This morning my friend and Christian brother Tom sent me a link to a short audio clip of Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, where he discussed some recent comments John Piper made about the tornadoes that cut through parts of Indiana. Piper had said that the tornadoes were sent by God to warn people to repent. Piper is always catching heat for saying things like this. Greg Boyd is a theologian and professor who has written polemical responses
to statements Piper made in the past, particularly after a tornado destroyed part of a church building where the ELCA had been holding meetings in which they stated that monogamous homosexual unions are not sinful. According to Piper, the tornado was a sign to the ELCA to stop approving of sin. Boyd responded with several polemical questions, such as:
Why does John discern a divine motive behind a damaged church steeple but not behind any other damage this tornado caused? For example, the roof of the Minneapolis Convention Center was damaged by this same tornado. Was God sending a warning by having his judging tornado damage this building? Or what about the damage cause by the other four tornadoes that struck the Twin Cities area around the same time? A middle school in North Branch was badly damaged, for example. Was this school more affirming toward gays than other schools in the area?
Now, Mohler agreed with Boyd in part, namely that Piper is perhaps incautious to read specific meanings into natural disasters. But Mohler disagrees more strongly with Boyd, in that Greg Boyd rejects the idea that God displays meticulous control over nature or human actions at all. Whereas Calvinists like Piper and Mohler believe God orders all things according to his will, Boyd believes that God is always reacting in the moment to circumstances as they arise. Where Calvinists and Arminians both teach that trusting God means knowing that he is in control of the future, Boyd is an "open theist," and teaches that trusting God means knowing that God is capable of handling any possible situation, even if the end of history isn't already wrapped up. Of tornadoes, Boyd writes,
I have an alternative interpretation of tornado behavior to offer. They have nothing to do with how pro-gay or how sinful people are and everything to do with where people happen to live. Tornadoes strike Oklahoma frequently because it’s located in a place where hot and cold air currents tend to collide frequently at certain times of the year. Much less frequently, the same thing happens in the Twin Cities. Why can’t we just leave it at that?
(For a more critical overview of open theism, see my post here
Mohler briefly described Boyd's perspective in the audio clip, then closed by stating how uncomfortable he would be if he viewed God that way. "Let me be honest," he said. "I could not sleep at night nor operate during the day if I did not believe that God is in control."
Following listening to Mohler's podcast, I tweeted at Tom to say that I didn't feel that Mohler really gets Boyd's position. Tom said that from what he's heard of Boyd, Mohler gets it perfectly, and that Boyd's position is scary. Then he said,
Lately I've seen people say God is doing the best He can given whatever. Presents a very weak view of God to say He is somehow limited in any area. Just as the Arminians limit God's ability in salvation. Boyd made a good argument for his views, but his view can't be supported from Scripture.
I was tempted to respond to the Arminian comment, but instead went after the last line. I said,
Ironic: that's how I feel about Calvinism. Logically coherent, and devoted to an abstract philosophy (drawn from Plato) about what God must be like in order to be "perfect", and then wrangling scripture into that mold. Taken straightforwardly I think scripture describes God as genuinely taking events as they happen, saying, "Perhaps this will lead them to repent."
(The rest of the dialogue I'll present in dialogue format.)Tom
: What of the prophets then? Some were told they would preach to deaf ears. If God didn't know or cause was it a guess? And, if God only knew the possibilities, does that mean that His Word failed to accomplish bringing about repentance?Nic Don
: God knew already the heart of those they wd be preaching to. Some of their hearts were hardened and they would never listen.Tom
: But in Boyd's view God knew the possibilities, not the outcome.So,God couldn't have told the prophets which outcome would happen.ND
: But in Boyd's view people can shut themselves off to God, so God cd know w/ certainty that they wd not respond. And of course Boyd agrees w/ the Arminian position that God's grace is resistible. Taken another way, God cd. certainly predict that SOME among a population wd not respond. I'm a dummy, and I cd predict that.Tom
: But, God said the people would not respond. Not that some wouldn't.ND
: I guess now is a good time to ask what passage we're discussing. #lolTom
: I would have to look at each to remember for sure. Not an individual passage, thinking Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah being told this. I think they were all told similar.... The idea of God's grace being resistable doesn't work.Is He not strong enough2save any He wills?Is He unable2accomplish His willND
: We'll have to agree to disagree about resistible/irresistible grace. That's just the Arminian/Calvinist divide speaking, and not unique to Boyd.Tom
: How about King David. It was prophesied in Genesis that Jesus would come of Judah. But, Saul was 1st king, of Benjamin. What if in the realm of possibility Saul had been a good king? Then David wouldnt be king and Messiah wouldnt have been of Judah. Did God not know which path Saul would go?ND
: Not 100% sure I follow, but the general view on messianic prophecy is that God ensures his results come about. It's about his omnipotence, not his ability to predict the future. And the usual metaphor is a chess grandmaster, who can state "Checkmate in four moves." He knows because he knows the game and his own mastery of it. Not because he knows the future. It's really beyond my ken to work it all through without specific texts and a bit of time. But I think we can agree that no position is evidently obvious, or no one wd disagree w/ it. We're all working w/ what we have, and I find Boyd's view as compelling as any.Tom
: If I were to stray from Calvinism I would side with the Lutheran view. Answers same q?s, but says some things are mystery. Doesn't attempt to fill in all the details, as Calvin did. Though, I think Scripture makes it clear enough to do so.Tom
: If God makes sure His will comes about, doesn't that mean He predestined it? Doesn't that eliminate free will?ND
: Great question! Boyd (and Arminians generally, incl. Wesley) aren't opposed to the idea of God predestining certain things. Boyd opposes the idea that ALL is predestined, but certainly believes some things are, including the cross and God's final victory. Likewise, Wesley believed that in certain cases, God DOES irresistibly draw individual Christians to salvation. He wd cite S/Paul. Tom
: Why would He predestine only some things? That still leaves the majority open to boast.ND
: Well, predestining some things isn't to avoid boasting, it's to ensure certain things happen. In Boyd's view (as in mine), there is no room for a person to boast of salvation, even if grace is resistible. You can't boast of giving in to God's overtures. What God does not predestine (for Boyd) is certain individuals being drawn to faith and others passed over.... Some passages seem to me clearly to support open theism. 2 Sam 24:12-16, for instance. God says, "You decide, and I'll do that." Or Exodus 4, when God says "“If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second." So either God was acting like he did not know what wd happen and deceiving Moses, or he genuinely did not know.Tom
: Pharoah is given as example in Romans 9 (possibly 10 or 11) of God hardening a man's heart.ND
: Sure on Pharoah, tho Exodus shows him hardening his heart first, and then God hardening it (as punishment?). But you still have that verse where God says, "Perhaps the first sign will convince him, or the second." And again you can explain it away, but the natural reading of the text is that God thinks the first sign might convince him. It's hard to be more utterly biblicist than the open theists. They're almost frustratingly literal in their interpretations. Tom
: I think the view of some salvations being predestined and others of free will is incosistent w/ Jn & Ephesians, perhaps others.ND
: Well, yeah, because you think the view of any being by free will is inconsistent with those passages.Tom
: I think I'm predestined to.
And after that the discussion tapered off. Hey, we're both busy guys, and it's not easy to have serious discussion in Twitter format. (It's even harder reconstructing the bloody thing.) But a mutual friend saw bits and pieces of the conversation and said she wished she had the attention span to try to go over the whole thing, so I decided to put this together.
What do you think? Does Greg Boyd's position about God's sovereignty sound scary? Does it sound more or less biblical than other readings? Does your Twitter timeline look basically like this?