Theological News Oct 2001 Vol 30 No 4


Editor: Dr. David Parker

Excerpts from this issue

The US Disaster - a theological reflection

by Dr Rolf Hille, Chair, WEF Theological Commission

The towering infernos of New York and Washington have shaken all of us around the world, and it is with good reason that commentators are now talking about apocalyptic events in the midst of our modern high-tech world. The New Testament calls the progress and end of world history an ‘apocalypse', that is, an uncovering of realities which were heretofore hidden or concealed. What does the misanthropic terrorist attack on USA uncover from a biblical-theological viewpoint?

The utterly destructive power of evil

The apostle Paul clearly states that ‘the man of lawlessness' will be revealed (II Thess 2:3). The power of evil in its demonic destructiveness is evident to some extent in historical figures such as Nero, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot. It is terrible that the bloody trail has continued right up to the present in spite of all humanistic efforts for the education of a better mankind. Still, this doesn't in any way mean that the struggle to train people to live according to God's commands is in vain or unnecessary. However, more and newer crimes every day refute the idealistic vision of humanity's inherent goodness which lies at the end of interglobal advances. Rather, the demonic face of terrorism shows that evil is moving towards the appearance of the Antichrist, the adversary of Christ. The terrible events of September 11 have brought this fact into the glaring light of public awareness.

The vulnerability of modern civilization

In no other nation in world history, regardless of all its faults and deficiencies, have technological advancement, enlightened tolerance, and fundamental Christian values been so successfully combined than in the United States, a land of individual freedom, economic abundance, and the highest standard of technology. Yet all of this confidence and security was shaken in a matter of seconds with the crash of the planes flown by suicidal pilots. The collapsed towers of the World Trade Centre buried the illusion of the modern world's understanding of unlimited progress and happiness. Instead it is clear that the steady development of civilization makes our life all the more vulnerable at the same time. The more technology is perfected, the easier it is for amoral terrorists to destroy it with brutal attacks! The consequences are every bit as devastating. The Bible speaks of this vulnerability with the sobering words in Ps 39:5: ‘Surely every man, standing firm, is a mere breath' (NASV).

Apocalypse of hope

The fear of a new war only paralyses people. Yet fear and hate are not Christian answers. Rather, in his uncompromising eschatological teaching, Jesus makes clear that he wants to find his church alert and responsible. Therefore we ought to be reminded even now of the confidence Luther had when he remarked: ‘Even if Judgment Day came tomorrow, I would still plant a little apple tree today.' Living faith empowers responsibility in the face of terror. Politically, this means readiness to strengthen a defendable democracy and becoming involved in active help. Then, especially, prayer for the victims, their families, and even the perpetrators should follow. We do this, though, remembering Jesus' words of admonition: ‘When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.' (Lu 21:28 NIV)

Joint Conference of WEF TC and European Theologians

The WEF Theological Commission announces a new feature of its work with its first joint conference with another theological body. The TC will co-sponsor a consultation on ‘European Christianity in world perspective' with the Federation of European Evangelical Theologians (FEET) to be held in 1620 August 2002 at the Neues-Leben-Zentrum, Altenkirchen, Germany.

Topics will range from the theological heritage of the Church Fathers and the Reformation to revivalism, modern missions and denominationalism to secularization, multiculturalism, the European Union and third world theological education.

The conference will be directed by Dr. Gerald Bray, (Secretary FEET) and will feature daily Bible Studies by Dr. Donald Carson, and papers by a range of speakers from Europe and other countries around the world, including Thomas Oden, Carl Trueman, Stephen Williams, Rolf Hille, Diuememe Noelliste, Udo Middelmann, Valdir Steuernagel, Anne-Marie Kool, Peter Penner, Vinoth Ramachandra.

A special feature will be a closing round table discussion moderated by Dr. David Hilborn, theological adviser of the British Evangelical Alliance.

Enquiries Dr. Gerald L. Bray, email

The Openness of God - Case not closed...

by Amos Yong, Bethel College, St Paul, Minnesota USA

The publication of The Openness of God (IVP) by Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Richard Rice, William Hasker and David Basinger in 1994 reopened some old debates for evangelicals in North America and launched some new ones. Some observers see this as a rehashing of the Calvinist-Arminian controversies of the sixteenth century. They point out that the open theists are arguing the God of the Bible is a God of love who is most worthy of worship in part because he has created a world of genuinely free creatures who respond to God's wooing rather than being predetermined to do so by divine decree. Others, however, have insisted that open theism's claim of providing a “consistent Arminianism” is incorrect since central tenets such as God's exhaustive divine foreknowledge of future contingents which are affirmed by Arminius himself are denied by open theists.

The initial response to The Openness of God, predictably, was by classical theists such as Norman Geisler (an expert on Thomas Aquinas who published Creating God in the Image of Man?, Bethany House, 1997) and Millard Erickson (The Evangelical Left: Encountering Postconservative Evangelical Theology, Baker, 1997), Reformed theologians such as R. K. McGregor Wright (No Place for Sovereignty: What's Wrong with Freewill Theism?, IVP, 1996), and even traditional Arminian thinkers like Jon Tal Murphree (Divine Paradoxes - A Finite View of an Infinite God: A Response to Process and Openness Theologies, Christian Publications, 1998).

In the meantime, open theists have continued to think through their position across the board. Basinger's The Case for Free-Will Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (IVP, 1996), Sanders' The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (IVP, 1998) and Pinnock's new The Most Moved Mover (Baker, fall 2001) continue to make and extend their biblical, theological and philosophical arguments over and against classical theism. A recent entry has also been made by Gregory A. Boyd with his God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Baker, 2000).

Boyd's book is an extended argument about divine foreknowledge of the future choices of free agents as possibilities and probabilities rather than as actualities. This means that until free creatures make decisions opting for one over other possibilities, God's knowledge reflects that temporal and modal distinction. In short, God knows that I might visit my family in California in the summer of 2002, and perhaps even that it is probable that I will do so, but will not know such as actual until I do visit my parents next summer. And if I decide not to, then that possibility and perhaps even probability will not actualize, and God will know differently then than he does now.

Rather than arguing primarily philosophically, God of the Possible is written in layman's terms and relies first and foremost on biblical arguments, e.g., focusing on passages which indicate God changes his mind, which reveal God as being surprised by events which occur, and which emphasize conditionality rather than divine predetermination. In part because of its accessibility, Boyd's book has drawn vigorous and critical response, including Bruce Ware's counterargument, God's Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism (Crossway, 2000). Whole churches and denominations are now discussing and debating the issues.

Evangelicals on both sides insist the theological issue is important. They are divided, however, on how this should be addressed. Does not the denial of God's exhaustive foreknowledge of future actions of free creatures as actual constitute a drastic revisioning of what Christians throughout the history of the Church have assumed, believed, and confessed about divine knowledge? Does such a revision touch upon the very nature of theology proper, that of the doctrine of God? And, would not one hold to a heterodox theology if that is the case, thereby effectively excluding one from the right to claim one's theological identity within the evangelical camp?

Especially in light of this debate, the next annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society scheduled for November 2001 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is devoted to the theme, “The Boundaries of Evangelicalism.” There is some movement to bring to the voting membership a resolution that since to deny God's exhaustive foreknowledge is to deny what from the perspective of classical theism, the Bible clearly states, one cannot therefore truly hold to the ETS doctrinal statement on biblical inerrancy and should therefore be disallowed membership in the Society. The debate continues, and, one presumes, will do so unabated for some time yet.

Reports of Conferences and Documents welcome.