to his love, who would fully receive this love, embody this love, and beautifully reflect this triune love back to himself.”[8]

However, if love is the goal of creation, Boyd argues that creation must include free moral agents who have the ability to freely choose whether they will love God or not: “had God created us such that we had to love, our love could not be genuine.”[9] Certainly an all-powerful God could have created humans in such a way that they would automatically feel and act in loving ways toward him and one another, but such humans would be nothing more than puppets. Genuine love is only possible if people have the capacity to choose to love or not.[10] To this point, Boyd is largely in line with Arminians and other free will theists, but open theism departs from these other perspectives by insisting that human freedom necessitates a future that is undetermined and partly open, the full details of which even God is unaware. For Boyd and other open theists, if God knows what a particular person is going to do in the future, then that person is not truly free to make self-determining choices; God’s foreknowledge is held to be at odds with human freedom.[11] Thus, from a theological perspective, Boyd concludes that God cannot possess exhaustive foreknowledge of the future because if he did, it would compromise human freedom, and without human freedom, the love that lies at the center of God’s entire project of creation would be compromised as well.

This conclusion poses problems for the classical understanding of God’s omniscience, which holds that God knows every detail of what will happen in the future, but on philosophical grounds, Boyd argues that this classical conception of the future is mistaken. For Boyd and other open theists, the future simply has no ontological existence until God and free creatures make choices that bring it into existence:

“…To assume [God] knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know—even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know.”[12]

In light of this understanding of the nature of the future, Boyd argues that God is still omniscient in that he knows everything that there is to know: in addition to perfectly knowing the past and the present, God knows what he will do in the future, and he also knows all the possibilities of what free creatures may do in the future.[13] Moreover, based on his perfect knowledge of the nature of human beings, God knows what people are most likely to do in a given situation based on the solidified character they have developed via the decisions they have made throughout their lives.[14] Boyd argues that God possesses perfect knowledge and infinite intelligence and is thus never caught off guard by what creatures freely choose to do.[15] He likens his view of God’s providence with a “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s book, where the author determines the overall structure of the story along with the possible story lines and different endings, but allows the readers to make choices that truly impact what happens next.[16] As the architect of the story who predetermines certain aspects and knows all the possibilities and probabilities of how free creatures may act, God can be relied upon to achieve his ultimate goal for creation.[17]

In his discussion of the biblical support for the open view, Boyd emphasizes that scripture presents two types of passages, or motifs, that are important for understanding God’s relationship to the future. He labels them the “motif of future determinism” and the “motif of future openness.”[18] Boyd believes that both types of passages are equally descriptive of the way that God and the future actually are, and that attention thus needs to be paid to both. First, in discussing the scriptural motif of future determinism, Boyd admits that there are many passages which indicate that God does in fact have foreknowledge of certain future events.[19] These passages describe God’s knowledge of a variety of future occurrences, including circumstances that would befall Israel, events in the ministry of Christ, particular choices that would be made by specific individuals, and the consummation of God’s eschatological plans. Boyd in no way denies that the Bible teaches that the future is indeed settled and known by God in these respects, but he does argue that these texts do not require the belief that everything that will ever occur has been settled by God ahead of time.[20] Naturally, in addition to these scriptures, Boyd focuses even more on biblical passages that emphasize the motif of future openness.[21] These passages appear to describe a God who regrets the actions of humans and even the results of decisions that he himself has made, who is surprised by unexpected events, who tests people to see what they will do, who speaks in terms of what may or may not occur, and who changes his mind about certain things and reverses his intentions. Holding onto the validity of both of these biblical motifs, Boyd concludes that the future is partly settled but partly open as well.[22]

As mentioned earlier, Boyd serves as the pastor of a church, and thus, it makes sense that he also argues for the validity of the openness viewpoint on pastoral grounds. Simply put, this argument states that the open perspective helps people to better live out their faith, and Boyd believes this is true for multiple reasons. First, he argues that the open perspective is valuable because it makes more intellectual sense than the classical view, and reflects the way that people actually live on a daily basis.[23] Every day, people weigh options about a host of things—which clothes they will wear, which route they will drive to work, which television show they will watch after dinner—in a way that implies that the content of their future is partially open and that they actually have some control over what comes to pass. Second, Boyd claims that open theism helps believers to make better sense of God’s Word because it enables them to coherently reconcile certain aspects of scripture that seem to be in tension with one another.[24] We have previously discussed Boyd’s scriptural motifs of future determinism and future openness; Boyd argues that a perspective that considers the future to be partly settled and partly open allows the believer to take both sets of scripture seriously and make sense of them. Third, the open view places great urgency on prayer.[25] Regardless of scripture’s teaching on the importance of prayer, many Christians believe that the future is exhaustively settled and that therefore, prayer cannot truly change anything. They might continue to pray out of a sense of obedience, but their fatalistic outlook has deprived them of any urgency that might otherwise be associated with prayer. On the other hand, the open view holds that some of the future genuinely depends on prayer, and that God truly allows people to have spiritual input in what comes to pass. Fourth, and most significantly for Boyd, he argues that open theism provides a robust response to the problem of evil.[26] Boyd finds the response of those who explain horrific evil as being a part of God’s mysterious plan to be entirely unsatisfactory. Instead, he argues that evil occurs because free creatures such as humans and especially Satan and his demons abuse the freedom that God gives them and rebel against him. The evil choices these free agents make are not a part of God’s plan; indeed, he does all that he can—within the parameters of freedom that he has set—to influence people for good, fight against evil, and bring about good from evil.

Finally, Boyd presents scientific support for the openness perspective. This is a more peripheral means of support than the other four categories, but Boyd does claim that recent scientific advancements in quantum mechanics underscore the idea that the world is unpredictable and indeterministic to some degree.[27]

Boyd knows that the open theist perspective on the future is not traditional,[28] but he combines all of these different categories of supporting arguments in an attempt to present open theism as a valid evangelical explanation for the interaction between God’s foreknowledge of the future and the freedom of individuals. Furthermore, at different times he emphasizes similarities between open theism, Arminianism, and Molinism, in an effort to borrow credibility from these accepted evangelical perspectives.[29] Despite this, open theism in general and the work of Boyd in particular have met with harsh responses, with different reviewers deeming Boyd’s views to be incompatible with biblical inerrancy,[30] incompatible with historic evangelicalism,[31] and even heresy.[32]

A Critical Evaluation of Boyd’s Views

Although there are significant problems with Gregory Boyd’s open perspective, there are also aspects of his views that are compelling and worth defending. First, it is seems excessive to declare Boyd’s views to be heretical or incompatible with evangelical theology. Although Boyd does nuance traditional conceptions of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, he is adamant that open theism is supportive of both characteristics. God is perfectly omniscient because he knows all that there is to be known: he knows the past and present in full detail, he knows those aspects of the future that have already been settled, and he also knows all possibilities of what free creatures might choose to do.[33] In regard to omnipotence, God originally possessed all power, but freely chose to delegate a degree of his power to enable free creatures to make genuinely free decisions.[34] Regardless of this, God is still in control and is assured to win the cosmic battle with Satan and achieve his ultimate purposes in that he “determines the parameters of our freedom within the flow of history which He directs.”[35] In this sense, Boyd argues that the open view of God actually ascribes more power to God than the Calvinist perspective, which assumes that God “can be assured of ultimate victory only if he controls all the variables.”[36] Instead, the open perspective emphasizes that even when limiting himself by granting true freedom to created beings, God is still powerful enough to bring about his ultimate victory. Still, Boyd clearly redefines the traditional understanding of God’s omniscience and omnipotence,[37] and it may be true that the open perspective minimizes these attributes in some sense for the sake of emphasizing God’s love and the freedom he bestows as a result of that love. However, this is arguably more defensible than extreme versions of Calvinism that emphasize God’s omniscience and predetermination at the expense of his love for all people. If Calvinism is given a seat of prominence at the evangelical table, then surely there is room for open theism as well.

A second strength of Boyd’s perspective is his emphasis on the love of God and his desire for genuine, non-coercive relationships with humans. This serves as a helpful corrective to extreme views that picture God as exalted and distant, proclaiming irrevocable eternal decrees according to his purposes and unaffected by the problems and petitions of his people. Instead, openness thought argues that God empowers humans to genuinely affect him, and that God is so grieved by evil and suffering that he enters into the world through Jesus Christ and “suffered out of love at the hands of those for whom he died.”[38]

Third, Boyd emphasizes that out of his love, God created humanity with genuine freedom. This freedom allows humans to have real say-so over future events and the nature of their lives, and has compelling implications. Rather than feeling resignation at an inevitable future that has been settled from eternity past, believers share responsibility for what happens in the world, knowing that their choices genuinely influence the way things turn out. Boyd writes compellingly about how the open perspective empowers believers to fight against evil and injustice, knowing that their efforts truly matter, and also lends urgency to prayer, as prayer is a means of influencing God to actually change things in the world.[39]

Despite the strengths of various aspects of Boyd’s openness perspective, there are also numerous problems with his presentation; we will examine the three most significant. The greatest problem stems from Boyd’s insistence that it is impossible for a creature to genuinely have freedom if God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge of future events. In other words, if God knows that a specific event will come to pass, then he must necessarily be the cause of that event. This is a long-standing claim,[40] but one that Arminians have always claimed is unnecessary and logically confused. Simply knowing about an event in the past or the present does not imply that that knowledge caused the event in question; why then should knowledge of a future event imply causation? Instead, Arminans argue that “everything that God knows about the future, he knows only because it will happen, not vice-versa.” [41] God simply finds out about future events before they happen.[42] Of course, Boyd knows all of these arguments. It is unfortunate that he rejects them, because the classic Arminian view possesses the same strengths as the open theist perspective, without having many of the inconsistencies and problems from which it suffers.

A second problem with Boyd’s perspective stems from his discussion of the scriptural motif of future openness. It will be remembered that this group of passages represent God regretting certain decisions that he makes, being frustrated by the way things turn out, and even changing his mind and reversing his plans at times. Boyd takes these scriptures as conclusive evidence that God is unaware of certain aspects of the future. As multiple scholars have pointed out, however, Boyd reads these passages literally and does not seem to take into account that they are actually examples of anthropomorphism—divine accommodation where God uses analogy to human emotions to tell us something about himself.[43] Boyd rejects this criticism, however, arguing that the openness passages do not seem to be anthropomorphic, and that those who want to use anthropomorphism to explain them are doing so because they are uncomfortable with the implications that stem from reading the texts literally as open theists do.[44] Furthermore, Boyd argues that reading these scriptures anthropomorphically undermines the integrity of scripture: if a passage says God is frustrated by what his people do, how can that be the case if he knew all along what they were going to do? How can God be said to change his mind if he knew all along what he was going to do?[45] Based on these responses, it seems that Boyd does not truly appreciate that scripture uses anthropomorphic analogies to portray God as both similar and dissimilar to us, showing us that God genuinely experiences emotions, but not precisely in the same way that humans do.[46] Furthermore, Boyd’s claims that scripture is disingenuous if it depicts God as asking questions he already knows the answers to or being frustrated by events that he knew would come about do not account for texts where God asks questions about past or present events:

“God asks Adam, “Where are you?” and “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Gen 3:9, 11). The Lord asks Satan, “Where have you come from?” and “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:7-8). If God knew the answers, was he disingenuous to ask? …Does Boyd’s God know the past or present fully?”[47]

Of course, Boyd would readily affirm that God does know the past and present fully, and would likely respond that the questions asked by God above were likely rhetorical in nature.[48] Still, this raises questions about Boyd’s interpretation of these sorts of passages, and indicates that he is not as consistent in his literal reading of both deterministic and openness scriptures as he claims.

Third, Boyd’s approach is problematic because it seems uncertain—if not impossible—that the God of open theism can actually bring about his goal for creation. If God’s goal for creation was to have a church that would say yes to his love, and humans are only able to love God if they are free to choose to love him or not, and God is unaware of genuinely free choices until they occur, then it seems impossible for God to know for certain that he will be victorious and achieve his goal for creation in the end.[49] Additionally, since God’s engagement with evil and his ultimate victory over it is an integral part of Boyd’s response to the problem of evil, uncertainty regarding God’s ability to bring about his eschatological purposes for creation is a major problem for his theodicy as well. Boyd responds to this objection with two different arguments. First, he suggests that even though God does not know whether or not particular individuals will accept his love when he creates them, he did know from creation that “a certain percentage range of people would, through faith and by means of his grace, accept his saving love.”[50] Second, Boyd argues that God “predestines whatever aspects of history need to be predestined to accomplish his objectives.”[51] However, both of these responses seem like impossible claims for an open theist to make. If God can foreknow with surety that a certain percentage of people would accept his love, then according to the open perspective, that means that God has determined those responses, and such determination is incompatible with the entire open theist program.[52] The argument that God sometimes intervenes in the lives of moral agents to ensure that his purposes are achieved is even more problematic, as it overtly suggests that “God cannot accomplish His ultimate purpose without violating a significant component of that purpose (namely, human freedom).”[53] If Boyd’s ultimate confidence in God’s ability to realize his eschatological goals relies on God’s occasional removal of freedom from supposedly “free” creatures, what is the point of basing an entire theological construct on freedom? Ultimately, this contradiction seems to be an insurmountable problem.

Conclusion

Since first writing on open theism over twenty years ago, Gregory Boyd has spent considerable time expanding upon his views of God’s knowledge of the future and the freedom he grants to his creation, and trying to present a case for the open perspective that is both compelling and coherent. As I have argued in this paper, Boyd succeeds at the former but not the latter. Boyd’s firm insistence on the omniscience and omnipotence of God help to establish open theism as a valid evangelical perspective, and he is to be commended for his emphasis on the love of God and the freedom he grants to individuals which empowers them to live truly meaningful lives. However, Boyd’s understanding of the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom is problematic, as is his reading of various scriptures which present God in anthropomorphic ways. Most problematic though, is the fact that Boyd’s open theism is fundamentally incoherent in that it holds that God at times violates or overrides human freedom in order to guarantee that things turn out according to his plan. This contradiction renders the entire premise of the open perspective meaningless.

As noted previously, Arminianism can lay claim to the same advantages as the open view without being marred by its problems and inconsistencies. If nothing else, Boyd’s thoughtful and extensive work should encourage theologians from the Arminian camp to present the practical benefits of a free will theism that upholds God’s exhaustive foreknowledge in similarly compelling ways.


[1] It is difficult to pinpoint the exact beginnings of the modern open theist movement, but one particularly significant early work that initiated the use of “open” language was Clark Pinnock, et al, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

[2] Corin Mihaila, “The Ignorant God of Open Theism,” Faith and Mission 19, no. 3 (2002): 27-29, is representative of many scholars who, when examining open theism, focus on the unofficial triumvirate of Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders.

[3] Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1994).

[4] Boyd interacts with scripture in much of his writings, but for two earlier works with extensive scriptural focus, see Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 21-87; 157-69, and Gregory A. Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 13-37.

[5] See Gregory A. Boyd, God At War: The Bible & Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), and Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001).

[6] See Gregory A. Boyd, “God Limits His Control,” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 183-208.

[7] A good representation of this argument is made in Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, 33-34: “The view of God as knowing and controlling the whole future from the beginning is in my estimation more the product of Aristotelian philosophy than it is the Bible.” Boyd makes similar claims in other places, but he always simply states this conclusion rather than presenting an argument. See Boyd, God at War, 47, and Boyd, God of the Possible, 17, 130-31. For an argument that rejects the premise that classical theism was unduly influenced by Hellentistic thought, see Michael S. Horton, “Hellenistic or Hebrew? Open Theism and Reformed Theological Method,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45, no. 2 (June 2002): 317-41.

[8] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 51.

[9] Boyd, “God Limits His Control,” 188. Importantly, this freedom to choose whether or not to respond to love is not limited to humans, but is also extended to spiritual beings like angels. The abuse of this freedom and the subsequent (and ongoing) rebellion of Satan and his minions figures prominently into Boyd’s response to the problem of evil.

[10] Ibid., 189; Boyd, God of the Possible, 134-35.

[11] Boyd, God at War, 49-50: “Unless the future really consists (at least in part) in possibilities among which free creatures choose, and thus unless the future is known by God as being (at least in part) a realm of open possibilities (for God’s knowledge always perfectly corresponds with reality), then self-determining freedom, it seems, cannot be consistently maintained.” To be sure, open theism is not the only perspective that finds it impossible to reconcile God’s sovereign foreknowledge with genuine human freedom: somewhat ironically, Calvinism holds the same conviction, but reaches the opposite conclusion, ultimately minimizing or sacrificing human freedom in order to preserve God’s foreknowledge. See Horton, 335-36.

[12] Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic, 30

[13] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 117.

[14] Boyd, “God Limits His Control,” 193-94: “We begin by making our choices, but in the end, our choices make us. We are gradually but inevitably becoming the decisions we make.” Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” 20-21, uses Peter’s denial of Jesus as an example of this kind of foreknowledge. Jesus was able to predict what Peter would do when given the opportunity to deny him because he knew Peter’s character perfectly, as someone who was outwardly bold but cowardly when faced with a difficult situation. This would seem to be a very poor example, however, since Peter’s character was clearly not solidified based on the drastic character change he experienced after the resurrection. See Douglas S. Huffman, “Some Logical Difficulties in Open Theism,” Criswell Theological Review 1, no. 2 (2004): 183; Paul Kjoss Helseth, “Response to Gregory A. Boyd,” in Four Views on Divine Providence, ed. Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 219. Furthermore, this line of argumentation does not seem to be able to account for the level of specificity of Jesus’ prediction, that Peter would deny him three times before the crow of a rooster.

[15] Boyd, God of the Possible, 150.

[16] Ibid., 42-43; Boyd, “God Limits His Control,” 199-201. Boyd, God of the Possible, 127-28, also uses the example of the “Infinitely Intelligent Chess Master” who knows all possible future moves of an opponent and can thus always be prepared to respond in such a way that his ultimate victory is guaranteed.

[17] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 155-58; Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic, 45-46.

[18] Boyd, God of the Possible, 13-15.

[19] Ibid., 21-51; Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” 14-23. For a sampling of such passages, see Gen. 15:13; 1 Kings 13:1-2; Isa. 45:1, 46:9-11, 48:3-5; Matt. 26:34; John 6:64.

[20] Boyd, God of the Possible, 30.

[21] Ibid., 53-89; Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” 23-37. For examples of this category of scriptures, see Gen. 6:6, 22:12; Exod. 4:1-9, 13:17; 1 Sam. 15:10, 35; 2 Kings 20:1-6; 1 Chron. 21:15; Isa. 5:2-4; Jer. 3:6-7, 19-20, 18:4-11; Ezek. 12:3, 22:30-31; Matt. 26:39; 2 Pet. 3:9.

[22] Ibid., 14.

[23] Boyd, God of the Possible, 90-91.

[24] Ibid., 91-92.

[25] Ibid., 95-98.

[26] In God of the Possible, 7-8, Boyd states that he first started to reflect on the openness of God after reading about God changing his mind and adding 15 years to Hezekiah’s life following Hezekiah’s fervent prayer. Even with that in mind, it is evident that responding to the problem of evil is a central concern for Boyd, and lies at the heart of his advocacy for the open perspective. In addition to addressing this issue in other writings, God At War and Satan and the Problem of Evil form a two-volume effort to construct a theodicy using open theism.

[27] Boyd, God of the Possible, 107-11.

[28] Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic, 30.

[29] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 87: “The question of the openness of the future, then, is an in-house Arminian discussion on how to render the freewill defense most coherent, biblical and credible.” At times, Boyd also refers to his own view as “neo-Molinism.” See Satan and the Problem of Evil, 127-28. Many Arminians and Molinists do not affirm any close ties between themselves and open theism, however.

[30] Charles L. Quarles, “Was Jesus an Open Theist? A Brief Examination of Greg Boyd’s Exegesis of Jesus’ Prayer in Gethsemane,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 8, no. 3 (September 2004): 109.

[31] Michael D. Stallard, “A Dispensational Critique of Open Theism’s View of Prophecy,” Bibliotheca Sacra 161 (January-March 2004): 41.

[32] Richard L. Mayhue, “The Impossibility of God of the Possible,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 12, no. 2 (September 2001): 220. Understandably, Boyd is somewhat defensive about some of these responses, as can be seen in the discussion in Bruce A. Ware, “Rejoinder to Replies by Clark H. Pinnock, John Sanders, and Gregory A. Boyd,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45, no. 2 (June 2002): 245. Ultimately, although Boyd believes open theism to be the correct perspective and that it has important implications, he insists that it is not a doctrine that should be a source of division among Christians, and that “the love with which believers debate issues is more important to God than the sides we take,” God of the Possible, 9.

[33] In Boyd’s language, the debate is not really over God’s omniscience or his foreknowledge, but is rather a debate over “the content of reality that God knows.” Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” 13.

[34] Boyd, Letters From a Skeptic, 45-46.

[35] Ibid., 46.

[36] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 129.

[37] Ware, 252.

[38] Boyd, “God Limits His Control,” 186.

[39] Boyd, God of the Possible, 8, 92-98.

[40] As noted above, it is a claim that, somewhat ironically, both open theists and Calvinists share.

[41] Robert E. Picirilli, “An Arminian Response to John Sanders’s The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence,Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44, no. 3 (September 2001): 473. See also William Lane Craig and David P. Hunt, “Perils of the Open Road. Faith and Philosophy 30, no. 1 (January 2013): 49-53.

[42] David Hunt, “A Simple-Foreknowledge Response,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, ed. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 49.

[43] Mihaila, 29-33; Horton, 328-41; A. B. Caneday, “Critical Comments on an Open Theism Manifesto,” Trinity Journal 23, no. 1 (2002): 104-07.

[44] Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” 37-40.

[45] See Boyd, God of the Possible, 62, for an example of this repeated argument. On a practical level, this line of thought does not really make sense: I can be frustrated by an unfortunate event, even if it was something that I expected would happen.

[46] Mihaila, 30. Later, Mihaila, 32, states: “Thus, while one must accept the fact that in such passages the Bible speaks truthfully about God (i.e. God genuinely repents and regrets), it does not follow that the Bible speaks univocally about God in such passages (i.e., God repents and regrets in every way man does).”

[47] Caneday, 106-07. Caneday also points out that biblical passages where God tests to know whether or not his people love him actually suggest that God is unaware of present conditions rather than future conditions.

[48] In fact, he does assume that God is asking rhetorical questions in Gen. 3:8-9, Boyd, God of the Possible, 59. Boyd argues that the context of Gen. 3 demands that they be rhetorical questions while denying that the contexts of his “motif of future openness” passages similarly require a rhetorical interpretation. This inconsistency seems to stem from Boyd’s prior philosophical commitments to a God who knows the past and present exhaustively but does not exhaustively know future events, rather than from the texts themselves.

[49] Johannes Grössl and Leigh Vicens, “Closing the Door on Limited-Risk Open Theism.” Faith and Philosophy 31, no. 4 (October 2014): 476: “Since it is possible for every human being God could create to freely refuse to share in his love, God cannot guarantee, at creation, that His central purpose for the world will be fulfilled.”

[50] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 156.

[51] Ibid., 115. Going back to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel metaphor, Boyd argues that God sets the overall parameters for the story in a way that guarantees that things ultimately work out according to his goals.

[52] Grössl and Vicens, 483.

[53] Mihaila, 37.

The Christian Response to a Broken World

Christian Response:Broken WorldThe tragic events of the past week in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Dallas have been nothing short of heartbreaking. From my perspective, the response to these events from a lot of Christians has been pretty disappointing as well. Too often, we are quick to speak and slow to listen instead of the other way around (see James 1.19), and when we react in that way, we can often add fuel to the fires of heartache, division, and confusion that are already waging.

The reality is that we live in a broken world marred by lots of problems. As Christians living in this context, how should we respond when tragedy occurs? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here are three responses which I believe are helpful in the face of tragedy:

(1) In response to a broken world, Christians should lament. Perhaps our most basic response to suffering is that we should weep with those who weep (Romans 12.15). That seems like the most obvious thing in the world, but recently, instead of this, I have seen Christians telling those who weep that what they weep about doesn’t really exist and isn’t worth weeping about at all! When the world gives us evidence of its brokenness, we should acknowledge that brokenness, allow ourselves feel distress, and bring that distress before God. It has become popular, in some circles, to criticize prayer as a response to horrible tragedy, but as Christians, we should take no note of such dismissals. Christians believe that God is ultimately sovereign over the universe, and thus, He is the one who can do something about the brokenness in our world. It is absolutely appropriate that we bring out laments before our Father, as we yearn for a day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5.24).

(2) In response to a broken world, Christians should aid the suffering. I think part of the reason that a lot of people are critical of prayer is that they feel that this is all that Christians do. And perhaps that can be a fair criticism at times, because God certainly expects us to accompany our prayers with righteous actions. Philip Yancey says that the church forms the front line of God’s response to the suffering world, and I think he is right: Christians have a responsible to get into the mess of the world and try to do something to clean it up. That is probably accomplished less by posting political agendas on social media when tragedy happens, and more by being present with those who suffer, developing real relationships with people who are different than we are, and seeking to extend justice to those who don’t have it.

(3) In response to a broken world, Christians should proclaim Jesus. Too often, this part is neglected. In John 16.33, Jesus was speaking to His disciples on the night of His arrest and He said simply, “In this world you will have tribulation.” Though not spoken directly to us, those words certainly apply to us as well; as recent events remind us, we live in the same world, a world which was created good but has been tainted by sin and is now characterized by heartache. As Christians, we weep with those who weep, we do what we can to help those who are suffering, but we also remember the second half of John 16.33: “In this world you will have tribulation…but take courage, I have overcome the world!” As Christians we also proclaim that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ means that sin, suffering, strife, injustice, and death do not get the last word. As Christians, we long for the day when Jesus returns, when death dies, and when every tear is wiped away from our eyes.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I am certain that more could be said. At the same time, I am just as certain that if Christians everywhere would respond to suffering and tragedy in our world in these ways, the Christian witness would be strengthened, the suffering of people would be limited, and the borders of God’s Kingdom would be expanded.

The Honesty and Courage of God

For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is—limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.

(Dorothy L. Sayers, Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, 14)

The Fall of Man and the Devastation of Sin

The Fall of Man

Most Christians are generally familiar with the story of the Fall of Man as related in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden paradise to live with only one prohibition: they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.16-17). But then, the crafty serpent, who elsewhere in the Bible is equated with Satan,[1] comes along and entices Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Eve shares the fruit with her husband and Adam violates the command of God as well.

Usually when we talk about this event, we focus on it in a couple of predictable ways: the disobedient act of eating of the fruit represents the first human sin, and as a result, the spiritual relationship between humanity and God is ruptured, and physical death comes to mankind as a result.

Both of those things—the disruption of our relationship with God and our mortality—are important, and are certainly presented as results of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. But the consequences of sin don’t stop there; they are widespread, and affect all areas of life. To put it in other words, sin messes everything up, and as a result, we live in a messed-up world.[2]

Genesis 3 indicates that sin has theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical consequences:[3]

  • Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
  • Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked (personal effects).
  • Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
  • Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
  • Genesis 3.22-23: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).

The point of this post is to help us take sin more seriously, and see how all-destroying it is.

A Separation Between You And Your God: The Theological Consequences of Sin

This category probably won’t require as much commentary as some of the others, since this (along with physical effects) tends to be the area we hone in on.

Simply put, what I mean by “theological consequences” is that sin affects our relationship with God. Just as Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God when they hear Him walking in the garden after they have eaten the forbidden fruit, so we too are unfit for God’s presence. Scripture repeatedly affirms that our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59.2; Romans 3.23), and this is a big deal, because we were specifically created to live in relationship with God. With that intended relationship destroyed, people desperately seek out all sorts of ways of living out their desires in order to find meaning and fulfillment in life.

In the process, we become enslaved to sin (John 8.34; Romans 6), which is a powerful and disturbing image—the very desires that we chase after in hopes of finding fulfillment become our masters, and on our own, we are powerless to escape their bondage! It’s a desperate situation to be in, and in large part accounts for a society where there are so many people who are completely lost without any hope or direction in life.

Sin destroys our relationship with God.

What’s Wrong With Me? The Personal Consequences of Sin

Next, we focus on the personal consequences of sin (which, as we shall see, are closely related to the theological consequences). Returning to our text in Genesis 3, this aspect of sin’s destructiveness is hinted at in Genesis 3.7, 10-11 where Adam and Eve realize they are naked, sew together fig leaves to make loincloths and then, because of their nakedness, hide from God when He enters the garden.

What was so bad about Adam and Eve being naked? After all, it was the way God had created them, so clearly He had no problem with it! The problem came from Adam and Eve themselves: after they sin by eating the forbidden fruit, they become self-conscious and immediately feel that there is something wrong with them, and they are ashamed of themselves.[4] Ever since then, men and women have felt the same way: we exist in a state of inner conflict, lacking the self-confidence and self-acceptance that we should have as God’s creatures.

Basically, the process looks something like this:

  1. Humans were created for the purpose of living in relationship with God.
  2. Sin distorts and destroys that relationship.
  3. Without a relationship with God, we are inherently unfulfilled, because we are not living out the purpose for which we were created.
  4. We feel bad about ourselves and follow all sorts of false avenues looking for fulfillment.

Just consider our world today. People desperately want to feel happy or significant or fulfilled, so they are willing to try anything: fame, fortune, career accomplishment, relationships, children, sex, drugs, sports, etc. Why do you think the self-help industry generates billions of dollars each year? It’s because deep down, we all feel like there’s something wrong with us. We struggle with self-confidence and self-image, and we are convinced that we are deeply flawed.

And, biblically speaking, people are messed up; we are deeply flawed. But flatter abs, a more secure retirement, or a better relationship with your boyfriend won’t provide the answer. Oh sure, these things might make you feel a little better about yourself for a while, but it won’t last. We were created to live in relationship with God, and only in the context of that relationship can we find the solution to our deep flaws.

Sin destroys the way we look at ourselves.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Sociological Consequences of Sin

Returning to our text, we can see the sociological dimension of sin clearly played out in verses 11-13:

[God] said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this that you have done?” The woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate.””

People were created to live in community with one another. Specifically, Eve was created to be the perfect partner for Adam (Genesis 2.18-25). But when God confronts Adam and Eve with their sin, something very significant (and unfortunate) happens: the unity that had previously existed between Adam and Eve is disrupted as Adam immediately blames his wife for the sin that they had committed together.

This brings a conflict and disharmony between them that would be passed down and magnified over time (v.16), and we can see it unfold in the pages of Genesis—Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, the continually evil humanity of Genesis 6, the depraved society of Sodom and Gomorrah, the broken relationships between Sarah and Hagar, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and more. But the problems don’t stop there—this same conflict and disharmony continues to darken and distort our world today.

Our world is deeply flawed by sin, and this manifests itself everyday sociologically, as we treat one another in a wide array of horrible, messed up ways:

  • On an international level, countries wage war and kill because of conflict over ideology or resources.
  • Systemic evils such as poverty, abortion, racism, sex trafficking, government corruption, lotteries, and more stem from our exploitation of our neighbors in order that we might obtain our own selfish desires.
  • Horrific acts of incomprehensible violence fill our news cycles. Mass shootings at elementary schools, the use of passenger airliners as terrorist missiles, and bombings at marathon finish lines shock and dismay us and cause us to weep.
  • Our interpersonal relationships are a mess. Dishonesty, reckless ambition, and violence abound. The (supposedly) lifelong bonds of marriage are broken on a whim.

And the sum result: our society as a whole stagnates and decays, as people live lives marked by self-interest and fear of one another. The community for which we were created is broken.

Sin destroys our relationships with one another.

Nature, Red In Tooth and Claw: The Ecological Consequences of Sin

As mentioned above, we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden.

Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.

But following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:

And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”

This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been damaged as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies that have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.

Furthermore, there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22, Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.[5]

As I have written elsewhere, it is worth pointing out that there was a degree of chaos in creation from the beginning (creation was “good,” not “perfect,” the serpent was present and his temptation toward evil, and the Garden of Eden needed to be tended and kept), but it does seem clear that that chaos was intensified following Adam and Eve’s sin by the curse that was placed on creation. Adam and Eve are ultimately expelled from Eden, and outside of the Garden, creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity for which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.[6]

Sin destroys our relationship with creation.

The Wages of Sin is Death: The Physical Consequences of Sin

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, when we talk about sin in the Garden and the Fall of Man, we tend to focus on the theological and physical consequences. We began by examining the theological fallout from Adam and Eve’s fateful actions, and we will conclude by looking at the physical ramifications.

God had told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they “would surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17; 3.3), and although they didn’t drop dead as soon as the fruit passed their lips, physical death did ultimately result as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden and deprived of access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3.22-23).

This development should provide some clarity to our thinking on death. Often, we talk about death being a “natural part of life,” but although death is a universal experience to humans, theologically, it is not “natural.” God created us as mortals with access to immortality in the Garden. It was through sin that that access was taken away and that the reality of death came to be fundamental to human existence. No wonder that Paul can talk of death as an “enemy” in 1 Corinthians 15.26: death is not a part of the existence that God desired for us! It is a result of sin and it belongs to the realm of Satan.

Outside of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve (and all of their descendants) are subjected to the futility of mortality. We have mutations in our DNA that lead to horrible diseases, we get sick because our immune systems don’t perfectly protect us, we grow old and weak, and ultimately, we die.

Sin leads to physical death.

Conclusion: Why Does This Matter?

The Bible presents sin as a destructive force with widespread ramifications, and I think having a robust theology of sin is important because it helps us to properly understand at least three crucial aspects of Christianity:

(1) What Jesus accomplished on the cross: Just as sin presents widespread problems, the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross offers a comprehensive solution. His sacrificial death makes possible reconciliation with God (theological). The resulting relationship enables us to live out the purpose for which we have been created and purge ourselves of self-loathing and existential uncertainties (personal). Indwelt by the Holy Spirit and developing His fruit in our lives (Galatians 5), we are empowered to love others and live in genuine, God-glorifying relationship with them (sociological), and to live as genuine stewards of God’s creation (ecological). Those who belong to God, although they die, will live eternally with him (physical).

(2) Christian life and mission: A fundamental part of the mission of God is to oppose and destroy the works of Satan (1 John 3.8), and understanding the widespread ramifications of sin helps us to see that our response to sin and evil in the world should be similarly widespread. Helping people find meaning and purpose in their lives, opposing poverty and racism, and caring for creation are all endeavors that Christians can and should be involved in as they seek to alleviate the consequences of sin.

(3) Christian hope: Regardless of the previous two points, the ultimate reality is that we live outside the Garden, in a world that has been tarnished and broken by sin. Despite the fact that we work to oppose evil and spread the values of God’s kingdom, suffering and heartache are a part of our lives. In these difficult circumstances, we are continually strengthened and emboldened by hope: we look forward to the time when Christ returns, when sin is destroyed, and when we live for eternity in perfect community with our Creator.

Come, Lord Jesus!


[1]See, for example, Revelation 12.9.

[2]One of the biggest problems I have with those who read the early chapters of Genesis—especially the account of Adam and Eve—as non-historical is that such a view strips away the Bible’s explanation for the reason why our world is the way it is. The Bible repeatedly affirms that sin is a huge problem, and our own observations repeatedly affirm that our world in its current state is fundamentally broken. Genesis 3 provides the biblical explanation for the enormity of sin, and a groaning creation (cf. Romans 8.22).

[3]This post is based in considerable part on the lectures of Dr. Mark Powell in his Systematic Theology class which I took at Harding School of Theology.

[4]It is important to note that, according to the biblical account, Adam and Eve are ashamed of their nakedness, not of their sin (it should have been the other way around). Sin had fundamentally changed the way they viewed themselves.

[5]If my thinking on this is correct, then it also stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, rather than God’s wrath against a specific people/place. Incidentally, I think the promise made to Noah following the flood (Genesis 9.8-17) that man and creation would not again be judged by a massive flood (and perhaps, by extension, other natural disasters) supports this idea.

[6]I mentioned the general neglect of this topic, and I think that neglect is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. In a significant portion of Christendom, discussion of creation care is dismissed as a political idea (specifically a politically liberal idea), despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clear biblical principle!

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