Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Problems Concerning Divine Knowledge

What does the Bible teach us about the knowledge of God? What are the philosophical, theological, and practical implications of those teachings? The purpose of this post is to demonstrate that only a biblically faithful perspective on divine knowledge can be regarded as logically coherent and philosophically plausible. Moreover, only the inductive method of biblical exegesis will yield the outcome we hope to achieve, and that is to arrive at a sound understanding, albeit limited and imperfect, of the nature of divine knowledge.

The nature of the knowledge of God is such that God knows all things that have ever come to be, are, and will ever come to be, at one point all in the same eternal present. God knows all things, not only things actual but also things possible to Him and to the creature, and since some of these are future contingent to us, it follows that God knows future contingent things.[1] However, the concept of divine knowledge presents us with some complex philosophical problems.

How God can know future actions of free creatures is one of the most difficult problems that emerges from the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge. If tomorrow, I can choose between A and B, and I am absolutely free to choose between these two, in what sense can God be said to know that I will choose B? Putting it another way, if God knows that tomorrow I will choose B when faced with the choice to choose A or B, in what sense can it be said that I am actually free to choose B? The implications of this problem touch on such things as human responsibility and moral culpability. Suffice it to say, the Christian must come to grips with the problems that their traditional understanding of God seemingly creates.
from the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge? If tomorrow, I can choose between

Another problem that emerges in this understanding of divine knowledge is the fact that Christians traditionally have held that God is eternal. This means simply that God exists outside of time. If God exists outside of time, how can God know anything in advance since such knowledge is successive and we know that anything that is successive is temporal as opposed to eternal. In a theology of this sort, God could not be said to have known that a given natural event was going to occur before some natural event. This, surely, would violate the idea that God bears no temporal relations to natural events.[2] There is no doubting the fact that the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge creates what appears to be, insuperable philosophical and logical complications.

In his manuscript, Paradox in Christian Theology, James Anderson asks two every important questions: 1) Are any essential Christian doctrines genuinely paradoxical? 2) Can a person rationally believe a paradoxical doctrine?  [3] As Joel McDurmon said in his book on Biblical Logic in Theory & Practice, “Like all things that exist before the face of God, we can only fully understand truth and logic from within God’s covenantal plan of man.”[4] The key to all human understanding is found in the covenantal relationship between God and man. God freely chooses to reveal, to impart knowledge, and to make human understanding possible. Perhaps part of the bigger problem in our understanding is that we make basic category mistakes in our attempt to provide for logical consistency and rational harmony in cases where it does not necessarily belong. That is to say that we should step back and ask if these subjects ought to be scrutinized in terms of human logic or perhaps in terms of a different sort of logic altogether. Yet, if one begins with the presupposition that formal logical consistency places a negative restraint on what the Scriptures may teach, then rational non-Trinitarian exegesis must always be regarded as superior to its orthodox alternative.[5] One must confess that such a scenario would lead to outrageous perversions of historic Christian orthodoxy. 

When we say that the traditional Christian understanding of divine knowledge introduces problems, we must ask, by what standards? Where do these problems reside?

When we say that this apple is filled with problems, we are comparing it to an apple that is not. What then does that apple without problems look like?

Part II will suggest a way forward that I believe is concerned to avoid the right kind of problems. You know, problems like contradicting the divine revelation of Scripture more so than the lofty standards of pagan philosophy and autonomous human reason.

[1] Baruch A. Brody, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion: An Analytic Approach, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, ©1992), 422.

[2] Ibid., 431.
[3] James Anderson, Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status, Paternoster Theological Monographs (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2007), 1.

[4] Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic: in Theory and Practice (Powder Spring, GA: American Vision, 2011), Kindle Ed. 140.
5B.A. Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox:an Interpretation and Refinement of the Theological Apologetic of Cornelius van Til (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), 177.

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