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Jeff Watkins
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Critical Review of Steven C. Roy's "How Much Does God Foreknow?"

The book, How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study, is a fantastic work written by Steven C. Roy. An associate professor of pastoral theology, Dr. Roy teaches at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. The central issue of the book delves into the subject of God’s foreknowledge. The discussion regarding this topic deals with the extent to which God has knowledge of future events. The question the author hopes to answer is whether God’s knowledge of what will occur is exhaustive and comprehensive or limited and indeterminate.

Within the first pages of the book, it becomes obvious that Dr. Roy subscribes to an exhaustive view of God’s foreknowledge. He does not limit God in any way, but simply states his opinion in the opening sentence: “God knows the future” (Roy 2006, 9)! The author’s thesis illustrates how God’s omniscience and omnipotence give Him the ability to know what lies ahead. In other words, it would go against God’s all-knowing and all-powerful nature for Him to not already know future events. But, a problem arises in the exhaustive view of God’s foreknowledge and quickly becomes an inquiry that must be answered. The main issue, then, being how can God know the future events of humans if they have free human agency to make choices that will effect a final decision or event? The writer spends a great deal of time making arguments to answer that very question which is raised by a relatively new theological position known as open theism.

Open theism denies the very claim that Roy originally makes, that God does not know the future because it has not occurred yet. The author does a great job of making his claims for why someone should view God’s foreknowledge as meticulously far-reaching as possible. He writes the book so persuasively that all who read it should see the faultiness in trying to understand a God who does not have future knowledge of His free creatures’ actions. The author astutely posits that God does know the actions humans will take, and even more, why they will act and speak in certain ways. Using examples from the Old and New Testaments, the writer shows how God lets people make their own choices, yet He knew before the foundation of the world what those choices would be. As well as presenting biblical evidence for an exhaustive view of God’s foreknowledge, Dr. Roy defines every possible position addressed in the book.

The writer of the text explains what he means when speaking about foreknowledge, as well as fairly assessing what open-theists mean when they speak to the issue God’s limited knowledge. Exhaustive foreknowledge implies an infallible, all-encompassing knowledge that God possess of every thought, action, and event of every human or creature within the realm of every possible outcome that could potentially occur. That is to say, God knows everything before it happens! An open view of God would contend that God cannot know the possible decisions humans will make because they are creatures with libertarian freedom, so how could God know what humans would do if they themselves do not know? Roy’s book really emphasizes both views by comparing and contrasting each of them, showing why one lacks not only a solid biblical reflection, but also a well-reasoned philosophical foundation.

Although open-theists oppose the writer’s orthodox stance, a non-exhaustive view of God also sites biblical precedence for why God does not know future free choices of His creatures. The author examines this kind of argumentation that open theists use to show how God is limited in what he knows. According to open theists, that idea is best represented in several passages contained in the Bible that seem to assert that God repented, recanted, or changed his mind. But brilliantly, in the very next section of the book, the author quickly rebuts those examples and shows that, again using biblical evidence, the text affirms that God does not change his mind or repent or recant.

Dr. Roy helps readers to pinpoint how essential an exhaustive view of God’s foreknowledge is to understanding many things that have happened in human history. Also, the author is quick to recognize the implications that proponents to the openness of God do not take into consideration. While Pinnock, Sanders, Boyd, and others think one way about certain theological instances, the writer calmly and gracefully shows them the road back to orthodoxy. Throughout the text, there are many instances where he illustrates these qualities. This is especially evident in chapter four, where Roy makes the claim for open theism. He examines the view, but notes how inconsistent it is with Scripture, and how poor the argument is hermeneutically. These are just some of the many insights gained from reading the text.

It is an understatement to say that viewing God’s foreknowledge in a particular way will shape one’s view in other areas of theology and ministry. The author understands this, and that is why he spends a great amount of time in the book researching those conclusions one will inevitably come to if he or she lands in the camp of the non-exhaustive view of God. There is a section of the book that is a perfect example of this. In the final chapter, the author looks at the practical implications of open theism and shows how many things will be evident if a person falls into this theological trap. By investigating worship, prayer, and struggling with the issue of evil, as well as others, the author shows why a view of exhaustive foreknowledge is of the uttermost importance for understanding God (as much as humanly possible). As the author expresses, “Exhaustive divine foreknowledge enables a level of expectation and practice that much more closely corresponds to the vision of the Christian life portrayed in Scripture” (Roy 2006, 278).

A novel idea that resonated with me was the discussion of how, according to open-theists, Greek philosophy plays an important role in the way the church understands the philosophical implications tackled in the book. Even though some theologians in the past have been influenced by Platonic or Aristotelian thought, Dr. Roy demonstrates how God’s foreknowledge must be handled strictly with biblical testimony and not philosophical inference. This is not to say that philosophy is absent from the Bible, but that when Scripture verifies something so significant as God’s foreknowledge, it is wise to heed to its underpinnings.

There was nothing within the pages of the book that really challenged the way I viewed God. Since the author and I share the same presuppositions, it would be hard for me to disagree with what he wrote. Dr. Roy is such a convincing writer that while I was reading his review of open-theism, he started to sound like one himself. I believe this example really shows how much he knows the material, because he wrote in such a way that gave good evidence to support the view. In the end, it was his reexamination of the exhaustive claims that really hit home and especially emphasizes the importance of relying strictly on the validity of Scripture.

I enjoyed how the author pointed out positive aspects of open theist’s argumentation instead of just nitpicking particular theological positions. An example of this is found when Roy presents the case for open theism. He highlights doctrine that open theists correctly interpret the Bible to teach. Even though the author’s position on this heated issue is contrary to open theism, he is very careful to treat his challengers with respect, and he still considers them brothers and sisters in the faith. Another aspect of the book that I appreciated quite a bit was how the author soaked this book in biblical basis for every claim he made. A large portion of words in this book are from the Bible; select passages that do not serve as proof text, but rather strong examples of the way our Lord is portrayed in the Bible (as a God who knows all things before anything occurs).

While How Much Does God Foreknow? has many positive aspects, it is not without a few problems. The weaknesses of the book are not so much theological in nature. The contention lies within how the author organizes and structures of the book. From the contents page, it would seem as if the author arranged the book in a logical order. However, when one reads the text, it seems very redundant at times, and topics run over into each section. Although I agree with the author on most of his positions, there are times when the language with which he writes is very passé. I found myself just glazing over the words, not because of their technicality, but because it was just a bit superfluous and boring. This is not necessarily something the author could have fixed in editing, yet he could have wrote with a little more excitement at times.

As Dr. Roy concludes the book, he shares the same sentiment as he did in the introduction: “God knows the future—exhaustively and definitely and infallibly” (Roy 2006, 279)! That is a good place to start and end. God has to know the future. If He is waiting on time like his creation, than we are all in trouble. God has to be beyond time; immutably sovereign while his creatures do their best in their marred state to glorify Him. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book anyone who wanted to know more about the subject of God’s foreknowledge, especially if that person was leaning toward open theism. While the language of the book might be technical for some readers who do not read critically in theology, there is enough practical information for readers to be able to understand what the author is saying.

posted by Jeff Watkins at 1:30 AM


Blogger brianmetz said...

Thanks for this informative look. You need to write a book. You may consider commenting on other's blogs first.

2:25 PM  

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