Ben Witherington and Roger Olson, “Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology – Part 15”

, posted by SEA

BEN: Your discussion of open theism is interesting, and I wonder if since your book was published (2006), you’ve settled the matter in your mind. For my part, I have rejected open theism. I think there is a way around the paradox. Suppose God has what I will call teleological knowledge of all things both possible and real. To put it another way, suppose all God’s knowledge of things that do or may happen in space in time is a form of hindsight. Now no one would argue that hindsight knowledge determines anything or makes anything possible or impossible. It is simply a form of knowledge of what has or hasn’t happened. And thus in a sense it is also a knowledge of possible things that, in the end, did not happen. There has always been a problem with connecting God’s knowledge with God’s destining of things even for Calvinists for Rom. 9 makes perfectly clear that God knew in advance about some things, including evil, but did not cause it to happen. He foreknew Esau, for example but did not choose him or destine him to be that way. My point would be that Paul views God’s knowledge as eschatological character seeing all things from the end backwards. While in some cases it may appear to timed beings like us as ‘fore-knowledge’ strictly speaking God just knows it as if he were looking back on it all. Does this help?

ROGER: It doesn’t help me because I have settled in my own mind that God is temporal with us (by his own self-limiting decision and action). I was instantly persuaded by Nicholas Wolterstorff’s excellent essay “God Everlasting” (which has been published in several collections of his and others’ essay). And I see nothing in the biblical narrative that implies a “timeless” God (or God “above time”). I think the Boethian view of God’s eternity is philosophical, not biblical. IF God exists above or outside of time (or ahead of time) I don’t know how to talk about that. So, for me, God is “in time” with us (as affirmed by many theologians including Thomas Torrance in Space, Time and Incarnation and Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy). However, I have NOT settled in my mind whether God knows the future exhaustively and infallibly as already settled or not. In other words, I am not an open theist but remain “open to open theism.”

BEN: Your next to last chapter is on justification by grace through faith. Let’s talk about it for a bit. I certainly agree that I know of no Arminian theologian or exegete who would not agree that Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection is the very basis of our salvation including our right standing with God, and whatever righteousness or sanctification the Holy Spirit works in us. There is more spectrum of opinions about the language of ‘imputation’ which actually is not used in the Scriptures in regard to this matter. Instead there is the language of ‘reckoning’ which is not the same thing, and in particular of Abraham’s faith being reckoned to him for righteousness (with no mention of Christ’s own righteousness in the discussion). Reckoning is business language and it is accompanied by the language of credits and debits, hence ‘credited to him for righteousness’. The real problem lies with the translation of dikaiosune. This word is not, in the first instance, a mere legal or forensic term. It just isn’t. It isn’t referring to a legal fiction. The language is used in a wide variety of contexts and when it occurs in the phrase ‘the righteousness of God’ (Rom. 1.16-17) it clearly does not refer to right-standing with God as a legal declaration. When Paul talks about a legal declaration he speaks of pardon. (see my Romans commentary on various of these matters). The long and short of it is that Phil. 3.7-11 is the really crucial text in this discussion. Paul says that he wants a righteousness that is not his own that would come from obedience to the Mosaic Law, but rather a righteousness that comes through the faithfulness of Christ (i.e. his faithfulness unto death on the cross), which is a righteousness that comes from God that is based on (epi with the dative case of the noun) faith’. This I think deals with the matter directly. Christ’s death is the means through which this righteousness not based in Mosaic law-keeping comes to the believer, but it comes FROM God. Again, this does not involve imputation it involves divine intervention that results in the righteousness of the believer in some sense. In other words we are talking about an actual righteousness, not merely a being reckoned as righteous because of what Christ has done. This actual righteousness not only sets right the believer in his relationship with God, but it begins the process of our being conformed to the image of Christ and so becoming actually righteous, sanctified etc. In part this whole discussion was messed up because of Calvin’s legal background and his insistence on the use of legal even Latin terms (iustitia) to explain what Paul was talking about. In Romans Paul rings the changes on a variety of terms that have a dikaio—root– ‘right’ righteous’ the verbal form ‘to righteous’ someone, righteousness , and so on, drawing on Habbakuk—‘the righteous from faith shall live’ which in its OT context clearly refers to someone who is actually righteous. Is this at variance with the Augustinian and later Lutheran and Calvinistic ways of reading Paul? Yes it is to varying extents, but it is certainly more faithful to what Paul a former Pharisaic Jew meant by his language addressing his mostly Gentile converts in Rome and Philippi. I take it as a fundamental Protestant principle that adherence to what the Bible says is the primary goal, and adherence to some form of Reformation theology only a secondary goal, which is pursued in so far as that theology conforms to the Biblical witness. If I am right or mostly right about the above, I don’t think it changes the notion that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, but what it changes is the business about whether God expects actual righteousness from the believer and is working to that end from the beginning of salvation. In other words, right standing with God the new birth, sanctification glorification are all part of the process of conforming the believer to the image of Christ so that we reflect his character. In some ways, I think this is closer to what some Catholics have said about the matter, not in terms of meritorious works righteousness generated by us being substituted for alien righteousness, but rather in terms of God conveying his character to us. What do you think? (N.B. in regard to Wesley it seems clear enough to me your analysis of his take on justification is basically right. What Wesley was arguing against was ‘replacement righteousness’ the notion that once righteousness is imputed to the believer, then they don’t need to go on and be actually righteous. This idea made Wesley freak out, and so sometimes he is a critique of certain forms of the imputed righteousness argument).

ROGER: I am personally satisfied with viewing justification as pardon and reconciliation. That’s all that really matters. However, Arminius clearly believed in and affirmed the Reformed doctrine of justification as the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. I have demonstrated that in the chapter to which you refer. I simply cannot understand why Reformed critics continue to insist that Arminius’s doctrine of justification was “more Catholic” than Reformed. They cannot be reading Arminius himself!

[Link to original post on Ben Witherington’s blog]