Sunday, January 18, 2009

Heresy Never Dies (3): The amazing prescience of Charles Hodge

How did Charles Hodge know about open theism over a hundred years before it arose? Because it was knocking around centuries before he was born:

The Socinians, however, and some of the Remonstrants, unable to reconcile this foreknowledge with human liberty, deny that free acts can be foreknown. As the omnipotence of God is his ability to do whatever is possible, so his omniscience is his knowledge of everything knowable. But as free acts are in their nature uncertain, as they may or may not be, they cannot be known before they occur. Such is the argument of Socinus. This whole difficulty arises out of the assumption that contingency is essential to free agency. (Systematic Theology Volume 1, p. 400-1)

This was the same point that John Owen made in his treatise Vindicae Evangelicae (1655):

Socinus in his Prelections, where the main of his design is to vindicate man's free-will into that latitude and absoluteness as none before him had once aimed at, in his eighth chapter objects to himself this foreknowledge of God as that which seems to abridge and cut short the liberty contended for. (Vindicae Evangelicae, p. 116)
This is the same move that the open theists have made in our own day. For example, take Richard Rice's 1989 essay “Divine Foreknowledge and Free-Will Theism” (in Clark Pinnock [ed.], The Grace of God and the Will of Man). Five years prior to the publication of The Openness of God Rice noted that:
To avoid the difficulties involved in trying to reconcile creaturely freedom with absolute divine foreknowledge, a number of thinkers propose revisionary interpretations of omniscience. (p. 128)
Rice goes on to suggest that this is achieved by developing a definition of omniscience in line with the generally accepted definition of omnipotence. If omnipotence is understood as God having power to do anything logically possible, as opposed to having power to do anything, so omniscience should not be understood as knowing everything but rather as knowing everything that is logically knowable. (p. 128).

The "new paradigm" for understanding God (as the January 1995 subtitle of the Christianity Today forum called it) was in fact a repetition of the old Socinian paradigm. I think that John Frame's conclusion in No Other God is warranted:
In my judgment, the concept of human freedom in the libertarian sense is the engine that drives open theism, often called freewill theism. For the open theist, libertarian free will serves as a kind of grid, through which all other theological assertions must pass—a general criterion for testing the truth of all other doctrines. (No Other God, p. 119)

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