Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Sinclair Ferguson: The Whole Christ

I was picking my way through the 2018 National Conference of the Ligonier Ministries (labelled “Awakening”), and came across the above video by Sinclair B. Ferguson, published on March 12, 2018, titled “The Whole Christ”. It is described on their website as: “This session considers our salvation by examining some of the content from The Whole Christ book and teaching series.” I watched it twice, and I am still not sure what to make of it. Maybe one needs to read the book in order to get a full gist of his message. After I had searched a bit more, I discovered that this is a favourite theme of his (at last recently), and he likes to talk about it often. In particular, I found that he had given an almost identical talk a year earlier at the same venue (originally titled “Coming to Christ,” but the title recently changed to “The Whole Christ”), and described on their website as: “This session considers the relationship between law and gospel in the Christian life. It considers how our understanding of law and gospel affects our approach to evangelism, sanctification, and our understanding of God Himself.” It was given at their 2017 National Conference, labelled “The Next 500 Years”. This video was published on March 21, 2017, and can be seen here:

The folks at Ligonier seem to have liked it enough that they asked him to give it again in 2018, with a book and training course added. Although the content of the two messages are almost identical, they do not appear to have been given from a prepared text, and so they are not verbally identical, which means that one can get a better idea of what he is trying to say by watching both videos. In this post I am going to comment specifically on the following passage. In the first talk, at 6:45 minutes into the video he says the following:

“… and the question that students who were seeking to be licensed and ordained [ministers] were always asked was whether it was orthodox doctrine to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ? Is it right, and orthodox doctrine, to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ? And in a way it was really a trick question. It was really meant to unearth whether people thought that there were certain qualifying marks you could attain in your life in order to prepare yourself for the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Those of you who are familiar with the Westminster Confession of faith will remember how it emphasizes that it is not possible for an individual to do anything to prepare himself to come to Christ. And so it was probing these young men who were candidates for the ministry.”

In the second video he repeats the same anecdote, but in different words. At 8:03 minutes into the video he says the following:

“… where the presbytery was in the habit of asking students for the ministry a kind of trick question. They asked them if they thought it was orthodox to teach … that you forsake sin in order to come to Christ? And what they were trying to ferret out was this question: “Does this person think that there is some standard I need to meet, some qualification I need to have, some measure of repentance that I need to have gone through before I can come to Christ?” And they were trying to ferret out people who were essentially saying, “You know, Christ has died for us, but there is something that you need to contribute to the process of coming to faith in Jesus Christ.”

So here is the question: Do people need to repent (meaning to forsake sin) in order to come to Christ, or don’t they? What does the Bible say about that?—and in particular, what does he say? His answer to that question seems ambiguous and unclear, to put it mildly. It is ambivalent, mysterious, and almost incomprehensible. It seem designed to obfuscate the issue and confuse the reader rather than enlighten him, or present a clear and coherent biblical message. The biblical answer to that question, on the other hand, is unambiguous and clear. It is an unequivocal, uncompromising, emphatic, Yes! The Bible doesn’t mince its words on this issue. Nothing is taught more clearly in the Bible than the need for repentance (meaning to forsake sin) before one can come to Christ.

Coming to Christ entails not only repentance, but bringing forth fruit meet for repentance (Matt. 3:8, 10; Luke 3:8–9; Acts 26:20). In other words, verbal repentance isn’t enough, action is required; and that action consists of forsaking sin. It entails consciously and actively turning away from evil, and doing good instead—or keeping God’s commandments, which amounts to the same thing. Starting with the ministry of John the Baptist, and continuing on with the ministry of Jesus himself, and followed by the ministry of his disciples and the Twelve Apostles after him, the message has been the same—one of repentance.

John the Baptist’s ministry was to prepare the way for the coming of Christ. His mission was to testify of, and prepare the people for the ministry of Jesus Christ; and that “preparation” consisted of inviting them to repentance. That was the central theme of his message:

Matthew 3:

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa,
2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
3 For this [John the Baptist] is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

Luke 3:

3 And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
4 As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
9 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
10 And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then [to repent]?
11 He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.
12 Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do [to repent]?
13 And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
14 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do [to repent]? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
15 And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not;
16 John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
18 And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.

Acts 13:

23 Of this man’s [David’s] seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus:
24 When John [the Baptist] had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.

Acts 19:

4 Then said Paul, John [the Baptist] verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.

That is how John the Baptist “prepared the way” for the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. His message was one of repentance (meaning to forsake sin); and that is how he prepared people to “come unto Christ”. You don’t “come to Christ” in any other way. That was what John the Baptist taught; and the message of Jesus himself after him was not anything different:

Matthew 4:

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Mark 1:

14 Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

Mark 2:

17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, … I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 5:

32 I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 13:

3 I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Luke 15:

7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

Nothing is taught more clearly by Jesus himself in the Bible than the need for repentance. You “come to Christ” in no other way. And “repentance” is for sinners.  It means to forsake sin. It means to stop sinning, and start keeping God’s commandments. And Jesus’s disciples and followers after him taught the same thing:

Mark 6:

12 And they went out, and preached that men should repent.

Luke 24:

47 And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.

Acts 2:

38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Acts 3:

19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;

Acts 5:

31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

Acts 17:

30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent:

Acts 20:

21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 26:

20 But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.

Romans 2:

4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

2 Peter 3:

9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

Revelation 3:

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

Nothing is taught more clearly in the Bible than the need for repentance (meaning to forsake sin) before one can “come to Christ”. That is neither “legalism” or “Antinomianism,” but a clear teaching of the Bible. After watching both his videos, however, I still couldn’t decide whether he believes people needed to repent before they came to Christ or don’t they. The Bible is very clear about that; but he does not appear to be. It is a perversion of the gospel to teach anything that obscures or compromises that clear biblical message. Paul couldn’t have been any clearer about it: “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9–10) Repentance is the central message of the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament is as clear about it as the New. Nothing is more clearly taught in the Bible than the need for repentance—meaning to forsake sin—in order to be accepted of God. And forsaking sin is a conscious, personal decision. It is not something that just “happens” to you when you “believe”:

Ezekiel 18:

20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
24 But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

Ezekiel 33:

10 Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?
11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
12 Therefore, thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression: as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall thereby in the day that he turneth from his wickedness; neither shall the righteous be able to live for his righteousness in the day that he sinneth.
13 When I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live; if he trust to his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousnesses shall not be remembered; but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it.
14 Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;
15 If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.
16 None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
17 Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal.
18 When the righteous turneth from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall even die thereby.
19 But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.
20 Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. O ye house of Israel, I will judge you every one after his ways.

You cannot “come to Christ” without repentance (i.e. turning away from sin). That is what the Bible teaches. And you cannot obscure or dilute that central message without doing violence to the Bible. So although it may be a little hard to determine what his message is without reading his book, the message that comes across through the videos is a disturbing one. There is no doctrine that is taught more clearly in the Bible than the doctrine of repentance before one can come to Christ. Starting with John the Baptist, and continuing on with Jesus’s own ministry, and after him with the Apostles, they all taught the same thing. Repentance was their central message. If you obscure that message, you have obscured the gospel.

We “come unto Christ” by taking upon us his “yoke” (meaning to keep his commandments). And the Bible tells us that is not a hard thing to do:

Matthew 11:

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

1 John 5:

3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous [i.e. hard to keep].

We come to Christ by doing what he says, which is another way of saying, to repent and keep his commandments:

Luke 6:

47 Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like:
48 He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock.
49 But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.

Matthew 7:

15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works [i.e. miracles]?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about doing, not hearing or believing only. To “repent” means to do something—i.e. to turn away from sin, and keep God’s commandments:

James 1:

22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

The gospel of Evangelicalism and Calvinism is the antithesis of that. All the emphasis in Calvinism and Evangelicalism is on not doing something! The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about doing; whereas the gospel of Evangelicalism is all about not doing! It is the antithesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and diametrically opposed to it. It is the gospel of damnation rather than salvation. Avoid like a plague!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Response to David L. Paulsen on Open Theism

A third LDS author who has sympathetically commented on and discussed Open Theism has been David L. Paulsen, who has had a distinguished career as a professor of philosophy at BYU. He had a number of exchanges with Clark H. Pinnock (now deceased) who was one of the chief architects and proponents of Open Theism in his time, and wrote several books in defense of the subject, the two most famous of which are Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness, and The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. Paulsen invited Pinnock to lecture at BYU, and also published two articles on Open Theism in BYU Studies, one of which is titled, “Open and Relational Theology: An Evangelical in Dialogue with a Latter-day Saint,” and consists of a lengthy discussion with Pinnock on Open Theism; and the second is titled, “A New Evangelical Vision of God: Openness and Mormon Thought,” and is his review of Pinnock’s book, Most Moved Mover. The title of the latter book is a pun on the phrase “unmoved mover,” which was first coined by Aristotle to mean a “prime mover” of all “movements” in the universe (not quite the same thing as a “first cause”)—a concept which was later adapted by St. Thomas Aquinas as one of his five “proofs” for the existence of God. Thomas’s idea of an “Unmoved Mover,” however, is not quite the same as Aristotle’s. For a good discussion of that subject see herePaulsen’s review of this book (PDF download hereis fairly long, and it is not my intention to give it a detailed reply. I will only highlight and comment on some significant passages. He begins his review as follows:

Most Moved Mover is the compilation of these lectures in which Pinnock offers a compelling portrait of God that challenges the so-called classical or traditional account of God formulated by early Christian theologians who were heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. Pinnock passionately denounces the idea that God is impassible, immutable, simple, and timeless. He vehemently rejects conventional ideas that God is primarily a ‘punitive authority,’ a ‘metaphysical immobility,’ or an ‘all-controlling power’ (p. 1). Instead, he offers an ‘open’ view of God that emphasizes his profound passibility and his genuine interpersonal relationships with other moral agents. The ‘open’ God enters into authentic give and take relationships with human beings and leaves the future partly undetermined, allowing human beings to have an active role as agents within the unfolding of his purposes.”

“Compelling” to Paulsen (and Fisher) obviously; but not to me! This statement alone contains or takes for granted so many false premises, assumptions, or deductions that it would require several blog posts to address each one. But briefly note the following:

  • The accusation of “Greek influence” (with the negative connotation) is assumed and not proved. The fact that both Aristotle and Aquinas (for example) may have agreed on, or recognized an important concept or principle does not in and of itself constitute a negative, or something to be avoided in a theological discussion, until it is examined and judged independently on its own merits.
  • Dismissing the theological concepts of the “Impassibility, immutability, and timelessness” in one breath is easy. Rationally justifying it is not. When properly understood, they turn out to be true theological principles that are affirmed by LDS scripture as much as (if not more so than) the Bible.
  • God being “primarily a punitive authority” or a “metaphysical immobility” are slanderous accusations that no respectable theologian of the traditional school would recognize.
  • God being an “all-controlling power” is certainly how God is portrayed in the Bible as well as in LDS scripture. If he has an issue with that, his issue is not with the “theologians,” but with scripture.
  • The claim that Kinnock in his book “offers an ‘open’ view of God that emphasizes his profound passibility and his genuine interpersonal relationships with other moral agents” implies the supposition that (a) “impassibility” is necessary a false concept, and (b) it denies or makes impossible God’s “genuine interpersonal relationships with other moral agents,” both of which are assumed and not proved (and are false).
  • The idea that “the ‘open God’ enters into authentic give and take relationships with human beings …” carries the unproven (and false) assumption that classic or traditional concept of the Deity doesn’t.
  • The idea that “the ‘open God’ … leaves the future partly undetermined, allowing human beings to have an active role as agents within the unfolding of his purposes” carries the unproven (and false) assumption that without an “open God,” “allowing human beings to have an active role as agents within the unfolding of his purposes” would not be possible.

The entire passage consists of unsubstantiated innuendos and not much else. Addressing them in any amount of detail would necessitate writing a separate blog post for each, which hopefully, in the light of the following comments will not be necessary. The following additional quotes from the article provide additional insights into the general thinking behind Open Theism (and of those who advocate or sympathize with it) that, for LDS at least, renders a detailed comment unnecessary (page numbers are as they appear on the PDF; emphasis added):

“‘Far from a totally unchanging and all-determining absolute Being,’ Pinnock writes, ‘the Bible presents God as a personal agent who creates and acts, wills and plans, loves and values in relation to covenant partners.’” (p. 420)

“Pinnock argues in this chapter that traditional conceptions of God’s attributes such as absolute immutability, timelessness, and impassibility—now firmly rooted in Christian tradition—are, in fact, pagan by-products of the Hellenistic intellectual milieu in which the conventional Christian view of God was shaped.” (p. 427)

“Pinnock writes, … ‘A package of divine attributes has been constructed which leans in the direction of immobility and hyper-transcendence, particularly because of the influence of the Hellenistic category of unchangeableness’” (p. 430).

“Pinnock offers some examples: ‘Suppose that God, as Thomas Aquinas taught, is unchangeable as a stone pillar and cannot entertain real relationships in his essential nature. Suppose that in God there are no real relations to creatures—that they may move in relation to God but God cannot move in relation to them. Since the Christian life is at the heart a personal relationship with God, it would be best to live as if this view of immutability were not the case, as I am sure Aquinas himself must have done in his life.’” (p. 438)

I have quoted and grouped together these passages from different parts of the article in order to illustrate a point. Pinnock attacks pretty much all the traditional attributes of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, impassibility and immutability. But there is one attribute that he attacks more than the rest, and that is God’s immutability (unchangeableness). But LDS have a good answer to that. What does Joseph Smith has to say about it? Quite a lot apparently!

In his Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith upholds all the major attributes of God, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence; but there is one attribute that he emphasizes more than any other; and that is God’s unchangeableness! He talks about and emphasizes that more than any other attribute of God. It is the one attribute that he applies to all the other attributes. None of the other attributes would be meaningful, nor would they be a source of faith in God if they were not immutable and unchangeable. See Lecture III 6, 9–15, 21–22, 26, cat. 12, 19, 24; Lecture IV 5, 11, 19, cat. 10; Lecture VII 9, 20. (References are to my published edition of the Lectures on Faith).

Immutability and unchangeableness of God is not a “pagan by-product of the Hellenistic intellectual milieu,” as he would have us believe; nor does it “lean in the direction of immobility and hyper-transcendence”. It does not turn God into “a stone pillar [that] cannot entertain real relationships in his essential nature,” nor does it prevent God from acting “as a personal agent who creates and acts, wills and plans, loves and values in relation to covenant partners”. That is Pinnock’s way of undermining the essential attributes of God; but that is not what they mean. When God made a covenant with Abraham he said to him, “My name is Jehovah, and I know the end from the beginning; therefore my hand shall be over thee.” (Abraham 2:8). God’s fantastic attributes did not prevent him from entering into a covenant relationship with Abraham. On the contrary, they facilitated it. Unchangeableness is one of the most important (if not the most important) attribute of God without which it would be impossible for any rational being to exercise faith in him so as to obtain eternal life. Likewise Pinnock’s rejection of all the major classic attributes of God can be discredited by the scriptures in the same way. The one book of LDS scripture that helps to discredit them more than any other is the Lectures on Faith. The following are some additional quotes from the article to close these remarks with. On page 433 of the PDF it says:

“Pinnock seems convinced that close biblical analysis and rational engagement will result in ‘openness thinking.’ We believe that modern revelation points in the same direction.”

The truth of course is exactly the opposite. Modern revelation does nothing of the kind. Modern revelation negates, cancels out, and destroys Open Theism on a grand scale. Here is one more quote from page 437:

“According to Pinnock, the open view affirms human freedom, makes prayer relevant, and encourages steps on the way to sanctification. If the future is determined or foreknown, why should we even bother to do the right thing?”

The future is “foreknown” but not “determined”. Those are two different things. The future is foreknown because it is known to God what choices people will freely make. The assumption that the future being foreknown means that our choices would have to be determined, or not freely made, is not a valid logical deduction.

There is one curious observation left to be made, however. David L. Paulsen has written an article for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism titled: “Omnipotent God; Omnipresence of God; Omniscience of God” in which he makes the following comment:

“Despite these differing views, there is accord [in Mormonism] on two fundamental issues: (1) God’s foreknowledge does not causally determine human choices, and (2) this knowledge, like God’s power, is maximally efficacious. No event occurs that he has not anticipated or has not taken into account in his planning.”

Both of these assertions contradict the basic tenets of Open Theism. You can’t be sympathetic to Open Theism and adhere to those two statements at the same time. So what has happened since then? Has he changed his mind since he wrote those words, or did he never believe in it in the first place? 😀

Revised March 7, 2018.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A Response to Blake Ostler on Open Theism

Blake T. Ostler, another LDS advocate of Open Theism, in a blog post published in January 2, 2007 titled: “Hermeneutical Assumptions and Open Theism,” has outlined his justification for Open Theism which can be seen hereIt is a long piece not conducive to a detailed, point-by-point response; neither is it necessary to give it a detailed response in order to refute its basic premises, assumptions, and conclusions. The following is a brief, but adequate response to his advocacy of Open Theism. He begins his message as follows:

“It is no secret that Open Theists read [the] scriptures with different operative principles of interpretation than those who maintain classical theology. Open theists generally argue that scriptural passages demonstrate that God changes his mind, relents, repents or feels sorrow for things that have occurred. If they are correct, then at least to the extent such scripture is regarded as disclosing what is true of God, then God cannot be, as classical theists maintain: (1) immutable in the strong sense that none of God’s intrinsic properties is subject to change; (2) impassible in the sense that nothing outside of God influences him or otherwise has no feelings comparable to human feelings; (3) timeless in the sense that God is outside of any type of temporal succession; (4) prescient in the sense that God has infallible foreknowledge.

“Those who oppose Open Theism argue that the “literal” readings of scripture by Open Theists ignore more general statements about God elsewhere in the Bible; fail to recognize that God adapts himself “anthropomorphically” to speak to mere mortals and that from the divine point of view things look very different than from this view adapted to human weaknesses. We question whether this type of critique of open theists can be coherently maintained. Indeed, it seems that those who critique open theists readings makes [sic] several hermeneutical assumptions that are not merely foreign to the text itself, but which assume a view of human knowledge that is both arrogant and impossible from the human stance.”

The answer to that is that the critiques are based on other scriptural passages that affirm the attributes and character of the Deity which Open Theists like to deny, such as omnipotence, omniscience, and immutability. Open Theists like to selectively pick the bits of scripture that suits their nuanced interpretation, while conspicuously disregarding the bits that don’t. He continues:

“In such a short space we cannot possibly do justice to all of the texts and all of the issues that arise from such a far ranging discussion. Even a discussion that merely adequately defined the various views of the divine attributes would be foolish to attempt in so short a presentation.”

The whole of Open Theism is based on one fundamental assumption: that the future is “open” to God (meaning that God does not know it exhaustively), because of man’s freewill. It sees divine foreknowledge and human freewill to be incompatible. You can’t have both. It is either one or the other. And since man is free, therefore God’s foreknowledge cannot be exhaustive. If that basic premise can be disproved at its first point of weakness, then the whole edifice of Open Theism collapses, together with the artificial scaffolding that has been built around it, and the debate comes to an end. So the debate about Open Theism need not be as “far ranging” as he likes to portray it to be. The advocates of Open Theism like to portray it as though it were a much more grandiose theological project than it actually is. Once the essential underlying assumptions of Open Theism is destroyed (which is easy to do, especially with reference to modern LDS scripture as shown in my previous posts), there will be nothing more of it left to debate and argue over. He then continues as follows:

“However, we want to focus on just two texts to tease out the differing hermeneutical approaches and to demonstrate that while both open theists and their opponents bring critical assumptions to the text, their assumptions are not equally problematic. Open theists bring the assumption to the text that its meaning can be teased out by logical principles. Taking the text at what it both says and asserts, they derive conclusions based on simple deductive principles.

“Their critics, on the other hand, bring a prior understanding of God to the text that controls what it can possibly be read to establish. The critics, for short, assume scriptural uniformitarianism. That is, all writers of scripture write with a common understanding of God so that if one writer of scriptural records, even removed hundreds of years from another, has a given view of God, then all have a common understanding of God so that they cannot disagree. Thus, if say Isaiah says something that disagrees with the writer(s) compilers of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the text of Isaiah must be read in such a way as to harmonize. Further, the critics argue that this common understanding of God has already been accurately grasped by the tradition and so this traditional reading must control what can be concluded from the text.”

The underlying assumption of that statement is that scripture cannot be relied upon to teach a consistent theology—and that is okay from his point of view! It is okay for Isaiah to teach one theology or doctrine, and for Exodus to teach another that is at odds with Isaiah—and there is no problem with that as far as he is concerned! That is his basic assumption. The effect of that assumption is twofold:

Firstly, it undermines his own “openness of God” theology every bit as much as the classic “closed” one. If scripture (collectively) cannot be trusted to teach a consistent theology, or a consistent view of God, who is to say which bit of scripture is teaching the “correct” doctrine or theology, and which bit isn’t? If Isaiah is teaching a “closed” theology, and Exodus is teaching an “open” theology, by what criteria has he determined that Isaiah’s theology is the wrong one, and Exodus’s theology is the right one? Why not the other way?—or worse still, who is to say that both of them are not equally wrong! If scripture cannot be trusted to teach a consistent theology, it cannot be trusted to teach a correct theology.

Secondly, his underlying assumption undermines the doctrine of the divine inspiration of scripture. If scripture cannot be trusted to teach a consistent theology, then how can it be assumed to be divinely inspired and contain the revealed will of God? Does God contradict himself? A fundamental assumption of dealing with God is that he is a God of truth and cannot lie. He is trustworthy and reliable, and does not contradict himself. If God contradicts himself, or teaches contradictory doctrines, how can we trust anything that he says? It goes contrary to passages such as these:

2 Timothy 3:

15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

2 Peter 1:

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

How can scripture be considered to be the inspired word of God, and to teach the revealed will of God, if it does not teach a consistent theology? It also goes contrary to repeated statements made by Jesus himself in the four Gospels in which the “scriptures” are portrayed as teaching (authoritatively) a consistent theology. It likewise contradicts numerous similar passages found in modern LDS scripture affirming the same thing. In D&C 42:12 for example we read, … the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel.” How can the Bible (and the Book of Mormon) contain the “fulness of the gospel” if they are not teaching a consistent theology, or if they are not divinely inspired?

At this point he embarks on a lengthy discussion of Exodus 32:7–14, and Jonah 3:1–10, which he reckons support Open Theism; because they appear to show that God does not know the future exhaustively, but reacts to events as they occur in time; is subject to temporal succession; and is capable of “changing his mind”. First he quotes from Exodus 32 as follows (emphasis added):

“Let’s consider just two common texts used to support the Open Theist’s view. Consider the text of Exodus 32 (and its parallel in Deuteronomy 9):”

Exodus 32:

7 Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Go, get down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves!
8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molten calf, and have worshiped it, and have sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’”
9 Yahweh said to Moses, “I have seen these people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people.
10 Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of you a great nation.”
11 Moses begged Yahweh his God, and said, “Yahweh, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, that you have brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘He brought them forth for evil, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the surface of the earth?’ Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people.
13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your seed as the stars of the sky, and all this land that I have spoken of I will give to your seed, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
14 Yahweh repented of the evil which he said he would do to his people. (World English Bible)

From that scripture he reaches the following conclusion: (emphasis added):

“There are several key points to be made about this text. God clearly declares that he intends to destroy the Israelites who had made the golden calf and to fulfill his promises by raising up a holy people through the lineage of Moses’ descendants alone. Moses, however, contends with God. Moses “begged” God to both “turn” (bwX) his wrath and “repent” (mhn) of his purpose to destroy Israel. (v. 12) The verbs here show that Moses expected God to change what he had declared he would do. He expected God to change his mind. The Hebrew verb nacham means not merely to change, but its primary meaning is to feel sorrow or regret for what one does. Its primary meaning is emotive. It refers to the emotional tone of one’s feelings about one’s own actions. The Hebrew shuv means to turn around, to turn from, to change one’s course or direction. Moses then asks God to remember (rkz) the covenant he has made to raise seed from them as numerous as the stars. God then “repents” (KJV) or “relents” (NAB) or “changes his mind about the disaster he had planned to bring to his people.” (NRSV). While Moses believes that God’s intentions and declarations can be turned away and changed, he believes that there is something that must remain constant: God’s commitment to his covenant promises. Thus, Moses argues with God based upon the unchanging commitment to his covenant with Abraham to make of him a great nation. What is unchanging for Moses in this narrative is not God; but God’s purposes and promises.”

That is not an accurate depiction of the verses he has quoted and is commenting on. God doesn’t say that he has made a firm, irrevocable decision to destroy the Israelites. He says in verse 10, “Now therefore leave me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them,  which means that he has not firmly made up his mind to destroy them. He is open to persuasion, and so Moses persuades him. Everything else that he has said about that scripture from that point on becomes moot. He is making an incorrect inference from the start, which renders all the rest of his argument based on that inference redundant. It also ignores passages like Numbers 23:19–20 and 1 Samuel 15:29, which clearly indicate that once God has indeed made up his mind, he does NOT afterwards relent or change his mind. Blake has committed two obvious hermeneutical errors: (1) he has incorrectly interpreted Exodus 32:10 to mean that God had made up his mind, when it is obvious that he hadn’t; and (2) he has overlooked Numbers 23:19–20 and 1 Samuel 15:29 which clearly teach that once God has indeed made up his mind, he does NOT afterwards relent or change his mind. And none of this of course invalidates the foreknowledge of God, which is the fundamental issue here. God interacts with man in time because man is a creature of time, and that is the only way that God can interact with man; but that does not prevent God from foreknowing what the outcome of that interaction will be in the long-run. Skipping a lot of redundant material, the next set of scripture he quotes in support of his theology is from Jonah 3 (emphasis added) as follows:

“A similar course of events occurs in Jonah 3, except it is a prophet who declares God’s intention; though it is once again God who relents or changes his mind:”

Jonah 3:

1 The word of Yahweh came to Jonah the second time, saying,
2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I give you.”
3 So Jonah arose, and went to Nineveh, according to the word of Yahweh. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey across.
4 Jonah began to enter into the city a day’s journey, and he cried out, and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
5 The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them.
6 The news reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and took off his royal robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.
7 He made a proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor animal, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water;
8 but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and animal, and let them cry mightily to God. Yes, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands.
9 Who knows whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish?”
10 God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God repented of the evil which he said he would do to them, and he didn’t do it. (Jonah 3 WEB)

And he concludes from it the following:

“In this passage Johah declares the message given to him by Yahweh: “Yet forty days and Ninevah shall be overthrown.” (v. 3) So God through Jonah declares the destruction of Ninevah and there is nothing in the context to suggest that such a declaration is conditional. It is a starightforward statement of what will occur.”

That again is an incorrect reading of the text. If God had already made a firm decision to destroy Nineveh no matter what, why is he sending Jonah to advise them of the fact forty days in advance? What would be the point of him doing that? There is an underlying assumption there that he hasn’t made an irrevocable decision, but that he is open to persuasion, and that he is giving them a chance to repent. Evidently that is what the people of Nineveh understood by it, which proved to be right. Elsewhere the Bible affirms the same doctrine:

Ezekiel 33:

14 Again, when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right;
15 If the wicked restore the pledge, give again that he had robbed, walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity; he shall surely live, he shall not die.
16 None of his sins that he hath committed shall be mentioned unto him: he hath done that which is lawful and right; he shall surely live.

That is what the people of Nineveh did. The rest of his argument thereafter again becomes moot. He is making an incorrect inference from the start, which invalidates all the rest of his argument based on that inference, and renders everything else he has said in that context redundant. And again, none of this invalidates God’s foreknowledge, which is the central issue as far as Open Theism is concerned. The fact that God interacts with mankind temporally, because man is temporal and is subject to the passage of time, does not negate God’s timelessness nor foreknowledge.

In the remainder of his lengthy discussion he brings two counter-arguments against the critics of Open Theism. The first is that they “reject deductive logic as a hermeneutical tool”. That is a matter of opinion. I think that my “deductive logic” is better than his, because mine takes into account the broader context of the scriptures. His deductive logic is flawed partly because its focus is too narrow; and partly because he actually draws incorrect inferences from the limited premises that he has chosen, as shown above. In Exodus 32, God does not say that he has categorically made up his mind to destroy Israel (as he assumes); and the “40-day respite” given to the people of Nineveh in Jonah 3 also amounts to the same thing—that God had not made up his mind, but was open to persuasion, and is giving them a chance to repent. In Oriental cultures and languages, they make use of a lot of hyperbole in their speech. For example in Matthew 26:26, 28 Jesus says, “This is my body,” and, “This is my blood”. This does not mean that it is literally, physically, his body and blood, but it represents his body and blood; it is an example hyperbolic use of language. Or in John 17:11, when Jesus says, “I am no more in the world,” it does not mean that he is literally, physically “no more in the world,” but that soon he will not be; it is an example of the use of hyperbole in language, which the Orientals are so fond of using. Likewise in Jonah 3:4, when it says, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” it does not mean God had made a firm, irrevocable decision to destroy it no matter what; but carries with it an implication that their sins had become so serious that it would be unless they repented, which they did. It is an example of the use of hyperbole in language. And none of this of course cancels out God’s foreknowledge in any degree, which is the ultimate issue here.

The second counter-argument he brings against the opponents of Open Theism is that “anthropomorphism” does not adequately explain God’s dealings with mankind (i.e. that he appears to change his mind, or appears not to know the future exhaustively). The word anthropomorphism may not adequately describe the phenomena that is being observed. There are two questions here that need to be addressed. The first is, Does God interact with mankind at all in scripture? The answer to that is obviously Yes. No “classical theist” would deny that God interacts with mankind in scripture. He sends them prophets, gives them laws, commands them to repent, rewards them when they do good and punishes them when the do evil, and answers their prayers. The second question is, Given God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, how should God interact with mankind? Should he talk to them, and give them commandments and laws as if he didn’t know the future exhaustively; or should he say, “I already know what the end result will be, so I am not going to waste my time (and your time) talking to you, and telling you what to do or how to live; I am going to leave you get on with it as best you can, and wait until the end comes, and damn whoever deserve to be damned and save whoever deserves to be saved.” Open Theism’s assumption is that if God knows the future exhaustively, the only logical kind of interaction he should have with mankind is of the second kind! which is not a reasonable assumption.

Even though God knows the future exhaustively, and he knows “the end from the beginning,” he still needs to interact with mankind temporally as if he didn’t know, so that he can tell them what he expects of them, so that in turn he can judge them “according to their works” (Revelation 20:12-13). How could God judge mankind “according to their works,” if he did not interact with them temporally according to their condition as if the future was open, and reveal to them his laws and commandments, even though from his point of view he already knows what the outcome will be? How could he “judge them according to their works” unless he has first interacted with them to inform them what kind of “works” he expects of them? Blake’s basic assumption is that God should not interact with mankind in that way if the future is already known; or else if he does, then that means that the future must be open, which is not a valid, logical, or necessary assumption. The future being known does not invalidate man’s freewill. Although the future is known to God, man is still free to make his choices, and needs to be informed of what is required of him, and what the consequences will be if he doesn’t comply. Blake’s argument is based on the false assumption that if God knows the future exhaustively, then man’s will cannot be free, which is not a logical requirement.

The discussions that he subsequently has with those who have responded to his blog are also revealing. His post has received around 135 responses, most of which are not seriously challenging; but there is one respondent who signs himself as Jacob, who gives him a run for his money. He challenges him on 3 Nephi 27:32. How could Jesus be “sorrowing” over the conduct of the Nephites four generations down the line if his foreknowledge was not exhaustive (and man’s will was not free)? He also quotes him 2 Nephi 26:9–10, indicating how the prophecy goes back much further in time. Blake’s response to it is basically a copout. His response is that these are not true prophecies, but redactions, expansions, or “actualizations” made subsequently by others after the events had already taken place. For example in response #90, after quoting 3 Nephi 27:32, Jacob asks him the following question:

“Obviously the falling away of the Nephites is not something God would intentionally bring about, so that doesn’t work on this prophecy. I suppose you are saying that the fact of it happening four generations later could have been a redaction by someone after the fulfillment of the prophecy (Mormon?, Joseph Smith?). I am wondering what you think the original prophecy might have looked like. ‘It sorroweth me, because they will eventually fall away …’? (Comment by Jacob—January 14, 2007 @ 2:09 am)”

To this Blake gives some erratic responses at first, and finally crystallizes it in response #115 as follows:

“Jacob & Matt: The easiest answer is that the Book of Mormon language is actualized by later knowledge. I think that such actualization of the language in light of knowledge of the New Testament is evident throughout the book. So the challenge remains to find a passage that predicts free acts which is published before the act predicted. I am not aware of any. Only such an instance is truly predi[c]tive however. (Comment by Blake—January 15, 2007 @ 11:58 pm)”

His response is basically a copout. He is essentially saying that they are not true prophecies, but redactions, expansions, or “actualizations” of prophecies after the events had already transpired. He also challenges us to find a detailed prophecy which has not yet been “actualized”. Well, it is not hard to find such a prophecy. Here is one:

D&C 45:

68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked, that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand.

This is a definitive prophecy about the future which has not yet come to pass. That proves what? The critic will now say that this is a prophecy about the future which has not yet come to pass, and therefore we won’t know that it will until it has! So we are now caught in a catch 22 situation. If we find a prophecy which has already been fulfilled, we are told this is a fulfilled prophecy which has already been “actualized,” therefore it is a redaction or expansion on something that in its original form would have been less clear. And if we find a clear prophecy which has not yet been fulfilled, we will no doubt be told that this is a prophecy which has not yet come to pass, and we won’t know that it will until it has! So we can never win. For further discussion of Open Theism see my previous posts.

Open Theism is essentially a theology of unbelief. There are two classes of people who are attracted to Open Theism: The first are those who have intellectually worked their way through it (like Blake Ostler, or like the Evangelical theologians who are advocating it); and the second are those who haven’t, but are simply relying on or trusting what somebody else has said, like Louis Midgley. For the first group, Open Theism is a theology of unbelief. For the second group, it is a theology of ignorance. It has no basis in scripture.

In conclusion it should be noted that answering Blake Ostler and others would have been made much easier for Latter-day Saints had the Lectures on Faith still been canonized. The Lectures on Faith are not only true scripture, but also the greatest theological treatise that has ever been written. They are “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and are “able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15–16). They are important items of revelation in the scriptural repertoire of Latter-day Saints enabling them to combat many false doctrines and theological errors such as those which Open Theists are advocating. Decanonizing them was a mistake which hopefully will be reversed.

Revised February 24, 2018.

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Response to Louis Midgley on Open Theism

There are not many LDS sources that have publicly commented on Open Theism, and Louis C. Midgley is one of them. It is therefore deserving of a more careful examination. In an article published on FairMormon blog in January 2010, he makes the following comments:

“The discussion [on Open Theism] always ends up focused on whether God knows and must know everything in fine detail that ever has or will ever happen. Some insist that this has to be the case.”

That is not accurate. Open Theism is based on the assumption that the future is “open,” meaning it is unknown to God. The past is settled, and is therefore known. He continues:

“But the fact is that Latter-day Saints are strictly Open Theists, if any group of believer fit that label.”

That is a very presumptuous statement indeed. He should only speak for himself. I am LDS, and would not by any stretch of the imagination identify myself as “Open Theist” (for the reasons previously given). He continues:

“Why? The reason is that creedal Christians, and this includes everyone who is locked into what is often called classical theism, ends up picturing God with attributes that Latter-day Saints from day one flatly reject.”

I am uncomfortable with the way in which he makes sweeping generalizations and broad, unsubstantiated assertions. What is the basis of his making that claim, and on what evidence? I would certainly not want to commit myself to the claim of rejecting every single “divine attribute” in “classical theism,” without examining those “attributes” in detail, and judging the merits and demerits of each on scriptural grounds. He continues:

“One is an Open Theist or can be described as such, if one is uncomfortable with or rejects classical theism. What do I mean by classical theism?”

Again, very sweeping generalizations and unsubstantiated assertions. Open Theism has a very precise definition. It is the doctrine that God does not know the future exhaustively, because he has granted man freewill, and therefore he doesn’t know in advance what decisions they will make until those decisions have been made, or until he comes close to it. The assumption is that for God to be able to know the future exhaustively, the future has to be “closed” (i.e. settled, predetermined), which would be incompatible (according to them) with human freewill. He continues:

“In what I am calling classical theism, and I am following a long line of authors in using this label, the divine attributes are such that Latter-day Saints flatly reject all of them, if they are understood from the perspective of those who hold them or from what is called the worldview they ground. In no particular order, I will identify these attributes. One must sense that these are not separable, meaning that one cannot coherently accept some of them and reject others. Put another way, they fit together into what those who hold them insist is a single coherent worldview.”

That again is a doubtful assertion. There is more than one school of theology, and Christian theologians are not always in agreement on all the divine attributes, or how best they are to be defined, expressed, or classified. Then he provides his list as follows:

“In classical theism, the divine attributes consist of the following:

“1. God is Unconditioned—that is, it is the Unconditional, meaning that it is not dependent on anything else. This is sometimes called aseity, which is a word meaning, I believe, ‘from self.’”

Aseity refers to God’s attribute of self-existence, or self-sufficiency. For any (created) object(s) to exist (which means pretty much everything), something uncreated (and self-existent) must have always existed, which is the ultimate source of all other (created) objects; and that uncaused cause of all other causes is God. Aseity refers to this attribute of the Deity, of being the independent, self-existent, self-sufficient, uncaused cause of all other causes; and I don’t have a problem with that. Either creation came by chance, or it was caused; and if it was caused, then there must have been an uncaused being who was the first and ultimate cause of all other causes. You can’t be a creationist and avoid that conclusion. And there are several scriptures that support that doctrine. The following verses readily come to mind:

Colossians 1:

16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

D&C 38:

1 Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven before the world was made;
2 The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes.
3 I am the same which spake, and the world was made, and all things came by me.

These, and many more similar passages that could be quoted support that doctrine. Modern LDS scripture supports it better than the Bible does. I have no problem with the doctrine of the aseity of God from an LDS theological point of view.

“2. God is Being. Think of the Greek word on from which we get ontology and remember how that word is used to qualify it in sectarian conversations. But one must understand that it is not just any old being. It is not even a being that exists somewhere–that is, is not corporeal. Instead, it is Being-Itself or the isness in everything that is. This explains why it is sometimes called the Supreme Being.”

I am not sure what he is getting at to be honest; and he doesn’t provide any sources so we can look it up. But if I have to guess, it seems that he is talking about what is known as the “ontological” argument for the existence of God. Over the centuries Christian thinkers have tried to find various kinds of “proofs” for the existence of God (one of the more interesting of which has been the “ontological” argument), and I don’t see a problem with that either. I think it is a good thing that Christians in the past have been interested in God, thinking about God, discussing God, and tried to find ways of proving the existence of God. I think it was a good thing. They could have been doing something a lot worse than that I am sure.

“3. God is Eternal. This does not mean, in classical theism, that God just goes on and on, but that it is timeless. There is no time for it, meaning no past or future; it does not experience temporal sequence. If there [w]as a past and future, then it would not be unconditional and would not has aseity and so forth.”

I am not sure that is an accurate expression of the theological concept; but to cut it short, the Book of Mormon affirms the timelessness of God: “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men” (Alma 40:8). There are also many other passages in modern scripture (especially) which affirm the infinite and eternal nature of God. I have no problems with that doctrine either.

“4. God is Pure Actuality, meaning for it there is no potentiality. God is everything that it can possibly be.”

That is a very crude reference to the doctrine of the impassibility of God. Without going into detail, modern revelation affirms the doctrine of the impassibility of God. It essentially means is that God acts, but cannot be acted upon, which is affirmed by LDS scripture (2 Nephi 2:13-14, 26).

“5. God is Simple, meaning that it has no parts or is not a compound of anything.”

That might not be correct from an LDS theological perspective; although, depending on how it is perceived or expressed, an element of truth may be in it. Modern LDS scripture teaches that “intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be” (D&C 93:29). It also teaches that “The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth” (D&C 93:36). Combined together, those verses suggest the existence of an uncreated, uncaused, primordial something called “intelligence, or light of truth” which has the attribute of light (i.e. simplicity), which underpins the attributes of divinity. If so, then underlining that as an attribute of divinity may not be too far off the mark. But assuming that it does contain an error, such an error would not make the whole of traditional Christian theology a “bad thing” or a worthless exercise. There are more good and true principles in traditional Christian theology than bad; and Latter-day Saints can benefit from the good bits, while at the same time using the greater knowledge gained through modern revelation to improve on and correct its errors. The great theologians of the past have made the contributions to it that they could. Latter-day Saints should acknowledge their good work, and add to it to make it better; not dismiss the whole thing as though it were all useless and of no value.

“6. God is Self-sufficient, meaning that it does not need anything, including us.”

That is a continuation of the “aseity” of God previously discussed; which, when it is correctly formulated, is sound Christian doctrine.

“7. God is Incorporeal or Immaterial, meaning It is not embodied, however one thinks of bodies or material things.”

That would not be correct; but that is a score of 2 against 14 so far in favor of classical theism! I am impressed (by classical theism!) 😀

“8. God is Impassive, meaning that it is wholly apathetic about everything.”

Not sure where that comes from; but it appears to be an incorrectly formulated extension of the doctrine of the impassibility of God, which when correctly formulated is true Christian doctrine.

“9. God is Wholly Other, meaning it is not like anything we can possibly experience.”

The trouble here is that he is rattling off these descriptions without reference to any source, and there is no guarantee that they are correctly or accurately formulated, or that all theologies and theologians are in agreement on them. There is more than one school of theology, and all theologians are not always in agreement, or would formulate a concept in the same way. Unless we know the source of his information, it is hard to judge.

“10. God is Omnipotent, meaning that God has all power.”

Definitely correct and sound doctrine, no question about it.

“11. God is Omniscient, meaning God knows everything.”

Also correct on all accounts. (And omnipresent too, which he seems to have forgotten.)

“12. God is Creator and we are mere creature, meaning it created everything out of nothing and at that moment determined everything that can ever possibly happen.”

That contains three separate statements that needs to be dealt with separately:

(a) God is the creator of all things, absolutely correct!
(b) “Out of nothing” would not be correct, but a less important issue than (a). The most important consideration by far is that God is the creator and upholder of all things, which is repeatedly attested to in those terms in scripture. The scriptures (ancient and modern) repeatedly testify that God is the creator and upholder of “all things”. How that “all things” is perceived is a less important issue than the fact that God is the creator of “all things” according to revealed scripture.
(c) “At that moment determined everything that can ever possibly happen” is questionable, and sounds more like hyper Calvinism.

“13. God is really Real, while everything that it created is only real depending on the degree to which it participates in the ground of what is the only ultimate Reality.”

Again, he is expressing things imprecisely in his own words, which theologians may not agree with. Theologians usually try to be precise in their expressions. I would need to know what the source of his information is before passing judgement. But in general, I would say that I have no difficulty accepting God as the ultimate source of all created reality. 

“14. God is Changeless.”

Absolutely correct and sound doctrine, and fully attested in the Bible as well as in modern LDS scripture. God is indeed immutable and unchangeable according to scripture. He then continues:

“In the various often competing and conflicting theologies that rest on classical theism, there are, of course, a host of disagreements about fine points. But it is clear that no petition addressed to God can really be heard, and none can possibly be answered, since that would entail a future and change and so forth.”

That is entirely incorrect and unjustified. I don’t know of any respectable theologian or theology book that would teach such a doctrine. Even hyper Calvinists, who believe in absolute predestination, would shy away from teaching such a doctrine, which goes contrary to everything taught in the Bible. He continues:

“The future for human beings, understood as mere creatures, is wholly determined by the Sovereign God at the moment of creation. This explains why classical theists insist that God must not be involved with a plan, since planning and working to achieve what is planned runs directly in the face of about half of the what classical theists attribute to God.”

The first sentence describes hyper-Calvinism, which is not a majority opinion; and the rest is questionable. I did a search, and found several non-LDS Christian sites that talk about a “plan of salvation”.

“One final note: the passion with which classical theists have pushed their picture of the divine attributes can be seen in those instances in which theologians have insisted that nothing can be affirmed about God. One can only say what God is not. This is called the via negativa (or negative way). After insisting on this notion, theologians then write fat books about Divine things.”

Again, he is teaching very questionable stuff without providing a source. Christian theologians have a lot to say about God, as he has noted, which they wouldn’t be able or want to do if they believed that nothing could be known about God. He continues:

“Conclusion: what is called Open Theism is a challenge to several of the divine attributes as set out above. This is good news for Latter-day Saints, since we need allies in our own conflict with classical theism.”

LOL! That is the craziest thing I ever heard. Open Theism is bad news for everybody, because it is false; and I see no “conflict” between “classical theism” and Mormonism. There is a lot more good in “classical theism” than bad; so I want to keep the good bits, and correct the bad bits with the help of modern revelation and make it better. He continues:

“This does not mean that every Open Theist has a single way of seeing things or that we agree with any of the various versions of Open Theism. But the fact is that we simply must agree with much of what Open Theists believe, since what Joseph Smith taught flies in the face of classical theism. …”

That makes absolutely no sense. He is saying that because what Joseph Smith taught “flies in the face of classical theism” (assuming it does), therefore Open Theism must be correct, or it must be a good thing, and should be supported by LDS. Where is the logic in that? And how does embracing one false theology helps you “combat” another false theology (assuming it is false)? The truth of course is that Open Theism is false, period. And what Joseph Smith taught does not “fly in the face of classical theism”. This is what Joseph Smith himself actually said:

“Have the Presbyterians any truth? Yes. Have the Baptists, Methodists, etc., any truth?  Yes. They all  have  a  little  truth  mixed  with  error.  We  should  gather  all  the  good  and  true  principles  in  the  world and  treasure  them  up,  or  we  shall  not  come  out  true  ‘Mormons.’”

The same applies to “classical theism”. There are bits in it that are correct and true, and bits that are not. There is more good in it than bad. I want to accept the good bits, and correct the bits that are not with the help of modern revelation and make it better. He continues:

“For the record, I believe that God knows everything that such a being can know, but I must admit that I have no idea what that means, since I am not all that sure about much of what I think I know or exactly how I know it.”

I know for sure what God knows because he has told us. He knows everything, including the future exhaustively. That is the bit of information that is relevant to the discussion.

In conclusion: I had heard of Louis Midgley by name before, but I had never read any of his writings until I came across his blog post on FairMormon, and decided to respond to it. So in order to become better acquainted with his views I read some more of his writings on theological matters that I was able to find online. I found that he had written an article on theology for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism which can be seen here

I also found that he had written an article on theology for the Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): vii-xxi, titled, “A Plea for Narrative Theology: Living In and By Stories,” a PDF version of which can be downloaded from here

After reading those I came to the conclusion that Louis Midgley is anti-theological! He is an anti-theologian (if there is such a thing; I am trying to invent a new word for something that has probably never existed before). He is allergic to the word theology wherever it occurs. Doing theology for him is a sin! Anything that is labelled theology, or has the word theology written on it or in it is bad news as far as he is concerned. I have nothing against him personally. I am sure he is a very good, honorable, and decent individual. But he is the last person on earth I would trust to advise Latter-day Saints on matters pertaining to theology. Asking him to write an article for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on theology would be like asking Pontius Pilate to write an article on Jesus Christ. Latter-day Saints will never be able to make the great contributions to the development of Christian theology which otherwise they will be able to make if they are going to start off with that kind of wrong attitude towards Christian theology that he is advocating.

Revised February 12, 2018.