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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Free Will Theology?

Today in our theology class we had a rather lengthy discussion about a new brand of theology known as Free-will theology, or open theism. For those who many not be familiar with this term, let me do my best to explain. Keep in mind that I myself am just a student, so this will be pretty simplistic. Open theism basically says that God is present with us in time but does not know the future. Now, because God knows us better than we know ourselves and because he knows all things, he can predict with a high degree of accuracy what will happen, but in truth the future is impossible to know. Because God does not know the future, this gives us true free will. The open theist's contention is that if God knows what I am going to do before I do it, then I am not truly free. This free-will theology isn't challenging God's ability to know all things- they just claim that it is impossible for anyone, including God, to know what will happen next because that is based on humans freely choosing to create that future.

Ok, for many that probably sounded a lot like mumbo-jumbo and reminds you of why you never went to seminary, but here's the deal. For my part, I believe that just because God knows what I will do tomorrow, the next day, or in 2022, that doesn't limit my free will to do that. It just means that God can see the scope of my life and is most capable of guiding and directing me because he knows me from start to finish. The heart of the matter for me, however, has nothing to do with these attempts to define God. We can get so caught up in trying to explain and rationalize what we don't know about God that we lose sight of what we do know.

What do I know? I know that God knows me better than I know myself. "O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know what I am going to say even before I say it."

I know that God made me on purpose and crafted me according to his design. "You made all the delicate parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. You saw me before I was born. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed."

I know that God sees me and is with me wherever I go. "You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. I can never get away from your presence. If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I go down to the place of the dead, you are there, too."

I know that God guides and directs me so that I can follow Him. "You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. "

And I know that God in his infinite goodness and loved has turned his mind towards me. "How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable. I can't even count them...when I wake up in the morning, you are still with me!" (all references- Psalm 139, NLT)

It can stretch our mind and develop our understanding to try and comprehend God in all His fullness. But the heart of our faith is in what God has already revealed to us. Rest in His Word, and remember that the Word became flesh, lived among us, and gave His life for us that we might know Him who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Journey in His grip.

Nick

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Nick,

I read your blogs after Saturday evening services. Ann did a wonderful job of enlightening us on Romans 8 and the importance of our connection with the Holy Spirit. I was not aware she could communicate through chocolate milk, but it works.
I am interested in the concept of "Free Will Theology". Is there a scriptural basis supporting this school of thought? I'd like to discuss it with you sometime. I have frequently struggled with the "free will" versus predestination on both a mental and theological level, yet I remain uncertain which is the truer course.
Enjoy your balmy vacation in the midwest, pehaps you'll be happy to come back home to another torrentially rainy day in the northwest.

Tom Keen

Linda G. said...

Thanks for explaining this concept. It appears that you are not seeing it that way, and neither do I.

I believe God knew exactly the type of person Saul was and why He could use him and renamed him Paul.

He knew Moses was slow of speech, but could be used as the leader. He knew the Israelites would disobey, and wandering in the desert was not "plan B".

God knows us from (before) the start to (beyond)the finish. I have every confidence in Him Who knows my every thought and action. I depend upon Him for every breath I take, every move I make, and all my future moments.

By the way...we have a new granddaughter...the reason I was in Spokane ....born Jan. 13th.

Linda G.

Anonymous said...

It's a good discussion...the idea of having free will or not. It's a stumbling block for me at times. I'm highly logical (my minor in college was Philosophy) and logic tells me that either God knows what I will do and plans my life accordingly, or God doesn't interfere at all and I'm totally free to choose. But what of a God that only pokes His head in from time to time. Do I have free will only part of the time?

Before I became a Christian I did not believe in free will. Sounds strange, right? Usually it's the other way. Here is my reasoning -- genetically we are predisposed to be a certain way (our brains and bodies will be inherently geared for certain things). We cannot choose to whom we will be born, nor do we have much control of what we eat, see, hear or experience for much of our first year. These things will cause connections in our brains to be made a certain way, and the nutrition (or lack thereof) will affect how our bodies develop. Guided by our circumstances, we will begin to make what we believe to be "choices", however because of the unique way in which we are genetically predisposed and because of all of our cummulative previous experience our "choices" are nothing by a furthering of what has already occured.

Think about the last time you had to make a decision about where to go out to eat with Michelle...what was your basis for your decision? Was it the time, the particular day, did you have your daughter with you, what did you eat the last time you went out, are there any particular foods you prefer, foods you don't care for at all??? You see, ALL of those considerations come in to what your final decision will be. It is my assertion that based on how you are genetically wired (it is well documented that individual tastes ARE genetic), your upbringing, your prior activities, etc. will lead you to ONE and ONLY ONE decision. Free will is really an illusion. You are not really a puppet of God, but a puppet of past circumstance and genetic predisposition.

So, what do YOU think about that?? :) For the record, I don't know that I actually still believe that, but I must admit that when 99% of my choices are done by autopilot, or when I can logically reason out why I am making a certain decision I wonder how much "free will" I really have.

--Britt

Pastor Nick said...

Britt-

Have you ever considered that maybe you think too much? Ha! Just kidding. You bring up a good point- a lot of what we do is genetically and environmentally conditioned. I thnk where this logic breaks down is in larger "life crucial" decisions such as where you live, who you marry, where you'll work, and most importantly what you believe about God. I think that in these cases our genetics and environment may predispose us to a certain choice, but ultimately we can make choices that totally defy all conditioning elements.

At the theological level, what I believe is that God knowing what I'll do next does not force me to do. I can be totally free to choose even though God knows the choice I will make. How can God know without controlling? Because he's already there- it's not that he dictates the choice, but he's already seen the choice I will freely make.

Not sure if all that helps, but there are my thoughts!
Nick

Anonymous said...

I don't know...I can see where the larger issues are probably more controlled than the small ones. Where I will live? Well, I don't really have much choice (zero, actually) as a kid, and by the time I am older and all of my life experience and personal preferences have been firmly established, it probably leaves little room for choice. Like where you go to college or get a job...usually depends on the decisions of others -- if you can afford it, if you are accepted, etc.

I appreciate your description of God's perspective on our decision making. It goes along with the discussion about God's view of time (if He lives in time with us or not). It's part of the statement I use when talking to non-believers about how an all-knowing, all-powerful God can know if something is going to happen, then why doesn't He do anything to stop bad choices, tragic events, etc.

Although it often makes me think about us, as parents, knowing when we watch our kids do something that we know they will get hurt doing, but we let them do it anyway...how else are they going to learn?! hehe Well, this is done within reason, of course...but just because I know my child is making a poor decision, doesn't mean I'm going to necessarily jump in and make the right one for him/her.

Anyway, you are probably right that I think too much...this is a discussion I could go on and on with (playing to both sides). It's good mental exercise though :D

--Britt