No Past, No Future, No God!

by Rick Shrader

Blaise Pascal wrote, “We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is.”1

It seems that in times of unbelief, the powers of darkness work hard to destroy both the confidence in where we came from and the assurance of where we are going.  As Pascal pointed out, the result is the failure of the only stewardship we really have—the present.  Never have we been so adept at inspecting the past and predicting the future while the present stands so morally bankrupt.

Two philosophical dangers have appeared in our day, each attempting to eat up the church from  opposite directions.  Postmodernism has attempted to detach the church from its sacred history, and Open Theism is now attempting to strip her of her prophetic future.

Issues like these are usually kept from the church at a safe distance.  They are for the clergy and various academics who politely debate the finer points, while the laymen and novices are sheltered, many times willingly so.  I heard one speaker at a theological lecture series lament that the subject (the openness of God) had now been made available to laymen through recent books and therefore the “cat was out of the bag.”  The regret, of course, was that the average lay person in our churches cannot handle such challenges to their faith and will be led about with the new winds of doctrine.

No doubt, as Lewis wrote, “There will always be people who think that any more astronomy than a ship’s officer needs for navigation is a waste of time.”2 But I think that the member in the local church is more aware of these things than we want to admit.  If, in fact, the danger exists, let’s put it out there for scrutiny and trust the Spirit of God to bring the truth to light.

Postmodernism:  No Past

Who would have thought we could take a man seriously who told us we can determine the future but we cannot know the past!  Yet this is exactly the belief that postmodernism has brought to our generation.  In the first half of the 20th century Martin Heidegger wrote,

The past is past.  That means the former beings are no longer beings.  All historiology deals with beings that are no longer.  No historiological presentation is ever capable of making a former being into the being it was.  Everything past is only something that has passed away.3

This kind of statement alarmed men like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who wrote, “’[Some say,] ‘Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye.’  But the proverb goes on to say: ‘Forget the past and you’ll lose both eyes.’”4

The Proposition:

Postmodernism’s elimination of history actually amounts to a linguistic sleight of hand.  From Saussure to Derrida and Baudrillard, these French deconstructionists have been talking of language as a series of “signs” (what became the study of semiology).  Every time a person describes an object, or an idea (the “signified”) with a word or even a thought (the “signifier”), some meaning is lost because the sign that is used is “different” than the thing that was being described.  The claim is that we can never recover fully what the sign was signifying, and therefore, its history is lost.  The writing or speaking (even filming) of history has been distorted many times over by an infinite use of these “differences” so that we cannot know the past.

The Therefores:

If we cannot know what actually occurred in the past, the past is both lost to us and open to whatever reinvention we would like to make.  Our opinion would be just as valid as anyone else who wrote or spoke about it.  As a matter of fact, our opinion is more valid because we bring the history into our own context.  If I write a history of John Kennedy or Pearl Harbor or D-Day and believe that my story could have happened because I have properly psychoanalyzed what the characters were like, then I have written “history.”

Ironically, older books have less validity, because though they are closer to the original event, they are further from us and the contextualization of the event into our culture.  They don’t know how to say it in our lingo and therefore are meaningless to us and our world.  All of the past is  “fluid” rather than “static,” waiting for modern man to bring the past into the reality of the present.

Postmodernists have no time for the Bible because it is an old book that cannot possibly speak to our culture.  Its meaning is lost (to semiologists, lost the moment it was written) in antiquity and its relevance closed to the generation to which it spoke.  Miracles are the church’s wish for what could have been and God Himself is only a modern interpretation of old religionists.   No past?  Then no God!

Open Theism:  No Future

On the heels of postmodernism’s elimination of the past is the evangelical belief in the Openness of God; a belief that God is limited in His knowledge of the future due to the true free will of men and angels.  Now God is being limited due to man’s inability to understand Him.  In his famous sermon, Jonathan Edwards said, “God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine him to be so.”5 How true in this new philosophy of Open Theism!

The Proposition:

The position of Open Theism (The “Openness” of God) can best be seen within Open Theist’s writings as in this explanation by David Basinger:

We maintain, rather, that God possesses only what has come to be called ‘present knowledge.’  God, we acknowledge, does know all that has occurred in the past and is occurring now.  Moreover, God does know all that will follow deterministically from what has occurred, and can, as the ultimate psychoanalyst, predict with great accuracy what we as humans will freely choose to do in various contexts.  God, for instance, might well be able to predict with great accuracy whether a couple would have a successful marriage.  But since we believe that God can know only what can be known and that what humans will freely do in the future cannot be known beforehand, we believe that God can never know with certainty what will happen in any context involving freedom of choice.6

In similar fashion, Richard Rice explains that (in their view) God only knows the future as it unfolds for Him to see.  He writes:

He [God] acquires the value of creaturely events as they happen, as they come into existence . . . His experience is the infallible register of temporal reality.  It reflects every event and development in the temporal world.  All that happens enters His memory and is retained forever.  Nothing escapes His notice.  But God’s experience is also the progressive register of reality.  Events enter His experience as they happen, not before.  This means that God experiences the past and the future differently.  They are not the same for Him.  He remembers the past exhaustively, in all its detail.  Every aspect is vividly present to His mind.  But His experience of the future is different.  He anticipates the future, to be sure, and in a way unique to Him, as we shall see.  But the future retains its essential indefiniteness from God’s perspective as well as from ours.7

Traditional theology, they say, has fallen prey to Western thought and has left the more Eastern thought of the Bible.  John Sanders, for example says, “This placing of (what I shall call) the ‘absolutistic’ conception of God derived from Greek philosophy above the ‘personalistic’ conception presented in the Bible has, in the history of the church, led to many problems.”8

The Therefores:

If God does not know that future that involves the free will choices of humans, how is it that prayer works?  Are we simply asking God to smile on us if we make the right free will choices?  Do we really possess the “dignity of causality” in prayer because the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much? How did David conclude, Therefore he said that he would destroy them, had not Moses his chosen stood before him in the breach, to turn away his wrath, lest he should destroy them (Psa 106:23)?

Besides prayer, what does Open Theism do to prophecy?  Surely much if not most of prophecy dealt with human choices.  The prophet’s ability to accurately foretell the future was the confirmation of the True God as opposed to false gods.  And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God?  For the living to the dead?  To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isa 8:19-20). No future?  Then no God!

And So . . .

G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “Man has ever been attempting to construct a deity out of the imaginings of his own heart, and the result has been the idea of God as an enlarged man, and a consequent misconception of His true being.”9 If man can eliminate God’s past, and eliminate God’s future, how much can God exist only in the present?

1. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (London:  Penguin Books, 1966) 47/163, p. 43.
2. C.S. Lewis, Present Concerns (New York: HBJ, 1986) 101.
3. Martin Heidegger, Basic Concepts (Bloomington: IU Press, 1998) 73.
4. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (New York: Harper & Row, 1974) x.
5. Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Compass Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 2
6.  David Basinger, “Practical Implications,”  The Openness of God (Wheaton: IVP, 1994) 163.
7. Richard Rice, God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis:  Bethany House, 1985)26.
8.  John Sanders, “God as Personal,”  The Grace of God and the Will of Man (Minneapolis:  Bethany House, 1989) 167-175.
9. G. Campbell Morgan, Understanding The Holy Spirit (USA: AMG, 1995) 145.