Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Triumph of God over Evil: an open theist's perspective.

I was given a copy of the book you see to the right by InterVarsity Press in hopes of offering a some feedback and consequently some publicity for the book. To be honest, I wasn't planning on starting to work through this book for another few months, seeing as I was and am still eager to grapple with Beale's book on the Temple. But after I did a little research into who William Hasker was about and what his previous works had been, I discovered something unique about his theological position. He's a self confessed open theist. For those not familiar with this concept it is the belief that God does not exercise meticulous control of the universe. Rather he leaves it “open” for humans to make significant free will choices that impact their relationships with God and others. A corollary of this is that God has not predetermined the future.

Now I'll be honest, I've only really heard one person who was an open theist speak of their views. It was a debate between James White and John Sanders. Though I haven't heard this debate in about 3 years, so my recollection is quiet dim. However I am familiar with the concept and have read articles pertaining to this doctrine from an evangelical standpoint. Nevertheless, the fact that Hasker, who incidentally is a philosopher, had undertaken the task of offering a theodicy, I simply had to dig in.

Now I've just finished chapter one which basically offers a summary and starting point for what and how Hasker plans on addressing. Therefore for the purposes of this post I'm simply going to lay out his plan for you and offer some comments and expectations I have going forward.

Hasker first starts off by noting the nature of the arguments from a somewhat different perspective. His purpose of the book is to offer some answers to the argument from evil. This 'from' he defines as "arguments that claim to show, on the basis of the world's evil, that this evil is either logically inconsistent with the existence of God or, failing that, provides compelling reason to disbelieve in the existence of such a being." Hasker then goes on to make reference to the nature of whom is carrying the argument. That is, whether it be from the atheist or from the theist. He rightly states that for the atheist who is considering the argument for the lack of consistent evidence for the existence of God on the basis of evil, that the atheist has no real ramifications from his argument. There are no consequences to his rationale since arguing against God offers no shift in his original position. Hasker then makes reference to how differently this argument is for the believer. Clearly the outcome for them will be much more considerable. He says, "for the theist a successful argument from evil may for the abandonment of a cherished belief system, or it may have the result that the person continues to believe but does no in such a way that his or her doxastic [belief] structures lacks coherence and is threatened with internal collapse."

After this Hasker shows how the evidence for the acceptance for the arguments can shift based on the two considerations, the existential and the philosophical. By existential he means, personally experiencing evil, and philosophical he refers to making abstract concepts adhere to rational thought. He notes how C. S. Lewis dealt with the nature of evil quite differently when writing The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed. Noting that Lewis wrote the latter after he experienced evil firsthand with his wife dying of cancer.

It is at this point that Hasker introduces his theological position which he plans on utilizing to defend the historically accepted attributes of God (all powerful, all knowing, all loving). There is no beating around the bush, Hasker candidly admits that he is an Open Theist. This, Hasker feels, is the only position that can offer a credible argument for the existence of evil and God as all powerful, etc. To his credit, Hasker he does do a good job at accurately presenting the evidence for the "classical theistic" position. That is, the attributes of God as generally accepted in the teachings of Augustin, Aquinas, and Calvin. However his initial arguments that God willingly set aside and restricted himself in order to allow for a more genuine relationship between his creatures remains suspect. Hasker writes, "...God has not chosen to do this [unilaterally control everything] but has instead bestowed upon his human creatures a genuine power to make decisions of their own, including decision as to whether or not to cooperate with God's loving purposes toward them." He goes on to say, "This creates a real possibility of tragedy in the world, as our actual history illustrates all to vividly..."

Now, let me say that I believe this to be a topic of great importance and deserves the attention of every believer. How we as Christians understand the nature of evil and how it relates to God is of the utmost importance. However, at the outset I do feel I'm can suspect where and how Hasker plans on addressing these items. The rationale has pretty much been set forth. If God does not govern all events in the sense that he offers control and stability to existence, and man is ultimately free in the libertarian aspect, then of course evil can happily co-exist in our world, or any world for that matter.

In conclusion, though I feel I might know where Hasker is going with all this, I am quite curious to hear his argumentation and plan to interact further in subsequent posts. The reason why I offered up as much in this post is because I felt it necessary to lay some ground work to Hasker's endeavor. That way as I follow up with some succeeding thoughts the reader can have a good basis for my interaction, and possible argumentation.


Luis Huezo said...

I just want to add some information regarding the theodicy theme. Please read the excelent work Pastor Greg Boyd is doing on this subject. I think it is an obligated reading.

1- Greg Boyd resources:

2- Greg Boyd Blog:

3- Greg Boyd Church:


Damian M. Romano said...

Thanks Luis. I'll be sure to do some reading on him as well when I have the time. Now, I personally do not endorse open theism, but I am willing to interact with the arguments in a sober manner. Take care.