Following on from the previous post, let me give an example of how the rubber might hit the road according to the two different doctrines of God, ie classical theism and theistic personalism. My example lies in the significant, and contentious, area of providence with reference to human free-will.
Under classical theism, God is pure being. Nothing can exist apart from him, and he creates ex nihilo, his creation therefore being separate and ontologically quite distinct from him. Furthermore, since nothing can exist apart from him even for a moment, he is the First Cause of everything, including every event. Therefore Thomas Aquinas (for example – but remember he summarises the whole tradition from Augustine and is followed by all the early Reformers) spells out quite clearly that the whole of creation, from start to finish, is one single good act of God’s eternal will.
That will includes the creation of rational beings with their own genuinely free, and morally accountable, will, yet determines how those free wills will act in the big scheme of his final purpose. So Jesus (as God) can say that Judas’ betrayal is inevitable, yet that Judas is punishable for it. And likewise, God himself is not the author of evil, though his will oversees all evil acts. God can say that men choose freely to believe, and yet that he predestines them to be conformed to Christ. And all this is because our wills can only possibly exist within God’s will.
Now, such things are difficult to get our heads round, yet they are philosophically consistent only because God’s mode of being is different to ours. He is eternal, simple, omniscient, omnipotent and immutable, and his divine will is only analogous to our human will. It’s not that he has more free will than us (as I once heard an Arminian Baptist preacher say), but that his ways are not our ways, and are infinitely higher than ours: we can understand them only by analogy, in a limited way – and that only if we’re prepared to dig deep, and not trifle. But that’s fine, because God adapts his word to our understanding, and covers the rest in mystery. Deuteronomy 29.29 relates.
But theistic personalism will have none of that. God’s will is like our will, only bigger (unless he deliberately reigns back his will in a “kenotic” way, which is sheer impossibility under classical theism). Our wills are absolutely free, and his will is too, but it is within the same landscape of wills competing for space. So his will can only affect our freedom in the ways that another human might.
He might entice us by love (which indeed he does). He might persuade us by arguments or signs (which indeed he does). He might threaten us with punishment (which he does too). But if those “fail” to bring us into line, there is a pure clash of wills: God, the big guy, could reach in and mess with our minds, but that would be coercion and most ungentlemanly. In fact, he’d be worse than the worst Communist brainwasher. Who is God to tread on my autonomy? A loving God, being just like any other loving person, will keep his nose out of my business, and probably weep himself to sleep at night over my incomprehensible ingratitude. You’ve just got to pity him, in such an intractable fix.
And so whilst God might, with only a little tinkering with Jesus’s words, foresee that Judas will betray him, there’s no way it must happen, and certainly no way that God wills it to happen. Of course, in the more logical extensions of neotheism, like Open Theism, even God’s foresight is limited to a more refined version of what human reason could predict, and he himself is just another player in the landscape of space-time. The future is unknowable, even to an omniscient God, because it does not exist yet. So Jesus’ words must be interpreted as meaning either that that Old Testament guy had a lucky guess when prophesying, or that somebody was, given human nature, bound to betray him eventually, and Judas happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. Which is grammatically possible, I suppose, if you’re committed to the TP framework.
Now I’m willing to bet that most Christians nowadays will gravitate to the second position, because the first makes God so distant and other, and the the second brings him down to a more user-friendly level. And we do like God to be at our level because, as they began to rediscover from the pagans in the Renaissance, “Man is the measure of all things.”
We all know what the Bible says, don’t we (because I read it off a 1971 Jethro Tull album cover)? “In the beginning Man created god: and in the image of Man created he him.”