God of the Possible:
by Gregory A. Boyd, Baker Books, 2000, 173 pages.
Gregory Boyd does not accept that God foreknows and causes all things to happen. Such a notion, he argues, is a concession to platonic thought that has found its way into Christian theology through the centuries. He does concede that the Scriptures do testify to some things being known in advance and even caused by God, but insists that this is only part of the story. The biblical narrative also depicts a God who changes, depending on circumstances and actions of free agents in the world. It is not legitimate, he says, to treat the former passages as literally true and the latter as speaking metaphorically, as classical determinists tend to do. When both sets of Scripture are taken into account we get a picture of a God who has an agenda for the world, but does not rely on the future as being exhaustively settled.
Boyd is undeterred by the fact that his is a minority position within historical theology. It is only natural, he argues, that as the platonic world view is loosing its prominence in society at large, Christians would begin to question some of their theological conclusions developed against a platonic backdrop. Indeed, he says that once we are freed to read the biblical narrative as it stands without imposing predetermined conclusions on it based on Greek philosophy we naturally come to an open view of God.
Identifying himself as an evangelical, Boyd rejects process theology in which God is said to know nothing of the future. But, based on the biblical account, he insists that the future is settled to the degree that God wants it to be settled and open to the degree that he wants it to be open. This is largely the case, he says, because God chose to create a world containing free moral agents, meaning of course, that God will not always get his way as these agents make poor choices. This does not compromise God’s sovereignty, he says, because God’s sovereignty is not one of control but of love. God’s sovereignty is enhanced, he notes, if God’s foreknowledge includes all the possibilities that “might be” instead of simply all things as they “will be”.
With this new set of lenses, Boyd says, we begin to notice within the biblical story that God sometimes regrets a particular action, asks questions about the future, is surprised by the way people behave, gets frustrated, tests people so he can know their hearts, speaks in terms of what may or may not be and reverses his intentions depending on what happens. Of particular note, he says, is the image of the potter and the clay in Jeremiah 18. The point of the image, he insists, is not that God can do with the world whatever he wants but that he is flexible, willing to start over when things go wrong.
Boyd sees some practical benefits to a vision of a God of the possible. It provides a coherence to biblical revelation that makes sense to the average person and is consistent with how we in fact live our lives. It provides a motivation to get involved with God in creating a better future. Prayer becomes urgent and effectual. The problem of evil is reduced by admitting that God is not its author. And we are comforted in our own pain and difficulties because we know that God is on our side.
This is a landmark book for me. Boyd expresses explicitly what I have believed implicitly for a long time. Far from Plato’s notion of an “impersonal principle” or Aristotle’s idea of “the unmoved mover”, logical conclusions within the framework of determinism, the biblical concept of God is that he invites his creation to participate with him in creating a better future – a future that at this point is foreknown by God only as a possibility.
As Gilbert Bilezikian notes, “Any serious discussion of the doctrine of the sovereignty of God must now demonstrate knowledge of this thesis and interact with it intelligently.”