Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

infallibility

“Most heresies begin with a partial use of Scripture and end with an alien faith.” — R.J. Rushdoony

 

Myth — a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence. — Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

CONTENTS

1. The Problem Defined
2. Mirror Theology
3. From the Mountain Top
4. The Meaning of Sovereignty
5. Anthropomorphism: Smoke and Mirrors
6. Whatever Happened to Sin?
7. The Myth of Libertarian Free Will
8. Is God Irresponsible?
9. God Overboard
10. Conclusion

When Marcus Tullius Cicero introduced philosophy into the Roman Empire, he helped set the stage for one of the most volatile debates as Christianity spread throughout the Empire. His influence on Renaissance thinkers ensured the clash of ideas that eventuated between Erasmus and Martin Luther. Cicero was a statesman, lawyer, politician, and a gifted orator. But he was more than a famous citizen and politician: he was a philosopher in the Greek tradition, an ardent defender of the freedom of the will, what is called “libertarian free will.”

Libertarian free will is the idea that in order for man to have choice and true contingency it cannot be as Luther argued, and Augustine before him, the free will of a created being, as distinct from the free will of an uncreated being. In order to qualify for the name, some people argue that man’s free will must be identical to God’s free will. They may not phrase it exactly like this, but this is what the demand for libertarian free will requires. What they believe is that in order for man to be “free” he must be beyond the control of God.

In order to qualify for the name, some people argue that man’s free will must be identical to God’s free will.

The debate has raged for well over two millennia. Can anything new be added? Maybe nothing new, but an improved emphasis on the key issue at stake here is important.

The Problem Defined

Defenders of libertarian free fall into a pattern. They deny God’s infallibility, they renounce the traditional views of his omniscience and his immutability, they assert God is everlasting but he is not timelessly eternal, and, naturally, they disavow any concept of the eternal decrees. Any God who knows the future infallibly destroys human choice, they say. If God knows now (at this moment) that you are going to get run over by an 18-wheeler tomorrow afternoon at 4:45 pm, then there is nothing you can do to prevent that. You cannot choose to take another route and thereby avoid the collision with the trailer.

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Making A Case For The Timeless God

He has made everything suited to its time; also, he has given human beings an awareness of eternity; but in such a way that they can’t fully comprehend, from beginning to end, the things God does. —Eccl. 3:11

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CONTENTS

1. The Problem Defined

2. What Is a Person?

3. Is God Being or Becoming?

4. Is Libertarian Free Will the Only Choice?

5. Does History Have Meaning?

6. Modifications to Traditional Theology

7. A Greek Influence?

8. The Impossibility of Infinite Time

9. Multiple Time Zones

10. Conclusion

Perhaps nothing will stretch your mind as much as the discussion of time and God. For starters, try to define time. What is it? We all seem to know what it is, but trying to define it can be a challenge. Perhaps you think of time like a river, with upstream and downstream. In one, the water has come and gone; in the other the water is yet to arrive. And so we think of events in time, some have come and gone, and others are still on their way. With the rise of the Open Theist movement came a revised interest in the question of God and time. It’s not a new question, and Open Theists are not the only ones asking it. Is God in time or out of it?  The question is one that many struggle with. For those of us back home in the churches, the question hardly ever arises. For us, God is ‘eternal’ and we presume to know what ‘eternal’ means.

For you and me, concepts such as past, present, or future are everyday concepts. At least, it was for me yesterday, is still so today, and I expect it to be the same tomorrow. But in the traditional view, God is beyond time, being ‘eternal’. Some people think of time as if it were a river, God is upstream, downstream, and right in front of you all at the same time.  But is the river analogy really what time is like? Here’s the key point, however. God transcends time as humans know and experience it. But how does he transcend time? Does the Bible tell us how he transcends time? Or are we left to speculate?

For man, time is a limitation. Is it also a limitation for God?

The Problem Defined

You begin to get an inkling of the problem when you think of “In the beginning . . .” (Gen. 1:1). Traditionally, this has been thought of as the beginning not only of the existence of the universe but of time itself. When you think like this, you soon begin to think of God as existing before the creation of time. But what meaning can it have to think of before time began, if indeed it had a beginning? For words such as ‘before’ or ‘after’ are time-related words. Is it even possible to conceive of God as ‘before’ time? And what would that ‘before’ look like? God is usually said to be transcendent, somehow over and above his creation. R.C. Sproul explains transcendence this way:

When the term transcendent is applied to God, however, it does not refer to God’s location or physical stature. It does not mean that God is bigger, fatter, or taller than creatures. Nor does it mean that he lives way up in the sky somewhere east of the moon and west of the sun. The term refers specifically to the order of being God represents. It refers to his ontological status. When theologians say God is a transcendent being, they mean that he transcends every created thing ontologically. He is a higher order of being precisely at the point of his being. The specific point is that he is a self-existent and eternal being who has the power of being in himself. He is uncaused. He is self-existent.[1]

So if God is ontologically different, does that include a difference in relationship to time? Traditional theology affirms that is so, but a number of scholars question that affirmation.[2]

If only it were that simple. The subject is made more interesting by William Lane Craig who suggests that God was atemporal ‘prior to’ the creation of time, but now he is temporal—within time. He argues, “if all events exist timelessly in God’s eternal reference frame, then none of them can exist earlier than, simultaneously with or later than another event, for these are temporal relations.”[3] In the view of the temporalists, if God is simultaneously upstream, downstream and in front of you, it is not possible for God to speak of upstream and downstream, past or future events. This is an a priori assumption they make about God and time. Thus Wolterstorff concludes, “were God to have tensed knowledge of what happens in human affairs, God would perforce have a history.”[4] The suggestion being that you can only have a history if you a temporal. So only a temporal being can recognize things as being past, present or future.

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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. R.C. Sproul and Keith A Mathison, Not a Chance: God, Science and the Revolt Against Reason (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Bookhouse, [1999] 2013), Kindle Edition, loc. 1950-52. This is a recent update and expansion of Sproul’s book, originally published in 1999 with the title, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology.↵back
  2. Gregory E. Ganssle, ed., God & Time: Four Views (IVP Academic, 2001). Contributors include William Lane Craig, Paul Helm,  Allan Padgett, and Nicolas Wolterstorff.↵back
  3. Craig, “Eternity as Omnitemporality,”  in Ganssle, ibid., p. 144.↵back
  4. Nicholas Wolterstorff, “Unqualified Divine Temporality,” in Ganssle, ibid., p. 206.↵back
During the 1980’s a drink was marketed in Australia, Clayton’s Tonic. It was hailed as a non-alcoholic substitute for alcoholic spirits, poured over ice and usually mixed with dry ginger ale. It was a great drink. It was marketed with a catchy slogan: “The drink you’re having when you’re not having a drink.”

This slogan has some interesting applications. One family decided on family planning and the husband had a vasectomy. A few weeks later his wife conceived, and eventually a new son was born into the family. They named him Clayton: the child you’re having when you’re not having a child.

To deny infallibility is to eliminate the possibility of any truth claim, which becomes a mere self-contradiction.

There are claims that infallibility comes from a Greek rather than a Hebrew notion of time. This Greek view of time has allegedly resulted in a wrong view about eternity, a fallacious acceptance of immutability, an incorrect understanding of omniscience and, naturally, a mistaken idea called infallibility.

But this rejection of the historic idea of infallibility is simply a Clayton’s doctrine of perfection without calling it by that name. It’s the infallibility you’re having when you’re not having infallibility. For in every system of thought there is an explicit or an implicit appeal to infallibility.

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