Greg Boyd, Roger Olson, and a Serious Mistake

The argument between Arminians (this is how it is spelled btw) and Calvinists will perhaps continue until the return of Christ. Nevertheless, despite the debate never being resolved, I do think that some clarifications can be made. For instance, Reknew ministry (an open theist ministry, one of whose core beliefs is that the future does not exist and is only potentially known by God), recently contributed to the argument by posting quotes from Roger Olsen, Greg Boyd (the pastor who helms the ministry), and Benjamin Corely. The quote by Olsen is below:

Every devout, evangelical Christian believer I have ever met or heard of approaches Bible reading and study (including exegesis) with the assumption that the Bible is true (even if not strictly inerrant)—that it does not misidentify God and God’s will for us. But built into that assumption is that God, the Bible’s author (by inspiration of the human authors) is good (which is why he is trustworthy and cannot deceive). But belief that God “designs, foreordains, and governs” hell for the reprobate who are chosen by God for hell for his glory without regard to any truly free choices they make undermines belief in God’s goodness. So does belief that God “passes over” some he could easily save (because election to salvation is unconditional and saving grace is irresistible), damning them to hell, for his glory.

There is no conceivable analogous human behavior that we would call “good.” The very concept of “good” rules out such behavior. (To say nothing of Jesus’ own goodness and the New Testament’s commands for us to love our enemies and do good to them.)

Note the sentences in bold especially. Olson makes a claim, that on its surface, seems very pious. I would not, myself, want to ascribe something humanly immoral to God without sufficient reason. Olson also does not. Thus, he says, in effect, that since predestining people to hell would not be good for a human, it is thus impossible for God to do. Similarly, one could say, that since it is impossible for a human being to simultaneously be good and to make a giant perpetual nuclear bomb that would annihilate all nearby organic life and could potentially explode and destroy all life on its surrounding planets, thus it would be immoral for God to do the same. But, alas, stars exist and we call them good. 

Here’s the deal: God is not human. Goodness, as a quality, is not predicated to God the same way it is to humans. Thomas Aquinas argued, successfully, in my view that God is called good because God is being itself and God gives rise to all other beings. Thus, all being that are called good, are called good in relationship to their genus or their kind of being. A knife is good if it is sharp, a dog is good if it is alive and obedient to its master, and a human is good if in possession certain moral habits. Another way of saying this is that a knife is good if it does not lack qualities for which it exists. The same for the dog and the human. God exists as a matter of necessity because God is being as such. Thus, God lacks nothing necessary for his existence, therefore God is good. In fact, Aquinas and others before and after, argued that God is his goodness. What this means is that God is not a person who has to do x, y, and z to be good. God does not develop habits that make God good and if God were to do otherwise, God would become bad. In this respect, God has no moral obligations to us at all purely because he is good. The analogy to a human, that lets us call God good, is that of a human who does not lack that for which humans exist (to contemplate the good, to take dominion over the earth, etc)…God lacks nothing, thus is good and is goodness regardless of what God does in space-time. That is simply true.
The answer to Boyd/Olson/Corely’s consternation with Calvinism has to come from a consideration of what Scripture teaches, not from a misunderstanding of God’s nature. To conceive of God as a human who has to meet any standard of behavior that is explicitly and specifically human, is to (hopefully by accident), treat God as a giant super human. God is like me the conclusionn runs, just on a super scale…therefore if I have to eat to be in a healthy state, God must eat a super amount; if I have to sleep, God has to super sleep; if I have to be married to have children, then God has to be super-married.
If some iteration of Arminianism, Open-Theism, or Calvinism is true we will have to see what the text of Scripture teaches about God’s predestination of persons and his relationship to the future. Making claims about God’s morality as if God were a giant space-man, subject to the rules of human existence is not only silly, but potentially idolatrous.
Incidentally, it seems possible that the question of whether or not Biblical passages noting God’s surprise or Biblical passages noting God’s predetermination of events should be taken as ultimate might not need to be resolved anyway (not that it can’t be, but that the nature of language as it applies to God might not allow us to do so):
If God is being as such, except in personal revelation as we have in Jesus Christ, God is incomprehensible. This means that language about God is necessarily analogical unless it is about specific miracles that happen in history or about the man Jesus Christ. Thus, when the Bible speaks of God’s predestining of events (like an ancient king who would plan events and decree wars) and language of God’s being surprised at human rebellion (like an ancient king being shocked at not being treated with due honor) these can be taken analogies that speak to the fact that God has intentions and expectations of his creatures in history. Neither speak, necessarily, to the nature of God’s immediate causation or personal ignorance of all events in history. God does not need, in the way that a human does, to plan all events to be perfect (this does not mean God does not). Similarly, God does not need to be ignorant of future human decisions to have expectations for future human decisions (this does not mean that he is not). God’s consciousness is analogous to ours in that our consciousness helps us understand that God has knowledge and intentions. It does not tell us what God’s thoughts are like or what they have to be. Thus, when Scripture uses the language of human planning (predestination) and of human surprise/regret (God repenting of things), this helps us understand something about God’s thoughts (he intended certain things and not other things), but it does not allow us to then infer that all events either surprise or are planned by God like a human being does things. The logic does not follow.
Appendix:Thomas Aquinas on God’s Perfection
For every excellence of any being whatsoever is ascribed to a thing in respect of its being, since no excellence would accrue to man from his wisdom, unless thereby he were wise, and so on. Wherefore, according as a thing has being, so is its mode of excellence: since a thing, according as its being is contracted to some special mode of excellence more or less great, is said to be more or less excellent. Hence if there be a thing to which the whole possibility of being belongs, no excellence that belongs to any thing can be lacking thereto. Now to a thing which is its own being, being belongs according to the whole possibility of being: thus if there were a separate whiteness, nothing of the whole possibility of whiteness could be wanting to it: because something of the possibility of whiteness is lacking to a particular white thing through a defect in the recipient of whiteness, which receives it according to its mode and, maybe, not according to the whole possibility of whiteness. Therefore God, Who is His own being, as shown above, has being according to the whole possibility of being itself: and consequently He cannot lack any excellence that belongs to any thing.
And just as every excellence and perfection is in a thing according as that thing is, so every defect is in a thing according as that thing in some sense is not. Now just as God has being wholly, so is not-being wholly absent from Him, since according as a thing has being it fails in not-being. Therefore all defect is removed from God, and consequently He is universally perfect.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Summa Contra Gentiles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 68–69.

AGAIN in sequel to the above we may consider what can and what cannot be said of God; also what is said of Him alone, and what is said of Him together with other beings.
For since every perfection of creatures is to be found in God, albeit in another and more eminent way, whatever terms denote perfection absolutely and without any defect whatever, are predicated of God and of other things; for instance, goodness, wisdom, and so forth. But any term that denotes suchlike perfections together with a mode proper to creatures, cannot be said of God except by similitude and metaphor, whereby that which belongs to one thing is applied to another, as when a man is said to be a stone on account of the denseness of his intelligence. Such are all those terms employed to denote the species of a created thing, as man and stone: for its proper mode of perfection and being is due to each species: likewise whatever terms signify those properties of things that are caused by the proper principles of the species, therefore they cannot be said of God otherwise than metaphorically. But those which express these perfections together with the mode of supereminence in which they belong to God, are said of God alone, for instance the sovereign good, the first being, and the like.
Now, I say that some of the aforesaid terms denote perfection without defect, as regards that which the term is employed to signify: for as regards the mode of signification every term is defective. For we express things by a term as we conceive them by the intellect: and our intellect, since its knowledge originates from the senses, does not surpass the mode which we find in sensible objects, wherein the form is distinct from the subject of the form, on account of the composition of form and matter. Now in those things the form is found to be simple indeed, but imperfect, as being non-subsistent: whereas the subject of the form is found to be subsistent, but not simple, nay more, with concretion. Wherefore whatever our intellect signifies as subsistent, it signifies it with concretion, and whatever it signifies as simple, it signifies it not as subsisting but as qualifying. Accordingly in every term employed by us, there is imperfection as regards the mode of signification, and imperfection is unbecoming to God, although the thing signified is becoming to God in some eminent way: as instanced in the term goodness or the good: for goodness signifies by way of non-subsistence, and the good signifies by way of concretion. In this respect no term is becomingly applied to God, but only in respect of that which the term is employed to signify. Wherefore, as Dionysius teaches, such terms can be either affirmed or denied of God: affirmed, on account of the signification of the term; denied, on account of the mode of signification. Now the mode of supereminence in which the aforesaid perfections are found in God, cannot be expressed in terms employed by us, except either by negation, as when we say God is eternal or infinite, or by referring Him to other things, as when we say that He is the first cause or the sovereign good. For we are able to grasp, not what God is, but what He is not, and the relations of other things to Him, as explained above
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Summa Contra Gentiles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 72–74.

Appendix 3: Aquinas on Analogical Language Predicated of God
This happens in two ways. First, according as many things have a relation to some one thing: thus in relation to the one health, an animal is said to be healthy as its subject, medicine as effective thereof, food as preserving it, and urine as its sign. Secondly, according as order or relation of two things may be observed, not to some other thing, but to one of them: thus being is said of substance and accident, in so far as accident bears a relation to substance, and not as though substance and accident were referred to a third thing.
Accordingly such names are not said of God and other things analogically in the first way, for it would be necessary to suppose something previous to God; but in the second way.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Summa Contra Gentiles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 79.
See also:
The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil by Brian Davies
Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil by Brian Davies


  1. Pingback: Roger Olson and Classical Theism | My Blog

  2. Pingback: James Chastek nails it on Being as such | My Blog

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