Various Interpretations vs. Truth

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Is Calvinism biblical? Is Arminianism biblical? Is Pentecostalism biblical? Is Cessationism biblical? Is Exhaustive Determinism biblical? Is Libertarian Free Will biblical? Is Open Theism biblical? Is Trinitarianism biblical? Is Modalism biblical? We can ask this question regarding biblicity about any Christian teaching. To the individual who holds to Covenantal theology, for example, Dispensationalism is not considered “biblical.” But what, exactly, does one mean by insisting that a contrary view is not “biblical”? Is there an implication of theological arrogance in insisting that our opponent’s theology is “not biblical”? How do we determine the biblicity of a teaching?

For a simplistic example, if we say that Open Theism is not “biblical,” we are suggesting that the Bible does not support its thesis. The main thesis of Open Theism is that God’s knowledge includes all that can be known. However, certain issues of how the future is to come about remains outside God’s immediate knowledge. (This is just a bare-bones approach to Open Theism for the sake of analogy. Let us not get involved in debate on the subject of Open Theism; though I am far from trying to defend that view.) Opponents of Open Theism argue that God is capable of foreknowing not only future free will choices and decisions, but also every minutiae of the future, and claim that Open Theism is not “biblical.”

However, Open Theists then point out certain passages of Scripture which they claim supports their theology. For example, when the LORD visits Abraham, He informs him that the “outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave” (Gen. 18:20 NASB). The LORD admits to Abraham that He will “go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know” (Gen. 18:21 NASB). If God is all-knowing, then He would not need to visit Sodom and Gomorrah, to “see if they have done entirely according to its outcry,” so Open Theists claim.

My point is, again, not to defend Open Theism as “biblical,” but to demonstrate that not only Open Theists, but also Calvinists, Arminians, Pentecostals, Modalists, Covenantalists, Dispensationalists et al. derive their respective doctrines from Scripture, right or wrong. Most often, when we confess a teaching to be “biblical,” what we mean is that we believe the Bible supports and teaches what we believe to be true, while all opposing arguments against our beliefs are rendered “unbiblical.” The irony is that, given one’s “biblical” presuppositions — the hermeneutical grid by which any one or any group of believers interprets all of Scripture — each doctrine could be called “biblical,” if by that term we mean presuppositions supporting those beliefs can be found in Scripture.

However, “biblical” could be another way of stating “orthodox” as well, meaning that the majority of leaders in the history of the Church have or have not held — and thus approved as true or not true to scriptural teaching — certain doctrines. If we were to use the “orthodox” criteria for what comprises “biblical” theology, then Calvinism, Pentecostalism, Modalism and Dispensationalism are immediately ruled “unbiblical” and “unorthodox,” given the absence of explicit teachings of those systems in the early Church. Without hesitation, those who adhere to any one of those systems will protest.

Is truth relative? Given the variety of interpretations within Christianity — all claiming to be true and biblical and orthodox — I still maintain that truth is not (and cannot be) relative. The reason for such a belief is because truth exists whether or not one is holding it in one’s mind or is comprised in one’s beliefs. A person can think that she is holding to truth and not, in fact, be holding to truth. Some are right on some issues some of the time, some are wrong, and no one or no one group or no one denomination is right on all things all of the time. For this reason, humility among Christians — especially theological-oriented Christians — suits us well. There is a very real sense in which Arminians can confess that Calvinism is “biblical” (and vice versa), inasmuch as its presuppositions are grounded in Scripture (or scriptural proof-texts). The same can be said of Arminianism, Open Theism, Covenantalism, etc. But what we all need to examine carefully is whether or not one’s biblical presuppositions are accurate. (I know: I sound like a broken record lately.)

Since Open Theism has been singled out, let us very briefly (and simplistically by intention) examine, for the sake of example, whether or not its thesis is supported by Scripture. If the system is found to be contrary to what Scripture elsewhere teaches, then its thesis is proven inconsistent at best and untrue at worst, and should not be considered what we would call “biblical” or “orthodox.” Open Theist Gregory Boyd admits that God is able to foretell or predict the future, and that “the Lord is steering history toward his desired end.”1 He addresses Isaiah 46:9-10, confessing the appearance of God’s exhaustive plan for the ages: “Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'” (NASB). Boyd claims that neither this nor any other passage of Scripture

says that God foreknows or declares everything that is going to occur. . . . God declares the conclusion of certain processes from their inception, and God declares certain things not yet done before they occur. But the passage doesn’t teach or logically imply that everything leading up to the conclusion is declared, or foreknown, nor does it imply that God declares all things “from ancient times.”2

He argues against God declaring “all things” from “ancient times,” when God said through Isaiah that He declares “things which have not been done” from “ancient times” (Isa. 46:10). The NIV renders verse 10 thus: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” According to both the NASB and NIV (and ESV, NRSV), this means that the things which have yet to come to pass, God has already declared them. The NLT is even more clear: “Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.” Why does Boyd or any Open Theist imagine or presuppose that God is not able to declare “all things” (i.e., all things which appertain to the future) from “ancient times” when God confesses to declare “what is still to come” from “ancient times”? Is “what is still to come” (all things future) not comprised of “all things”?

If Boyd’s commentary appears to be an argument from silence, in order to make the LORD’s words through Isaiah conform with his overall thesis, I think his explanation is more than a mere argument from silence: I think it is a denial of what Scripture teaches elsewhere. The same God who, through Isaiah, insisted that His purpose will be established, and that He will accomplish all His good pleasure (Isa. 46:10), is the same God who, through the apostle Paul, insisted that, according to His purpose, He “works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11 NASB). God does not merely predict what He believes may or will happen in the future. He foreknows what will happen, declares the end conclusion of all that will happen from the beginning, and He, moreover, works all things after the counsel of His will.

There is, opponents believe, no harmony between what the Open Theist believes to be a biblical presupposition or hermeneutical grid with many passages of Scripture (which actually contradicts its main thesis, from my perspective, and that of many others). Should all a believer and follower of Christ have against, if you will, the “biblical presupposition” of Open Theism are Isaiah 46:9-11 and Ephesians 1:3-14, he would have enough to conclude that Open Theism is not biblical (nor is it considered orthodox from the perspective of Church history). Truth, by definition, is neither relative nor subjective. All presuppositions have to be weighed against the entirety of the Bible, and the unclear passages (e.g. Gen. 18:20-21) must be interpreted in the light of clear passages (e.g. Isa. 46:9-11; Eph. 1:3-14 et al.). I want to turn our gaze upon two presuppositions of Calvinism in an upcoming post.

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1 Gregory A. Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, eds. James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 14-15. The discussion of God’s knowledge of future contingencies is far from over.

2 Ibid., 16.