Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Heresy never dies (7): Luther on denying God's exhaustive foreknowledge

"For He must be a ridiculous God, or idol rather, who did not, to a certainty, foreknow the future, or was liable to be deceived in events..."

Martin Luther

"To confess that God exists, and at the same time to deny that he has foreknowledge of future things is the most manifest folly"


Sacrificing God's exhaustive foreknowledge for the sake of preserving libertarian free-will seems an incredibly high price to pay. Luther certainly thought so. This, however, is what the open theists have been prepared to do.

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):
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)
Moreover, Bruce Ware has shown that open theism has pressed this issue upon Arminians:
The challenge from open theism to other Arminians is simple: Comprehensive divine foreknowledge and libertarian freedom are mutually exclusive notions. You cannot have both together. So if you value libertarian freedom (as classical Arminianism clearly does), then you must be willing to give up your commitment to comprehensive divine foreknowledge. (God's Lesser Glory, p. 33)
Tampering with God's foreknowledge is something that Luther addressed in his thunderous response to Erasmus. His words are relevant to the present day modifications that open theists have made to omniscience and foreknowledge. As is so often the case, the names may change, and the dates, but the fundamental theological, exegetical and philosophical issues remain the same.

Here are some extracts from The Bondage of the Will:
If God be not deceived in that which he foreknows, that which he foreknows must, of necessity, take place.

If it were not so, who could believe His promises, who would fear His threatenings, if what He promised or threatened did not of necessity take place!

Or, how could he promise or threaten, if His prescience could be deceived or hindered by our mutability.

We are dispuitng about the prescience of God! And if you do not subscribe to this, the necessity of the consequent foreknown, you take away faith and the fear of God, you destroy the force of all the divine promises and threatenings, and thus deny divinity itself! (Baker edition, p. 237)
For is it not searching with temerity, when we attempt to make the all-free prescience of God to harmonize with our freedom, prepared to derogate prescience from God, rather than lose our own liberty? (Baker edition, p. 241)

Wherefore, the prescience and omnipotence of God, are diametrically opposite to our "free-will." And it must be, that either God is deceived in His prescience and errs in his action, (which is impossible) or we act, and are acted upon, according to His prescience and action. (Baker edition, p. 242)

How religious, devout, and necessary a thing is it to know [of God's foreknowledge]. For if these things are not known, there can be neither faith nor any worship of God. For that would be ignorance of God, and where there is such ignorance, there cannot be salvation, as we know.

For if you doubt or disdain to know that God foreknows all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe in his promises and place a sure trust and reliance on them?

For when he promises anything, you ought to be certain that he knows and is able and willing to perform what he promises; otherwise, you will regard him as neither truthful nor faithful, and that is impiety and a denial of the Most High God.

But how will you be certain and sure unless you know that he knows and wills and will do what he promises, certainly, infallibly, immutably, and necessarily?

Therefore, Christian faith is entirely extinguished, the promises of God are completely destroyed, if we teach and believe that it is not for us to know the necessary foreknowledge of God. (Quoted in Steven C. Roy How Much Does God Know? From the Westminster edition of The Bondage of the Will, p. 122)
Tom Schriener has a short introduction to open theism that sets out the contrast between it and the historic Christian view entitled "My God and Their God."

Monergism have a page of links to articles on open theism that you can find here.

The painting by the way is of King Nebuchadnezzar by William Blake (1757-1827)

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