Thursday, August 16, 2007

Review of 'The Openness of God' (part 3 - chapter 2)

[continued on from here and here]

Chapter 2

This chapter is written by John Sanders on historical considerations attempts to 'document the manner in which I [Sanders] believe the Greek metaphysical system "boxed up" the God described in the Bible and the tremendous impact this has had in shaping the Christian understandings ... ' (p. 60). It thus traces the beliefs of various philosophers and theologians throughout Western history. Sander's main point of contention is that the traditional understanding of God as being immutable and impassable derives from Greek philosophy rather than the Scriptures. We have already seen that in the review of the previous chapter that Open Theism is not tenable in the light of Scripture. It would thus be interesting to interact with Sanders' thesis to see whether what he postulates is really true.

Sanders first starts off by suggesting that 'many of us do read the Bible initially as saying that God responds to us and may change His mind' (p. 59). However, I find such a claim questionable. Is he really so sure of that as being normative for most Christian, or only among the Christians he interacts with? As for this reviewer, I disagree with Sanders on this. Certainly, as a young Christian, our knowledge of God is very shallow. However, I never thought of my prayer changing God's mind. God responding to my prayer, Yes, but my prayer does not changes His mind. When I pray, I believe that God would respond by giving me the best, which I secretly hope is what I want of course. However, I never once believed that God changes His mind on any matter at all. Sanders in this statement thus attempt to drive a wedge against the doctrine of foreknowledge using the perspicuity of Scripture, but it is invalid as his statement is not true at least for me and can never be proven to be true of Christians in general.

One major problem with Sanders' thesis is that to postulate that the concept (not just the language) of immutability and impassibility as applied to God as being Greek concepts and not Christian concepts, it must be the case that in Greek thought there must be only one concept of God in these aspects. In other words, there cannot exist in Greek thought concurrently the concept of God being immutable and that of being mutable, or being passable and impassable. If that were to be the case, then either way Christianity can be said to imbibe on Greek thought either way, since both logically contradictory positions are covered by Greek thought. And this is what we will see to the case in Greek culture. The gods present in the popular Greek religion are mutable and passable, whereas the philosopher's Ideal or idea of God is immutable and impassable. Since this is the case, how then can Sanders prove his position? We could say that the Open Theists view is actually the Christianization of Greek popular religion, and that would be even more accurate, since the worldviews of both the modern age and during the times of the Greeks are very similar.

The second major problem in Sanders' argument lies in the fact that he commits the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (or reading causality from sequential turn of events). For example, when talking the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, Sanders entitled the section 'Philo the Bridge from the Greeks to the Christians'. Sanders said that for Philo, 'the Greek metaphysical understanding of divinity ruled his interpretation of the biblical texts that describe God as genuinely responsive' (p. 71). Sanders then carried on walking down the corridors of time to the early church fathers like Ignatius and Justin Martyr (p. 73), Tertullian, Origen (p. 74-75), Athanasius and the Cappodocian fathers (p. 77-80), and of course through Augustine (p. 80-85), the Reformers (p. 87-91), and down through the modern age (p. 91-98). However, by so doing, Sanders has only proven that the Hellenic thought of God being immutable and impassable was similar to that of the early Christians, and that the early church fathers struggled with the topic, all of which does not prove causality at all. As it has been said in the previous paragraph, that one aspect of Greek thought seems to win out over the other in being preserved in Christianity means nothing, for there are no other options between A and ~A (the law of the excluded middle). Sanders' essay, while interesting, does not prove his case at all.

From Sander's essay, it can be seen that Sanders is either not above enacting strawman or is ignorant of what the other position actually teaches. In numerous places, he states that classic theism teaches that 'we are like donkeys who go where the rider bids but cannot choose the rider' (p. 88), which is an expression of hard determinism or fatalism, that we conjoin the 'loving, interactive God of the Bible' with 'the static, independent God of Greek metaphysics' (p. 95-96). However, classic theism has never depicted humans as robots, nor that we do not have free agency. Sanders furthermore states that in classical theism, 'it became commonplace to deny any real suffering of the Son and it was difficult to speak of relationally within the Godhead' (p. 100), an assertion blatantly false within evangelicalism. Sanders has also used the underhand tactic of poisoning the well, as he said that the Reformers 'did not turn their backs on the entire Christian tradition to go directly to the Bible for their theologies' (p. 87), and that John Calvin denied 'the obvious meaning of the text' (p. 90), as if Sanders could very well read the motives of the Reformers, and of course of the early church fathers whom he accused of synthesizing 'biblical and philosophical God concepts' (p. 72).

As we survey the historical landscape, Sanders seems to distrust the providence of God in preserving true doctrine. Since the nature of God and of God's activity is so vital to Christianity, why it is that God cannot preserve His Truth from influence by Hellenic thought, as Sander insinuates? Why is it that such a vital topic has been corrupted so early in church history (~100AD) according to Sanders, and only rediscovered by theologians and philosophers in the late 20th century who have been influenced by liberal theologians and neo-orthodox theologians?

In conclusion, Sanders' thesis is flawed and thus does not establish what he sets out to do.

[to be continued]


vincit omnia veritas said...

the late Dr Ron Nash had written extensively on the alleged hellenistic influence of Christianity. Very good defence of the faith.

ddd said...


that should be interesting. Is it in a book, or in journal articles?

Anonymous said...

It is in a book : The Gospel And the Greeks - Did The New Testament Borrow From Pagan Thoughts?

You can try SKS 1st.

Jitt Teng.

ddd said...

OK, thanks. Will try to get it when I have time and money to do so.