God and the Governance of His Universe (Pt. Three)

Having rejected Calvinism's views of how God governs His universe, including the manner in which He relates to the creatures whom He created in His own image; having also found no use or relevance in the theories of Molinism, but perceive those theories as being far too speculative to be a viable option; I concluded that the only options remaining are either Open Theism or classical Arminianism, the latter of which holds to classic Theistic views of God, though modified somewhat on a few particular notions regarding God and time, and to what extent He intervenes in the affairs of human beings.

In a private conversation with a friend recently I admitted that, while I remain unconvinced of Open Theism, I find it not only fascinating but also a better option than Molinism. I would eagerly adopt the former before I would the latter (and I have absolutely no intention of adopting Open Theism). I also think that, while Molinism is misunderstood by some persons, Open Theism suffers not from misunderstanding as much as from being misrepresented by its detractors. Still, I find the classical Arminian approach to God's knowledge, foreknowledge, and divine concurrence the best option of all possible options. I find it simple without being naïvely simplistic.

I define time as a succession of moments. In an uncomplicated sense I would state that, since God has always existed, then time has always existed because of His existence. Time, as a succession of moments, will always exist into the future. Once we are delivered from our timeliness then we will understand time completely. I do not believe that God "pops in and out of time," but that we can only measure time -- as a succession of moments -- because of the existence of God. This is my weltanschauung (worldview). Others with differing views of the world, God, and time will maintain their own beliefs.

God, existing within an unavoidable framework of a succession of moments (time), since He Himself contextualizes and makes evident the existence of time by His own existence, knows and understands, according to Arminius and classical Arminians, "all things and every one, which, in what manner soever, either have, will have, have had, can have, or might hypothetically have, a being of any kind;" by which understanding God also "distinctly understands the order, connection, and relation of all and each of them between each other; and the entities of reason, those beings which exist, or which can exist, in the mind, imagination, and enunciation."1 What some care to know is how God understands or knows all things.

First, I appreciate Daniel D. Whedon's remarks: The difficulty regarding future free will acts, and God's foreknowledge of those acts, does "not indeed lie in the compatibility of the two. The real difficulty (which we distinctly profess to leave forever insoluble), as may soon more clearly appear, is to conceive how God came by that foreknowledge." He continues:
But that is no greater difficulty than to conceive how God came by his omnipotence or self-existence. It will be a wise theologian who will tell us how God came by his attributes. It will require a deep thinker to tell how the universe or its immensity came about by its real or actual deity; or how the present self-existent came to be, and no other.2
The point is well-taken: the origin of the attribute of God's omniscience is no more problematic than is the origin of any of His other attributes. Second, I agree with Arminius' response as to the origin of God's attribute of omniscience:
God knows all things, neither by intelligible [species] representations, nor by similitude, but by His own and sole essence; with the exception of evil things, which He knows indirectly by the good things opposed to them, as privation is known [mediante habitu] by means of the habit.

The mode by which God understands, is, not by composition and division, not by ... gradual argumentation, but by simple and infinite intuition, according to the succession of order and not of time.3
Does God know contingencies? "He knows all possible things [1 Sam. 23:9, 10, 11, 12, 13] in the perfection of their own essence, and therefore all things impossible."4 In what order does God know contingencies?
(1.) He knows what things can exist by His own primary and sole act. (2.) He knows what things from the creatures, whether they will come into existence [e.g., a newborn infant] or not, can exist by His conservation, motion, assistance, concurrence, and permission. (3.) He knows what things He can do about the acts of the creatures [convenienter] consistently with Himself or with these acts.5
This knowledge, however, is not always and in all cases deemed necessary as much as "certain and infallible: So that He sees certainly and infallibly even things future and contingent; whether He sees them in their causes, or in themselves. But this infallibility depends on the infinity of the essence of God, and not on His unchangeable will."6 This latter assertion -- that God does not know the future due to His decreeing every minutiae of the future -- caused him grief by his Calvinistic detractors, leading many of them to conclude that Arminius and classical Arminians deny the sovereignty of God. No statement could be further from the truth.

As noted in a previous post, Arminius was startled by the Calvinists of his day charging him as deviating from belief in the sovereignty of God. But Dr. Roger Olson is spot on in his critique on this issue when he argues: "Of course, when Calvinists say that Arminians do not believe in God's sovereignty, they undoubtedly are working with an a priori notion of sovereignty such that no concept but their own can possibly pass muster."7 This is tantamount to blaming a compass for pointing North when the pole has been secretly moved to the South. Calvinists erroneously define the sovereignty of God within a frame of determinism and then blame everyone else for rejecting God's sovereignty who cannot adopt the error of determinism. We do not deny God's sovereignty -- we deny determinism. The two are not synonymous.

Arminius taught God's sovereignty as His "providential upholding of the created order" (cf. Col. 1:15, 16, 17; Heb. 1:1, 2, 3); that His divine concurrence is His "consent to and cooperation with creaturely decisions and actions," and that no one "could decide or act without God's concurring power."8 Can God just do anything toward His creatures? Dr. Olson answers:
The Dutch theologian allowed no inherent limitation of God by creation but only by God's own character, which is love and justice. 'God can indeed do what He wills with His own; but He cannot will to do with His own what He cannot rightfully do, for His will is circumscribed within the bounds of justice.' In this Arminius was not arguing that God is limited by human justice; Arminius did not believe that God is beholden to human notions of justice.

However, he did believe that God's justice cannot be so foreign to the very best understandings of justice, especially as communicated in God's Word, that it is emptied of meaning. Thus, although God has the right and the power to do whatever He wishes with any creature, God's character as supreme love and justice makes certain acts of God inconceivable.9
Thus when Calvinists refer to Romans 9:20, 21 in an effort to insist that God can do or decree whatever atrocity one imagines conceivable toward any one of His creatures, we believe they abuse Scripture, and fail to take into consideration God's justice and love, referring (preferring) rather God's wrath at creatures whom He decreed to rebel and sin against Him and, hence, betray the inherent justice of God Himself.

God's understanding of His creatures is absolute. No one acts because God has decreed for the individual to act in any given manner:
How certain soever the acts of God's understanding may itself be, this does not impose any necessity on things, but it rather establishes contingency in them. For as He knows the thing itself and its mode, if the mode of the thing be contingent, He must know it as such, and therefore it remains contingent with respect to the Divine knowledge.10
As mentioned previously, we do agree with Molinists regarding God's knowledge of the future, as against the confessions of Open Theists, especially as the latter conflate certainty with necessity. Dr. Keathley rightly insists: "Certainty is a property of persons. Necessity is a property of statements."11 God's foreknowledge of our future free will choices is certain without naming the choices as necessary. Our choices are certain because we choose them. They would be necessary only if God decreed them.

Is the future fixed because God foreknows what we shall do? Yes, yet this in no sense whatsoever detracts from the fact that what we shall do in the future we do freely. What we shall do in the future we do not because God decreed it, not even because He foreknew it, but because we were granted a measure of freedom by our Creator to the performance of it. Since God's foreknowledge is in no sense causal, we are free to perform what He foreknows we will freely perform. Can we do otherwise than what He foreknows we will freely do? No, not because His foreknowledge of our acts renders them necessary, but because they are certain -- we still perform the action(s) freely.

Open Theists hold that we are not truly free to perform the action that God foreknows we will perform. But based on what qualification? The point of the matter is the freedom of the act, not God's relation to the act itself in time, be it foreknown or otherwise. What we do we do freely and not because He decreed it or foreknew it. We could have chosen otherwise, with certainty, and God would have still foreknown the contrary choice. If God's foreknowing an act was the primary or secondary cause of the act then I could agree with Open Theists. However, the act itself remains free by definition -- even sufficiently and primarily caused by the one performing the act -- regardless of God's foreknowledge of it. Arminius continues:
Free knowledge, or that of vision, which is also called "Prescience," is not the cause of things: But the knowledge which is practical and of simple intelligence, and which is denominated "natural," or "necessary," is the cause of all things by the mode of prescribing and directing, to which is added the action of the will and of the capability. The middle or intermediate [kind of] knowledge [i.e., middle knowledge] ought to intervene in things which depend on the liberty of created [arbitrii] choice or pleasure.12
Arminius concludes that, from the "variety and multitude of objects, and from the means and mode of intelligence and vision [foreknowledge], it is apparent that infinite knowledge and omniscience are justly attributed to God; and that they are so proper or peculiar to God according to their objects, means and mode, as not to be capable of appertaining to any created thing."13 Calvinists who insist that Arminianism inevitably leads to Open Theism are quite mistaken; and, truly, only reveals the underlying agenda of such a Calvinist for insisting as much.

We believe the classical Arminian position on God's simple foreknowledge (cf. Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:1-2 ESV), as remaining part of the essence of God, aids the interpreter of Scripture when reading passages referring to His foreknowing events and decisions before such come to fruition. He foreknew such not because He decreed them, but because, from His own sole essence, He knew them as certain, even possible events that will never occur (cf. 1 Sam. 23:9-13), but without the imposition of necessity. 


1 Jacob Arminius, "Seventy-Five Private Disputations: Disputation XVII. On the Understanding of God," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 2:341.

2 Daniel D. Whedon, Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 229.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006), 116.

8 Ibid., 117.

9 Ibid., 119-20.

10 Arminius, 2:342.

11 Kenneth D. Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 17-18.

12 Arminius, 2:342.

13 Ibid., 2:343.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.