Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Goldingay OT Theology Day – 4 of 5

One aspect of the books stands out, even though they are a lot of other things. Namely, Goldingay seems to enjoy challenging traditional Christian readings of scripture, turning over the tables in our most holy places of prayer, making our holy cows into mere hamburgers. It is a lot of fun!

Here is a gloriously controversial one for your consideration:

In discussing the way God asks questions in the first chapters of Genesis, Goldingay asks if God, according to the text, is really portrayed as knowing everything automatically, or whether things are different. Why does Genesis portray God as asking question to find things out? Doesn't God already know the answer?

'Sometimes God manifests supernatural knowledge, and no doubt God could know everything, including everything about us, whether we are willing for this or not (cf. 1 Chron 28:9; 1 Jn 3:20). But even God's supernatural knowledge of us comes about through discovery, through "searching out", rather than because God possesses this knowledge automatically (e.g., Ps 33:15; 139:1-6). Stories about Babel and about Abraham (Gen 11; 18; 22) will concretely show God taking steps to come to know things. They will again show that God has extraordinary knowledge, but will incorporate no declaration that Yhwh is omniscient, and preclude that by the way they portray God acting so as to discover things: "I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether in accordance with the cry that came to me. If not, I will know" (Gen 18:21). "Now I know that you are one who reveals God" (Gen 22:12) ... Talk of God acting to find something out is anthropomorphism, but like talk of God having a change of mind or loving or speaking, such anthropomorphisms presumably tell us something true about God's relationship with the world' (Old Testament Theology. Volume 1: Israel's Gospel. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2003, p. 137)

So what do you make of that? Utter bunk? Heresy? Gospel Truth? Scripture turning over our prized theological notions?

I know the matter is hugely complicated, and 'open theism' is banded around like a dirty ping-pong ball, blog authors scoring points by saying how much nonsense it is, others simply brushing it aside as faddism because theological heavyweights see things differently. But Goldingay's whole project is to write a narrative theology of the OT, the God-breathed text, as 'Paul' claimed in 2 Tim. 3:16. This makes for some 'messy' and unconventional theology, but it is at this level his critics will have to engage Goldingay if they are to engage him at all.



At 4/16/2008 3:57 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

Why should I take such 'theological' statements literally and incorporate them into my theological perspective if I'm not inclined to take Genesis' 'scientific' statements literally and incorporate them into my view of science?

Does JG also believe that the Trinity lies back of the plural "let us" in Gen 1?

At 4/16/2008 10:31 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hey, JB, great point. I suppose Goldingay that he wantsto take their theological reference seriously, though as description of what happened, they are metahpors, one among many that the OT employs - but God still speaks through them.

He doesn't believe the original intent of the "let us" is trinitarian. If I remember rightly, he offers a number of possibilities without coming down firmly on one. He mentions the trinitarian approach without pushing it completely away - just that it is not at the level of dscourse he approaches the text.

At 4/16/2008 1:37 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

Thanks CT. I was being sarcastic on the last point (No scholar I know takes that as Trinitarian), i.e., if we think the "come down and discover" or "repent" passages are more than metaphor and rhetoric, are we then constrained to start doing this with other rhetorical/metaphorical material...

Any idea where we can get the audio from theological interp at SBL? I heard his stuff was great (as usual)--I only heard his Q and A, unfortunately.

At 4/16/2008 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, i guess i must be one of those theological point scorers, but i think he is correct when he notes that such passages are anthropomorphisms. Sure, they have meaning, but that meaning is not related to discussions about omniscience.

At 4/16/2008 8:52 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi JB, can't help you with the audios. I would be interested to hear them myself. If you find out then do let me know.

Hi Anon,
"Sure, they have meaning, but that meaning is not related to discussions about omniscience".

Interesting. On what grounds do you make this judgment (and I ask honestly, I am not a convinced open theist at all, just exploring the subject at the moment)?

At 4/16/2008 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, in most of the passages cited in Genesis, the concern is with the divine "discovery" of either human sin or obedience, which would suggest that it is human faithfulness to the covenant that is at stake - and not the nature of divine providence.

And even if we do conclude that ancient Israel believed in a God who "repented", changed his mind, asked for the killing of every man women and child etc. This would not necessarily lead to an openness theology. Indeed, we do need to recognize that such concepts reflect the worldviews and ideologies of an ancient culture, and therefore require very careful appropriation in our own time?

This does not mean that I am anti open theism (I am anti open theism witch hunting evangelicals). But i think the place to resolve those sorts of issues is not with passages of Scripture that are clearly anthropomorphic.

Regards Shane Clifton (the anon was me)

At 4/17/2008 5:03 PM, Anonymous Phil Sumpter said...

The relation between narrative and theology is a tough one, for me at least. It's one thing to talk about the meaning of a story an sich, it's another to "penetrate" it to its theological substance (as B.S.Childs, and OT theologian I may have mentioned, puts it). Childs talks of the irony that "narrative theology" has proponents form both ends of the theological spectrum, who agree on the meaning of the text but have completely different theologies.

I think understanding narrative as "witness" is helpful, as it shows how these stories were written to point beyond themselves to God. Gauging their theology would involve looking at the relation between their meaning qua narrative within the broader context of the canon, which consists of more than just narrative. I think Sternberg is helpful here, as he talks of the theological function of narrative and not just the meaning of the narrative as detached from a particular communicative act.

Some confused thoughts on a Thursday afternoon!

By the way, I think a book that everyone should read is Childs' (you know, the bloke I mentioned above) 1975 Exodus commentary. I wonder if anything like it has been published since.

At 4/17/2008 9:31 PM, Anonymous Davis said...

I can't speak for theology, but in philosophy, the open view of God is anything but dismissed offhand. With philosophical heavyweights such as William Alston, William Hasker, and Richard Swinburne advocating open theism, as well as 'rising' philosophers like Alan Rhoda, open theism has received a lot, and I mean a lot of attention in the journals and at conferences. Of course, the majority of those working in philosophical theology (at least within the analytic tradition) still hold to a more traditional view of divine omniscience, or Molinism (open theism's number one competitor), and there are plenty of Thomists and Scholastics scholars that defend the traditional divine simplicity view of God (which entails the omniscience that is argued against in the book you are recommending). I am included in this last category, although I'm more of a philosopher-in-training (PIT).

The philosophical reasons for the open view of God are more based on the different conceptions of the nature of time (static or dynamic), human freedom (libertarianism or compatibilism), and the definition of knowledge as such. Generally the few instances when open theists have tried to match their philosophical views with Scripture, their exegesis has been... well embarrassing- philosophers don't always make the best exegetes. Then again, not all theologians make the best of philosophers... not that I have a problem with that (had to slip a seinfeld reference in the last statement ;) )

At 4/17/2008 10:12 PM, Anonymous Josh said...


I didn't know Alston came out as an advocate for Open Theism. Even if he hasn't (as I'm inclined to believe), I'd like to add Peter VanInwagen and Dean Zimmerman to your list of Open Theist philosophers and call it a fair trade.

At 4/17/2008 10:37 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Childs who? ;-) Thanks for your thoughts.

Dave and Josh, thanks for that education - it was all new to me.

"But i think the place to resolve those sorts of issues is not with passages of Scripture that are clearly anthropomorphic"
Thanks for your helpful thoughts, Shane. I suppose John G would respond by stating that these texts need to be taken seriously within the whole debate, even if they are anthropomrphisms. And not just as proof texts, but proof chapters. But I get your point - and I totally hear you here: "I am anti open theism witch hunting evangelicals". Amen.

At 4/26/2008 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Goldingay really take nattative seriously? Does he try to avoid using masculine pronouns for Yhwh? If so, why?
Does he really believe Yhwh has arms, feet etc?
Or better, does Yhwh exist outside the text?
I can't help thinking some biblicistic roads are a Holzweg - look at the strange twists and turns David Cliens has taken.

At 4/26/2008 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 4/28/2008 8:26 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Anon,
"does Yhwh exist outside the text?"
Thanks for your comment. I thought that was a terrific way of framing the question! I would love to hear wht Goldingay would say.

At 5/05/2008 11:40 AM, Anonymous Ranger said...

Anon (or Chris),
Can you explain your reasoning a little more in the questions? In some areas I'm very much a theological newbie and don't quite understand what you are asking. Thanks for any clarification you can give!

At 5/06/2008 11:03 AM, Anonymous Ranger said...

Thanks Chris,
I actually used to really be into studying open theism after reading a book by Greg Boyd eight or nine years ago and afterward getting pretty deep into everything that was written concerning open theism whether it be for it or against it. It was back around the time that the discussions were really heated over it at the ETS meetings, so there was plenty of discussion going on.

Mostly, it hasn't been in the forefront of my thinking for a few years, especially since reading Thiessen's "Providence and Prayer." That one really messed me up because it made me realize that I didn't have a clue, and that just about every view discussed could fit within orthodoxy.

I think I understand Anon's questions a little better now. The question isn't whether or not Goldingay believes in the existence of YHWH (that's where I got confused because Goldingay obviously does believe in YHWH's existence), but whether or not this story has any reality outside of the author using anthropomorphic language within a theological story to describe YHWH's characteristics, right?

At 5/06/2008 11:36 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...


At 5/04/2009 3:29 PM, Anonymous Joseph Kelly said...

Thanks for providing this quote from JG. I have been planning to use this summer to read as many Old Testament Theologies as possible. You have convinced me that I must check out JG's.

Also, I am trying to address on my new blog some of my own observations of biblical theologians who make claims similar to those of the popular open theists, but who themselves do not claim to be open theists. I would love any reflections you have!


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