God in the Dock -challenges to his greatness and goodness (Open Theism Part 1)

We can choose to believe either truth or lies about God. Earlier, we named the lies: that God is not good and/or God is not great/ sovereign. That if there is a God, then he must be either infinite and all powerful, but therefore distant, impersonal, disinterested or even cruel, but certainly not loving, good and kind; or good, loving and personal, but small, ineffective, unable to help.

In fact, some people choose to refuse both options. This is in effect the atheist’s choice. God is neither good nor great, loving nor sovereign. In fact, there is no being in the Universe that meets that job description for “almighty God.”

Now, we have identified these beliefs as false. We’ve insisted that there is a God who is both good and great. However, you could argue that all we have done is insist and state. We’ve not argued, refuted, proved our position. We’ve not taken on the arguments against us.  We’ve not done the apologetics.

So this is where we do that!We are going to look at both challenges. First of all, we’re going to deal with the sovereignty question. We’re going to examine, challenge and respond to Open Theism. Then we’ll go on to look at the argument that God is not good. We’ll particularly be responding to the arguments of modern day atheism – most notably Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

You’ll realise at this point that apologetics is not just about responding to objections coming from completely outside of Christianity. Yes, it will involve conversations with atheists and people of other faiths, but it does also include defending a right understanding of who God is within the Christian community. Why is this? Well, error becomes riskier the more subtle it is; the more it looks like truth, the closer to home it gets. Billy Graham once talked about having just enough religion to inoculate you against the real thing. A misrepresentation of Christian belief can be just as deadly as an all-out attack on it.

So when we come to Open Theism, that is the problem. It comes from within the Christian community. In fact, it comes from within evangelicalism. Its proponents come across as kind, generous of spirit, humble, well intentioned. I personally had the opportunity to correspond with Clark Pinnock via email. He seemed to me to be a very gracious man. There was I, a young Christian emailing a professor of theology, and he took the time to read my emails carefully, think about what I said, answer my questions, consider my objections, concede where he thought I had a point. I respected him for that. Reading the proponents of Open Theism, you can see that their motives are genuine. They want to defend God against the charge of cruelty. They have a pastoral care for those whose real experience of suffering puts up a barrier to belief.

So as I examine and respond to Open Theism, my aim is to return the courtesy that Clark Pinnock showed me. However, we cannot run away from the problem. Good people with good motives can still go badly astray and that does not make the error any less toxic.

We will return to this question and build up our argument over a series of posts.

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10 thoughts on “God in the Dock -challenges to his greatness and goodness (Open Theism Part 1)

  1. I am curious, will you be using the common arguments of Christians e.g. the cosmological argument, the teleological argument and the ontological argument? You may want to consider that not all atheists find Dawkins or Hitchens important and not try to present them as people atheists “worship:.

    Many Christians claim that their version of the religion is the only “right” one. Do you propose to show how that is true and present evidence that other sects are wrong? For example, I was a Presbyterian and remember quite vividly how much each sect was sure that those “other” Christians were going straight to hell.

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    • It is distressing that Christians of many denominations are so exclusive and prideful as to think that all other Christians in the other Churches are going to hell. Thankfully, God does the judging and not men nor women.

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      • Hello again. I’m hoping to do something a little different to restating the classical apologetics arguments not least because I feel it’s a slightly different question here to just prove God exists. But not quire sure of the detail of the articles yet. At the moment I’m just at the stage of rereading some material and reading some new material to make some notes. Should have those articles ready in a few weeks.

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      • Hello if you look back at the posts in the Doctrine of God category you’ll get a feel for the background to these articles coming up. We’ve been looking at what it means to call God good and great over a series of articles. Hope that helps.

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      • Thank you. I did see these posts and it appears you are using circular arguments that anything your god does is “great” and “good” because it is done by this god, and no other reason “I know what goodness looks like because the good God defines it both by what he says and what he is like.” These arguments are also used by most, if not all, other religions when they wish to claim that it is their god or gods that are the real ones. Their gods are all good, their gods are all great, and the evidence pointed to is the various holy books.

        It is common for a Christian to claim that their god is “love”; especially since the term is defined rather well in 1 corinthians. However, when one reads those verses, it becomes apparent that this god does not fulfill those requirements given. Does this god keep a record of wrongs? If the bible is to be believed, yes.

        There is also a problem with calling this god “just” which generally means fair. Could you explain to me how it is just to murder people for the sins of others? If we find that this is wrong if a human does it, what makes it acceptable if a god i.e. your god does this?

        These problems are why I find it necessary to ask for a definition of good and great. If they are simple claims that “God is good is god is good…” then the claims about this god become nothing more than the baseless opinions of a theist, no better than the next theist. If I may ask you directly, are you saying that anything that God does is “good”? And that god is “great” because god must equal great or it is not god?

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  2. Morning, Thank you for your comment and helpful points and questions. In turn you are completely right that Dawkins and Hitchens are not the only spokesmen for contemporary atheism and I certainly would not want to give the impression that atheists worship them. However they are notable and so as a starting point it’s reasonable to engage with them and if that prompts people to come back and say “well I don’t agree with Dawkins but I still don’t agree with you because ….” then brilliant. As well as being notable they also provide an example of objections to the position I’ve been setting out that there is a God who is at the same time sovereign, loving etc and so that’s a particular interest at the moment. I’ve not written the articles on atheism yet so can’t comment on exactly how I’ll engage with all the arguments 🙂

    Yes the aim here is to provide evidence and to show why I’m disagreeing with Open Theism. Again feel free to challenge or question if you think there’s a lack of evidence or weakness in my argument and I’ll try and respond.

    Thanks again.

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  3. Ah … no that’s not quite the intended point of the articles more 1. Goodness is to do with love wisdom & justice – each described in more detail- 2. That those are not abstract qualities over and above God but personal and seen in real relationships. 3. That at some point we all have some form of ultimate authority and so in a sense all arguments have some form of circularity 4. That the circularity isn’t completely narrow though because there is some form of confirmation/ tie up between saying GOd is good and our experience of goodness I.e we experience His love see his wisdom in creation etc I intend to defend those claims in the later posts.

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