Deconstruction, Classical Theism, and Abraham’s Silence: Conceptual Connections between Three Blog Posts

I had a revelation about the last three blog posts I’ve written, specifically about how they are all connected.

One post was on deconstruction and reconstruction of faith. One was on why I am not a classical theist. And the third was my creative proposal for what Abraham should have said to God in Genesis 22 (instead of his silent attempt to sacrifice Isaac).

I have come to realize there are multiple connections between these blog posts. I was aware of some of them at the time, but other connections seem to have been subconscious.

Deconstruction and Reconstruction of Classical Theism and Abraham’s Silence

I already understood that I was “deconstructing” classical theism and the traditional interpretation of Abraham’s silence.

My “reconstruction” of the former was to suggest that a relational view of God was more faithful to Scripture than a view of God as unmoved by anything outside of the divine nature.

My “reconstruction” of the latter was to argue that Abraham should have protested God’s command for him to sacrifice his son and prayed for Isaac, rather than silently attempting to obey the command (that was the basic argument of my book Abraham’s Silence).

God’s Relationality as the Basis for Critiquing Abraham’s Silent Obedience

In Abraham’s Silence, among the reasons I gave for why Abraham should have pleaded with God for his son was the prominent biblical pattern of vigorous prayer (found in the lament psalms, Moses’s intercession for Israel, Job’s protests, Abraham’s bold intercession for Sodom, and Jesus’s teaching on prayer in the New Testament).

This understanding of prayer is grounded firmly in a relational view of God—a God who is impacted by the human dialogue partner, in distinction to the the immovable God of classical theism.

I guess that this view of God is so ingrained in me that I didn’t have to consciously think about it.

(Neo)Platonism and Abraham’s Silence

Then, some comments by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat in response to my blog about classical theism suggested a further connection between the three posts—namely, Neoplatonism, or at least the traditions of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy that preceded Neoplatonism proper.

It was in those traditions of Greek philosophy that we get the idea that God is unaffected by emotion or by any outside influences.

And if humans are made in the image of this God, then we would naturally valorize (in Sylvia Keesmaat’s words) “the strong silent male who doesn’t demonstrate any emotion when asked to do something that should tear his heart out, and who believes that God is not open to dialogue and challenge.”

This is remarkably similar to how Abraham is thought of in many traditional interpretations of Genesis 22.

So—wonder of wonders—it actually looks like there is some coherence to my thinking about disparate subjects (even when I am not aware of it).

What Abraham Might Have Said: An Alternative to Abraham’s Silence in Genesis 22

My book Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God (Baker Academic, 2021) was published just over a year ago.

I am grateful for the many people—scholars, clergy, and lay people—who have engaged my argument that Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice Isaac should not be viewed as positive. As many reviewers have noted, my argument isn’t meant to be iconoclastic or trendy. Rather, I tried to show on biblical grounds (both from the overall context of Scripture and from detailed attention to Genesis 22) why we should question whether Abraham’s response to God was appropriate.

Not everyone has been convinced by my argument. But I have been deeply honored by how many people have taken the book seriously and interacted with it, whether in blog posts, journal reviews, or Facebook messages and emails. And I am gratified that even when readers haven’t been convinced of my interpretation of Genesis 22, most have found my overall argument about the biblical model of vigorous prayer (and especially my exposition of the book of Job in chapters 3 and 4) to be helpful.

This serious engagement (along with disagreement) was on display at the panel discussion of Abraham’s Silence at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) in Denver, on November 21, 2022.

I am extremely thankful for the six panelists, who graciously interacted with the book and raised important questions about many aspects of my argument.

The panel was jointly sponsored by two SBL program units: The Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures and The National Association of Professors of Hebrew.

Panelists for SBL Discussion of Abraham’s Silence.

We had six biblical scholars on the panel—Shai Held, Rachel Adelman, Marv Sweeney, Carmen Imes, Rebekah Eklund, and Brittany Kim. Since Brittany came down with COVID during the conference, Megan Roberts kindly read her paper.

We made sure to have a wide variety of panelists, Jewish and Christian; male and female; established, mid-career, and relatively new scholars.

My Response to the Panelists

Instead of responding to every question posed by the panelists (since they covered so much ground), I focused on clarifying even further (beyond what I said in the book) the rationale for my interpretation of the Aqedah, particularly the core of my argument that Abraham’s response was less than optimal.

To that end I gave further evidence for Abraham’s lack of love for Isaac (which even Sarah recognized), such that it would make no sense to think that the test was whether he was more committed to God than to his son.

Middleton Giving Panel Response (photo curtesy of Jill Firth)

I emphasized (much more than I did in the book) that it is almost impossible to go beyond the constraints of the traditional reading of Genesis 22, given how powerfully the history of interpretation exerts pressure upon readers of the text.

It is almost impossible, but not quite. However, it does require readers to be self-aware of when they are actually doing exegesis and not simply falling into the default interpretation because it seems “obvious.”

I spent most of my response in giving a fuller explanation of why I thought that the angel speeches did not validate Abraham’s response, but rather articulated God’s gracious compensation for Abraham’s failure (or, to put it less harshly, his less than adequate response to the test).

But Doesn’t the New Testament Exalt Abraham for His Response to God in Genesis 22?

In my response paper, I also touched on the question of why the New Testament (especially Hebrews 11 and James 2) views Abraham’s response to God positively (this is the most common question I receive from Christian readers about Abraham’s Silence).

Although my comments here were very brief, I pointed out that whatever we think of Hebrews 11, other passages in Hebrews clearly affirm the validity of lament both in the life of Jesus and in the life of believers.

Hebrews 5 notes that: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). This is the sort of reverence or fear of God that is fully compatible with vigorous grappling.

And Hebrews 4 encourages the reader with these words: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). So however we take the affirmation of Abraham in Hebrews 11, this is clearly not an epistle that endorses silent submission to God.

Given the need to address the above issue, I plan to write an article that examines the explicit and implicit references to the Aqedah in the New Testament; this will be in the context of trying to understand how the New Testament typically appeals to the Old Testament.

What Abraham Might Have Said: The Aqedah in an Alternative Timeline

I concluded my response by reading a “script” that I wrote of what Abraham might have said to God in place of the silent obedience recorded in Genesis 22 (we could think of it as the Aqedah in an alternative timeline).

In some ways, thinking of what Abraham might have said is the best argument against his silent attempt to sacrifice his son.

My thanks to Bill Brown of Columbia Theological Seminary, who inquired if I had written such a script. Back on October 5, he wrote:

What would it be like to rewrite Genesis 22 in the way that you would conceive it with Abraham passing the “test” with flying colors? Do you have a script for that? If not, you should have! (Wouldn’t that be fun to present at your panel review?)  

His request prodded me to write it that very afternoon and then send it to him. He used the script in one of his classes the following day. It is amazing how requests from others can often be writing prompts.

I have inserted biblical references within the script (below) where I have drawn on language from elsewhere in Scripture. Most of the references are to Moses’s bold prayer at the golden calf in Exodus 32.

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After these things, God tested Abraham. He said, “Abraham.”

His faithful servant answered, “Here I am.”

“Take your son,” said the Lord, “your only one—whom you love—Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him up as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I will show you.”

And Abraham was dumbfounded.

Was this God speaking? The God he had come to know?

Abraham knew there were many gods, as many as the peoples of all the lands he had traveled through—from Ur in Mesopotamia to Haran in Aram to the towns and cities of Canaan. And many of them required child sacrifice as a sign of devotion.

But could his God be asking this too? He thought he had been coming to know the character of the one called El Shaddai—that this One was different from the gods of the nations.

Could God really mean for him to kill his own son? Why? What would it prove? How could this be God’s will?

Abraham was shell shocked—and silent for a time.

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But then he plucked up his courage and with the chutzpah that would come to be recognized as emblematic of the later people descended from him, Abraham spoke up. At first his voice was quavering.

Ah, Lord God, he said. Are you really asking me to kill this young, innocent lad?

Do you really want me to live with the everlasting memory of his blood on my hands? Do you want to subject me to a lifetime of nightmares and flashbacks of me taking a knife to his young neck? Do you really want to do this to me?

Have mercy, Lord.

I know that I have not been close to this boy, not nearly as close as to my firstborn, Ishmael. That boy I loved, and you forced me to send him away.

Now you want me to kill the only son I have left.

Isaac was always Sarah’s favorite. Do you know what this will do to her? She will die too—if not physically, then she will die inside.

She and I already have problems between us, because of Hagar and Ishmael. I know it was her idea; but it backfired. Sarah is already distant from me. Do you want to drive us further apart?

But if you don’t have pity on me or my wife, Lord, have pity on the boy! He has done nothing to deserve this. Why should his life be cut short just to show my dedication to you?

Do you want his last memory to be of me, his father, tying him down like a sheep for slaughter and then taking a butcher knife to his neck? You can’t want that, Lord!

Are you angry with me? Why does your wrath burn hot against me, the one you brought out of Ur of the Chaldees and out of Haran, to this land? [Exodus 32:11] What have I done to so offend you, Master of the Universe?

Plus, you made a promise to me and to Sarah, that through this boy our descendants would become a great nation. What will become of your promise then?

No—I am going to hold you to your word, Lord. I have told many of the peoples of this land, whom I have met, of what you pledged to do through the line of Isaac.

But if they hear of this, that you have commanded his death—for whatever reason—do you know how that will look?  It will reflect badly on you.

The Philistines and the Egyptians (whose kings I deceived that Sarah was my sister) will hear of it and they will think that it was with evil intent that you gave me this boy—only to kill him on the mountains and to consume him from the face of the earth. [Exodus 32:12a]

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And then Abraham was silent, wondering if he had overstepped his bounds.

He remembered that when he had pled for Sodom, he modulated his boldness, admitting that he was just dust and ashes. [Genesis 18:27] And he twice asked God not to be angry with him for interceding for that evil people. [Genesis 18:30, 32a]

His boldness came from his concern for Lot and his family, living in Sodom. What would become of them if God destroyed that evil city?

He had asked God to save the city if there could be found fifty innocent people there. God agreed. So he asked for forty-five, then forty; then thirty, then twenty. [Genesis 18:24–31] But he stopped at ten. [Genesis 18:32] He didn’t have the courage to ask God to save the city for less than that.

But Lot and his family were eight at the most. At the time he didn’t think he could push God quite that far. It seemed like asking for too much.

**********************************

But now, what did he have to lose?

So Abraham dug deep and found his courage and his voice again. He cried out:

I know I am far from innocent. Lord, take me instead of my son. But, whatever you do, do not kill this innocent boy.

Will you really sweep away the innocent with the wicked? [Genesis 18:23]

Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the innocent with the wicked, so that the innocent fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? [Genesis 18:25]

No Lord. I plead with you: change your mind. Turn from your fierce wrath and do not bring this evil upon your chosen one! [Exodus 32:12b]

And the Lord changed his mind about the evil he was about to bring on Isaac. [Exodus 32:14]

And God spoke from heaven, saying:

Well done, good and faithful servant. [Matthew 25:23]

You have understood that I am, indeed, a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, showing love to thousands. [Exodus 34:6-7a]

Indeed, I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. [Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13]

But what good would it do to just tell you that? What would those mere words mean to you?

But by your bold intercession for your son you have attained true knowledge of the God you serve.

Indeed, you dared to call on me to be faithful to my promise. That demonstrated your trust in me. And trust is better than blind submission.

So, yes, Abraham, I have granted your request. Isaac is redeemed by your prayer.

Go in peace and enjoy life with your wife, Sarah, and your son, whom you are beginning to love.

And then God departed from his servant Abraham.

**********************************

It wasn’t clear before Abraham’s intercession that he had much love for Isaac.

But now, having stood up for him, defending him against God’s seeming desire to slay him, a few sparks of love began to flow between father and son.

And Abraham began to nurture that love and fan the sparks into a fire—with the hope that his family might be healed.

And Abraham’s taught his children and his household the way of the Lord. [Genesis 18:19] His descendants were known from then on for their surpassing mercy and generosity to all the families of the earth. Indeed, they were a blessing to all nations. [Genesis 12:3]

You can download the full script here.

God’s Relationality and Eternity in the Bible: Why I Am Not a Classical Theist

There is a traditional understanding of God,” stretching from the Patristic period through to Modern times, which claims that God is “atemporal” (outside of time) and is “simple,” in that he is pure being, transcending finitude in such a way that all of God’s attributes are essentially one. Christians who are attracted to this understanding of God often appeal to Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of divine simplicity as the model.

I learned this understanding of God as “classical theism,” although I realize that this term can be used in a broader sense. So perhaps I need to say that I am focusing here on the “classical” understanding of “classical theism.”

In this view, God is thought to be unaffected by the world or anything outside of himself. Of course, proponents of this view can’t outright deny that God is Creator (which implies a relationship with creation), yet they often posit that whatever sort of relationship God has with that which is not-God, this does not affect God in any way.

The reasoning is that if God were affected by anything outside of the divine self, this would demean God. This particular idea is central to Aristotle’s understanding of the “unmoved mover” in Metaphysics Book 10 (I wrestled with this chapter in a graduate paper I wrote during my MA studies).

Part of Aristotle’s argument is that God must be immutable (that is, unchanging) because God is perfect; any change in a perfect God would therefore be a degeneration, a change for the worse.

Aristotle also assumed (as did his teacher, Plato) that to be the subject of “action” (to be an agent) is better than to be the object of “passion” (to be the recipient of someone else’s action). Since God is perfect, he must be “impassible,” in that nothing affects him. This is a more technical way of articulating the doctrine of divine immutability.

Many Christian theologians have bought into some version of this understanding of God.

My Encounter with Classical Theism

When I was working on my MA in philosophy, I had to confront the question of what I thought of this version of classical theism.

In my MA thesis I compared Thomas Aquinas and Paul Tillich on the nature of God language (the thesis was entitled “Analogy and Symbol: Contrasting Approaches to the Problem of God Language in Thomas Aquinas and Paul Tillich”).

I didn’t particularly agree with Tillich (though I learned a lot from him), but neither did I find Aquinas’s views adequate.

I delved into primary texts by Aquinas, such as Summa Theologiae and Summa contra Gentiles (among others), exploring Aquinas’s analogia entis or “analogy of being.” This analogy of being (for which Aquinas is famous) grounded his theory of analogical language—how we are able to use language that derives from our experience of the finite world to say anything true about God who is beyond time and finitude.

I had recently taken a year-long course on the Neoplatonic philosopher, Plotinus, where we read his Enneads in Greek; so it was clear to me that Aquinas’s analogia entis was based on Plotinus’s metaphysics, his theory of how finite reality participated in the being of the ultimate reality (which he called the One).

It was also clear to me that Plotinus’s highly abstract understanding of the divine nature (which formed the basis for the view of God in classical theism) contrasted significantly with how God was described in the Bible.

I remember one day reading a particularly illuminating Old Testament passage: Psalm 18:1–19. The psalmist describes his cry for help followed by God coming down from heaven to save him from the waters of chaos that were engulfing him.

I was particularly struck by the theophany in verses 7–15, the dazzling vision of God aroused in anger: “Smoke went up from his nostrils / and devouring fire from his mouth; / glowing coals flamed forth from him” (Psalm 18:8). God rode upon a cherub, bowed the heavens, and came down to deliver the supplicant in cloud and thunder and lightning, parting the waters by the blast of his nostrils.

It was a breathtaking vision. This psalmist had no qualms about describing God in the most outlandish way (so outlandish that Rastafarians could come to use verse 8 as proof that JAH smokes weed); the text piles up images and metaphors to portray just how much God was affected by the suffering of his faithful servant.

That day I decided that classical theism was bankrupt. I was convinced that the “god” of classical theism is not the God of the Bible.

I saw (and continue to see) at least two major problems with the understanding of God in classical theism. My analysis here is from the perspective of a biblical scholar; theologians and philosophers might focus on different issues.

God’s Relationality (and Adaptability)

First of all, the view of God in classical theism simply does not match the way God is portrayed in the Bible, where God enters into genuine relationships with creatures, and is significantly affected (changed) by these relationships. God changes.

I have often heard Christians object: “But the Bible says that God doesn’t change; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

This is actually a quote about the historical Jesus, the Word incarnate. Hebrews 13:8 states: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Furthermore, Luke’s Gospel says: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in maturity [the word can mean in age or in stature] and in divine and human favor” (Luke 2:52). Jesus clearly changed.

What can Hebrews mean, then, by saying that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever?

The point is that he is consistently loving and faithful; his character remains constant.

This is the (distorted) truth behind the idea of divine immutability. God is loving and faithful. This unchangeable faithfulness (paradoxically) leads God to be constantly adapting to new situations in order to accomplish his purpose. God’s character leads him to seek the redemption of humanity and the world. This is what, ultimately, leads God to the cross.

I could easily write an entire article on this theme in the Bible, but I won’t do that here (see the recommended books listed at the end of this blog post).

Despite the clear depiction in the Bible of God being affected by creatures—from God being grieved in his heart at the violence before the flood (Genesis 6:6) to God’s “repentance” or change of mind about destroying Israel after the idolatry of the golden calf (Exodus 32:14)—classical theists usually relegate such biblical language to mere metaphor or anthropomorphism.

Most crucially, classical theism is in fundamental contradiction with the central Christian understanding of the incarnation and the atoning death of Jesus.

Is God really “immutable” (= unchangeable) or did the Word actually become flesh? Is God really “impassible” (= unaffected) or has God truly known suffering in the “passion” of Christ?

This is a fundamental point for me, and also for those theologians known as “open theists,” who dissent from the idolatrous, philosophical “god” of classical theism.

God’s Eternity

Then there is the question of God being atemporal or outside of time.

An early articulation of this view is found in Augustine, who described God’s “eternity” (Greek aion) as his changeless mode of being (Confessions Book 11). Augustine was drawing on Plotinus’s treatise, “On Eternity and Time” (Enneads 3.7).

However, the Bible has no conception of an atemporal “eternity”—in either the Old or New Testament. No biblical texts that have the term “eternal” (in English translation) ever mean atemporality (being outside of time). This isn’t just my opinion; it is the view of every reputable biblical scholar I have encountered.

“Eternity” in the Old Testament: Hebrew Olam

The usual Hebrew word for “eternal” or “forever” in the Old Testament is olam. It has a temporal reference, pointing either backward or forward; thus, it means (depending on context) in/from the distant past (long ago) or in/into the distant future (days to come).

Some examples of olam used for the past include Deuteronomy 32:7, which speaks of “days of old,” and Genesis 6:4, which mentions “heroes of old.” Both Genesis 49:26 and Deuteronomy 33:15 use olam to refer to the “ancient mountains” (sometimes poetically translated as “everlasting hills”).

It is often used for the future in Exodus and Leviticus, with the sense of a “perpetual” statute or observance. In Deuteronomy 23:3 olam is used as a synonym for the tenth generation (that is, long into the future). In 1 Samuel 1:22 Hannah dedicates Samuel to serve as a priest “forever” (which means, of course, for his entire life). And Psalm 73:12 says that the wicked are “always” at ease.

There are many synonyms for olam in Hebrew; one such term is netsach which means “enduring” or “perpetual,” as in Psalm 74:3, which mentions the “perpetual ruins” of the temple. It is sometimes translated as “forever,” as in the psalmist’s anguished cry: “Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13:1)

But there is no concept (or term) in the Old Testament for an atemporal “eternity.”

In order to understand the idea of olam (the most common word rendered “eternal” in Biblical Hebrew), it is helpful to connect it to olam in Modern Hebrew. In Modern Hebrew the term olam has shifted from a temporal reference to a spatial reference. It now means “world,” hence the famous Hebrew motto, tikkun olam, “to establish (= heal) the world.”

If you think of olam as referring to everything you can see up to the horizon, that makes perfect sense (the “world” is everything in your line of sight, into the distance). In Biblical Hebrew, it is as if the writer is looking to the temporal horizon, as far as he can see/ conceptualize, whereas in Modern Hebrew, it is the spatial horizon.

Although olam does not mean literally “forever” or “eternal,” I don’t think we can exclude this meaning from the way the word is sometimes used. In some contexts, it may refer to time continuing on as far as you can imagine, and even beyond that (beyond the horizon)—which would come pretty close to our sense of forever.

By analogy, olam in modern Hebrew does in fact refer to the entire world (even beyond our vision).

What is clear, however, is that olam, even in the extended sense of time (beyond the horizon), would mean “eternal” in the sense of everlasting, that is, infinitely extended time, and not the lack of time (atemporality) as in Platonic thought. It never means beyond time; it is anachronistic to make Old Testament texts which have the English words “eternal” or “eternity” refer to anything non-temporal.

“Eternity” in the New Testament: Greek Aion

The Greek aion is a bit different. This is the word often translated “eternity” in the New Testament. I am an Old Testament scholar, so this is not my primary expertise.

But here is what I understand: The term aion in Classical Greek refers to life (or life-span), while in the New Testament it refers to an “age” (whether a definite or indefinite period of time).

Jesus says in the Great Commission that he would be with us even until the end of the aion (that is, the age). And we have the doctrine of the present age/aion and the age/aion to come (it is anachronistic to make these ages mean temporality in opposition to atemorality).

The phrase “eternal life” (that is, life of the aion) in the New Testament refers primarily to the new quality of (restored) life in God’s kingdom. This is why N. T. Wright translates zoen aionion in John 6:27 as “the life of God’s coming age” in his Kingdom New Testament.

I certainly believe that the life of the age to come will go on forever. This isn’t based on the word itself, but on other biblical teaching, such as the immortal nature of the resurrected body that Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 15.

God Has Entered Time and Space

It is an open question whether prior to the creation of the space-time universe God was outside of (beyond) time (the Bible never addresses that). However, once God created the cosmos he entered into a real relationship with creatures, which involved him entering time—and also space, if we take seriously the Old Testament notion of heaven as God’s throne room (the phrase “heaven and earth” describes the created cosmos).

So, ever since creation, God has become temporal. And God is significantly affected by his relationship with creatures. The Bible affirms that the risen Jesus, even after his ascension, still has the nail prints from crucifixion in his hands. Likewise, the Creator of the universe has been unalterably changed by being creator—even before the incarnation.

And, contrary to Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus—and classical theism—this is not to denigrate God.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God whom I worship, not the “god” (falsely so-called) of the philosophers.

Readings on God’s Relationship to the Created Order

If you want suggestions for readings that address some of these topics, I would recommend the following.

Terence Fretheim on God’s Relationship with Creation

Fretheim is the very best Old Testament theologian on God’s genuine relationship to creation as portrayed in Scripture. I wrote an appraisal of Fretheim’s contribution to creation theology here.

Fretheim and I have both been asked if we are “open theists.” We have both given similar answers, admitting that there is a clear resonance between our understanding of God and the position known as open theism. The difference is that we come to our understanding of God through biblical studies, not philosophy or theology.

Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984). This is Fretheim’s first book on the subject; short and insightful.

Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005). This is Fretheim’s magnum opus, tracing the theme throughout the Old Testament. I find his close reading of the biblical text, with his theological and ethical reflections, to be quite wonderful.

Terence E. Fretheim, God So Enters into Relationships That . . . : A Biblical View (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2020). This is Fretheim’s most recent book on the subject (published the year he died).

Nicholas Wolterstorff on “God Everlasting”

Nicholas Wolterstorff, “God Everlasting,” in God and the Good: Essays in Honor of Henry Stob, ed. Clifton Orlebeke and Lewis B. Smedes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 181–203.

Wolterstorff’s article is a classic, but the book is hard to get hold of. The article is reprinted in in Wolterstorff, Inquiring about God: Selected Essays, vol. 1 (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 133–156.

Wolterstorff explains: “All Christian theologians agree that God is without beginning and without end. The vast majority have held, in addition, that God is eternal, existing outside of time. Only a small minority have contended that God is everlasting, existing within time. In what follows I shall take up the cudgels for that minority, arguing that God as conceived and presented by the biblical writers is a being whose own life and existence is temporal.”

You could also check out Wolterstorff’s essay, “God Is Everlasting,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, ed. Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (5th ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 259–265.

Other Helpful Readings

J. R. Lucas, “The Vulnerability of God,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, ed. Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger (5th ed.; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 294–301. A most helpful article on open theism and its implications for thinking about evil. It is in the same volume as the Wolterstorff essay listed above. One of the editors of the volume, David Basinger, is a superb philosopher and valued faculty colleague at Roberts Wesleyan University, where he also serves as Chief Academic Officer.

Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible: An Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000). This book carefully analyzes most of the biblical texts that are debated between classical and open theists to see which position they best support.

Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001). I’ve listed this book primarily because of its title, which was chosen in explicit contrast to Aristotle’s “unmoved mover.” I first heard the term “open theism” (which was coined in 1994) from Clark Pinnock in 1996. He heard me give a presentation on the depiction of God in Genesis 1 (which became the basis for the last two chapters of my book, The Liberating Image). He came up to me and said, “So you’re an open theist.” I had never heard the term before that; I had to ask him what it meant.

Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Doweners Grove, IL: InterVarsity , 1994). The authors of this book described their position as “the open view of God,” which led to the term “open theism” being coined.

David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996). Basinger uses the term “freewill theism” for the position I have called “open theism.” Part of the issue is terminological; but it also represents a difference of emphasis, since Basinger’s book focuses primarily on the relationship of divine sovereignty to free will. He even uses the designation “classical theism” to describe three quite different theologically orthodox positions concerning the nature of God’s sovereignty (theological determinism, limited compatibilism, and freewill theism).

William C. Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God: Christ, Theology, and Scripture (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1994). In this accessible book, Placher understands God as willing to risk vulnerability in order to fully love creation. He begins by explicitly examining our doctrine of God, then explores the Gospel of Mark, and concludes with implications for Christian discipleship. In chapter 2 (“The Eternal God”), he examines (and refutes) the idea that God is timeless.

God and Time: Four Views, ed, Gregory E. Ganssle (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001). This book has essays by four philosophers on different ways we might think of God’s relationship to time (one of essays is by Nicholas Wolterstorff).

I am grateful to Dave Basinger and Jeff McPherson, my colleagues at Roberts Wesleyan University, for helpful feedback on and suggestions for this blog post.