Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grudem 12b: God's Mental Attributes

I continue from last week Grudem's chapter on the "communicable" attributes of God, the ones that have to do with his relationship to the creation.
B. God's Mental Attributes
3. Knowledge (Omniscience)
Grudem defines God's knowledge in the following way: "God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act" (190).  First he knows everything about himself, which is amazing because he is infinite. He secondly knows everything actual--everything that exists and happens.

Third, he knows everything possible. Some things are contingent upon other things but God knows how each contingent scenario would play out depending on what happens. Fourth, God knows all these things at all times. "God's knowledge never changes or grows" (192).

Grudem's presentation of God's omniscience is almost entirely valid and orthodox.  He is right to take biblical statements about God forgetting our sins as hyperbole rather than literal.  God cannot forget anything because he is all knowing.

Grudem is also quite right about God's contingent knowledge.  God knows what will happen if we choose one way, and God knows what will happen if we choose another way.  Grudem would also rightly believe that God knows which choice we will make in every circumstance.

Where he is wrong is in something he only hints at.  Grudem believes that, because of God's foreknowledge, "there must be some sense in which our choices are not absolutely free" (193). That is to say, Grudem believes that it is ultimately God who is behind the scenes orchestrating which "contingent" choices we will make. As we will say later on in his consideration of God's providence, such an approach renders incoherent any meaningful sense of God as love and leaves us without any meaningful solution to the problem of evil.

However, Grudem is quite right to reject "open theism," the idea that God has intentionally suspended his foreknowledge so that we can have free will on some level. Such an approach not only takes the Old Testament too literally; it is unnecessary. Like Grudem's sense of predestination, open theism falsely assumes that God's knowledge of the future inescapably would imply that God determines the future.

As creator of the universe out of nothing, God must know every possible aspect of the universe.  He must even know what it feels like to murder someone or to die on a cross, from the very beginning of creation. For God there is no difference between theoretical and experiential knowledge because he created every possible experience from nothing.

And since Christians believe further by faith that God knows everything actual as well as possible, depictions of him with emotions must be pictures to help us understand him.  In reality, God cannot literally have a rush of emotions--anger, sadness, etc--because that would mean that some event became more real or present to him at a point in time. By contrast, the full reality of all events is always, equally present to God at all times. Depictions of God's emotions are thus God helping us understand rather than literal.

4. Wisdom
"God's wisdom means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals" (193).  Wisdom thus, as Grudem defines it, has to do with the decisions a person makes with the knowledge he or she has.  God has shown his wisdom in the plan of redemption.  He shows his wisdom in our individual lives. God gives us wisdom too, although we will never fully share in his wisdom.

Grudem helpfully points out that wisdom is about knowing the right decisions to make with the knowledge you have. He is also correct that God knows what the best goals are and what the best means to those goals are. However, probably implicit in Grudem's thinking is a kind of "determinism" that would say God orchestrates everything that happens in the world.

We are in no position to say whether God created this universe as the "best possible world." I believe that God has created a world where it is better for his universe to choose him freely rather than a world where he micromanages and determines everything that happens. In that sense, God knows the best goals for us to choose and the best means to those goals for us to choose, but he does not always choose them for us. In his sovereignty, he has given freedom to nature ("natural law") and empowers humans potentially to do good ("common" and "prevenient grace").

Grudem has some very commendable application in this section: "If the Christian church is faithful to God's wise plan, it will be always in the forefront in breaking down racial and social barriers in societies around the world" (194).  He also as always has some questionable interpretations.

For example, Romans 8:28 was not originally about God working all things for good in this life.  The following verse points us the good as being conformed to the image of Christ, which has to do with being glorified either in the resurrection or in the transformation that will take place when Christ returns. The entire section has been about being freed from the corruption of our bodies.

5. Truthfulness (and Faithfulness)
"God's truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth" (195).  Grudem takes the statement that God is the true God to mean that God fully conforms to his own idea of what God is. In Grudem's thinking, his words cannot conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of himself. They are truth itself.

In addition, "God's faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised" (196).

For us, God's knowledge is the standard of true knowledge. "God's words are both true and the final standard of truth" (196). If what we know is true, it is true because it conforms to God's knowledge. Grudem assents to the notion that "all truth is God's truth" and therefore that we should be encouraged to pursue knowledge in all areas of the natural sciences, social sciences, and the humanities.

Because we are God's children, we must also be truthful.  To Grudem, lying is wrong not only because of the harm that comes from it but because we are acting in a way that is contrary to God's own character.

There is no question that God is faithful and true and that truthfulness is a core Christian value, in keeping with the nature of God. Similarly, the idea that "all truth is God's truth" is also beyond question.  Truth from any domain of knowledge cannot ultimately contradict what is true in the spiritual domain. It is refreshing to hear Grudem say that Christians should be encouraged to pursue knowledge in all areas of study.

However, if you find some of Grudem's presentation of God's truthfulness confusing, it is probably because his ideas are actually confused. What does it mean to say that God's words are truth itself, nothing that can be judged by some standard of truth outside himself? It sounds good.  It's just not clear what it really means.

It is much more helpful to think of it in this way. When God created the universe, he created everything that is true in this universe.  He created the very standards of truth that we know and rely on in all of the creation. He created the criterion that truth corresponds to the data of the world. He created the criterion that truth coheres with truth. He created the criterion that truth "works" and helps us function and do things in the world.

As far as truth in relation to God himself, we are in no position to know what it literally might be. We have no frame of reference for God's essence outside this universe other than by his revelation of himself through the analogy of things in this universe.  To think otherwise is to confuse God with the creation, to put him inadvertently within rather than beyond the creation.

Therefore, even Scripture gives us truths about God largely if not entirely by analogy. To think otherwise is to create an idol of God in our thoughts. It is thus a little misleading to say that "all of God's words about himself and about his creation completely correspond to reality" (196). They do correspond to his divine reality, but largely by approximation and analogy.

So God is not subject to the standards of truth inside this universe because his essence is outside this universe. But within this universe, all truth conforms to the basic rules of logic and the fundamental three criteria. Most Christian thinkers have rejected the idea that God might ever choose to violate the laws of logic in this universe, although when we approach God in this way, we cannot preclude the possibility.

It is not surprising, given the extent to which Grudem believes we can know God literally, that he would very closely identify truthfulness with a very literal presentation of the truth. He is here almost certainly reflecting a certain stream of Western culture. The Bible itself does not present truthfulness in such Victorian terms, from Rahab to John 7:8.

Grudem continues to demonstrate that he is unable to read the Bible in context.  For example, what does it mean for Jeremiah 10:10 to say that YHWH is the true God?  It is not to make a statement about God telling the truth. It is to say that YHWH is the only legitimate God to worship in comparison to the other gods.  It is not even necessarily to deny that the other gods exist as spiritual forces.

Once again, Grudem comes to the words of the Bible with his definitions in hands and unsurprisingly finds the Bible to teach the theology he comes to it with.

1 comment:

John C. Gardner said...

Query: How does God's omniscience tie together(if at all theologically) with Middle Knowledge originally proposed by Juan Molina and currently by William Craig? What was Wesley's position on omniscience? These were questions which came to my mind while reading this well written post.