Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Here is a short selection of verses about the gospel. It is always an interesting exercise to compare your 'gospel' with the bible's, to see what is missing, what is underplayed, what is over-emphasised perhaps in your own attempts to present the gospel. This list is by no means comprehensive (and of course, simply listing the verses that mention 'gospel' is not the best way to give a full definition of what the gospel is anyway), but still should provide some food for thought and a little taste of the dazzling, multi-faceted unity of God's gospel.

Mar 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mar 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

Act 20:24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Rom 1:1-4 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

Rom 1:16-17 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith."

Rom 2:16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

1Co 15:1-8 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you--unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

2Co 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Gal 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed."

Eph 1:13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,

Eph 3:6-7 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power.

Eph 6:15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.

Phi 4:15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.

Col 1:5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel,

1Ti 1:11 in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

2Ti 1:10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

2Ti 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel,

Rev 14:6-7 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water."

So true...

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Monday, November 27, 2006

So-so essay about Open Theism

As I gear up for my second year doctrine essay it has made me revisit my first year 'effort'. It's not that great, though the issue it deals with is important and some people might benefit, so here it is (admittedly slightly changed from the form in which it was handed in). Might be worth also looking at THIS previous post.

Is God free in Clark Pinnock’s Open Theism, and does this matter? Discuss with reference to the doctrine of creation.

Classic Theism defines God as ‘free from various limitations’, asserting by this ‘His entire freedom to be Himself and to act according to His own nature and will’.[1] However Clark Pinnock’s Open Theism has recently sought to re-define God over against many aspects of Classic Theism. This essay will argue that the result of this re-definition is that God is not free as classically understood. In Open Theism God is significantly (albeit voluntarily) dependent upon his creation to enact his will. God’s freedom is sacrificed in Open theism for the sake of establishing and maintaining human libertarian freedom. This essay will proceed by defining the extent to which God is free in Pinnock’s theology, moving to a consideration of the importance of this by showing that Pinnock’s vision of God has serious theological and pastoral implications. Much of the discussion will focus on the doctrine of creation since it is in this area that the issue of God’s freedom comes into sharp focus.

Clark Pinnock’s Open Theism proposes a model for understanding God in his sovereignty which is significantly different from the ‘aloof monarch’[2] of Greek philosophy (which he claims has unduly influenced Classic Theism). In his model God’s relational nature means he is ‘open to the changing realities of history’ and ‘interacts dynamically with humans’.[3] However, Pinnock is at great pains to assert that in Open Theism God remains sovereign and therefore (to some extent) free. Over against Process Theism, the ‘Open God’ is self-sufficient and does not need to create the world.[4] God is sovereign and free in creation and has exercised his freedom in choosing to create a world that ‘delights his heart and pleases him’ in which he can demonstrate his most fundamental attribute - love.[5] This in Pinnock’s view necessitated a world where creatures are ‘free beings’ such that humans are ‘able to respond to God’[6] as his partners. Humanity enjoys ‘real give and take relationships’[7] with their creator, relationships in which God is affected and changed by the free choices that human beings make. In creating such a world God, although powerful enough to exercise universal control, ‘willingly surrenders power’, choosing not to predetermine everything in his creation, so as to delegate significant power to humanity.[8] This self-limitation to make ‘room for creaturely freedom’ is properly understood to be ‘freely chosen, not compelled’ and ‘voluntary’ – hence Pinnock argues that Open Theism presents God as free to create, engage in relationship and show graciousness.[9]

However, the limitation of God within Open Theism is of such an order that God has ‘made himself dependent on’ the world in ‘some important respects’.[10] Although voluntary, God’s dependence on the world proves substantial when Pinnock unfolds the nature of the creation-creator relationship. God delegates power to human beings and thus makes himself ‘vulnerable’ - in love he gives humanity the ‘room to rebel against him’.[11] This has led to a world in which ‘evils happen that are not supposed to happen’ and which God could not possibly have known would happen beforehand.[12] Likewise, God neither completely knows nor foreordains the future of his creation, but has set goals which he then works out ‘ad hoc in history’.[13] Even in the working out of these goals God is limited to using those means which will not override free human choice.[14] God’s will can be (and often is) frustrated by human decisions, [15] consequently God has to adapt and re-arrange his plans as he works towards his goal of a renewed creation.[16] In this sense humans are ‘co-workers with God, participating with him in what shall be hereafter’ - a future that is co-determined by God and ‘human agents’.[17] Thus the shape of God’s plans and workings are (at least partly) contingent upon his creatures. This by definition means that God is not free to do all that he desires.[18]

Curiously, Pinnock seems to claim at various points that this Open view of God gives God more freedom than Classic Theism. For example, the Open God is not timeless which would be a limitation of his ability to relate to his creation, leaving God trapped in a kind of stasis.[19] Accordingly, in Open Theism God is ‘transcendent’ in some respects (such as immunity to ageing, able to fully remember the past) but is in time (at least in part) and experiences ‘the succession of events with us’.[20] However, it is exactly this sense of experiencing time with humanity that means that God faces ‘a future that is open’[21] in which his will can be frustrated. Pinnock argues that this in itself enables God to be more free than if he’d predestined everything.[22] In his view God is flexible in how he works out his plans, even when it comes to fulfilling his own prophetic word, hence ‘God is free in the manner of fulfilling prophecy and is not bound to a script, even his own…he is free to strike out in new directions.’.[23] However, we should note that this apparent freedom and flexibility is due to God prizing human freedom to the extent that he will ‘adjust his plans because he is sensitive to what humans think and do’.[24] When God created humanity he ‘placed higher value on freedom leading to love than on guaranteed conformity to his will.’[25]

This vision of human freedom provides a key to understanding the sense in which God is limited in Pinnock’s theology. Open Theism assumes that humans have libertarian freedom - the absolute freedom to decide to ‘perform an action or refrain from it’[26] unconstrained by God’s predetermination or foreknowledge or their own inherited nature.[27] This libertarian view of freedom has traditionally been distinguished from compatibilist freedom – the freedom to ‘act according to our character or desires’ even if our actions are determined by something external to ourselves (such as God).[28] Classic theism has historically denied the reality of libertarian freedom for God or his creatures (even God is constrained by his own nature) [29] at the same time as asserting a version of compatibilist freedom[30] that sees God as the ultimate and first cause of all things. This is closely tied to an understanding of God as the creator but also the upholder of all things. Since God sustains creation he must have full knowledge of it and be in control of all that goes on within it,[31] such that even sinful human acts happen because God is sustaining the being of those who are committing them. Human beings are responsible for the decisions they make, whilst subject to God’s sovereignty, such that even sinful acts can be simultaneously ordained by God for his own (good) purposes. Such an understanding arises from the biblical data,[32] establishes human accountability, and (crucially for our discussion) understands God to be sovereign and free to accomplish all that he desires for his creation, in, despite and through human actions. In Open Theism, whilst libertarian freedom is strongly asserted for humanity, God is denied freedom of spontaneity since his desires are often thwarted or disobeyed by human actions - even to the extent that God must change his plans in order to maintain his overall goals.

To summarise, in Pinnock’s Open Theism, although God is free and sovereign in his initial act of creation, he subsequently acts in relation to creation in ways that are constrained by human liberty.[33] God is not free to accomplish all that he desires but is dependent on creation. We must now proceed to a consideration of why this revision of God’s freedom matters theologically and pastorally. We will discuss two broad areas – the doctrine of redemption (including concerns relating to soteriology and eschatology) and the doctrine of God.

Regarding the doctrine of redemption, since God is not free to accomplish his plans independent of human choice, the decisive factor in individual salvation is human choice,[34] as Pinnock himself virtually admits on occasion.[35] It seems difficult to ascertain why this does not mean humanity can claim at least partial credit for redemption, an idea repugnant to the plain statement of scripture. [36] This creates a disparity between God’s activity in creation and redemption. God was sovereign in creating human beings, but needs their co-operation in re-creation.

It follows that just as God’s will for the redemption of individuals is contingent upon their decisions, so too his plan for the redemption of the world in a new creation is dependent upon the role of human agents. As such the future is ‘partly settled and partly unsettled’ in Open theism.[37] This has serious consequences for eschatology, since in Open Theism ‘no-one knows how God, pursuing an open route strategy, will win the final victory over sin’.[38] Pinnock is keen to retain strong conviction that God remains faithfully committed to his goals for creation[39] and that they will be attained, but the assurance for this is that God is ‘a kind of master chess player’. Pinnock points to the fact that it has taken God over 2,000 years so far since Christ ‘to bring his kingdom in’ to support his view. Although he relates this to God’s patience and long-suffering desire to see many redeemed, the overall impression is that God is taking a long time because he has to struggle with free agents in opposition to him.[40] Additionally, Pinnock offers little reason for why humanity thwarting God’s plans (as at the Fall) is only a possibility ‘in the short term’.[41] Since human beings and the ‘powers of darkness’ have absolute freedom to follow or resist God’s will,[42] it seems at least logically possible that human beings could continue to frustrate the attaining of God’s goals for his creation indefinitely. Since God did not know what Adam would use the freedom he gave him (nor can he know what any other human being will do now or in the future),[43] and since God has no absolute control over such choices, it seems difficult to imagine what God would be able to do were humanity as a whole to resist his offer of grace resolutely and indefinitely. Since many humans evidently do exercise their God-given freedom in this way, it seems there is no answer in Open Theism as to why such a situation could not arise.[44] This allows logically for at least a potential stalemate in the chess game between God and those who oppose him. Pinnock doesn’t take his Open Theism to this conclusion, in fact there are several times where he is keen to give assurance that God will achieve his goals. His system is unable to offer any basis for being certain of this however. Since God neither knows nor foreordains the future, and the unfolding of his plans interact with human beings who can (and do) express their freedom in rebellion against him, there is no certainty that God’s goal of a new creation will ever arrive.[45] Even at best, Open Theism makes the attaining of God’s goals contingent upon human decision; if faith is the ‘condition for the concrete realization’ of individual salvation, then logically it is the condition for the renewal of the creation as whole.[46] Although Pinnock insists God is more powerful than humanity,[47] it is abundantly clear that human choice (an area in which God has limited freedom to act) is crucial for the achievement of God’s goals. Similarly, it is unclear why the future sinless state of the new creation is guaranteed under Open Theism, since Pinnock is ambiguous over whether human freedom remains libertarian in the new creation.[48] Logically speaking, if libertarian freedom is essential to the kind of relationships God intended in his creation, a redeemed creation could not be the fulfilment of God’s goals unless it was retained. Pinnock speculates that ‘a process of transformation that results in a confirmation of character’[49] will render human rebellion impossible. Since even God cannot know whether this will happen, and has voluntarily restrained himself from ruling it out, this seems a slim basis for trusting his promises that the blessedness of the new creation will be eternal.

Additionally, since presumably it was not God’s intention that Christ be crucified before the foundation of the world (if God did not even know the Fall would occur[50]), the cross is belittled in God’s plans, becoming his response to the de-railing of his creation project. Also, since Open Theism cannot guarantee against the possibility that the grace of God demonstrated at the gospel will simply stop working to reconcile humanity to God,[51] the efficacy of the cross is called into question.[52] When Pinnock asserts that ‘when Plan A fails, God is ready with Plan B’, it seems sensible to assume that God would be more than ready to supplement (even replace) the cross should the situation demand another means of wooing humanity.

Whilst Pinnock does not take the logic of his system to all of these extremes,[53] his system does allow for (even logically leads to) such possibilities, demonstrating the extent to which the logic of the gospel is compromised. This is inevitably disastrous for the honour of God’s name and the assurance of his people. Why should the Church trust God to be the best chess player when at times his game has let him down? This is a reasonable conclusion from the way Open Theism limits God’s ability to accomplish all that he desires.

Thus it has already emerged that Open Theism’s limitation of God gravely affects the doctrine of God by casting doubt on his truthfulness and faithfulness. This is confirmed when the consequences of a limited sovereignty for the scriptures are explored. Since God delegates a degree of power he cannot retain control over all aspects of the scripture text. Pinnock acknowledges this as a natural consequence of human libertarian freedom, but suggests that the alternative is ‘what amounts to a dictation of the text’.[54] By contrast he argues that God inspired scripture through ‘stimulation and invitation’ rather than control.[55] As a result scripture ‘expresses his will for our salvation’ – language that seems cautiously far from scripture being words that God could ‘claim as his own’.[56] The problem however is not just the conclusions that Pinnock draws himself but the further conclusions that could be drawn from his system and against which his system offers no safeguard. Open Theism leaves too much room for imperfection in the scriptures - since when God acts in history he is prepared to settle for second best because he values human freedom,[57] why not so in the production of scripture? This has serious consequences for the inerrancy and reliability of scripture, God’s truthfulness and our ability to truly know him.

Likewise, God’s goodness is compromised by Open Theism’s limitation of his freedom. In Pinnock’s system love is a defining attribute of God.[58] However, his definition of love is such that God can and does change his plans and ways because of human actions and because of his emotions. For Pinnock, impassibility is ‘the most dubious of the divine attributes discussed in classical theism’, and as result he postulates that God ‘actually suffers because of his decision to love’.[59] Patristic theology correctly understood impassibility as implying ‘perfect moral freedom’ – meaning that God cannot be diverted from his good will - rather than that he ‘surveys existence with epicurean impassivity from the shelter of a metaphysical insulation’.[60] Pinnock thus goes farther than simply asserting that God experiences emotions and asserts that God ‘changes for our sakes’ with all persons in the trinity suffering at the cross ‘in different ways’.[61] If God changes in this way due to human actions his will is no longer solely ‘determined from within’ and can be ‘swayed from without’.[62] It is small wonder then that a God who is thus open to human contribution is not free to accomplish all that he desires but experiences frustration. However, God is not free to be absolutely good and loving since he is not absolutely independent.[63] By contrast, Frame argues that in the bible it is because God is ‘too strong to be defeated’ that he is able to love (Romans 8:35).[64] A God who is unable to accomplish all he desires cannot be good and loving to the absolute since his love may be thwarted. God may be love in Open Theism but he does not exhibit this quality perfectly. Although this is the reverse of what Pinnock himself argues,[65] it does seem difficult to imagine how God’s love is perfect if its goals are unfulfilled. Open Theism logically suggests God may well be forced to judge someone even though deep down his will would be to love them eternally – God is thus bound by human decision, even in his love. If God’s primary attribute (as Open Theists would have it) cannot be shown to be something which he displays to perfection then surely the whole system is called into question since it cannot be a valid model for understanding the one true God of the scriptures.

Similarly God’s wisdom is compromised if God is not free. Pinnock depicts God as a risk-taker,[66] limiting his freedom for the grand project of a world where human freedom is real and love is possible.[67] As such God is responsible for the possibility (but not the actuality) of evil.[68] However, sin and evil is outside of God’s control, since God did not know the fall would happen for certain and does not know what human beings even now will do with their free choices.[69] As such Open Theism leaves us with a picture of a God who entered into a risky creation project which is now victim to the free rebellion of humanity which God can neither control nor entirely foreknow. God remains the sustainer of a creation which he has chosen not to control, yet all the while it denies his loving purposes. We are left without the assurance that God has any greater plan[70] in mind by the evil which runs rampant in his world.[71] PInnock is most insistent on this point saying that if God foreknew Hitler’s evil

‘…it would imply that he thought Hitler’s evils could serve a purpose and that it was better that, on balance, they happen rather than they not happen. Surely not! God gave Hitler freedom but it was not settled ahead of time how he would use it.’[72]

Extreme evil creates problems for any theological system, but, whilst God’s (apparent) ‘culpability’ in Classic Theism is that he permissively wills evil for a greater good (which we don’t fully see or fully know now, but God does), in Open Theism God can be charged with the short-sightedness that made evil possible, and is able merely to react to it by trying (not always successfully) to make the best of a bad situation. Although Pinnock argues that the world we have as a result is worth the risk God took in creation,[73] others have concluded that, given the number of God’s ‘risks’ that have ‘failed’, the Open Theist God is hardly worth trusting as ‘the paradigm of wisdom’.[74] If Open Theism were true it would be hard to argue that in creating the world and limiting his freedom God has not made an almighty blunder. [75] Since God is responsible for the possibility of evil, is he not negligent to have limited himself from controlling it?

Finally, Open Theism effectively leaves God as merely the most powerful among a number of powers in his creation. As such his Kingship and Lordship are undermined and in many ways resembles one of the gods of ancient polytheism,[76] needing to exercise his rule and move his plans forward by the consent of the other powers especially humanity.[77] It would seem that God’s sovereignty is diminished to elevate humanity to something akin to god-like status. In practice[78] the vital distinction between the creator and his creation is broken down because God is dependent on what he has made, thus Frame argues that ‘if God limited his sovereignty, he would become something less than Lord of all, something less than God’.[79]

It seems therefore that in Open Theism the glory of the Creator and Redeemer God of scripture is at stake. The relationship of the creator to the creation is of such importance that if his sovereignty is restrained then redemption, eschatology and the very character of God are affected. Behind Open Theism lies Pinnock’s belief that ‘unless the portrait of God is compelling, the credibility of belief in God is bound to decline’.[80] It is hard to see how Open theism’s picture of God is an adequately compelling object of faith.

[1] This is a quote regarding God’s freedom as understood in Patristic Theology. Classic Theism has followed the church fathers in this regard. See G. L. Prestige, God in Patristic Thought, (London: SPCK, 1952), p. 4.
[2] Clark H. Pinnock, The Openness of God, (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1994) pp. 103-4.
[3] Idem.
[4] Ibid. p. 109.
[5] Ibid. p. 110.
[6] Idem.
[7] Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2001) p. 35.
[8] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 109 & 115.
[9] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 109, 112 & 117.
[10] Pinnock, Mover, p. 31.
[11] Pinnock, Openness, p. 115.
[12] Ibid., p. 115.
[13] Ibid. p. 113.
[14] Pinnock, Mover, p. 139.
[15] ‘The will of God is not something that is always done but something that can be followed or resisted.’ Ibid., p. 40.
[16] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 113. See also Pinnock, Mover, pp. 40-2.
[17] PInnock, Openness, p. 116. See also Clark H. Pinnock, ‘From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology’ in The Grace of God, the Will of Man, General Editor: Clark H. Pinnock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1989) pp. 15-30 (p. 20).
[18] By contrast, see Psalm 115:3, 135:6.
[19] Pinnock, Openness, p. 121.
[20] Ibid. pp. 120-1.
[21] Idem.
[22] Pinnock, Mover, p. 51.
[23] Idem.
[24] Pinnock, Openness, p. 116 .
[25] Pinnock, Mover, p. 41.
[26] Ibid. p. 41.
[27] John M. Frame, No other God – Α Response to Open Theism, (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2001) p. 120. See also Pinnock, Mover, p. 128.
[28] Frame argues that compatibilist freedom is an important concept in scripture, although he also argues that scripture doesn’t call this kind of relationship between will and action ‘freedom’, preferring to reserve that term for true moral freedom – the freedom to do what God says is good. By contrast, he does not regard libertarian freedom as a biblical category at all. Frame, No Other God, pp. 124 & 131-2.
[29] Ibid., p. 128. Also see how Pinnock effectively agrees that God in himself doesn’t have libertarian freedom in Pinnock, Openness, p. 118.
[30] Or ‘freedom of spontaneity’.
[31] In Job 42:2 Job, having listened to a prolonged monologue from God asserting his sovereignty in sustaining and creating all things, declares ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.’
[32] There are numerous examples in scripture where human sin is simultaneously ordained by God for the accomplishment of his own good plans. See for example Mark 14:21, Genesis 50:19-20.
[33] Thus Pinnock says ‘Creation placed limits on God’s freedom to act subsequently’. Pinnock, Mover, p. 136.
[34] This follows from a libertarian view of human freedom too. Likewise, the extent of human depravity is altered if humans have libertarian freedom, which in turn affects the extent to which salvation is by grace alone.
[35] ‘What was praiseworthy about Abram was his faith, i.e., his open responsiveness to the will of God (Heb. 11:8). His salvation was by grace but conditioned on an obedient response.’ Also ‘God called Abram and he freely responded…In the stories about Abraham, we see a man’s confidence in God mature and God’s confidence in a man grow.’ Pinnock, Mover, p. 40 & 42. See also Pinnock, ‘Pilgrimage’, p. 23.
[36] Frame, No other God, pp. 74-83.
[37] Pinnock, Mover, p. 137.
[38] Ibid., p. 52.
[39] Ibid., p. 43
[40] See Idem.
[41] Ibid., p. 42.
[42] Ibid., p. 40.
[43] Ibid., p. 138.
[44] Pinnock writes ‘…scripture suggest one can be finally impenitent and be excluded from the kingdom…The fact that God does not override the possibility of human refusal is attributable to the value he places on freedom.’ It is not clear what assurance there is that the history of redemption won’t grind to a halt in the face of corporate persistent refusal to accept grace. Were Open Theism true God would be (voluntarily) unable to achieve his redemptive purposes in such a situation. Clark H. Pinnock, Flame of Love – A Theology of the Holy Spirit, (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 190.
[45] Ibid., p. 52. See also Pinnock, Openness, pp. 115-116.
[46] Pinnock is unclear as to how the final consummation will come about, though he is clear that it will. Presumably, if humanity simply en masse refused to turn to God then God would either have to rethink how to persuade them (which in turn could potentially fail too) or cut short his plans for saving as many people as possible and usher in judgment and re-creation ahead of schedule! Either way, what God wants has been frustrated. See Pinnock, Μοver, p. 52.
[47] Ibid., p. 53.
[48] Ibid., p. 31.
[49] Idem.
[50] Pinnock, Mover, p. 138.
[51] This is not to say that Pinnock has no objective element to the atonement in his theology, he clearly does. However, by making Jesus’ life and death that which sets in motion ‘a process of salvation and healing’ which ‘must be laid hold of by faith’ (which Pinnock understands to be generated by human choice), logically a situation could arise whereby the message of the cross simply ceases to work due to human stubbornness. In Pinnock’s system, whilst God would not need to establish an objective means of atonement to better Christ, there is at least the logical possibility that God may well need to come up with a new means of wooing humanity other than the message of the cross (or accept the defeat of his plans to reconcile – either way the efficacy of the cross is somewhat undermined). Pinnock, Flame, pp. 96-7.
[52] Pinnock suggests that God knows what will ‘bring his people round’ in reference to the statement in Romans 11: 26 that ‘all Israel will be saved’. But this does not make sense in Pinnock’s system, since many people do not repent. The God of Open Theism obviously has no foolproof way of reconciling people to himself. Pinnock, Mover, p. 128.
[53] See footnotes 41, 42 & 43 above.
[54] Pinnock, Mover, p. 129.
[55] Idem.
[56] Reformed theology would argue that whilst scripture was not dictated, God oversaw all aspects of its production, including the views, circumstance and background of the human authors, such that all the human words and idioms of scripture are exactly as God intended them to be. God worked through the human authors and their decisions so that their words are simultaneously his words. Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine – Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, (Leicester: IVP, 1999) p. 39.
[57] Pinnock, Openness, p. 116.
[58] Being ‘loving’ in the way Pinnock has defined thus becomes the yardstick by which other doctrines such as impassibility are measured. See Ibid., pp. 114, 119.
[59] Ibid., pp. 118-9.
[60] Prestige, Patristic, p. 7.
[61] Pinnock, Mover, p. 58.
[62] Prestige, Patristic, p. 7.
[63] Logic suggested by Prestige, Patristic, p. 4.
[64] Frame, No Other God, p. 56.
[65] Pinnock, Mover, p. 58.
[66] Pinnock, Openness, pp. 124-5.
[67] Love is, of course, just as possible in a deterministic view of God’s relationship to his creation. Human will/desire/choice is a reality - albeit within the overall sovereignty of God who, in the case of believers, alters their desires such that they can start to trust, love and obey God.
[68] Pinnock, Mover, p. 47.
[69] Pinnock uses the example of Hitler. Ibid., p. 138.
[70] Ibid., p. 47.
[71] This appears to negate the comforting pastoral effects of many passages of scripture (as well as contradict their plain sense). See Proverbs 16:4, Romans 8:28-30, Genesis 50:20 and Frame, No Other God, p. 74.
[72] Pinnock, Mover, p. 47.
[73] Ibid., p. 140.
[74] Frame, No Other God, p. 209.
[75] Pinnock himself suggests that the Open view legitimises the questioning of God’s wisdom. See Pinnock, Mover, p. 137.
[76] This comparison comes from information about Polytheism given by Dr Mike Ovey in CD1.1 lecture notes 2006.
[77] ‘God does not monopolise the power…God willingly surrenders power and makes possible a partnership with the creature.’ Pinnock, Openness, p. 113.
[78] We say ‘in practice’ because Pinnock argues that God in himself is powerful enough for total sovereignty. Idem.
[79] This, he argues, is because in the scriptures sovereignty is tied to God’s very nature. See Frame, No Other God, pp. 130-1.
[80] Pinnock, Openness, p. 101.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Justification by faith & the gospel

In blogging on this subject I am aware that I enter into a debate in which I am no expert - a debate which seems to be increasingly 'charged'. Therefore, some caveats are necessary. This blog is not intended as

a. a definitive answer or discussion of these issues
b. an anathematisation of those I might be disgreeing with (or even an engagement with a definitive statement of what they believe)
c. an exegetical work on the relevant passages

It is, however, some of my current thoughts on the place of justification by faith in the gospel.

A couple of quotes from Tom Wright to kick us off. Please read them in context HERE or (PDF) HERE (for the first two, which are actually one quotation) and HERE (for the third statement). And please remember that they are not meant to be somehow definitive of his position.

‘If we are thinking Paul’s thoughts after him, we are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith.’

‘We are justified by faith by believing in the gospel itself – in other words, that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.’

‘Justification by faith itself is a second-order doctrine.’

I want to affirm the second statement and deny the first and third. Hence the question is:-

Is ‘justification by grace through faith’ the gospel?

A distinction must be made. There are two ways of saying something ‘is’ the gospel. One way would be to use ‘is’ to mean that something truly is a part of the gospel, though not, of course, the sum total of the it. Hence you’re in a conversation with someone who says ‘tell me the gospel’ (as people do). You give him/her your best and clearest gospel outline. You have told them the gospel (i.e. you haven’t told them another gospel or a false gospel) even though you haven’t told them the entirety of the gospel.

The other use of ‘is’ equates it with an 'equals' sign in the sense of 1 on 1 mapping. 'x is the gospel' thus means 'x = gospel', i.e. the gospel in its entirety.

In relation to ‘justification by faith’ then I want to say that this doctrine is the gospel in the first sense of that phrase. That is, explain justification by faith to someone and you have told them the gospel. Of course if you’d also talked to them about union with Christ, or resurrection, or of the kingdom of Christ, or the deity of Christ, or explained penal substitution to them, then you would still have told them the gospel. What you haven’t done is told them the entirety of the gospel. And depending on how you’ve explained it to them you might not have told them the heart of the gospel (I take it that justification and any other doctrine must be taught Christocentrically to qualify as telling the heart of the gospel. Wright is surely correct to say that the heart of the gospel is the declaration that 'Jesus is Lord', though he also affirms that this definition does not exclude the doctrine of justification). Of course in one sense they will spend the rest of their lives learning the entirety of the gospel, and in another sense, even in an evangelistic context you would want to explain more than justification to them pretty soon (a Christian who only knows this doctrine is going to be pretty unbalanced).

In all of this we need to consider Galatians 1: 6-8, where the context is false teaching about justification.

Gal 1:6-8 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. (ESV)

Implication 1: If you deny justification by faith, you are denying the gospel.
Implication 2: Justification by faith was (at least part of) the gospel Paul preached to the Galatians.

Some concluding thoughts:

We can and should preach justification by faith evangelistically. I think we do get justification by faith by believing in justification by faith (preached properly).

However, since preaching justification by faith is not the entirety of the gospel, someone can be ‘justified by faith’ without knowing/understanding this doctrine at the point of initial gospel call and God-generated response. However, so central is the concept, that justification ideas are never very far away when the gospel is faithfully presented, as I would suggest is even the case in places like Peter's sermon in Acts 2 (think cross, resurrection or forgiveness of sins and you're not far away from justification by faith sort of concepts). Some might argue that Wright would not necessarily disagree with this.

Justification is not a second-order issue, since to deny it is to deny the gospel (it is even to desert the one who called us by the gospel).

We should not over-emphasise justification by faith, nor be reductionist in our gospel presentations, to the extent that we neglect other aspects of the gospel that are as essential.

Similarly, we must explain justification by faith (and indeed all the other aspects of the gospel) in a way that is Christocentric not anthropocentric, that is, in a way that declares the fact that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ and not just as a ‘need-solution’ formula. Integrating it into our understanding of kingdom and/or covenant and/or union with Christ and/or resurrection etc. will help massively with this.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bob Dylan's Modern Times

As well as being a great listen, the lyrics for Bob Dylan's new album 'Modern Times' are riddled with biblical allusions/imagery and religious themes in a broadly Judaeo-Christian mold. Here's some examples of the most striking ones (full lyrics can be found here).

Song: Spirit on the water

Spirit on the water
Darkness on the face of the deep
I keep thinking about you baby I can't hardly sleep

I wanna be with you in paradise
And it seems so unfair
I can't go to paradise no more
I killed a man back there

Song: Nettie Moore

I'm the oldest son of a crazy man,
I'm in a cowboy band
Got a pile of sins to pay for and I ain't got time to hide
Well, the world of research has gone berserk
Too much paperwork
Albert's in the graveyard, Frankie's raising hell
I'm beginning to believe what the scriptures tell
Today I'll stand in faith and raise
The voice of praise
The sun is strong, I'm standing in the light
I wish to God that it were night

Song: Thunder on the Mountain

Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the moon
A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Song: When the Deal goes Down

Through the darkness on the pathways of life
Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air

Song: Beyond the Horizon

It's dark and it's dreary
I've been pleading in vain
I'm wounded, I'm weary
My repentance is plain

Song: The Levee's Gonna Break

I can't stop here I ain't ready to unload
I can't stop here I ain't ready to unload
Riches and salvation can be waiting behind the next bend in the road

Put on your cat clothes, mama, put on your evening dress
Put on your cat clothes, mama, put on your evening dress
Few more years of hard work, then there'll be a 1,000 years of happiness

Song: Ain't Talkin'

They say prayer has the power to heal,
So pray for me, mother
In the human heart an evil spirit can dwell
I am a-tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others
But oh, mother, things ain't going well

I practice a faith that's been long abandoned
Ain't no altars on this long and lonesome road

As I walked out in the mystic garden
On a hot summer day, a hot summer lawn
Excuse me, ma'am, I beg your pardon
There's no one here, the gardener is gone

Ain't talkin', just walkin'
Up the road, around the bend.
Heart burnin', still yearnin'
In the last outback at the world's end.

Getting baptised is like getting tattooed

Here's a quote I like. It's about baptism and is in the context of discussing the necessity of church membership as identified by the Word (response to the gospel) and the sacraments (sealed in baptism, celebrated etc. in the Lord's Supper).

‘The question is not where our names are written, but where his name is written. In baptism we are numbered among the children of God, receiving the name of our Father, written, as it were, on our foreheads (Mt. 28:19; Rev. 14:1). To be sure, the washing of God’s regenerating grace is accomplished by the water of the Spirit, not that of the font, but the outward sign functions precisely because it is outward; it is the Lord’s visible seal of his invisible grace.’ [italics original]

What a great way of thinking about baptism - our Father's name written forever on our foreheads signifying and sealing the relationship we have with him by grace.

All of which means getting baptised is a little like getting a tattoo!

Or maybe more like getting your marriage certificate?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Christian Unions in the press and in the dock

Three articles in the Times about what's been going on with various Christian Unions around the country.

This one and also this one are about potential legal action from various CUs against their unions.

This one is a comment on religious extremism and the place of religion in public life by Ruth Gledhill.

Three (not at all profound) thoughts off the back of those articles.

1. All of which seems to highlight the sort of times we are living in and the kinds of issues we are going to have to speak about carefully and clearly, lovingly and boldly. And be prepared to go to prison for.

2. Which in turn could be a good thing if it means Ruth Gledhill is correct and we are seeing an end to the days when religion could be put safely away in its box. I suspect this is probably not the case but it could be that we are seeing the start of such a change. And surely it would be better to be marginalised and despised and imprisoned for Christ than blandly ignored. Opposition has to be better than apathy. And a little more 'extremism' (both christian and secular) could be a good things if it means we are rescued from what Ruth Gledhill calls "woolly Anglican liberalism" and death-by-the-Archbishop's-nuances.

3. Most importantly, we should pray pray pray for our brothers and sisters in CUs and in UCCF.

More Communion Talk

Dave Williams has done some posting about communion here and I've added a comment in (brotherly) disagreement. Might be worth having a read if you're interested in this or if you're thinking through what the Lord's supper is all about for yourself.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Where will you go on your holidays?

As someone who loves the place (and married into it) THIS report from the BBC is very funny. Especially the comparison with Beiruit!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Communion and all that

Alan Stibbs (see here) suggests some ways that the administration of the Lord's Supper can be made more biblical and thus convey more clearly its function and meaning. I'm not sure what I think about every point he makes, but it ought to spark discussion at the least (italics and bold bits are my emphases).

Firstly he says 'Blessing God the Giver is the proper way to consecrate material things for men's use. So new extended thanksgivings are desirable, first, for the bread, and later for the wine, similar to those regularly offered in some Free Church forms of service...these thanksgivings should be regarded as the consecration of the bread and wine for their use; without any introduction at this point of the decisive words which indicate their sacramental significance.'

Secondly, 'our Lord's declaratory words, "This is my body given for you", "This is my blood shed for many", should be removed from the introductory consecration, and, in accordance with the pattern of the Lord's institution, made an essential and simultaneous part of the actual administration.' This, he argues, is because the 'words and actions together of the movement of administration' make the bread and wine sacramental. Hence to disjoin the words from the action is to half do the job, or imply that the sacrament exists apart from the administration.

The third recommended change is that 'the bread and wine ought deliberately to be kept apart and administered separately, first the bread to all, and later the cup to all.' The reason is to 'fully follow the pattern of our Lord's institution, and to preserve the vivid winess to His death which we thus dramatically remember' and also 'make fellowship with others' easier (i.e. evangelical Free Church bros and sisters who already administer the bread and wine separately).

Having suggested these three changes to the CofE order of service, Stibbs goes on to suggest other areas where there is 'room and urgent need for a fuller obedience to the teaching and the principles of God's written Word' regarding the Supper. These include -

a. Administration of the supper 'by any member whom the body of believers may entrust with this ministry'. Having noted that things need to be orderly, and that giving this ministry to entrusted elders fits in with this sense of order, he also asks 'why, for the lack of a bishop or presbyter, should congregations be deprived of the Lord's Supper, when they have in theri midst mature and godly members, who could, if given the opportunity, worthily fulfil the necessary ministry?'

b. Not having 'a so-called sanctuary at the East end' of a church building that suggests the sacrament is the 'exclusive preserve of a special ministry'. Stibbs then advocates bringing the table into the middle of the congregation and that before communion begins the church should be 'conveniently placed for the reception of the sacrament, without further movement on their part'. This would restore the supper to what he sees it was intended to be in the rubrics - 'a corporate act in which a number share' with every believer 'directly at or around the Lord's table throughout the whole service'.

[All quotes from p84-88 of 'Sacrament, Sacrifice and Eucharist' by Alan Stibbs (London: Tyndale, 1961).]

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Chris Green's Predecessor

Have just finished reading a short book by the man who had Chris Green's job a long time ago.

Alan Stibbs was Vice Principal of Oak HIll Theological College back in the 50s and 60s. In 1961 he published 'Sacrament, Sarifice and Eucharist: The meaning and function of the Lord's Supper' (London: Tyndale Press, 1961). He says the book is written in the context of 'impending prayer book revision' (page v) and in many ways is shaped by the need to persuade evangelicals in the CofE in his day to value and reform their understanding and practice of the Lord's Supper.

Anyway, here's a couple of really great quotes in it from the chapter on Christ being present in the Supper.

'Such truth is in essence adequately stated by saying that, as first instituteed, the lord's Supper was an administration manwards by the Lord Himself. This means that the sole and whole movement with the elements is manwards not Godwards; and the Lord is to be acknowledged as present by the Spirit, not in the elements, but in the ation done with them, as its originating Author; and in the words spoken about them, as Himself the explicit announcer of their sacramental significance.'

And if that was a little bit dry for you, then tuck into this paragraph where Mr Stibbs gets all excited (emphasis in bold is mine);

'...when I attend an administration of the Lord's Supper, and see and hear the sacramental movement begun, and realize that it is personally and imperatively addressed to me, and to all there present with me, and that it demands corresponding reception and response; then, it is right to believe that in this movement Christ Himself is present and active and offering afresh to give to me, His indwelling presence by the Spirit, and the outworked experience of all the benefits of his passion. In such a moment of privilege and opportunity, if I am to enjoy Him and experience his blessing, I must answer His approach, first by reception, and then by responsive self-oblation. To speak of answering a telephone call is indeed an illustration utterly inadequate and unworthy. For this movement is like the approach of the bridegroom to his bride. Its proper consummation is like the giving and the receiving of the ring in marriage. Indeed, it is like the crowning intercourse of love itself. So first, I give Him answer by receiving Him; and then, I give Him myself, because I have first received Him. So do I go on my way, knowing afresh that He is mine, and conscious that He abides in me, and I in Him.'