Neotheism: Orthodox or Unorthodox?
A Theological Response to Greg Boyd
by Norman L. Geisler
Professor Boyd’s view is part of a broader movement called “Free Will Theism” or the “Openness View of God,” a position embraced by some noted contemporary evangelicals like Clark Pinnock.1 A more descriptive name for the view is neotheism, since it rejects crucial aspects of classical theism in favor of neo-classical theism also known as process theology.2Indeed, Pinnock placed the view “Between Classical and Process Theism.”3
Some chief characteristics of neotheism as embraced by Greg Boyd are: 1) A libertarian views of free will (which entails the power of contrary choice); 2) a limitations on God’s infallible foreknowledge to non-free acts; 3) a partially open (non-determined) future, namely, one where free acts are involved; 4) the belief that God’s nature can change; 5) that God is temporal, and 6) the implication that God is not simple (indivisible) His essence.
A Response to Boyd’s Neotheistic Attack on Classical Theism
Classical theism, as embraced by St. Augustine, St. Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and virtually all the great Fathers and Teachers of the Christian Church is rejected by neotheism. Particularly under attack are God’s attributes of Pure Actuality (with no potentiality), Immutability, Eternality (Non-temporality), Simplicity (indivisibility), Infallible Foreknowledge of everything (including free acts), and Sovereignty (complete control of the universe and future). The central charges by neotheists against classical theism include the following:
The Charge That Classical Theism is Rooted in Greek Philosophy
Statement of the Charge.–Boyd claims that classical theism is based, not on Scripture, but on Greek philosophy (Boyd, 17, 24, 85, 115, 109, 144).4 He writes: “My fundamental thesis is that the classical theological tradition became misguided when, under the influence of Hellenic philosophy, it defined God’s perfection in static, timeless terms.” That is, “All change was considered an imperfection and thus not applicable to God.” He adds elsewhere that “…we simply must free ourselves from the Hellenistic philosophical assumptions that God must be unchanging in every respect and that time is an illusion….” (Boyd, 17, 85) That is, that change and time are “less real” and less good than the unchanging timeless real (Boyd, 130).
A Response to the Charge.–In response, several important observations need to be made. First of all, it is not correct to attribute this view to Greek philosophy. No one was more Greek than Aristotle, and he believed time involved real change.5 Further, “less real” and an “illusion” are not the same. Plato held the former, namely that this temporal world was not an illusion but a “shadow”6 of reality (but not a non-reality).7
Second, even if Boyd called the classical view of God “platonic” philosophy, it would still be wrong. For Plato never identified God (the Demiurgos) and the Good (the Agathos), his absolutely unchanging metaphysical principle. Identifying God with the ultimate metaphysical principle was the unique Judeo-Christian contribution to philosophy of religion.8 Thus, the reverse of the traditional objection is the case. It was the Judeo-Christian concept of God as Self-Existent, Pure Actuality (based on Ex. 3:14) that transformed Greek metaphysics!9
Third, the attempt to blame philosophy cuts both ways. One can equally argue that neotheistic interpretations of the biblical texts resulted from the influence of contemporary process philosophy. Although Boyd notes some differences between his views and process theology, nevertheless, he clearly buys into much the “dynamic” process view of God espoused by Alfred North Whitehead and followers (Boyd, 31, 107).10
Finally, there is nothing wrong as such with having a philosophical influence on biblical and theological studies. Philosophy is necessary to do both exegesis and systematic theology. One should only be sure that he is utilizing good philosophy. So the question is not whether it is Greek thinking but whether is good thinking. It is not a matter of whether the view is Hellenic but whether it is authentic. After all, the Greeks also believed in the law of non-contradiction which cannot be discarded in theological thinking without engaging in self-defeating statements.11
Even fellow neotheists admit that “No one should criticize the Fathers for trying to integrate current philosophical beliefs and biblical insights. If the God of the universe and of truth is one, theologians should try to integrate all of the truth that they know from any quarter.”12
The Claim That God is Temporal
Statement of the Claim.–Like other neotheists, Boyd affirms that God is temporal. God not only looks ahead, but He even changes His mind about the future (Boyd, 16, 30, 45, 69). Indeed, the part of the future yet to be determined by free acts is so open to God (Boyd, 123) that He even takes “risks” (Boyd, 156). Although Boyd wishes to place God in some unexplained sense beyond time (Boyd, 131), he admits that God both changes and is in is temporal in the sense of experiencing things in a temporal sequence (Boyd, 131). Unlike fellow neotheists, Boyd puts forward no formal argument for God’s temporality but, rather, he generally assumes 1) from his interpretation of the biblical text that God literally changes; 2) from his belief that God’s non-temporality is a “Greek,” “static,” and outdated view of reality (Boyd, 17), and 3) from the fact that “every verb applied to God in the Bible testifies to this” (Boyd, 131-132).
A Response to the Claim.–Boyd’s comments call for response. First of all, not every verb in the Bible used of God is tensed so as to make God temporal. In fact, when God speaks of Himself in Exodus 3:14 is in the eternal non-temporally “I AM.” And Jesus, disregarding the normal grammatical past tense expected in His famous “before Abraham was” statement, repeated that God, whom He claimed to be, was the same “I Am” (Jn. 8:58). As for the usual references to God in Scripture from a temporal human point of view, one would expect that they would be tenses in a temporal sense because they are from a human point of view. And for the statement of God manifest in angelic form in the Angel of the Lord (e.g., Gen. 18; Jud. 13), here too the angel is in finite form in a temporal world. In this case one would expect the statements to be tenses, as all other statements made by beings in the temporal world. After all, Jesus made all his statements as a man in the past present or future, but even Boyd would have to admit that this in no way means it was not also God who existed before the temporal world.
Second, behind the denial that God by nature is beyond time and change is the neotheist’s argument that God changes and undergoes temporal sequences. One form of the implied argument assumes the cause of a temporal act must itself be temporal. But this clearly is not the case, for the reasoning used proves only that the effect must be temporal, not the Cause. By the same kind of reasoning neotheists should conclude that God is a creature since He made creatures. Or, that God is finite because He made finite things, etc.
Further, another way to state the problem is to note that process and neotheist thinkers who use this argument confuse God’s attributes and Hisacts. His acts are in time, but His attributes are beyond time. There is no reason why the Eternal cannot act in the temporal world. Just as all the radii of a circle are many and yet the center from which they come is one, even so God can have multiple acts without being multiple Himself. Likewise, there is nothing logically incoherent about a timeless God acting in a temporal world.
What is more, if God is in time, then Boyd’s protest to the contrary (Boyd, 133), God cannot think faster than the speed of light which is the fastest movement in the space-time world.13 If God’s nature is in time, then He is temporal. And if He is temporal by nature, then He is also spacial and material. For time, space, and matter are correlative in the contemporary view of physics which Boyd seems to accept.
What is more, if God is spacial-temporal-material, then, according to contemporary astro-physics, He must have come into existence with the Big Bang. That is, He must have had a beginning, since, as the Kalam argument demonstrates, an infinite number of actual moments before today is impossible. In infinite number of actual moments (as opposed to an abstract infinite number) could not have occurred before today, since today is the end of the series of all moments before it. But an infinite number of moments has no end. Hence, there can only be a finite number of actual moments before today.14 In short, Boyd’s view of God’s nature would not be God at all but a finite creature created by God!15
Boyd’s attempt to avoid this conclusion is in vain. He says, “Of course God is `above time,’ for our concept of time is simply the way we measure change” (Boyd, 131). But he goes on to speak of a “God who experiences things, thinks things, and responds to things sequentially.” But he cannot have it both ways, if God is really beyond time and change, then he does no experience temporal change. And if He experiences temporal change, then He is in time. Boyd simply cannot have it both ways, unless he posits two nature in God, one that is non-temporal and unchanging as classical theists do and another that is changing. But we have already shown that this other “nature” is not really God at all but a creature. This leads to another claim by Boyd, namely that God is not simple.
The Claim that God is Not Simple in His Being
Statement of the Claim that God is not Simple.–Boyd’s view clearly entails the denial of God’s simplicity–a crucial attribute in the classical view of God. For if, on the one hand, Boyd claims that God changes and is in time (Boyd, 44, 63, 96) and yet, on other hand, he claims God has aspects of His nature that do not change, God must have a least two aspects, dimensions, or poles to His nature–the very position held by process theologians.
Now it appears that this is precisely what Boyd affirms. For on occasion, he says God has unchanging holiness, and unchanging character (Boyd, 78, 80), is eternal in form and structure, and necessary in his love (Boyd, 110, 111). But the only way to hold both this and also that God changes is to deny God’s simplicity, which is precisely what most neotheists do.
A Response to the Claim.–Several comments are in order here. First of all, if God has two dimensions or poles, then neotheism is really a form of process theology, since classical theism, like process theology, is monopolar and neotheism is bipolar in its view of God. Thus, in its overreaction, to what it believed to be the “frying pan” of classical theism, neotheism has landed in the “fire” of process theology. In making Plato their enemy, they have made Whitehead their friend (or vice versa). By attempting to avoid the alleged pitfall of Greek philosophy they have fallen into the bottomless pit of process philosophy.
Second, there is a way of escape for neotheism, but it is one they seen reluctant to take. They could affirm that what is changing is really not part of God’s nature, but only reflects God’s actions that are in time. That is, God is unchanging and non-temporal in His essence but engages, nonetheless, in changing activities. But since this is precisely what classical theism asserts, neotheists are faced with a painful dilemma: either 1) they can admit they hold a bipolar process view of God as does process theology, or else 2) they can return to classical theism’s insistence that God’s nature does not change, but only the results of His actions do.
Third, lest neotheists are tempted to take the first horn of the dilemma and admit they have a bipolar process view of God, consider this: upon analysis of the other “nature” or “pole” of God that can change, it turns out to be a creature and not part of the Creator at all. For the Creator has no beginning, yet this changing nature must have a beginning since it is temporal, and an infinite series of actual moments is not possible.
2) This same logic applies to other characteristics that a temporal, changing, “nature” of God would have. For whatever is temporal is also spacial. And whatever is spatial is material. And whatever is spacial-temporal-material is subject to the II Law of Thermodynamics, namely, it both had a beginning and is decaying. Surely, no one who claims to be a Theist (as neotheism wish to be) can believe there is a nature in God that had a beginning and will have an end. Such a nature is by definition a finite creature and can not be part of the Creator.
3) Further, this supposed changing “nature” of God would be finite, yet neotheists admits God is infinite. But whatever is finite needs a caused. Hence, this limited nature would not be God but a creature made by God. In short, it would not be another part or pole of God, it would be a creature God created, which is exactly what classical theism contends. Thus, neotheism’s belief that God has a changing temporal nature (along with an unchanging one), reduces logically to classical theism.
The Claim That God Must Change If His Relationships Change
The Claim Stated.–Noetheists like Boyd assume that God must change when His relationships do (Boyd, 44, 63, 77, 82, 83, 96). Their argument can be put like this: 1) God is related to a changing world; 2) Whatever is related to a changing world undergoes change; 3) Therefore, God undergoes change.
A Response to the Claim.–Given what neotheists believe about God, this argument against classical theism is clearly invalid. First of all, premise 2) is untrue. As classical theist’s have pointed our for centuries, God no more changes when the world changes in relation to Him than the pillar changes when the person changes in relation to a pillar by moving from one side to the other. The person changes in relation to the pillar, but the pillar does not change in relation to the person.16 God has an eternal, unchanging knowledge about the changing relationship the world has with Him. But this no more makes God changing than creating a dependent world makes God dependent on it. Or, that God making a creature demands that He thereby becomes a creature. It is an strange logic that insists that the Creator must take on the characteristics of a creatures because He creates them or relates to them in some way.
Second, the same point can be made using by neotheist’s own beliefs. For they do not believe the Creator becomes a creature simply because He creates one. Nor do they believe the beginingless God acquires a beginning simply because He creates something with a beginning. Likewise, they do not accept that God becomes contingent or finite upon making a contingent or finite thing. Why then does God have to become temporal and changing because He made a temporal and changing world.
What is more, Boyd fails to recognize is that creating the world does not change the nature of God. Certainly, God does not change “internally,” that is, in his essence, when He creates something else. If He does, then Boyd and neotheists will have to give up their belief that there an essential core of attributes in God that do not change (see Boyd, 44, 78). The only thing that changes is “external,” namely, the world’s relationship with God. And, contrary to neotheists, this change is not a change in God’s nature, for the change is in something that is finite, dependent, has a beginning, and is subject to decay. In fact, it is a change in the creation, not a change in the Creator. So the change in relationship with God is not due to a change in the Creator but in His creation. Prior to creation, there was no world to have a relationship with God, so there could be no relationship between it and God. But when the world was created, the change was not in God but the world and its relation to God.
At creation there was a new relationship to God but not any newattributes in God. However, He did not change in His essence; only an external relationship to Him changed. And when the external relationship changed, it was not because a change occurred in God but, rather, the change was in the external thing related to Him. At creation there was no change in what God is but only in what He did. Failure to make this distinction leads to the neotheistic confusion of speaking of God changing in his non-essential nature. It assumes that to act in time is to be temporal. But it does not demonstrate that the Actor is temporal; only that the results of His acts relating to the temporal world are temporal.
Furthermore, God cannot have a “non-essential” nature. “Non-essential” means something one has, but it is not essential for Him to have it. Buy “nature” is meant what is essential to a thing. For example, human nature is essential to humans. Without it we would not be human. So, a non-essential nature is a contradiction in terms. Since nature means essence, it would be a non-essential essence, which is nonsense.
The Claim That A Proper View of Free Will Demands that God Can Change
A Statement of the Claim.–Neotheist like Boyd claim that free will must be understood in a libertarian sense of self-determination, namely, the power to do otherwise (Boyd, 57, 63, 65, 96, 99, 122, 135). This being true, Boyd concludes that God cannot know future free acts with certainty. If He did, they would be determined. And if they are determined, then they cannot be free (Boyd, 16, 111, 123, 147).
A Response to the Claim.–First of all, the classical theist’s reply is that God’s will cannot be changed. For He is omniscient, and so what He knows will be, will be. God’s will is in perfect accord with His knowledge. Therefore, God’s will is as unchangeable as is His knowledge. This does not mean that God does not will that some things change. It means that God’s will does not change, even though He will’s that other things change.17 Of course, the Bible speaks of God repenting. But God repents only in a metaphorical sense, as man views it. Even Boyd admits anthropomorphisms are used of God in the Bible (Boyd, 118-119). And his test of “rediculousness” for when references to God should be taken as anthropomorphic is both subjective and inconsistently applied by him. For Boyd admits that speaking of God as repenting (which he believes is literally true) strikes some as rediculous (Boyd, 118).
Second, Boyd acknowledges that even anthropomophisms can tell us something literally about God, but rejects that this can be true of God’s alleged “mind change.” Classical theists have long observed that human repentance tells us something about God, namely, that God has more than one attribute upon which He must act consistently. Hence, before a person repents, he is under God’s attribute of wrath, and after he repents he is under God’s attribute of mercy.18 God is really both wrathful and merciful, and when one repents there is a real change in his relationship with the unchanging God.
Third, classical theist believe that God knew from eternity who would repent. And God’s will includes intermediate causes such as human free choice. So God knows what the intermediate causes will choose to do. And God’s will is in accord with His unchangeable knowledge. Therefore, God’s will never changes, since He wills what He knows will happen.19 That is to say, what is willed by conditional necessity does not violate human freedom, since what is willed is conditioned on their freely choosing it. God wills the salvation of men only conditionally (2Peter 3:9). Therefore, God’s will to save them does not violate human free choice; it utilizes it.20
Of course, while God’s will does not change, the effects of His will in time do change. For God wills unchangeably from all eternity that many different and changing things will happen at different times so that eventually His sovereign purpose will be accomplished. Just as a doctor knows and wills in advance to change the patient’s medicine when their condition changes, even so God wills unchangeably from all eternity to meet the changing conditions of His creatures in order to accomplish His ultimate purposes. An omniscient Mind cannot be wrong about what it knows.21
The Claim That God Cannot Have Unlimited Omniscience
A Statement of the Claim.–The new theism also rejects the classical concept of omniscience in favor of a limited form of omniscience.22 In principle, omniscience is defined the same, namely, that God can know anything that is possible to know. However, Boyd claims that with regard to future free acts, God can change His mind; God can only speak in conditional terms, and it is logically impossible for Him to know them. Boyd writes: “…if people are genuinely free, by logical necessity God cannot foreknow as settled their future freely chosen actions.” Why? Because, total foreknowledge of the future would imply a fixity of events. The future is a “done deal.” The “snapshot” of the future was taken in God’s mind from eternity. Hence, nothing in the future needs to be decided (Boyd, 44, 69, 120, 121).
Boyd’s argument can be put in this form: 1) If God knows the future, then it is determined (otherwise God would be wrong about what he knows). But we are not free to change anything about God’s knowledge. Hence, we are not free to change the future. However, true freedom is the ability to change the future. Hence, if humans are free to change the future, then God cannot know their future free acts in advance.
The argument can also be stated this way: If God knows already what will happen in the future, then God’s knowing this makes it impossible for it to change. That is, since God is infallible, it is impossible that things will turn out differently than God expects them to turn out. So if God knows that a person is going to perform an act, then it is impossible that the person fail to perform it. Thus, he does not really have a free choice whether or not to perform it.23
A Response to the Claim.–In response to this claim, classical theists point out several things. First of all, it is not true that nothing in the future needs to be decided. All future free acts need to be decided. But God foreknows for sure exactly how they will be decided.
Second, true freedom is not, as Boyd claims, the ability to change the future–not in the sense that what God knows will change, for God knows for certain what will freely happen. Rather, true freedom is the ability to do otherwise. But since God knows what will be chosen, then what is chosen by free agents will not be contrary to what God foreknew for sure (=determined) would occur.
Third, one of the greatest classical theist of all time, Thomas Aquinas, keenly observed why there is no contradiction between God knowing future free acts and their being freely chosen. It is simply because a contradiction occurs only when something is both affirmed and denied of the same thing at the same time in the same relationship. But the relationship here is not the same. For “Everything known by God must necessarily be” is true if it refers to the statement of the truth of God’s knowledge, but it is false, if it refers to the necessity of the contingent events.24
Since God is an omniscient being, He knows with certainty what we will do freely. The fact that He knows “in advance” from our temporal perspective does not mean that the event can not happen freely. For God can know for sure that the event will occur freely. The necessity of His knowledge about the contingent event does not make the event necessary (i.e., contrary to free choice). It simply makes His knowledge of this free event an infallible knowledge. In brief, the same event can be viewed in two different relationships; one in relation to God’s foreknowledge and the other in relation to man’s free will. Since the relationship is different, the law of non-contradiction is not violated.
Furthermore, if God is a timeless being, then He knows all of time in one eternal Now.25 But the future is part of time. Therefore, God knows the future, including the free acts to be performed in it. So the problem of not knowing future free acts is inherent in a temporal view of God but not in a non-temporal view. God sees (in His eternal present) the whole of time; past, present, and future (for us). But if God sees our future in His present, then our future is present to Him in His eternity, as an effect pre-exists in its cause. In this way there is no logical problem as to how He can fore-see free acts. He does not need to fore-see; He simply sees. And what He sees in His eternal Now includes what free acts will be performed in our future.
Finally, classical theism offers several arguments for God’s total omniscience, including future free acts. For one, an omniscient God knows all the states of reality, both actual and potential. God’s knowledge is not simply of the actual; He also knows the potential. He knows both what is and what could be. He knows what will be and what can be. For God can know whatever is real in any way it can be known. And both the actual and the potential are real. Only the impossible has no reality. Thus, whatever is potential is real. This being the case, it follows that God can know what is potential as well as what is actual.26 This means that God can know future contingents, that is, things that are dependent on free choice. For the future is a potential that pre-exists in God. And God knows whatever exists in Himself as the cause of those things.27
Is Boyd’s Neotheism Heretical?
Boyd seems especially sensitive to the charge of heresy, since he denies it repeatedly in his book (Boyd, 8, 9, 12, 19, 20, 84, 115, 116, 172). To use the less emotive word, let us ask whether neotheism is “unorthodox”? In response, several points are significant.
Some of Boyd’s Grounds for Orthodoxy are Questionable
For starters, one must reject Boyd’s statements that Christians should not divide over issues like this, since they are only a “peripheral” matter (Boyd, 8, 9, 19, 20). The nature of God is no peripheral matter. It is fundamental to virtually every other essential Christian teaching. Furthermore, it is possible to have heretical views of God, as even Boyd acknowledges from his former beliefs as a Oneness Pentecostal (who deny the Trinity).28
Furthermore, Boyd’s stated criterion for orthodoxy is faulty. He contents that “No ecumenical creed of the orthodox church has ever included an articles of faith on divine foreknowledge” (Boyd, 116). First of all, this misses the point, since there are other things about Boyd’s view other than divine foreknowledge that can be challenged, namely his denial of God’s eternality, immutability, and simplicity which the creeds do address.
Second, the creeds do no need to contain an “article” on a matter for it to be included and clear as to their view. Third, the test is too narrow, since the creed did not contain an article on the Inspiration and infallibility of Scripture and, but it is clear that it was entailed in all their pronouncements.29
Likewise, his implication that unity at any price should be achieved falls short of the mark (Boyd, 8, 9, 19). The same logic could be used with a Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, or with an evangelical who denies the infallibility (and inerrancy) of the Bible.
The Importance of Separating the Questions
Before proceeding to answer the million dollar question of whether Boyd’s neotheism is unorthodox, it is necessary to make two distinctions. First, a person can be orthodox on every other Fundamental Christian doctrine and still be unorthodox on one. Many evangelicals, for example, accept the other fundamentals of the Christian Faith and deny inerrancy. Hence, they are orthodox in general but unorthodox in this particular doctrine.
Also, it should be pointed out that someone can be unorthodox on some particular doctrine (such as inerrancy) and still be saved. Salvation is dependent on believing certain soteriological doctrines, such as the death and resurrection of Christ for our sins (1Cor. 15:1-4) but not on explicitly believing all essential evangelical doctrines (e. g., the inspiration of Scripture and the Bodily Return of Christ). Our knowledge of Boyd’s belief has not yielded any evidence that he is not evangelical on the other essential doctrines of the Faith.
Defining Orthodoxy on the Nature of God
Typically, an unorthodox doctrine is a denial of a fundamental doctrine of orthodox Christianity as judged by the orthodox Fathers and confessions of the early Church. Taking this as a standard to evaluate neotheism, the question of Boyd’s doctrinal orthodoxy is another matter. Here, it appears that two points must be made before we can arrive at a conclusion.
First, there is a difference between explicit unorthodoxy and implicit unorthodoxy. The former is a formal denial of some fundamental doctrine of the Christian Faith, and the later is a denial by implication. That is, it is a position that logically entails the denial of a fundamental teaching of the Faith.
With this definition in mind, it appears that neotheism, as embraced by Boyd and others, is implicitly unorthodox on its doctrine of the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture. For if Boyd is right, then the Bible contains unconditional predictions about the future that could be wrong. For example, the Bible predicted that the Devil is free but that his ultimate fate in Hell is predetermined (Rev. 20:10). But according to neotheism, this prediction cannot be infallible. Hence, at least this part of the Bible is not infallible. The same logic would apply to all unconditional predictive prophecy of which there were many about Christ (e.g., Dan. 9:24f; Psa. 16:10 cf. Acts 2:30-32; Micah 5:2).30 Even Boyd admits that God made an infallible prediction of the Cross (Boyd, 46), but how is this possible on neotheistic grounds when Jesus said He freely chose to go to the Cross (Jn. 10:18).
Neotheist’s attempts to avoid this conclusion are inadequate. Clearly not all biblical predictions are conditional, and God’s knowledge of the character of individuals is no guarantee they will not change (Boyd, 160, 171). And if God can know for sure in advance they will change, then He has infallible foreknowledge of free will, which is exactly what Neotheists deny.
So the minimum that can be said of Boyd’s view is that it logically undermines a crucial tenet of orthodoxy (and possible others). Some object to taking implicit unorthodoxy as test for orthodoxy, since there are other things (like a bad theological method) that seem to do the same. Yet many evangelicals are unwilling to label these methods as unorthodox, at least not in the sense they would other unorthodox beliefs.
However, this stance seems to be theologically myopic, since a bad theological method it can be equally devastating to the Christian Faith as outright denials of major doctrines. For example, certainly the Evangelical Theological Society would not tolerate in its membership someone who claimed to be believe in inerrancy, but utilized a method of interpretation that totally allegorized all literal, historical truth away, including the death and resurrection of Christ. Indeed, some years ago some 75% of the ETS membership voted from its ranks a New Testament scholar who utilized a Midrash method of interpretation of Matthew that denied the historicity of only parts of that Gospel, not including the death and resurrection of Christ.31 Along with the vast majority of ETS members, we conclude that orthodoxy can be both implicit as well as explicit, methodological as well as confessional. Indeed, the former can be as harmful to orthodoxy as the latter.
This leaves one more question to answer: does Boyd engage in more than implicit or methodological unorthodoxy. That is, does he explicitly deny a fundamental tenet of the Christian Faith? The answer to this seems to depend on the answer to two other questions: 1) Is the nature of God a fundamental tenet of the Christian Faith? and 2) Are the early Creeds, Councils, and Confessions of Christianity a test for orthodoxy?
Early Statements of Orthodoxy on the Doctrine of God
Inasmuch as the early pronouncements of the Christian Church were an expression of the beliefs of the great Fathers of the Church, their views on these matters are also a test of orthodoxy.
Statements of the Fathers Behind the Creeds
Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 107). The earliest known precreedal statement of a Church Father, reveals crucial elements of a classical view of God. It reflects a predictive prophecy from Scripture that implies God’s infallible foreknowledge that Christ is waiting in heaven “till his enemies are put under his feet” (Schaff, CC32 II, 12). Ignatius added, Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible [Schaff, ANF, I, 94]. He also spoke “…of the nature of God, which fills His works with beauty, and teaching both where God must be, and that He must be One [Schaff, ANF,33 II, 131].
Justin Martyr (c. A.D. 100-c 165). Justin concluded that God, therefore, is…an uncompounded intellectual nature, admitting within Himself no addition of any kind; so that He cannot be believed to have within him a great and a less (Schaff, ANF, IV, 243). He added, For Moses said, He who is…. But either of the expressions seems to apply to the ever-existent God. For He is the only one who eternally exists, and has no generation (Schaff, ANF, I, 282).
Clement of Alexander (A.D. 150-215). He declared that All things, therefore, are dispensed from heaven for good…according to the eternal foreknowledge, which He purposed in Christ (Schaff, ANF, II, 319, 320). For He shows both things: both His divinity in His foreknowledge of what would take place, and His love in affording an opportunity for repentance to the self-determination of the soul (Schaff, ANF, II, 228).
Tatian (c. A.D. 160). He declared: I was led to put faith in…the foreknowledge displayed of future events, the excellent quality of the precepts, and the declaration of the government of the universe as centred in one Being [Schaff, ANF, Vol II, 77].
Irenaeus (A.D. 180). Philip Schaff calls Irenaeus “the most important witness of the doctrinal status of the Catholic Church at the close of the second century.” Irenaeus affirmed there was “one God” (a reference to God’s unity and possibly His simplicity) who “made the heaven and the earth” “out of nothing” and who made predictions of Christ’s “birth from the Virgin,” of His “passion,” “the resurrection from the dead,” His “bodily assumption into heaven” and His “appearing from heaven” at the Second Coming. That God’s foreknowledge is infallible is seen in the fact that “His Son…was always heard in the prophets…” (Schaff, CC, 12-19).
In his seminal work Against Heresies, Irenaeus declared that: God alone…(remains) truly and forever the same.34 And in this respect God differs from man… [who] is made and He who makes always remains the same.35 God is referred to as “the Father invisible” (denoting His immateriality). He also implies God’s infallible foreknowledge that the angels would never change their will and thus will be sent into “eternal fire.” Likewise, the “Rule of Faith” is said to be “immovable and irreformable,” thus reflecting the character of God whose Word it is.
Irenaeus also wrote: He also ascended to the heavens, and was glorified by the Father, and is the “Eternal King.36 Now what has been made is a different thing from him who makes it. The breath then is temporal, but the Spirit is eternal [Schaff, ANF, I, 538]. He also added of God that He is a simple, uncompounded Being without diverse members, and altogether like, and equal to Himself (Schaff, ANF, I, 374]).
Athanagoras (2nd Cent). The early athenian Christian thinker Athanagoras affirmed that “It is evident That we are not atheists, therefore, seeing that we acknowledge one God, uncreated, [and] eternal [Schaff, ANF, II, 133].
Tertullian (A.D. 200). He replies to Marcion by noting we must vindicate those attributes in the Creator which are called into question namely, His goodness, and foreknowledge, and power [The Five Books Against Marcion, Chap. 5]. Moreover, he affirms the eternality of God when he states, This rule is required by the nature of the One-only God, who is One-only is no other way than as the sole God; and in no other way sole, than as nothing else [co-existent] with Him. So also will He be first, because all things are after Him; and all things are after Him, because all things are by Him; and all things are by Him, because they are of nothing [Against Hermongenes, Chap. 17].37
Tertullian also declared that, As God, because He is uncreated, (He) is also unalterable. Citing Scripture, he also said: “`Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail…’ pointing out plainly…who it is that doth endure for ever God.”38
Origen of Alexandria (A. D. 230). Although Origen embraced some unorthodox teachings, He did not appear to deny the classical attributes of God. He declared: For God, comprehending all things by means of His foreknowledge, and foreseeing what consequences would result from both of these, wished to make these known to mankind by His prophets [Schaff, ANF, IV, 594]. He also wrote of “One God” who “created and framed everything” as well as God’s omnipotence in Christ’s birth of the “Virgin” and “resurrection” from the dead (Schaff, CC, 23).
Novatian of Rome (A.D. 250). He speaks also of God as “Almighty” and “Maker of all things,” including this temporal world (which places Him beyond time) (Schaff, CC 21).
Gregorius Thaumaturgus of Neo-Caesarea (c. A. D. 270). He belief embraces “one God” with “eternal power” who has the power which “produces all creation.” This God is both “Invisible,” “Immortal,” “Incorruptible,” “Everlasting,” “a perfect Trinity,” and “not divided,” having both “eternity” and “sovereignty.” God is “ever the same, unvarying and unchangeable.” Here we have almost all the attributes of classical theism most of which are rejected by neotheism, including immutability, eternality, and simplicity (indivisibility) (Schaff, CC 24, 25).
Alexander of Lycopolis (3rd Cent) In truth I think it to be more accurate doctrine to say that God is of a simple nature [ Of the Manicheans, Chap. 10, Vol. 6]
Lucian of Antioch (A.D. 300). He confessed belief in “one God the Father Almighty, the maker and Provider of all things.” God is “unchangeable,” “unalterable,” and “immutable.” He then “anathematizes all heretical and false doctrine” (Schaff, CC 26, 27).
Arius (A.D. 328). Even though his view of Christ was unorthodox, nonetheless, in the “Private Creed of Arius” he confessed that God was “Almighty” and that by him “all things were made.” Noteworthy is the phrase “before all ages” which reveals His belief that God is before time, namely, non-temporal which is another attribute rejected by neotheism (Schaff, CC 28-29).
Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 325). Like others before him, Eusebius affirmed the central attributes a the God of classical theism, declaring: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.” God is also described as “Light,” “Life.” The resurrection and ascension of Christ are also acknowledged as manifestations of God’s omnipotent power (Schaff, CC 29-30).
Cyril of Jerusalem (c. A.D. 350) confession agreed in almost every point with Eusebius, saying: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in one Lord Jesus Christ,… begotten of the Father before all ages, very God, by whom all things were made.” Thus affirms both God’s unity and eternality (Schaff, CC 31).
The Creeds of Epiphanius (A.D. 374). In his first formula he confessed: “We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and all things visible and invisible….” God and His Son are eternal, existing “before all worlds [ages].” He speaks of God’s one “substance” or “essence” which Christ shared. He adds the attribute of “perfection” as well as the ability to make predictions through the “Prophets” and denies that Christ is “changeable” or “variable” in “substance or essence” from God the Father (Schaff, CC 33-34; 37-38).
Since it is well known that the views of St. Augustine,39 St. Anselm (1033-1109)40 and Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274)41 are clear statements of classical theism, they need not be added here. Likewise, it is well known that the Reformers were also classical theists.42 Indeed, no major Father up to and through the Reformation deviated from the central attributes of the God of classical theism.
The Statements of the Creeds Themselves
The Creed of Nicaea (A.D. 325)
This creed refers to one God the Father All-sovereign, maker of all things one substance. And those who say God is created, or changeable, or alterable, these the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes (Bettenson, DCC, 36].43
The Dedication Creed (A.D. 341)
This creed refers to one God, Father all sovereign, framer, maker and providential ruler of the universe, from all things came into being before all ages unchangeable and immutable (Bettenson, DCC,44 57-58).
The Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan Creed (A.D. 381).
Like its precursors, this creed confessed “one God the Father Almighty; Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Likewise, God was “before all worlds.” He has “one substance (essence).” God’s omnipotence is manifest not only in His ability to create the world, but to perform the miracle of the virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and ascension of Christ (Schaff, CC, 58-59).
The Chalcedonian Creed (A.D. 451).
Although stressing the deity of Christ, this creed refers to God as “perfect,” existing “before all ages,” having a “nature,” producing the supernatural “Virgin” birth, and making prediction through “the prophets from the beginning” (Schaff, CC, 62-63).
The Athanasian Creed
This creed by a noted defender of orthodoxy begins by declaring that “Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep the whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” This includes believing that there is “Unity” in God’s “Substance (essence)” without “dividing”; that each member of the Trinity is “eternal,” “uncreated” and “incomprehensible” or “unlimited.” God is also “Almighty.” He is not “Three Gods” but “one.” He is also “perfect God.” God’s power to “raise the dead” is also mentioned (Schaff, CC, 66-69).
It is evident that the early Creeds and Confessions of the Faith embraced classical theism on the crucial attributes denied by neotheism such as simplicity, eternality, immutability, and infallible foreknowledge of all events, including future freely chosen ones. What is more, the teachings of the Fathers behind these creeds and confessions is unequivocally on the side of classical theism and opposed to neotheism.
Further, it is clear that the doctrine of God is a crucial doctrine of the Christian Faith by any adequate standard for a fundamental doctrine. For it is essential to almost every other, if not every other, doctrine of the Faith.
Therefore, if this is the case, then neotheism is explicitly unorthodox on its view of God. To consider it otherwise, is to create a new test for orthodoxy.
One thing is certain, whatever term one chooses to use of neotheism’s view of God, the minimum that can be said is that: 1) It is contrary to the great orthodox creeds, confessions, and councils of the Christian Church, as well as the virtually unanimous teachings of the Fathers of the Church up to and through the Reformation into modern times; 2) It is internally inconsistent; 3) It reduces logically to process theology, and 4) It undermines the infallibility of the Scriptures. If these are not sufficient to merit the charge of unorthodoxy, then we are left to ask: what deviation on the fundamental doctrine of God would qualify as unorthodox and by what standard.
7. Plato was not a pantheists (like Shankara) or a monist (like Parmenides). Rather, Plato believed in a finite God and a real cosmos that has been eternally formed by the this Demiurgos (God). This world is only a “shadow” in comparison to the world of Forms which is a higher reality, being spiritual and immaterial substance. The relationship in Plato, then, is between substance and shadow, not between substance and non-substance, or reality and non-reality (illusion).
9. The linguistic meaning of “I AM” as used of God in Exodus 3;14 is in accord with the understanding of the early Fathers who took it to mean the self-existent One. See Geisler, Creating God in Man’s Image (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 79.
10. Other neotheists admits that “process theology [to which they acknowledge some strong affinities–Pinnock, OG, 140] itself is vulnerable to criticism for excessive deference to philosophy–in this case, to the process philosophy of Whitehead” (ibid., 141).
13. See the excellent treatment of this point by a former process thinker, Royce Gruenler, The Inexhaustible God: Biblical Faith and the Challenge of Process Theism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983).
15. Other neotheists address this same problem by claiming that when God changes, nevertheless, His “essential nature” remains unchanged (Pinnock, 28). What then is changing God must have two parts, dimensions, natures or poles–one which changes and one which does not. But this is process theology–the very view neotheist claim not to hold. For if God has “part” of his essence that can change and another “part” that cannot, then God is not an indivisible being. He must have at lest two “parts” or poles, one that is changing and another that is unchanging. But this view is not theism but the heart of bipolar panentheism–the very thing the new theism disclaims.
Or, to put the objection in another way, if God is necessary in the unchanging part (pole) and not necessary (i.e., contingent) in the changing part (pole), this raises a whole nest of metaphysical problems. Which attributes of God are necessary and which are not How do we know which are which How do we know God’s moral attributes (love, purity, truthfulness, etc) are part of His unchanging nature. Further, if God is contingent in one part, then this means it has the possibility not to be. (Only a Necessary Being has no possibility not to be.) But no mere potentiality for existence can actualize itself. For it cannot be in a state of actuality and potentiality at the same time. In other words, the potentiality to be cannot actualize anything. Only what actually exists can actualize anything.
22. Of course, in one sense of the term, even classical theists place “limitations” on God’s foreknowledge, namely, He can only know what is possible to know. God cannot know what is contradictory (like square circles). But this is not really a limitation; it simply says God knows in an unlimited and consistent way, since His nature is both unlimited and consistent.
25. It is important to observe here that it is a category mistake to argue that the future does not yet exist and so it cannot yet exist in God’s Now. For the way the future exists in God Now is not the same as the way it will exist in man’s future. For God knows what we know but not the way we know. The way the future exists for us is temporally. But the way it exists in God’s knowledge is eternally. In fact, the future pre-exists in God’s knowledge (which is identical to His nature) eternally as an effect pre-exists in its cause. So, when God knows the future, He knows it in Himself from all eternity, since that it were it existed as He has known it eternally.
29. See Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1983 reprint), Vol. II (Hereafter CC) and Norman L. Geisler, Decide for Yourself: How History Views the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1982), Chaps. 2-3.
31. In defending his view in The Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society (March 1983, p. 114), Gundry agreed that no one who confesses belief in inerrancy should be eliminated from ETS because of an unorthodox method, even if it were the method of total allegorization of Scripture (such as held by the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy)!
40. For Anselm’s views see St. Anselm, Anselm of Canterbury: Trinity, Incarnation, and Redemption, trans. by Jasper Hopkins and Herbert Richardson (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1970), especially 152-199.
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