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Erickson: ‘What did God know and when did he know it?’

MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–The current controversy over divine foreknowledge was theologian Millard Erickson’s focus in a three-lecture series at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.

“The vitality of a church is dependent in part on the depth and accuracy of its doctrine,” Erickson, president of the Evangelical Theological Society, said. “In this area of foreknowledge, the simplified question is: ‘What did God know and when did he know it?’ That is the basic question in this controversy.”

Hermeneutical, philosophical and historical perspectives on the issue of God’s foreknowledge were examined by Erickson during the Deere Lecture Series at the Mill Valley, Calif., seminary in September.

Erickson is professor at Truett Seminary, the divinity school of Baylor University in Texas, and author of numerous books on theology, ethics, preaching, postmodernism and evangelical issues. His “Christian Theology” and “Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology” are required textbooks at Golden Gate.

Erickson said Christians are returning to one of the original questions of the church as it developed doctrine throughout history: “Who is God?”

“The traditional view of divine foreknowledge — and what most of us learned as children even in Sunday School — is that God knows everything, past, present and future,” he explained. “The open view, or open theist view, is that God knows the past, the present and some of the future. There’s some future that he doesn’t know because it doesn’t exist yet.”

Each view has difficulties from the hermeneutical, philosophical and historical perspective, Erickson said. The traditional view has fewer difficulties, and more strengths, in each area, he held.

Six principles should be followed in looking at the issue of divine foreknowledge in Scripture, Erickson said.

1) universal liability, or, as he explained, “Can you take this view when you consider all of Scripture, not just some of it?”

2) literalism. “We must ask ourselves what the criteria is for taking this literally and what not literally,” he noted.

3) comparing Scripture with Scripture.

4) examining narrative and didactic passages that relate to the issue. Scripture has stories about what God has done, and stories that tell who he is, Erickson said, noting that the question is, which do you use to interpret the other? “Open theists favor the narrative passages over the didactic; the traditional view does the opposite,” he said.

5) examining controlling metaphors. “With each relevant metaphor we study,” Erickson said, “we have to consider which ones are truer to all of Scripture, what emphasis within the metaphor is strong and what is subtle, the level clarity in it, and how frequently the metaphor occurs.”

6) progressive revelation, the idea that God has progressively revealed more and more of himself throughout history.

Erickson focused his second lecture on the philosophical issues regarding divine foreknowledge. To the open theist argument that the traditional view is held hostage to the influence of Greek philosophy, he donned a pair of green-tinted glasses and remarked, “We all have colored lenses; they’re just different colors. We all have to tease out our presuppositions and deal with those first. But I would not simply accept that the traditional view is philosophically based and the open theist view is biblically based.”

Erickson’s third lecture addressed the historical record of the doctrine of divine foreknowledge. Enumerating a list of orthodox theologians throughout church history who held to the traditional view, he said, “There is a long and strong tradition, all the way to the early church fathers, that God’s foreknowledge is complete and unlimited.”

While there is historical record in favor of the open theist view, it is rarely from theologians who would be considered accepted, orthodox church leaders, he said.

Erickson also shared his testimony and answered questions at a luncheon for area pastors after the second lecture. He told of his initial coming to faith in a small church in Minnesota, of his love for the pastorate, and of his intention, in writing Christian Theology, to provide an easily accessible, yet thorough work on evangelical Christian theology that he could use in the classroom.

The Deere Lectures, in honor of former professor Derward W. Deere, are held during chapel services each fall at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SIGNING UP.

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  • Amanda Phifer