Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Is This the Best of All Possible Worlds?

In his book, Christian Theology, Millard Erickson has developed a unique model for reconciling the perceived problem of the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man. He agrees with the Calvinist in holding to the Biblical notion that God’s decree has predetermined all human outcomes. At the same time, he propounds the notion of human freewill. His definition of freewill is somewhat unique, but not unheard of. Freewill to him concerns man’s ability as opposed to his actual performance. “What we are saying is that God renders it certain that a person who could act (or could have acted) differently does in fact act in a particular way (the way that God wills).” In order to unite the two seemingly disparate concepts, he has brought forth the hypothesis that God, in His foreknowledge, looks at all the infinite genetic combinations possible. He then only brings into existence those people who have the chemical combinations that will desire to accomplish the ends He has predestined. His hypothesis falls mainly on two points as I see it. First, it purports a form of chemical determinism that I think is incompatible with the Scriptural concept of being created in the unique image of God. When God breathed the breath (spirit) of life into the flesh of man, He caused him to be a living soul. This union of spirit and flesh that God combined to form the soul of man is what makes him unique among all creation. It is this imago dei in man that makes him uniquely capable of relationship with God as opposed to some sort of materialistic bent. If, after all, the ability to relate to God were inexorably linked to man’s genetic structure, his relationship would be destroyed with the destruction of the body. The foremost problem with Erickson’s hypothesis is its link to chemical determinism and materialism. The second problem with the theory is the concept of “possible” beings verses beings God “brings into existence”. This is reminiscent of and is dangerously similar to the Mormon concept of “spirit babies”. There is an eschatological difference, but the concept of God placing a predetermined person (whether termed “spirit”, or “genetic combination”) into a body upon conception seems to be a violation of the Bible’s concept of anthropology.

A correct concept of anthropology is at the root of this argument. While I have not studied Erickson’s anthropology, this theory would indicate he holds to a materialistic view of man. This theory is based on the fact that man’s physical, chemical makeup determines his actions, down to, as Erickson wrote, the very choice to move his finger to the left rather than the right. James Watson and Francis Crick would agree. In Kevin Davies’ book, Cracking the Human Genome, Italian Nobel laureate Renato Dulbecco, while he was publicizing the Human Genome Project, was quoted as saying, “DNA is the reality of our species, and everything that happens in the world depends on those sequences.” No matter how Erickson tries to circumvent the problem, when man’s ontology is reduced to material combinations, he has no freedom. The Bible teaches man is much more than a programmed combination of chemicals. If that were the case then salvation would be reduced to the modern psychological concept of curing chemical imbalances through medication. As with most attempts to rationally reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freewill, either man is made less than he is or God is made less than He is.
As Erickson admitted, his hypothesis is, “in many ways similar to the argument of Gottfried von Leibniz in his Theodicy. Whereas Erickson posits God examining all possible chemical combinations, Leibniz saw God as knowing the “realm of essences that contained an infinite number of possibilities.” Their theories differ in God’s activity in the world once His initial choice is made. By recognizing God’s day-to-day involvement in His creation, Erickson skirted the almost inevitable conclusion of deism drawn by Leibniz. By doing this, he moved the apparent tension from sovereignty/freewill to a deistic verses Biblical view of God’s involvement in the lives of man.

While seemingly similar, the Arminian idea of foreknowledge differs from Erickson’s concept. Arminians see God as knowing all future possible actions of existing individuals. As stated above, Erickson sees God’s foreknowledge as seeing all possible genetic combinations and only bringing into existence the ones who will mechanistically accomplish His will. In the Arminian view, God is simply looking into the future at the freewill actions of his creation and declaring that to be His will. Despite the problems with Erickson’s theory, he does hold a higher view of the sovereignty of God than the Arminian. His view has God’s foreknowledge based on possibilities that He will actively bring into existence. It keeps sovereignty in God’s hands rather than transferring it to the control of man. As I indicated earlier, most attempts to rationally reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freewill result in the loss of who God is, or what Schaeffer calls man’s “mannishness”. The Arminian loses God – Erickson loses man.


Post a Comment

Search Deep Riches