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First Day is Goldingay

posted by xscot mcknight

Well, Goldingay’s 2d chp (Israel’s Faith (OT Theology, vol. 2)) is bogging me down, but this chp has a section that is a virtual open theism statement. So, here are some thoughts from the chp…
“God thus has a plan for Israel’s life. Perhaps it would be better to call it an intention or purpose.” And this: “The assumption that everything that happens in the world emerges from God’s plan stands in contrast with the more concrete way in which the Scriptures speak of God’s plan.” In other words, Yahweh manifests constancy and flexibility.
Now some references on which some of his observations are made:
1. Mal 3:6: “?I the Lord do not change.”
But, this does not mean God is immutable, which would be close to saying that God is dead (89).
2. Ezek 20:8-12: “8 ? ?But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt. 9 But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations they lived among and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites by bringing them out of Egypt. 10 Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. 11 I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. 12 Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy.”
The emboldened “But” is the point for Goldingay. God didn’t do what he said he would do. He “relented.”
Which is why the next verses say the same: “13 ? ?Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws?although the man who obeys them will live by them?and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the desert. 14 But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. ”
3. Jonah 3:6-10: “6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: ?By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.? 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
Goldingay calls this “dialogical reciprocity” (91).
Here is a way he puts together what the Bible actually says: “God assumes room to maneuver” (91).
“There are thus two passages that say that God never relents, and forty or so indicating that God does” (92).



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Luke

posted May 1, 2008 at 12:45 am


Scott,
I know any belief associated with open theism is a big “no-no” in Evangelicalism, but I think Goldingay makes excellent points here. He is certainly taking the “plain” meaning of the text (which the other side claims to do but is inconsistent about it with certain texts like these). Do you have a problem with this? I think Goldingay is on to something here, something that cannot be easily refuted. That’s what I like about him, he seems to go where the text leads him regardless of tradition or systems.
Goldingay definitely has open theistic tendencies…I even think he goes a little further than the open theists at times. However, his work is amazing and even if I disagree with him about that area, I can still learn a great deal from him. The problem is though, that the more I study the more I tend to agree with statements like these. Is this a bad thing?



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John Frye

posted May 1, 2008 at 6:05 am


Scot,
I picked up Goldingay’s leaning toward open theism, but he does so as he so capably wrestles with and explains the OT story. He’s not engaging the systematics battle. YHWH, Israel’s God, undeniably demonstrates “dialogical reciprocity.”
Luke (#1), I agree that within USAmerican *establishment* evangelicalism anything associated with open theism is a “no-no.” There is, however, a growing number of exploring, risk-taking evangelicals who are allowing the plain presentation of the sacred text to shape Theology Proper and the nature of open reality.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 1, 2008 at 6:08 am


John,
You’re right; Goldingay’s is not a discussion of open theism but of how the First Testament narrative depicts God.



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Andy Cornett

posted May 1, 2008 at 7:04 am


I confess I am still struggling to finish Goldingay’s first volume, so I am behind in the discussion … but this is a topic that especially interests me for the reasons that John mentioned above. Here’s my question – my impression is that many (and maybe the majority of the references in the OT) to God repenting/relenting do indicate a change of mind or course or direction. Yet I consistently hear these explained away as (1) anthropomorphisms or (2) translation issues where relent/repent really means to “grieve or have compassion” instead of an actual change of direction. Can someone better versed that I speak to those? The impression I get from Goldingay’s stuff is that God is a genuine, dynamic relationship of give-and-take with his people. God is responsive and accomodating to them, just as they are responsive to his actions and intentions. And it seems that Goldingay (and others) are letting a genuine biblical theology engage in a critique of our usual understanding.
grace and peace – andy



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James K.

posted May 1, 2008 at 7:55 am


I am finding Goldingay’s exposition of the First Testament challenging, but I’m quite sure that’s not a bad thing. While I find that he sometimes challenges my assumptions and theological formulations, I haven’t really found that he’s distorted the FT. I would agree with Andy that it seems that he is calling us to a genuine engagement with the Bible and calling us to a critique of our understandings. Especially with regard to assumptions and formulations about God’s providence and intention in the world. And while I chafe at many tenets of Open Theism as such, I think he’s bringing in some important themes that need to help reshape our understandings of how God works and the role we play in it. Goldingay certainly leaves no room for Israel (or us) to sit back and assume that God’s got it all under control so we’re off the hook. At the same time, Jesus was pretty clear that God cares for each sparrow and clothes the lilies, so we can certainly depend on God. There’s much more to work out here (and Christians have been pondering these things for centuries), but I think Goldingay helps us along the way.
Another short note. Goldingay takes the narrative of the FT seriously, whereas it seems that much traditional theology elevates the propositional (statements such as Mal 3.6 become the controlling ideas that overrule the narratives). I wonder how we take both seriously. That seems to be what Goldingay is working on. It certainly seems like both are meant to be witnesses to who God is, or why else would we have so much narrative.



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James K.

posted May 1, 2008 at 8:21 am


Sorry to lenghten my already-long comment, but two books to recommend. To wrestle with God’s relenting in the FT, Fretheim’s The Suffering of God is required reading.
On a different vane, I appreciated Goldingay discussing the “why” of Israel, the “Gospel Idea” of Israel, as he calls it. Which is more than simply preparing the way for Jesus. It is the core of their election to serve God’s purpose in the world. It seems like this could be the source of some fruitful reflection on how the church joins Israel in being elected for God’s purpose. Again, to recommend a book, Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God picks up on this theme and illuines it as a core them of the whole scripture: God’s work in and for the world. It is a brilliant OT Theology of a sort, organized around God’s mission.



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John Sanders

posted May 1, 2008 at 9:13 am


Hello Scott,
I have a few comments relevant to your discussion of Goldingay’s work and open theism. Most of what open theists believe is no different from what many Christians have affirmed throughout history: a God of love and grace who genuinely responds to creatures such that the future contains more than one possibility. Some have even affirmed that God experiences sequential progression or duration (psychological time). Few, however, have affirmed the open theist view known as dynamic omniscience (God knows all the past and present and those aspects of what will happen in the future that are determined). In volume one, Goldingay comments on both of these points. He says God experiences one thing after another (63-4, 168). He speaks about ?divine reconsideration? (163) and “change of mind” (98). He writes that God?s ?plan? is more like an aim or intention, not a blueprint. He says that the flood, call of Abraham, exodus, David and the messiah were not eternally planned. Rather, they are responses to concrete situations (60-1). He says that according to the scriptural portrayal God could know all we are thinking but chooses not to which is why God tests people to ?find out? what they will do (136-8). Goldingay says that ?if? God could know what we will do in the future he has chosen not to know it. ?God?s not knowing everything is another aspect of the gospel? (137).
I am told that Goldingay was not even aware of the debate surrounding open theism when he wrote volume one. Hopefully, his scholarship will be discsussed on its own merits and he will not be subjected to political attacks.
John Sanders



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Andy Cornett

posted May 1, 2008 at 9:30 am


James (6), you are the third person in as many months to recommend those two books to me. Guess I am going to have to take you all up on the matter!



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Luke

posted May 1, 2008 at 10:01 am


Thanks for sharing John. I agree, I think Goldingay even goes much further than any self-proclaimed open theist. They would never claim that the Messiah was not eternally planned, nor would they say that God finds things out.
From what I know of Goldingay, he could probably care less about the whole “open theism” thing anyways. He could frankly care less what Piper, Grudem, and Carson have to say about him…and rightfully so.



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James K.

posted May 1, 2008 at 10:09 am


Professor Sanders, Thank you for your comments, and for your own work toward faithfulness to the biblical witness to who God is. I agree with you that much work that falls under the head of “Open Theism” is best categorized as an attempt to be faithful to what the Bible says, and I appreciate your own contribution to it. And I agree that many things Goldingay says have a resonance with many of the core strands of open theism as you and Pinnock and others have formulated it. But I don’t think his assertion is the same (not that you are saying that). I’m not through–okay, I’ve barely started–wrestling with Goldingay’s discussion about God’s identity and action in the world from chapter 1, but he repeatedly talks about God’s capabilities, but also about the way God chooses to act. I think, for instance, about foreknowledge, an important locus of the open-theism discussion. In vol 2, pp 132, he writes “I assume Yhwh could choose to know what will happen, but if so, the First Testament indicates that Yhwh does not always do so. . . . The way the FT speaks suggests that, while indeed having the capacity for such knowledge, Yhwh does not ‘automatically’ know everything.” He then goes on to talk of God holding back in his relationship with people. There seems to be an important difference between Goldingay’s understanding of God’s nature on this point with the one you advocate in The God Who Risks, one I would like to cling to.
Blessings,
James Korsmo



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John Sanders

posted May 1, 2008 at 12:00 pm


Mr. Korsmo,
Thank you for your reply. I may have misled folks. You are correct that Goldingay says God could know the future actions of humans. However, he does not explain exactly what he means. Open theists also say that God could know future human actions. Most open theists explain this by claiming that God would know our future acts if God had decided to ceate a wholly deterministic universe. Some open theists have suggested that God could know all of the future actions of creatures with libertarian freedom but God has chosen not do so because God desires an interactive relationship. It should be noted that this is a disagreement about why God does not possess exhaustive foreknowledge but it is not a disagreement that God lacks exhaustive foreknowledge. To the best of my knowledge, Goldingay has not stated his view regarding why God presently exercises dynamic omniscience. I hope this helps clarfiy the issue.
For a helpful study that resonates with Goldingay see Michael Carasik, ?The Limits of Omniscience.? Journal of Biblical Literature 119.2 (summer 2000): 221-232
John Sanders



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Rebeccat

posted May 1, 2008 at 12:17 pm


I spent the first 10 years or so of my serious scripture study avoiding the work of theologians precisely to avoid this sort of problem. It seems to me that too often that we read what someone else has said, accept it or at least see that it is what is accepted by the majority of believers who you associate with, and then read everything else through that. I am not sure how one could come away from an honest reading of the OT without seeing that God does indeed respond to us and change His course out of pity, love, etc.
Also, it seems to me that if God will do what He will do and does not change His mind or cannot be swayed from His chosen path, then there is little reason for us to pray. God will do what He is going to do, therefor our requests are irrelevant except as a sign of faith. Now, I do think that requests should make up a smaller portion of our prayer life than many like to think, but if scripture is to be believed, God hears us when we pray and what we ask for matters to Him. This could not be so if God were unchanging and unmoving in His Dealing with creation.



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John Frye

posted May 1, 2008 at 4:30 pm


John Sanders (#7, #11),
I, too, appreciate you joining this conversation here. I have read your *The God Who Risks* and Greg Boyd’s *God at War* and *The God of Possibilities.* I have not read any of Hasker, Pinnock or Woltersdorf. I find openness theology to be more faithful to the sacred text and to the way we *actually* live. Now…
I live in a heavily Calvinist-swayed (classical determinism) community in W Michigan (Grand Rapids metroplex). I am a pastor. My question is this: Is it fair to conclude that classical determinists hold adamantly to their views at a theological level, but live as open theists (or Arminians!) at an existential, day-to-day practical level?



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Tim Hallman

posted May 1, 2008 at 8:28 pm


While I have not, but would like to, but likely will not read Goldingay’s book in the very near future, I do want to remark that I like his writings (as presented by Scot) and his willingness to deal with the text/story as it unfolds.
Rather than assuming a strong view of God’s Sovereignty up front, and then filtering everything through that, he lets the narrative unfold and teach us about God based on what God does and says about himself, Israel, the world, his plans, his feelings, etc. Not that Goldingay has no theological presuppositions…just that he tries to reduce as many filters as possible.
I think that John Sanders and others have made helpful contributions to our thinking about how God works, and it is helpful that Goldingay doesn’t bog himself down in intricate details about how God actually knows. Just read the story very carefully and let it create/keep the tension that has made it such a powerful Story.



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Luke

posted May 1, 2008 at 11:05 pm


I would just like to add, regarding foreknowledge, it’s not like the open theists and scholars like Goldingay believe in this puny God that can’t know everything. They would all affirm that if God would have wished it, he very well could have known everything that was going to happen in all eternity, he could have chosen some for hell and some for heaven, etc. So to make claims like “They don’t believe in foreknowledge. They don’t believe in omniscience.” and the like it completely ridiculous b/c they would affirm that if God wanted, he could have done this.
However, this is just not the portrait we have of God in the Scriptures. That’s why I respect them so much, because they seek to understand and let their theology be formed by the Scriptures as opposed to creeds, confessions, tradition, and propositions. When the story is trying to communicate a message and seems to allude that God does not know what the outcome will be, or acts surprised by what happens, then this is exactly how we should read and study it because this is the information the author is giving us. To get bogged down in the details and be like “well, we know that God knows everything and ordained this to happen, so this is an anthropomorphism because the readers would not have understood it like we do now” is completely eisegetical and ridiculous.
I just used Goldingay’s 1st volume OT Theology for a paper I wrote on Genesis 3 and the origin of sin. He has some pretty dang harsh things to say about the doctrine Christians call “original sin” or “the fall,” mainly because exegetically speaking it miserable fails…and I’m glad he’s honest with the text. I read Bruce Waltke’s along with it and he was saying stuff that was nowhere evident in the text. I guess that’s a reformed theologian for ya though.



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John Sanders

posted May 2, 2008 at 8:36 am


Dear Rev Frye,
I believe the answer to your question is “yes” they do live as though meticulous providence was false. However, to be fair, proponents of meticulous providence believe that their actions do make a difference as to what happens in history. For example, Moses’ returning to Egypt led to the liberation of the Israelites. True, he could not have done otherwise but his action did make a difference. The problem is that there is only one possible future state of affairs and when we make our decisions we usually think that there are multiple possible future states of affairs.
John



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