Time To Unlearn A Few Things

Derek Ouellette —  May 28, 2010

I suggest that if we put the question of Calvinism and Arminianism aside for a time and study God as he has revealed himself in the scriptures we will not discover Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover as Calvinism has always espoused; in fact we may not even discover God as the Arminian understands him. It may be, after seeking to discover the God of the scriptures on their own terms, that we may discover the God of Open Theism quite by accident! Not of Calvin’s Unmoved Mover, but of Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover.We will, in all probability, discover as John Sanders said, a God Who Risks. This – I believe – is the truth we all must wrestle with whether or not we embrace Open Theism.

Walter Brueggemann, one of the foremost Old Testament scholars, seems quite disinterested in questions of determinism and foreknowledge – except when specific texts’ call attention to such speculation – and in the debates between Calvinism and Arminianism (and Open Theism). But in his studies of the God of the Old Testament, the “Hebrew testimony” and portrayal of YWHW, he writes: “the defining category for faith in the Old Testament is dialogue, whereby all parties – including God – are changed in a dialogic exchange that is potentially transformative for all parties… including God.” And again, “The Old Testament is an invitation to reimagine our life and our faith as an on-going dialogic transaction in which all parties are variously summoned to risk and change.” He goes on:

“When we are freed of static categories of interpretation that are widely utilized among us, we are able to see that the articulation of God in the Old Testament partakes exactly of the quality of complexity, dynamism, and fluidity that belong to the post-modern world… such an open and thick articulation of faith may be threatening to some and may require unlearning by us all”. An Unsettling God; 2009, p.xii; italics added.

What a powerful statement from a man who is not interested in sustaining “static categories of interpretation” such as Calvinism or Arminianism; neither, it is prudent to add, is he interested in Open Theism. When Brueggemann approaches the scriptures he does not ask, is the God of Calvin here or the God of Arminius or the God of Pinnock? When Brueggemann approaches the Old Testament he asks the question to the ancient Hebrews, “Who do you say that He is?” Sometimes we see the categories of Calvin and sometimes we see the categories of Arminius, this is partly what makes God “unsettling”, because YWHW cannot be made to easily fit into our “static categories of interpretation” – He is too big, and we are too fallible.

Yet it is a fearful road Brueggemann offers, it is a road of discomfort; because in asking the Hebrews and not the Greeks “Who is YWHW?” he finds himself immediately at odds with classical Christian theology.

“In… much classical Christian theology, ‘God’ can be understood in terms of quite settled categories that are, for the most part, inimical to the biblical tradition. The casting of the classical tradition… is primarily informed by the Unmoved Mover of Hellenistic thought… a Being completely apart from and unaffected by the reality of the world” [p.1]

We have come to a point – or perhaps we have always been there – where the God revealed by the Hebrew testimony is rather embarrassing to our sensibilities. The Hebrews speak of a God affected by the passing of time; a God emotionally invested in his creation and sometimes those emotions are even mixed. They speak of a God whose mind is not settled and what’s worse, they don’t seem to mind this God at all! This God repents, He laughs, He tests, He changes His mind and what’s more, He allows his creation to move Him to action and at other times, they have the power to stay His wrathful hand.

“It is common to be embarrassed about the anthropomorphic aspects of this God, so embarrassed as to want to explain away such a characterization or at least to transpose it into a form that better serves a generic notion of God…. All such embarrassments, however, fail to do justice to the scriptural tradition.” [p.2]

Again, Walter Brueggemann has called us out on the carpet; all of us! Classical Christianity cannot escape the ugly reality that we have since near the beginning been embarrassed of the Hebrew testimony of God and so silenced it. It does not jive well with our sensibilities, our Hellenistic sensibilities. But who is the guilty one; are they or are we? It is not they who are being unfaithful to the scriptures; indeed they wrote them! And instead of being embarrassed of the Hebrew testimony of YWHW we ought to be embarrassed of our selves. It will no longer do, in my mind, to dismiss the challenge of the Old Testament as embarrassing “anthropomorphic” ramblings of ancient people. Christianity needs – to some extent – to put Classical Christian Theology on trial and the judge ought not to be Aristotle, but Abraham. Classical Christian Theology is in need of purification, and its filter ought to be the scriptures.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • xTraex

    This is definitely shaking what I thought I knew of God (and that wasn’t much). The only thing I’m having a problem with is that with this “Unsettling God” are we not subjecting Him to the same mythological gods of the greeks. Can this not open God up to the same critiques we used against them? A God so “human” that he is merely a creation of the imagination?

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Thanks xTraex,

      Your concern is very real and needs to be guarded against. But let me ask you this, are fathers like their sons or would you say that sons are like their fathers? When the question is worded the way your last sentence words it there is an assumption that we are making God “human… a creation of the imagination”; i.e., we’re making God like us.

      But I look at it the other way around: we are human, a creation of God’s imagination and made in His image to be like him (Gen 1:26). So I’m not surprised that the scriptures depict God as emotional, because he’s our Dad and we are emotional beings who take after Him.

      Now as far as the gods of Greek mythology go, no one critiques them because we all acknowledge they don’t exist. There is also worlds apart from how God is depicted by the Hebrews and how the Greek myth gods are. But here’s the irony, in ancient Hellenistic culture the elite, upper class and and intelligence (i.e. philosophers and those they influenced) came up with philosophical ideas of “if a god did exist, this is what he would be like”. So Aristotle came up with the concept of the Unmoved Mover and Plato spoke of God as being “immutable”, “timeless” and so on. The Hebrew testimony of God is quote different from this as I’ve been trying to show. Yet if you pick up a book on the attributes of God today you will not get the Hebrew Testimony, but the Greek Platonic testimony of God.
      .-= Derek Ouellette´s last blog ..Pentecost: When The Spirit Came =-.

      • xTraex

        Hmm. I did not know it was Plato who said God was timeless. I definitely get your point, the same thought crossed my mind when my friend asked me why does God have emotion at all (as if he should be some sort of emotionless “Galactus” if you will), I didn’t know the answer back then, I do now. I actually thought of your answer later on that day, we “share” emotions (with God)because well he created us in his image, so I definitely get that. Seems I was thinking from a human centered position. Oh, I also had no clue that no one actually “critiqued” the Greek gods. I assumed we did. But I’ll definitely be following you as you further research Open Theology.

        • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

          That’s great xTraex, we’ll learn and grow together! Keep your questions coming. Dialogue is one of the best ways to grow.
          .-= Derek Ouellette´s last blog ..Cov-of-Luv Summer Reading Giveaway =-.

  • Tom Torbeyns

    Interesting read :-)