Divine timelessness and relativity physics

Draft version: not for citation or quotation. Published version: “The Eternal Now and Theological Suicide: A Reply to Laurence Wood,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 45.2 (Fall, 2010): 67-81.

Although it may not seem so from his article, Laurence Wood’s position has many points of agreement with open theism. Both views are part of what I call the free-will Christian family of theology. Hence, both agree on matters such as: God loves creatures and seeks their highest good; God grants humans libertarian freedom; God does not exercise meticulous providence; and thus, God takes some risks since not everything goes the way God would like it to go. Both positions agree that the watershed divide between free-will Christianity and theological determinism is whether or not any of God’s decisions are responses to what creatures do. Free-will Christians believe that God enters into genuine give-and-receive relations with us, our prayers can affect some of God’s decisions, and, in many areas of life, God takes risks. Hence, God is open to what creatures do.

Additionally, open theism affirms a second element of openness: history is open in that it contains multiple possible futures rather than just one actual future. These two senses of openness motivate open theists to diverge from traditional free-will Christianity on two issues, God’s relationship to time and whether God has exhaustive-definite knowledge of future contingent events.[1] Though some traditional Wesleyans have held that God is temporal, the majority have affirmed that God is atemporal. The lightning rod issue surrounding open theism has been the claim that God does not know with certainty what creatures with libertarian freedom will do in the future. In his article, Wood links these two issues in order to argue, as many Wesleyans have done in the past, that, if God experiences all time at once (the “eternal now”), then God has knowledge, not merely beliefs, of what we will do in the future.

For open theism, God has dynamic omniscience. God has definite knowledge of all the past and present and God knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). God’s knowledge of the future contains knowledge of those events that are determined to occur (e.g., natural events and anything God has decreed), as well as knowledge of what may possibly happen, and which of those possibilities are most probable. Though the future is partly open, God is not caught off-guard since divine foresight anticipates what we will do.

Wood implies that open theists affirm a limited omniscience when he repeatedly says that we reject “full omniscience” or “exhaustive omniscience.” This makes it sound as though there are things that God could know that open theists deny that God knows. Wood’s rhetoric suggests that 100-proof omniscience includes exhaustive-definite knowledge of the future, with any view which denies this being a watered-down omniscience. This would be like claiming that only transubstantiation is 100-proof Eucharist–any other view is watered-down communion. However, both Wood and open theists agree that God is omniscient. The debate is about the content of omniscience (e.g., does omniscience include middle knowledge?). The real focus of Wood’s article is not whether God is omniscient but whether God has definite knowledge of future contingents. In ordinary parlance, the disagreement is about divine foreknowledge.

Traditionally, free-will Christians have affirmed that God knows what we will do in the future. Two different theories have been used to explain how God has such knowledge. Perhaps the most common view has been “simple foreknowledge” in which God “looks ahead” and “sees” what we will do in the future. The second option uses divine atemporality (whether thought of as timelessness or the experience of all time at once) to say that God “sees” all of history at once (the eternal now). This is often accompanied by the illustration of God standing on a mountain which allows God to see everything in the valley of history below. In the second view, God does not have “fore” knowledge since there is no past or future for God.[2]

Wood accuses me of “equivocation” when I say that God “looks ahead” because a being with an eternal now does not “look ahead.” Open theists are quite well aware that that, according to divine atemporality, God has knowledge, not “fore” knowledge.[3] Perhaps I should have been clearer about the reason why “looks ahead” and “sees” are in quotation marks in my book, even when discussing simple foreknowledge. The language of God knowing and deciding things in succession concerns the “logical” or “explanatory order” of events, not a temporal order. For example, God’s decision to liberate the Hebrews from Egypt is logically subsequent to the divine knowledge that they are in bondage. Reversing the explanatory order leads to the nonsensical: God knew they were in bondage because of his decision to liberate them.

Wood goes with the second option of divine atemporality (understood as the possession of all time at once). He uses the notion of an eternal now/present to explain how God knows what we call our “future” actions. It seems to me that Wood’s key claim is that a Boethian account of divine atemporality gives free-will Christians everything they believe is important for the God-human relationship, libertarian freedom and divine responsiveness to creatures, while also affirming exhaustive-definite knowledge of future contingent events. His arguments in support of this claim, though not clearly stated in his paper, seem to be the following:

  1. The Bible supports the claim that God has knowledge of our future.
  2. Theological tradition affirms that God has knowledge of our future.
  3. If relativity theory is correct, then the future is real. Since God knows

all of reality, God must know the future.

  1. A God with dynamic omniscience is not trustworthy.

The astute reader will notice that few (if any) of these arguments support the claim that the eternal now supports a responsive God. Rather, the bulk of Wood’s article is spent peppering open theism with criticisms. The strategy seems to be to criticize open theism so that readers will conclude that the eternal now position is correct. Wood repeatedly claims that a “Boethian” conception of eternity allows God to experience before and after, such that God can enter into genuine give-and-receive relations with us, avoiding determinism. However, he never explains how this can occur. He simply repeats the claim over and over in the paper without providing evidence for this claim. Moreover, he fails to address the lengthy discussion in my The God Who Risks of the contradictions between the eternal now position and the core doctrines of free-will Christianity.[4]

In the remainder of this article I will comment on each of the four arguments of Wood in an attempt to show why the eternal now view is problematic for free-will Christians. Also, I want to respond to a number of his criticisms of open theism. Wood’s article contains many factual errors and misrepresentations of what we have said. Therefore, the reader should be cautious about accepting his word as to what particular open theists believe, or what we believe as a group.[5] Now to his main arguments.

First Argument: The Bible affirms that God has knowledge of our future.

Though he could have given more texts, Wood cites only one text from Isaiah with the authority of Von Rad in support of this claim. He says, “Sanders attempts to soften this statement that God knows the “end from the beginning” in Isaiah by saying that it refers to the deliverance from exile….” Well, it would be softening if it were certain that Wood’s interpretation is the correct one. However, my discussion follows the detailed exegetical work of Fredrik Lindström who notes that Isaiah’s use of light and darkness is connected to the beginning and the end of the exile, such that Isaiah is talking about a specific event and not the entire history of the world.[6]

The God Who Risks contains a hundred pages discussing biblical texts in support of dynamic omniscience and that God experiences time. Here I can only highlight the types of texts used in support of open theism. The Bible portrays God as:

  1. Authentically responding to petitions (Ex. 4, 32; 2 Kings 20; Mk. 2; Lk. 8:48).
  2. Grieving over sin (Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11; Mt. 23:37; Jn. 11:35).
  3. Expecting something to happen but it does not (Jer. 3:6-7, 19-20; Isaiah 5:1-4; Mk. 6:5-6).
  4. Testing individuals and Israel “to find out what they will do”  (Gen. 22; Ex. 15:25; Deut. 13:3).
  5. Refusing to change his mind (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29).
  6. Changing his mind (Ex. 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:11-35; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13-14; Mt. 15:21-28) and reconsidering what God had previously promised (1 Sam. 2:30-31; 13:13).
  7. Having knowledge of some future events but not others. There are two types of texts about the future in scripture.
  • Predicting specific events that do come to pass (2 Kings 20:17-18; Jer. 29:10).
  • Predicting specific events that either do not come to pass at all or not in the precise

way they were predicted (Ezek. 26:17ff; 29:17-20; Amos 9:11-12 & Acts 15:15-

18; Acts 21:11).

Wood correctly says that a God with an eternal now “knows all things instantly.” If so, then how can grief, change of mind, and testing be attributed to such a being? How can God expect something to happen and it not happen? How can a God who knows all events of history simultaneously be said to predict that the city of Tyre will be totally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek. 26) and then later admit that the prediction failed (Ezek. 29:17-20)?[7] What does Wood do with these texts? He claims his eternal now view can handle them, but he never once shows how this can be done. Wood claims to take the biblical portrayal of God seriously, yet he makes no attempt to explain the meaning of these texts if the eternal now is true. Open theists have developed a view which seeks to explain all the types of biblical texts mentioned above.[8]

It is part of the core piety and beliefs of free-will Christians that God is responsive. In the book I explained why it is contradictory to say that a God who experiences an eternal now also experiences changing emotions and changing decisions. On several occasions Wood supports his case with the classic article on eternity by Stump and Kretzmann. They are proponents of the eternal now and acknowledged experts on what the position entails. In this article, they say that an atemporal being “has no past or future, no earlier or later.”[9] They point out that, if God experiences an eternal now, then “God cannot deliberate, anticipate, remember, or plan ahead.”[10] The experts on divine atemporality admit that grief, expectation, and change of mind cannot be attributed to God. Wood, however, says both that God experiences all time at once and also that God has “before and after.” Stump and Kretzmann say that this is contradictory, but Wood makes both claims without acknowledging that there is a problem here, let alone furnish us with a solution to it.

Nicholas Wolterstorff points out that for the eternal now “none of God’s actions is a response to what we human beings do; indeed, not only is none of God actions a response to what we do, but nothing at all in God’s life is a response to what occurs among God’s creatures.”[11] This is precisely the reason why the influential Methodist theologian John Miley rejected divine atemporality.[12] He understood that it undermined essential Wesleyan piety, such as God responding to prayers.

Wood admits that “outright logical contradictions cannot be affirmed without committing theological suicide,” yet it is precisely at this point that he fails to demonstrate why his own authorities are wrong to claim that it is logically contradictory to affirm both that God is atemporal and also that God grieves. Instead, Wood simply claims that his position contains “tensions” and “mystery.” If there is a contradiction at the heart of his claims, then it is not mystery, but nonsense. If Wood and other Wesleyans do not believe that this position is contradictory, then they need to show why it is not and why the expert proponents of divine temporality are wrong. Wood and I agree that human language is stretched when applied to God, but contradictions do not stretch our language, they snap it in half.

Second Argument: Theological tradition affirms that God has knowledge of our future.

In my own work I have documented that the early church fathers and Wesley affirmed divine atemporality and that God possesses exhaustive-definite knowledge of future contingent events. Also, I have explained the theological work that they intended for this doctrine to accomplish (e.g., how God could elect people for salvation prior to creation based on “foreseen” faith). So, I agree that the dynamic omniscience view is going against the mainstream of theological tradition. However, dynamic omniscience agrees with the free-will tradition that God does not determine the events because it is our actions which cause God to have the knowledge of what we do.[13] That is, God “sees” what we will do in the future but God does not ordain that we do them, as with Calvin.

Though the dynamic omniscience view cannot claim the early church fathers, it has had a few proponents as far back as the fifth century. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the view began to gain a wider following, particularly in Methodist circles.[14] On the contemporary scene, Wood lists Barth and Pannenberg on his side, while proponents of dynamic omniscience include Moltmann, Pinnock, Paul Fiddes, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Henry Knight, and Barry Callen. Also, the strong majority of contemporary Christian philosophers reject Wood’s view of divine atemporality, though there are a few distinguished exceptions such as Leftow and Stump.[15]

Third Argument:  If relativity theory is correct then the future is real. Since God knows all of reality, God must know the future.

Wood does not actually formulate the argument as I have stated it, but I am trying to be charitable by developing an argument that would support his key claim that an eternal now is the best solution to the problem. It is unfortunate that the bulk of his article does not actually give evidence in support of his claim. Instead, he concentrates on the accusation that divine temporalists reject relativity physics and thus parallel the fundamentalists at the Scopes Monkey Trial. Space limitations permit only three areas of response.

  1. Wood’s statements about contemporary physics. Professor Wood is to be commended for his extensive research into relativity theory. He is much more informed on the topic than am I. However, his statements on this subject are not always up-to-date or as settled as he suggests. For example, he castigates me for separating space and time into different categories. Apparently, what Einstein hath joined no one must put asunder. But a recent development has the physics world abuzz about a new theory of gravity which requires that space and time be separated, at least for high energy events. The December, 2009, issue of Scientific American has an article titled “Splitting Time from Space” in which the new theory, called Hořava gravity, is discussed. The creator of this theory says, “I’m going back to Newton’s idea that time and space are not equivalent.”[16] Though it is being widely discussed, the theory has not been established as the correct one. Also, this does not imply that everything in physics is in dispute, but it does show that physicists are not as dogmatic as Wood is that time and space are inseparable.
  1. Why divine temporalists cannot accept the dominant interpretation of special relativity theory. It seems that the dominant interpretation of the special theory of relativity (STR) entails that all of time exists because there is no privileged present moment; all times are on a par ontologically.[17] Hence, “now” is only a word expressing the speaker’s own temporal perspective. The idea of the present has no special status. This implies the “block theory” of time. Think of time as an extended block that includes what we call the past, present, and future. The entire space-time block exists together, and the “future” (from some temporal perceiver’s point of view) is just as much “fixed” and “there” as is the past. In other words, the future is real—it exists ontologically. Open theists agree with the third argument that, if the future exists, then God must know it. We just deny that the future is real.

Why do open theists have a problem with this majority interpretation of STR? For two reasons. First, because if the block of time is real then everything you and I will do in the future already exists on the block, which means that there are no “alternative possibilities” of the sort that are required for libertarian free will. Recorded on the block is a fact of the matter as to what each of us will do tomorrow. There is no possibility that these facts of the matter can be changed. In other words, the standard interpretation of STR is deterministic and that is why not only open theists but all libertarians must look for some other interpretation of the data. Second, as was stated above, the biblical portrait of God and the piety of free-will Christianity require divine responsiveness–which is excluded by the eternal now position. If the block theory is correct, then we do not see how it is possible to maintain these core beliefs.

I and other open theists may indeed be wrong to go with the minority interpretation of STR, but we do so because we want to affirm libertarian freedom and divine responsiveness. Hence, proponents of libertarian freedom should reject the block theory in favor of the dynamic theory of time in which the present has a special status and the future is not ontologically real. According to the dynamic theory, time is actually changing and is not, as Einstein said, a stubborn illusion. There is an interpretation of STR that is compatible with the dynamic theory.[18] It is called the neo-Lorentzian interpretation. Though some prominent physicists affirm it, it is not popular among physicists.[19] It is empirically equivalent to the standard interpretation of STR and has not been refuted empirically. Wood is wrong when he claims that we do not accept the empirical confirmation of relativity theory.[20]

  1. Wood has a fundamental problem with four-dimensionalism. Wood affirms that, according to the standard interpretation of STR, four-dimensionalism is correct. It entails that the future is just as ontologically real as the past. Wood also acknowledges that Einstein held to the block theory because of STR. However, Wood rejects the block theory in favor of the dynamic theory.[21] He does so without even a hint that there is any sort of problem here. The problem is that the block theory is the view that that there is no ontological distinction between past, present and future. Four-dimensionalism and the block theory are one and the same thing. The dynamic theory of time is logically incompatible with four-dimensionalism because, according to the dynamic theory, the future is not ontologically real. Hence, Wood’s position is logically contradictory in that he affirms both that the future is ontologically real and that the future is not ontologically real.

Wood does say that God is infinite and transcends time, but such remarks do not address this fundamental contradiction in his position. Also, Wood accuses me of “dictating to God what sort of world is possible” because I assert that the future is not ontologically real.[22] This is unfair because on the very paragraph of The God Who Risks which Wood uses to justify his claim I say, “God could have created a world in which he knew exactly what we would do in the future if God had decided to create a deterministic world.”[23] The point is that, if the block theory is correct and the future is an ontological reality, then God would know it, but then we would not have libertarian freedom. I am not dictating to God, I am only claiming that our theological statements cannot contain logical contradictions. Since Wood affirms this very principle, he must either demonstrate that this is not, in fact, a logical contradiction or he must modify his position. Appeals to divine infinity do not remove the logical contradiction at the heart of Wood’s view.

Finally, Wood’s attempt to combine the dynamic theory of time with the eternal now entails a serious theological problem.[24] If God experiences all of time at once in an eternal now, then God knows all events that ever occur as well as the order in which they occur. Since there is no before or after in God’s experience, what is “now” for us is simply a set of events which God knows occur in history. However, if the dynamic theory of time is correct, then the God of an eternal now does not know what is happening in history right now because God’s now does not correspond to our now. In order for God to know what is happening right now, God must change, because a few moments ago these events were not happening but other events were happening instead. But, according to the eternal now theory, God cannot change. This means that Christ’s death, resurrection, and second coming are all simultaneous for God. So, when Jesus died, God did not know the event was happening then. God eternally knows that it happens, but at our moment in history when Jesus rose from the dead God did not know it was happening (a very strange idea and certainly not one the biblical writers endorse). The God of the eternal now does not know that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Fourth Argument: A God with dynamic omniscience is not trustworthy.

Towards the end of his article, Wood says that a God without exhaustive knowledge of the future “may weaken one’s capacity to trust in the Lord.” He suggests that such a God may “lead us wrongly” and thus be in need of atonement.[25] Several responses are in order. According to dynamic omniscience, divine guidance is given on the basis of God’s perfect understanding of all that is possible to happen and perfect understanding of the probabilities of each of those possibilities. God knows what each of us is likely to do but, because we have libertarian freedom, we can, at times, act out of character and do what was unlikely. For example, God says he expected Israel to put away her idols and return to him but they did not (Jer. 3:7). In this case God knew it was more likely that they would repent, but he also knew the lesser possibility that they would not repent. God did not say that they would definitely repent because God will not definitely believe that something will occur unless it is certain to occur. If an event is not certain to occur, then God knows the degree of probability that something will happen in a particular way. But God will not hold that belief as absolutely certain if human freedom is involved because our decisions, though somewhat predictable, are not absolutely so. When God expresses surprise, it is evidence that the less likely event came to pass, but this is not a “mistake.”

Second, let us say that I advise a friend to accept a job offer because I know the supervisor and that this individual is a wonderful boss. However, a couple of months into the job, the supervisor dies in an accident and is replaced by a horrible person. Is it legitimate to say that I sinned in the guidance I gave to my friend? I do not see any need of atonement in such as case. Gregory Boyd tells the story of “Suzanne,” a woman in his congregation, who was very angry with God because she believed God had intentionally guided her into an abusive marriage.[26] From a young age she wanted to be a missionary in Taiwan. When she went to college she met a young man who shared that same goal. For three years they attended church together and prayed together. They consulted with their parents, pastor and friends, all of whom thought they should marry. After college, they married and then attended a missionary training school together. However, at this time her husband had an affair with another student. When confronted, he repented, but then the affair resumed. After a while he became physically abusive to his wife and then divorced her. Several of her friends told her what Job’s friends had told him—that God intended this horrible set of events to teach her a lesson.

Open theists give a different interpretation. At the time of their engagement her fiancée was a godly person with a passion for ministry, so the prospects were good that they would have a healthy marriage and ministry. However, because of free will, he gave in to temptation and resisted the promptings of the Spirit, even after he was found out. Through a series of choices he became what he had not been when they were dating. God’s guidance had not been wrong. What was wrong was the husband’s misuse of his free will.

How would Wood explain Suzanne’s story? Perhaps he believes that a God who possessed exhaustive knowledge of future contingent events would guide her away from marrying the fellow because God “eternally saw” that he would abuse her. That is, a God with knowledge of the actual future would be in a position to guide her so that she would not marry him. This is a common belief among free will Christians. It is also a common belief among critics of Christianity who say that a God who eternally knew Hitler would carry out the Holocaust should have prevented Hitler from doing so. Unfortunately, both sides are mistaken because the eternal now is useless for guidance. To understand why this is so, it must be kept in mind that what a God with an eternal now knows is what actually happens in history, not what might happen. If what God eternally knows is that Suzanne marries him and is abused, then it is not within God’s power to bring it about that she not marry him because that would mean that God’s knowledge of what actually occurs is wrong. By definition, God’s eternal knowledge of the actual future is always correct.

A God with an eternal now knows that Suzanne will be abused and thus cannot use that knowledge to either bring about the abuse or to prevent the abuse from occurring. What God knows is not some antecedent events which, unless hindered in some way, will lead to her abuse. Rather, what God knows is the actual abuse. It is contradictory to suppose that God knows an event will occur and also to hold that God prevents that event from occurring. That is, God knows that Suzanne will be abused and God knows that Suzanne will not be abused. It is logically impossible for God to know that an event will actually happen and that God will prevent that event from happening.

In The God Who Risks and elsewhere I have explained in detail why both simple foreknowledge and the eternal now positions are useless for divine providence.[27] It does God no good to have either simple foreknowledge or the eternal now because God cannot change what God knows for a fact will happen. God cannot use knowledge of what we call the future to guide us in the best ways, or to prevent horrible events from happening, or to give predictions about the future to the prophets. Suppose that Tom asks God for guidance about whether or not to accept a job offer. Tom believes that God knows for a fact what will happen to Tom in that job (whether good things or bad), so Tom believes that God is in perfect position to lead him. The problem is that, if God knows only truths about the future and God knows for a fact that Tom accepts the job and endures years of misery while thus employed, then God cannot change that from happening. Once God knows it as a fact that Tom works there, then it is useless for God to give Tom guidance to reject the job offer. It is incoherent to claim that God knows the actual future and on the basis of this knowledge changes it so that it will not be the actual future. A God who eternally knows the actual future cannot answer such prayers.

Philosopher David Hunt, a proponent of the simple foreknowledge view, believes that the “uselessness problem” is one of the most serious objections and needs to be rebutted. If the eternal now and simple foreknowledge views are useless for providence, then they are worthless for our theology. That is why Hunt has attempted to construct a way in which eternal knowledge could be somewhat more useful for providence than if God has dynamic omniscience.[28] To date, I am aware only of the attempts by Hunt and another philosopher to solve the uselessness problem. William Hasker and I have explained in print why these two attempts fail.[29] It is disappointing that Wesleyan theologians, including Wood, do not address the problem of uselessness. Wesleyans have sought to argue against the claim that, if God knows the future, then the future is determined but they have not taken seriously this new problem (uselessness) which is devastating to the simple foreknowledge and eternal now positions. Wood claims that his eternal now position is useful for providence, but he provides neither any evidence that this is so or any explanation of why it is not a logical contradiction to believe that God eternally knows that an event will occur and yet it is in God’s power to bring it about that it not occur.

Summary and Conclusion

I have argued that Professor Wood’s position entails three significant contradictions. (1) It is logically contradictory to affirm both that God is atemporal and also that God grieves and responds. (2) It is logically contradictory to say that the future is ontologically real and that the dynamic theory of time is correct (the future is not ontologically real). (3) It is contradictory to suppose that God knows an event will occur and also to hold that God prevents that event from occurring.

Wood says that “outright logical contradictions cannot be affirmed without committing theological suicide.” Appeals to “infinity” and “mystery” can be quite legitimate, but they cannot transform a genuine contradiction into an attempted suicide. Perhaps someone will figure out a solution to these problems, but until this happens the only views of omniscience that are useful for providence, and which are not logically contradictory, are theological determinism, middle knowledge, and dynamic omniscience. The only one of these three which affirms the biblical portrayal of divine responsiveness, grief, change of mind, and is compatible with the core tenets of Wesleyan piety and belief, is dynamic omniscience. If Wood and other Wesleyans are to avoid theological suicide then they must either solve these contradictions or accept open theism.[30]

[1] For a detailed examination of these similarities and differences, see my “Is Open Theism a Radical Revision or Miniscule Modification of Arminianism?” Wesleyan Theological Journal 38.2 (Fall 2003): 69-102.

[2] Proponents of both views claim that God’s “seeing” what will happen does not determine what we do.

[3] Wood correctly undermines Nelson Pike’s argument that “if God knows today what I will do tomorrow then it is determined” by pointing out that an eternal God does not have a “today.” However, Wood fails to address the more recent formulations of the argument which use non-temporal language: if God eternally knows that I will have cheerios for breakfast tomorrow, then it is not within my power to have eggs (but not because God knows it). See William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 54.

[4] See pages 200-217. The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence, revised edition (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2007).

[5] For example, on the first page he says, we believe “God could be mistaken in assessing those probabilities.” No, God is always correct about the probabilities.

[6] Fredrik Lindström, God and the Origin of Evil: A Contextual Analysis of Alleged Monistic Evidence in the Old Testament. Tr. Frederick H. Cryer (Sweden: CWK Gleerup, 1983).

[7] All of these problems are discussed in The God Who Risks, 81-84, 200-205.

[8] Those who wish to deny that the Old Testament portrays God as temporal and as possessing dynamic omniscience need to rebut the careful work of scholars such as Terence Fretheim and John Goldingay.

[9] Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann, “Eternity,” The Journal of Philosophy, 78/8 (August 1981), 434.

[10] Stump and Kretzmann, “Eternity,” 446.

[11] Wolterstorff, “Unqualified Divine Temporality,” Gregory Ganssle ed., God and Time: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 205. Paul Helm tries to claim that there is a highly qualified way that an atemporal God may be said to “respond,” but Wolterstorff shows that Helm’s claim fails (232-3).

[12] Miley, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1892), 214-5.

[13] See Steven M. Studebaker, “The Mode of Divine Knowledge in Reformation Arminianism and Open Theism,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47.3 (September, 2004): 469-480.

[14] See my The God Who Risks, 165-171. On Methodism, see Randy Maddox, “Seeking a Response-able God: The Wesleyan Tradition and Process Theology,” Bryan Stone and Thomas Oord eds., Thy Nature and Thy Name is Love: Wesleyan and Process Theologians in Dialogue (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001. I have more figures to list for the seventeenth  through nineteenth centuries, including the debate within Methodism, which I hope to publish in the future.

[15] Three of the four authors in Ganssle ed., God & Time: Four Views, reject divine atemporality.

[16] Zeeya Merali, “Splitting Time From Space, Scientific American, 301/6 (December 2009): 18.

[17] One of my colleagues, a physicist who is not religious and well versed in relativity theory, told me that STR is consistent with either a deterministic or a probabilistic interpretation and that most contemporary physicists go with the probabilistic view. He is aware of some physicists who think that the future ontologically exists. However, he does not believe most are even interested in such claims. Interestingly, he does not believe that STR entails that the future is ontologically real.

[18] One open theist is developing a different path. Dean Zimmerman (at Rutgers) has a forthcoming chapter in which he argues that proponents of the dynamic theory can accept the relativistic space-time manifold, with certain added structure, and need not embrace a neo-Lorentzian theory. This proposal has not yet been thoroughly evaluated, but it stands as a possible way of solving the problem.

[19] See, for instance, the work of physicist F. Selleri, “The Inertial Transformations and the Relativity Principle,” Foundation of Physics Letters 18/4 (August, 2005), 325-339. William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith discuss various physicists who affirm this interpretation in their Einstein, Relativity, and Absolute Simultaneity (London: Routledge, 2007).

[20] Wood seems to conflate a realist interpretation of Minkowski’s geometry with STR itself but this is not required. A neo-Lorentzian interpretation gives you the results of STR without the realist bent of Minkowski.

[21] See “Divine Omniscience” note 66 and Wood, “My Reply to Alan Padgett,” Asbury Theological Journal, 60/1 (Spring, 2005), p. 10.

[22] Wood, “Divine Omniscience” note 107.

[23] Sanders, The God Who Risks, 166.

[24] This is discussed in The God Who Risks (202-203), but Wood fails to address it.

[25] Wood cites my discussion of divine guidance in The God Who Risks (284-288), but not my response to the accusation that God could be “mistaken” (134).

[26] Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000), 103-106.

[27] For a fuller account of why these two models are useless for divine providence, see my The God Who Risks, 209-217 and my “Why Simple Foreknowledge Offers No More Providential Control than the Openness of God,” Faith and Philosophy 14, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 26-40.

[28] See David Hunt, “The Simple-Foreknowledge View,” in James Beilby and Paul Eddy eds., Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 96-101 and his “The Providential Advantage of Divine Foreknowledge” in Kevin Timpe, ed. Arguing About Religion (Routledge, 2009), 374-385.

[29] William Hasker, “Why Simple Foreknowledge is Still Useless (in spite of David Hunt and Alex Pruss)” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 52/3 (September, 2009): 537-544, and my The God Who Risks, 337, note 150.

[30] My thanks to William Hasker and David Woodruff for their invaluable assistance in preparing this article.

John Sanders

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

4 replies
  1. Mark
    Mark says:

    I would propose that it is not necessary for God’s foreknowledge to be absolute as long as both His love and power are absolute.
    If anything goes awry in His creation, the God who made it all is the God who can repair it all. And when He repairs, He repairs according to supreme love.
    For me this releases my mind from a lot of logical tension stemming from out of reach mysteries of time, eternity and forknowledge.


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