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.