Monday, January 19, 2009

Heresy never dies (5): The Flight from Calvinism

The 19th Century Scottish theologian William Cunningham looked upon Socinianism as a unified system of theology and the only consistent rival to Calvinism.

He also reasoned that "when men abandon the great features of the Scriptural system of Calvinism, they have no firm and steady resting place on which they can take their stand, until they sink down to Socinianism." (Historical Theology Volume 2, p. 183)

Cunningham's words, with reference to divine omniscience, can be illustrated from the experience and reasoning of open theists Clark Pinnock and Richard Rice.

The following quotations from Pinnock are taken from his chapter “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology.” He frames his journey, throughout that chapter, in the language of being freed from Calvinist logic. In his new found emancipation he was now able to listen to what the Bible was saying.

A careful reading of the whole chapter, and from the extracts below, reveal, however, that there is a commitment on his part to following the logic of a non-negotiable premise, namely libertarian free will:
Finally I had to rethink the divine omniscience and reluctantly ask whether we ought to think of it as an exhaustive foreknowledge of everything that will ever happen, as even most Arminians do.

I found I could not shake off the intuition that such a total omniscience would necessarily mean that everything we will ever choose in the future will have been spelled out in the divine knowledge register, and consequently the belief that we have truly significant choices to make would seem to be mistaken.

I knew the Calvinist argument that exhaustive foreknowledge was tantamount to predestination because it implies the fixity of all things from"eternity past," and I could not shake off its logical force. I feared that, if we view God as timeless and omniscient, we will land back in the camp of theological determinism where these notions naturally belong.

It makes no sense to espouse conditionality and then threaten it by other assumptions that we make. (Clark Pinnock, “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” in Pinnock [ed.], The Grace of God and the Will of Man, p. 25)
The same pursuit of consistency, even at the cost of revising divine omniscience can be found in author Richard Rice:
In the earlier part of this discussion we noticed the considerable difficulties encountered by those who seek to reconcile the concept of absolute divine foreknowledge with an affirmation of creaturely freedom. Now we can identify the basic cause of these problems. They arise from the attempt to combine contradictory elements from different views of God, specifically from the attempt to incorporate elements of the Calvinist view of God with the Arminian model.

The concept of absolute foreknowledge retained from Calvinism is incompatible with the dynamic portrait of God that is basic to Arminianism. Absolute foreknowledge--the idea that God sees the entire future in advance--is incompatible with the concept that God interacts with his creatures on a momentary basis.

But we cannot make such changes in our concept of God coherently while clinging to the traditional concept of divine foreknowledge. To be consistent, we must reformulate our understanding of omniscience. (Richard Rice "Divine Knowledge and Free-Will Theism" in Pinnock [ed.], The Grace of God and the Will of Man,p. 133-4)
The above bears out what Cunningham argued around 150 years ago. It is also substantiated in his telling of the following anecdote:
It may be worthwhile to mention...that, in what is probably the earliest summary ever given of the whole Socinian system of doctrine, after it was fully developed, in a little work, understood to have been written with the view of explaining and defending it, by Ostorodus and Voidovius, when, in 1598, they were sent from Poland on a mission into the Low Countries, in order to propogate their doctrine there, it is expressly assigned as a reason why they denied God's foreknowledge of the future actions of men, that there was no other way of escaping from the Calvinistic doctrine of presdestination. (Historical Theology Volume 2, p. 174)

1 comment:

Matt B. said...

Great stuff as usual, thanks for digging it out and distilling it for the rest of us. Blessings