Tuesday 2 July 2013

How is Biblical Prophecy compatible with genuine free will in a context of linear, sequential Time?


As it turns-out: in several conceivable ways.


Excerpted from The Mormon Concept of God - A philosophical analysis, by Blake Ostler:


How then do those who believe God's foreknowledge is limited explain biblical prophecy and faith in God's certain triumph over evil?

God can ensure triumph over evil though the future is not absolutely foreknown because he is like a master chess player. Even though he does not know exactly which moves free persons will make, he knows all possible moves that can be made and that he can meet any such moves and eventually win the game.

God may lose some pieces during the games, just as some persons may freely choose to reject God and thwart his plans so far as they are concerned individually, but God can guarantee ultimate victory...


God can ensure ultimate victory and the realization of all of his purposes not because of his omniscience, but because of his almighty power. 

These features of God's knowledge ensure that God knows all possibilities and future events which are now certain given causal implications ... This view also allows for free choices among genuinely open alternatives ... These provisions suggest that God knows all possible avenues of choices... and, coupled with God's maximal power, entail that God's plans and declarations of future events will be realized... 

Thus a complete picture of God's providence is possible even though God does not have infallible and complete foreknowledge.


Nevertheless, can limited foreknowledge be squared with scriptural predictions of the future? I will argue that: (a) scripture is consistent with limited foreknowledge, and (b) a number of scriptures require limited foreknowledge. There are several different types of prophecy, each of which is consistent with God's limited foreknowledge:


1. Predictions about what God will bring about through his own power regardless of human decisions

God can clearly predict his own actions and promises regardless of human decisions. If human cooperation is not involved, then God can unilaterally guarantee the occurrence of a particular event and predict it ahead of time.

For example, God can guarantee that his plan will be fulfilled because he will intervene to bring it about. Thus God can show prophets a panoramic vision of his plan from beginning to end. God can declare that he knows the beginning from the end in terms of his plan and what he will bring about himself...

However, the fact that God's plan will be carried out does not mean that he has to know each individual's free actions beforehand...


2. Conditional prophecies. Numerous prophecies express what God will do if certain conditions obtain

For example, several prophecies are predictions as to what will happen if human beings behave in one way rather than another... Conditional prophecies do not require absolute foreknowledge because God waits upon conditions to occur before a course of action is finally decided. Indeed, conditional prophecies are incomprehensible if God has complete foreknowledge. There would be no "ifs," only absolutes.


3. Prophecies of Inevitable Consequences of Factors Already Present 

Since God's knowledge of present conditions is complete, it follows that he knows all things that are inevitable as a causal result of present conditions. He also knows the probability of any future event based on current conditions. For example, a skilled physician can predict the death of certain individuals because the causes of that death are already present. Similarly, God can predict future events that are causally implicated by present circumstances or otherwise inevitable...


4. Absolute Election of Nations and Conditional Election of Individuals 

A number of passages in the New Testament speak of God's foreknowledge in the context of election or foreordination...

For example, Ephesians 1:11 discusses God's foreordination of persons, "in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined (prooristhentes) according to the purpose (prothesin) of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (kata ten boulen tou thelmatos autou)."

This passage does not speak about what persons do to earn election; rather, it focuses exclusively on God's decision to choose a certain group of persons.

Now if individual persons were "predestined" or "elected" to salvation on the basis of God's own counsel alone, then free will would play no role in individual salvation. God would arbitrarily damn some and leave others to damnation for no act of their own...

However, passages speaking about God's election do not address individual election; rather, they speak of the corporate election of Israel, or the church, or of God's people as a whole...

Thus election is not a reward for an individual exercise of free will but a divine decision unilaterally made to elect a group of people as his "chosen" or "promised" people. Although the election is certain, the promises made to any individual member of the elect group are conditional upon faithfulness to God. Such corporate election is not inconsistent with individual free will.

By Blake Ostler:




imnobody said...

Bruce, I have been witness of your intellectual journey from Mere Christianity close to Orthodoxy to Mere Christianity close to Mormonism. I guess your reading of McMurrin and the rationality of Mormon theology was the turning point.

So, I am curious, what keeps you from embracing Mormonism? (For me it's the history of the golden plates and indians being the lost tribes of Israel)

Bruce Charlton said...

@i - You have not captured the nature of my intellectual journey; because Mormonism was there from before I became a Christian - I began reading about it more than five years ago - and you miss out the Church of England (which is my actual denomination by Baptism and Confirmation, and which church I attend and have attended frequently since I became a Christian), and the Roman Catholic church, which I investigated in considerable depth and indeed intended to join at one point.

A lot of the intellectual journey has been within the Church of England - for example I used to consider myself Anglo-Catholic but now as Conservative Evangelical Anglican.

I am 'not a joiner', indeed when I try to join *anything* a powerful inner resistance arises and gets stronger with time; so do not find churchgoing to be a natural or especially pleasant activity - indeed, it tends to be more of a least-worst thing than a positive thing - and I am not properly or fully a church member and never have been, and am somewhat semi-detached.

Naturally, a lot goes on in my life of which I don't write in the blog - in particular my family is of primary importance, but I don't write of them.

Taking all in all, I am now theologically Mormon (more or less), and I do not rule out becoming a Baptized Mormon at some point, but at present I do not have any plans to do this.

imnobody said...

Thank you for your explanation. Of course, I oversimplified. I have read posts of yours about the Church of England and even about your thought of converting to Roman Catholicism.

I only wanted to convey the fact that your older posts had more references to Orthodoxy and your latest posts are more focused on Mormon theology. It's only about your blog: I don't know you personally and I don't claim to know your spiritual views. A man is more than a blog. But it's always difficult for me to express subtle things in English - this language created by God to punish me for my sins

" so do not find churchgoing to be a natural or especially pleasant activity - indeed, it tends to be more of a least-worst thing than a positive thing - "

This surprised me because I read that frequent communion was good for you and that's why you didn't embrace Catholicism, because there was not a parish near you.

I know that you have always been a spiritual seeker and your journey took you to Christianity. But it seems to me that you are still evolving and I wonder if the journey will come to an end and you will find a position. Anyway, following your thoughts is always interesting.

Greetings from Central America

Bruce Charlton said...

@Im - "I read that frequent communion was good for you "

I felt that it was, but the collapse of Christianity in the Church of England means that that is no longer possible for me and communion is now more like monthly.

I don't see that as me evolving - in fact I feel worse for it, and am somewhat harmed by it - but rather a mixture of the CoE changing, crossing lines; and of my greater understanding of realities. Then I try to adjust to the the corrupting church and clearer realities - within constraints of my general feebleness.

I would not advise anybody to use my example as a model of Christian life - except insofar as becoming a Christian in the first place (becoming a Mere Christian).

In this blog I try to remove obstacles to conversion, conversion to Mere Christianity (that is the purpose of this post, or the one on the Trinity).

Beyond that I having nothing to teach - except that there are several real Christian Churches, and all of these are potentially valid.

Ugh said...

As I read this passage from Ostler I wonder how is this that different from so-called Open Theism which seems to be so controversial?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ugh - Glancing through Open Theology, it doesn't look more than superficially similar to Mormonism in the form given by Ostler. I would guess it is mostly likely to be different because the thing about Ostler's account of this issue is the way that it is locked into an overall and (mostly) coherent theological metaphysics which regards common sense and comprehensible linear sequential time as a given.