“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” - A.W. Tozer
A particular scene in The Avengers causes me to laugh out loud every time I see it. It takes place toward the end of the movie, when Loki, a chief antagonist in the story, attempts to take over the world with his alien army. The character Loki is a demi-god from a distant planet and considers himself above all living things on the earth. Loki’s belief is primarily consistent with his experiences, as no one could defeat him, at least until he comes face to face with the Hulk!
In the heat of their confrontation, Loki screams: “Enough! You are all beneath me. I am a god, you dull creature, and I will not be bullied by a….” However, Loki’s speech is interrupted as Hulk snatches him by his ankle and proceeds to whip him back and forth, smashing him into the ground each time like a rag doll. While Loki lies on the ground beaten and dazed, Hulk concludes his smashing with the iconic reply: “Puny god.” If Loki were a god as he professed and could be smashed as terribly and quickly as he was by the Hulk, he most certainly is a “puny god.”
When it comes to thinking about the God of the Bible, the only true and living God, I want to stay away from anything that would attempt to diminish Him in any way. The God of the Bible is the Lord of glory; the sovereign “I Am”; the all-knowing, ever-present Potentate. I want to exalt the LORD in every aspect of His being, because what I think about God is the most important thought I will ever have.
Having a true and correct image of God as revealed in Scripture matters; anything less is idolatry.
Therefore, it may be rightly said that our image of God must be derived from Scripture and not primarily philosophy. Or, as the Apostle Paul writes, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”
In her book, The Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology, Mildred Bangs Wynkoop informs her readers, “The history of Christian doctrine is in some degree a history of the development and dominance of prevailing philosophies into which the Christian faith has been fitted. A shock always accompanies the emergence of a new philosophy into history, and certain features of Christian theology undergo more or less significant changes…”
She continues, “Today Christian doctrine is confronted by existentialism and ‘process’ philosophy.” Dr. Wynkoop wrote these words in the 1960s, and we are experiencing their reality today with the emergence of open theism, a product of process philosophy combined with Wesleyan-Arminian theology.
Today, there is an expectation in academic circles to branch out from one’s area of discipline and experiment by cross-pollinating with another area of study. As a result, new perspectives emerge from these academic pursuits, along with further questions and new tools. When we are talking about the nature and image of GOD, new does not mean better. Yet, in the last few decades, certain philosophers have attempted to bridge their discipline with theology, giving birth to a new vision of God who is limited by time.
This is a belief that God — they dare say the God of the Bible — is merely a celestial friend who neither knows your tomorrow nor even your next five seconds because He respects your free will. This is a “god” who cannot declare the end from the beginning because He neither knows the outcome nor the journey one will take to get there. “He cannot know,” they say, because if God knows, then we are not free to choose our path. The epitome of love is the freedom to choose on behalf of another.
So, as the argument goes: if God is love and love gives choices, but God knows the choices you’ll make, how can that be love? Rather than allowing the God of the Bible to be as He has revealed Himself to be, as One who both knows the end of things while respecting the freedom of creation to choose it, they looked to philosophy to make sense of things.
What is Open Theism? The following definition is from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
“Open Theism is the thesis that, because God loves us and desires that we freely choose to reciprocate His love, He has made His knowledge of, and plans for, the future conditional upon our actions. Though omniscient, God does not know what we will freely do in the future. Though omnipotent, He has chosen to invite us to freely collaborate with Him in governing and developing His creation, thereby also allowing us the freedom to thwart His hopes for us. God desires that each of us freely enter into a loving and dynamic personal relationship with Him, and He has therefore left it open to us to choose for or against His will.”
Words matter. And while the “god” of open theism is loving and respectful of my free will, this “god” has no real plan for the future because he does not know what I will choose until I choose it. This “god” cannot see past the nose on my face. And the most audacious of all, this “god” has invited me to be a collaborative partner in both governing and developing creation. Thus, I am elevated to collaborator rather than confessing lordship and living obediently. In this sense, open theism allows “god” and me to create a reality consisting, at least in part, of my own desires. This is Minecraft on a whole new level!
To this new vision of God, I say, “puny god!”
Yet the allure of open theism is real, especially when you have lost someone or something you loved. Or, when you face suffering and cannot wrap your mind around a loving God allowing such things that He knew would occur and has the power to intervene and change but didn’t.
The god of open theism offers a solution that seemingly makes sense to the problem of evil and suffering in the world. The answer is simple: “God didn’t know.”
This is the philosophical crux: the “god” of open theism can only know what is and was. Anything that has not yet happened cannot be understood by God or anyone else, they would tell us. This philosophical answer regarding time and what is knowable, when superimposed upon the God of the Bible, offers those in the midst of tragedy a tidy solution: “God didn’t know you would be facing this until you found out yourself.” Accordingly, amid tragedy, being the kind and compassionate God He is, He grieves with you, is a present help in times of trouble, and will not leave you or forsake you (all of which is always true of God). And immediately, the one suffering is alleviated from any theological crisis that would call God’s goodness into question.
So, is this vision of God a biblical image or one of our own making so that we can feel better about the way things are? Is this the true nature of God or us trying to cram an ocean of divinity into a tea cup of mortal intellect?
Since the beginning of all that is, God has been revealing Himself to His creation. And since the fall of humankind when our forefather and foremother sought knowledge and fulfillment outside of God’s ways, humanity has been trying to form a “god” that fits into its own mold.
The first eleven chapters of Genesis are often referred to as the pre-historic period. God reveals to us that humanity was created in the image and likeness of God. But in Genesis 3, sin entered into the world through human disobedience, and this likeness was marred. Immediately we read of guilt, fear, shame, and blame as the new experience for humanity.
In Genesis 4, we are given a portrait of this new image of humanity. It involves envy, murder, and death. Broken relationships are part of the new normal, and we are given examples of people who boast in their sin. At the conclusion of this chapter, we are told that Adam had another son (presumably, he had many children in keeping with the blessing to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth), but this son was made in Adam’s image. His name was Seth. Seth matters because, despite all the other children born before the fall, God gave a word to Adam and Eve after they sinned. This word involved a lineage that would one day provide humanity with hope and a future, culminating in the birth of Jesus the Christ.
By the time we reach Genesis 6, we are told that the overwhelming majority of people on the earth are wholly unlike God, neither in the way they view life nor what they hope to do with it. Consequently, God seeks to cleanse the world, beginning anew with Noah, who had continued to walk faithfully with the Lord.
Fast forward to the final chapter of this pre-historic section, we are given yet another glimpse into fallen humanity’s attempts at making a god that conforms to their own liking. At the tower of Babel, we discover a people putting their God-given talents and minds together for the purpose of reaching heavenly places and dictating to the gods when and where they will meet. If they were to succeed, this action gives the edge to humanity and all but domesticates their god. However, the one true God does not stand for it and refuses to allow humanity to think of Him in ways inconsistent with who He really is. So, in keeping with His word given to Adam and Eve, God reveals Himself to a man named Abram, a man of the lineage of Seth. Through Abram and his eventual family, God intended to make Himself known to the world.
From the beginning of creation, Jesus Christ was chosen to be the Savior of the world. I Peter 1:20-21a tells us that Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God...” In other words, the coming of Christ was God’s plan all along. That’s what Paul speaks to when he wrote in Ephesians 1:4, “He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” God’s plan for Christ Jesus started at creation. Why? Because He foreknew.
The lineage of the Messiah suggests that God had full knowledge of generations preceding and leading up to the birth of Christ. From Adam and Eve was born Abel, Cain, and Seth. Through Seth’s family came Enoch, who lived for 365 years and walked with God. Methuselah was the son of Enoch and lived to be 969 years old and was grandfather to Noah. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Through the generations of Shem’s family came Abram. Abram had Ishmael (Hagar), and Isaac (Sarah), the child of promise. Isaac was the father of Esau and Jacob. God told Isaac’s wife Rebekah that the older shall serve the younger. Jacob had twelve sons, who later became known as the twelve tribes of Israel. Judah was one of his sons; it was said of him, “You are he whom your brothers shall praise… The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” From the tribe of Judah came Jesse and David, which led to Christ.
Scripture includes family lineage to reveal that God foreknew His plan of redemption from the beginning. Consider the prophet Isaiah and hear the Word of the Lord: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”
From David’s lineage came Joseph (Jesus’ legal lineage of David) and Mary, who gave birth to JESUS, heir to David’s throne, an eternal throne as God foretold.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”
So, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” An angel, sent by God, came to Mary before she was pregnant and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
As Mary was nearing her due date, we are told, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” Joseph belonged to the house and line of David and so he and Mary traveled south to the town of David known as Bethlehem, approximately ninety miles away from Nazareth.
Interestingly, Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and Jesus, the “bread of life,” was born there. Still, far more interesting than that is the Prophecy in Micah 5:2, which states, “But you Bethlehem...though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (or eternity).
God in His infinite foreknowledge looked ahead and knew of Caesar Augustus’s census. Knowing that His Christ would come from the line of David, God chose Mary and Joseph of Nazareth and planned the Messiah’s birth to coincide with their time in Bethlehem as a sign to those who would believe.
Furthermore, according to Matthew’s Gospel, we find the holy family fleeing to Egypt escaping Herod’s wrath. When the Magi from the east failed to return to Herod with an update on the location of this new king born in Israel, he set out to kill every male child two and under in the area. The holy family’s time in Egypt resulted in the fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” If God never intended for Hosea’s words to be attributed to His son Jesus, then either Matthew misused them, or God got lucky that everything worked out as it did. God’s foreknowledge of Herod’s evil deeds did not make Him culpable. Yet, Herod was still guilty of murder.
The Bible teaches that God, in His wisdom, permits what He could prevent in His sovereignty. So, does this make God any less good? Especially when you consider that “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Even God took suffering upon Himself — suffering is part and parcel of the human experience in this post-fall world.
Friends, God never promises an easy path. The opposite is true; we are called to a life of faith amid difficulty and strife. Life is about knowing God and making Him known in the earth. Whether we experience trouble or blessing, comfort or discomfort; whether we abound or find ourselves abased, the invitation to know God more and the commission to make Him known stands until He returns.
The theory of an open future was not derived from reliable biblical exegesis but is a doctrine demanded by untrusting philosophers as an attempt to comprehend the incomprehensible God of the Bible. This open view unlocks the door to so-called new truths as their “god” grows and changes with the human experience. Undoubtedly, this open theology leads to redefining morals as one argues for what is perceived as a better understanding of love in any and every relational form. However, truth does not change, is not in process, and we certainly do not have a say as collaborative partners in what truth or God becomes. That would be a puny god indeed!
I leave you with this: A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there.” Herein lies the gravity of this topic, to get it wrong is to stand by and watch our beloved Holiness Movement go into theological eclipse.
“O Lord God Almighty, not the God of the philosophers and the wise but the God of the prophets and apostles; and better than all, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
may I express Thee unblamed? They that know Thee not may call upon Thee as other than Thou art, and so worship not Thee but a creature of their own fancy; therefore enlighten our minds that we may know Thee as Thou art, so that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily praise Thee. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
For cited sources, please read the article in Issue 2 of Remnant.