The inaugural issue of the Augustine Collegiate Review.
That simple phrase bears far more weight than might first appear. The journal, a product of The Augustine Honors Collegium of Boyce College, aims to stand out from amongst the vast sea of publications already on the market. In fact, the publishing world appears to be so saturated that one would certainly be excused for questioning the logic behind yet another journal. Hopefully, this first issue will demonstrate its value to the readership.
That being said, I have been involved in the academy long enough to understand the ludicrous nature of a claim of uniqueness for a publication of this sort, and I have been appropriately humbled enough to recognize both the dangers and the limitations of claims of self-importance. Thus, I have no desire to sell this project as “the next big thing”. I do not believe this journal will change your life, nor do I believe it will change the academic world. Thankfully, those are not the aims.
My hope in overseeing this project can be described in one word: potential. In my years in the classroom, I have had the great privilege of teaching some extraordinarily bright students, students with such natural giftings that even I would have to try hard to get in their way. But those students are few and far between—even once in a generation. The vast majority of students in an undergraduate or even postgraduate classroom enter as vessels of potential, lacking only the shaping of experience and the lighting of the proverbial fire. In my mind, at its best this journal will be part of that honing, a tool for undergraduates (and their professors) to hone their skills through a rigorous academic process which includes a double-blind expert review.
The academic publishing process can be difficult and even disheartening as authors submit the product of their hard work only to have editors and expert reviewers zero in on the minutest details. For many undergraduates—if not most of them—having papers edited in such a manner is a completely new experience. In fact, several students who submitted papers for this issue responded with amazement at the level of critique their papers received. Sometimes the critique proved positive and led either to publication or at least to more constructive work on the article. At other times, the critique left a surprising wound in the mind of the author. But in all of those cases, the students began to understand the invaluable (and seemingly unending) process of researching, writing, editing, and receiving critique on academic work.
While this publishing process will certainly benefit the student authors—indeed, it already has—the journal also has the potential to benefit the greater academic community. The vast majority of academic journals purport to be publications “of the experts, for the experts,” but this journal seeks to be something different—an opportunity for the academic community to begin developing the next generation of writers and for these talented undergraduate writers to begin sharing the knowledge they have gained in their studies.
Please understand, this endeavor is not an attempt to fast-track students into the academic world—something equivalent to a participation trophy in t-ball. I firmly believe students need to work hard and develop their skills as researchers and writers in order to earn their place in the academic community. This journal is not intended to give undergraduates a false sense of importance or prematurely bestow upon them the title “expert”. The editorial team makes no claims that the undergraduate authors represented here are experts nor that these articles represent a unique contribution to the collective body of knowledge. The articles selected through this rigorous process do, however, represent the best of undergraduate academic writing, combined with some excellent, in-depth—if not exhaustive—research.
Each journal issue will present those select undergraduate-authored articles alongside others contributed by seasoned experts which will serve as entry points into the issue’s theme. The goal of this format is to allow the readership to dig into the theme with as much depth as they would like. Readers are not assumed to have prior knowledge in order to benefit from the journal as authors of all ilks have been instructed to write for an educated but non-expert audience. Each of the issues will tackle a single broad theme with authors being instructed to tackle the topic from a Christian perspective.
This first issue, for instance, focuses on the joint themes of metaphysics and ontology—large topics which provide innumerable angles for research. To introduce one of those angles, experts Mark Coppenger and Douglas Blount, both well-published in the fields of philosophy and theology, have contributed articles on their conceptions of God and time. Following those articles, the undergraduate papers tackle themes from a theology of place to fantasy literature, from a philosophical foundation for art to the concept of transhumanism. With each of these articles, I hope readers can engage the topic with a critical interest which, at least for the moment, will keep from thinking about the undergraduate authors and instead will leave them inspired, educated, captivated, or even moved to disagreement. The quality of research and writing will certainly move them to return for more.
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We have established using philosophical arguments the impossibility of an actual infinite (I'm referring to an infinite set of objects, not an Infinite God which is not impossible), but I have read again and again that "the majority and best supported by the data hypothesis in physics is that the universe is flat and spatially infinite". Does this mean our philosophy was wrong, or does it mean that physicists have got necessarily something wrong, since their conclusion is against clear and distinct philosophical facts? ...
If you’re old enough to remember the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, you remember where you were when you heard the news. Driving down Coulter Drive in Bryan, Texas, I was on my way to a staff meeting at church. The radio broadcaster interrupted to report the shocking news that American Airlines Flight 11 had flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
This seemed inconceivable. Unfortunately, it was true, and within minutes, the awful reality of terrorism was verified when United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower.
When I got to the office, we watched in horror as the two towers came crashing down. The images of people covered in ash running for their lives were devastating. Seeing others plummeting hundreds of feet to their deaths was ghastly. The tragedy continued as American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Due to the bravery of the passengers of United Flight 93, which was headed to Washington, D.C., that plane was taken down before it could cause further damage.
We didn’t have our staff meeting; we prayed—intensely. Sixteen years later, these images are still horrifying to watch.
The number of people who suffered this evil is incalculable: 3,000 people died that day, including more than 300 firefighters and 70 law enforcement officers; thousands more were injured; and the residents of New York City, as well as those working at the Pentagon, suffered greatly. In defiance, the response of the American people to all of this devastation surpassed the evil that caused it. For one of the few times that I can remember, the rancor of politics was dropped, and the nation actually resembled “one nation under God.” Support came from across the country, prayer was earnest, and people were more open to Christ than any time in recent memory.
Amid all of this support and care (though largely unreported) were thousands of Christ’s people, many with churches and Christian organizations; they comforted, cared for, and counseled the hurting, meeting spiritual needs along with physical needs. The reason for such a response among God’s people is simple: God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:4-5).
Suffering is reality, and no one wants it. Ironically, believers in Christ are at their best when giving comfort to the afflicted.
I’ve seen the power of God’s people comforting the afflicted many times. I remember it when I took a group to Turkey in 1999 following the devastating earthquake in Izmit and the surrounding area, which killed 17,000 and left more than 300,000 homeless. The largest presence of any aid group was Christians from all over the world, working as one to care for the needs of the people and finding ways to share Christ with them. We set up shelters, organized food and clothing distribution, and simply sat down to listen to people, cry with them, love them, and show Jesus Christ to them. Most of this was never reported—but, if you were there, you saw it firsthand.
As I write this, Hurricane Harvey has just overwhelmed the Texas Gulf Coast, causing destruction from Corpus Christi to Orange. Houston has been devastated. As in previous disasters, the response to the suffering has been spectacular: emergency workers, government agencies, and businesses have given and done so much. These organizations should be recognized and thanked for all they’ve done. Volunteers with boats, trucks, and any other means of rescuing people have just shown up to help—truly remarkable.
Among these are thousands of Christians. One news broadcaster said he had never seen so many churches and Christian organizations doing so much to help in so many ways.
Southwestern Seminary is putting together plans for faculty and students to go down to help in the relief efforts. The effort will take months, even years, to accomplish. Prepared to meet the physical and emotional needs of those who are suffering, we will also be prepared with the Gospel. And be there we will—serving in the midst of suffering is what Christ’s people do best.
We know what it means to suffer spiritual poverty and affliction; most of us also know other forms of suffering. Because we know the comfort of God in Jesus Christ, we will comfort the afflicted, not for recognition, but for the Kingdom of God, so that those who suffer will also come to know the abundant comfort of Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)
While much hospitality focuses on individuals or families opening their homes to others, a vital practice which enables “house churches” to meet (e.g., Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), I am focusing attention on churches gathering outside of the home.
Thus, spring-boarding from 1 Corinthians 16, a passage overflowing with gospel labor, here are five more ways we can pursue hospitality in the church.1. Introduce people and build networks for ministry.
In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul is doing all he can to urge Apollos to return to Corinth and minister to them (v. 12); he is urging godly servants like the household of Stephanas to lead (v. 15) and others to follow (v. 16). He is sending Timothy to Corinth (v. 10) and he delights to receive Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (v. 17). Moreover, he sends greetings from the churches in Asia to the church in Corinth (v. 19), he himself sends greetings (v. 21) and he passes on the hearty greetings of Aquila and Priscilla (v. 20). In short, Paul was an extraordinary networker, who delighted to connect people to other people.
Indeed, it seems that following Jesus’ model, he did nothing without bringing others with him. In this way, he built up the body of Christ by introducing members of the body to one another. This happened at the personal level and the church level. And it is something we should do as well. Whether in ministry or not, we should all be aware of who our brothers and sisters in Christ are and how we can mediate conversation, friendships, and partnerships for the gospel.2. Invite someone to coffee, lunch, or to anything you are doing.
Such introductions can take place anywhere, but lasting, loving relationships need something more than momentary hallway conversations. To foster relationships, therefore, we must go deeper—or at least, we must go longer. This might look like grabbing coffee or a meal together. Maybe it looks like taking a new couple out to lunch after church, or setting up a play date with another family, or intentionally inviting someone from another age demographic to join your game night.
Creativity and availability are key here. If you are willing to reach out to others, you will reap the blessing of being a conduit of grace to them. Often we fail to invite others because we think unless we can set aside time for them alone, the time would be wasted. But that’s not true at all. Discipleship best occurs in the midst of the mundane. So, look for ways to grab coffee, but don’t neglect drive time, chore time, or going-to-the grocery time. You’d be surprised how many ways you can redeem the time, when you think: How can I bring someone with me?3. Invite someone to your community group or start a discipleship group.
Moving from the informal to the more formal, it is important to help church visitors find contact points other than Sunday morning worship. Most people stay in church when they make relational connection. And one one-hour worship service a week is not sufficient to make that connection.
For that reason, our church has community groups that meet throughout the week. These times of fellowship enable us to talk more openly about life challenges and personal application of the Bible. But people may not know about them or want to go without a personal invitation.
At the same time, we should look for ways to gather groups of believers. You might call this a disciples group and it might include Bible study, prayer, mentoring, or just intentional times of men or women gathering to exhort one another from God’s Word.
Both of these groups are tangible places in the church body where community and care are fostered. When medical crises and personal loss afflict us, our community groups are there to step in. Yet, such care can only be felt as people commit to a weekly community group. Likewise, when life-changing decisions need to be made, what better forum than a group of Bible-saturated believers to pray with and listen to. Still, such connections depend on individuals taking initiative to invite others.4. Never minister alone.
To further this point, we might say: Don’t try to follow Christ by yourself, and never minister alone.
In his book Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi makes the case for taking people to lunch to learn from them. But he also stresses the need to be generous with your time and resources, seeking to serve others instead of using them to serve you. Plagiarizing Jesus (Acts 20:35) he says, “It’s better to give before you receive.” And again, “Real networking [is] about finding ways to make other people more successful.” Indeed, whenever we do anything for the Lord our aim should another’s benefit. But it is possible to serve one group while robbing another.
Here’s what I mean. If in all your teaching, serving, hosting, helping you always serve alone, you are robbing another generation from learning how to teach, serve, host, or help. Scripture teaches us, the normative way to do ministry is in community—two-by-two, in groups, or within or sent out from the local church.
Indeed, we are not simply called to serve God, we are called to bring others with us. Paul says to Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Clearly, God intends for his disciples to disciple others as they make disciples of others. Indeed, the Christian faith and the Christian ministry are meant to be shared.
And this transferal of discipleship comes not only face-to-face as we instruct those who might listen, but also side-by-side as we labor with those who already are. Therefore, if you to want magnify community and mission in the church, stop doing things by yourself and invite someone along. In the classroom, or the Bible study, or the personal visitation, invite someone to go with you. Stop doing ministry alone and look for ways to multiply your labors.5. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
Finally, hospitality must not neglect the body. Typically, hospitality involves some sort of food, but we must also have a category for physical touch and what Paul calls the “holy kiss.”
In 1 Corinthians 16:20, he writes “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” In fact, he says this four times in his letters (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26); Peter says it once (1 Pet. 5:14). Interestingly, this is the same number of times the Lord’s Supper is mentioned in Scripture. Yet, how many of us practice this “holy kiss” or know how to?
Without making the church a kissing booth, there is an important principle that underlies Paul command. If our church is a family, then family affection is appropriate—and necessary. In his book Sensing Jesus, Zack Eswine makes this point and argues for the place of sanctified touch. He writes,
The “holy kiss” envisions a way for Christian community to recover in Jesus how human beings were originally meant to touch each other. Physical touch is meant as a holy act. Few of us know in an experiential way what it means to touch or be touched in a sacred way. Profane touch has mentored and broken most of us.
Put succinctly, physical touch matters. We are not walking brains or disembodied souls. We have bodies—aching, tired, untrustworthy bodies. And as we hobble through this world, it is appropriate to pat a back, hug a side, grab an elbow, or hold a hand. Yes, culture will dictate practice—hence the reason we may not greet each other with a kiss. But make no mistake, we must communicate grace to bodies and souls.
The widow needs more than a “Hello, how are you?” She needs a hug. Children need more than a “Slow down, stop running.” They need a gentle pat on the head from strong men. The redeemed prostitute needs more than “I’m glad you are here,” she needs to receive the touch of godly women and to learn that men’s eyes are not just vehicles of lust but also instruments for empathy. In short, to be the body of Christ, we must care for the bodies of others.
Much could be misunderstood about this call for physical touch, but that only shows how desperately we need our Lord to sanctify our misguided understanding of the body. As Eswine says, “Until the gospel rightly changes our use of touch, we are less ready for ministry than we realize” (pp. 186–87). See chapter 6 in Sensing Jesus.Not an optional ministry
In the end, we must remember Jesus was forsaken that we would be received by the Father. And being received by our heavenly father, we are supplied with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3) and then called to receive others (Romans 15:7). Surely this includes sharing the message of Christ, but it also includes sharing our lives (1 Thessalonians 2:8). And because the Word of God communicates love to embodied creatures, we must learn how to do more than speak words. We must pursue hospitality.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:8, “I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you.” In these words, we learn true gospel ministry—for apostles and auto mechanics—devotes itself to the whole man. In spending ample time with the Corinthians, Paul indicates his desire to be in their homes, at their tables, around their places of work—maybe even at their burial site. Such life-on-life ministry is filled with giving and receiving, hosting and helping. In other words, ministry is hospitality, and hospitality that is more than an event. It is simply the Christian way of life.
Indeed, may this way of life be our own. And may we continue to pray and think and plan ways we can pursue hospitality to share both our lives and the life-giving message of Christ with others.
Our vision for the Augustine Collegiate Review is to publish an academic, Christ-honoring, and accessible journal, benefiting both the academy and the lay-person. We seek to provide an opportunity for Christian scholars to conduct independent research on topics they find personally engaging and appropriate for the building up of the church. As the next generation of Christian academics, we desire to make valuable contributions to fields ranging from metaphysics, aesthetics, apologetics, history, and more. We envision a journal that engages century old ideas with fresh words and eyes, while providing critical analysis on important cultural endeavors. These demand a Christian response, a response that perhaps only Christians reared in a rigorous academic environment are prepared to make. Remaining true to our namesake, we desire, like Augustine, to provide scholarship that also transcends this current culture and impacts readers for decades to come.
As one of the first research journals of our kind, we see a bright future for aspiring scholastics. Research journals are one of the main avenues people present groundbreaking scholarship, and the Augustine Collegiate Review provides a new approach to those ideas. We want to renew the idea that our generation can hold ideals and opinions worthy of consideration and respect. John Calvin published a commentary on Seneca’s De Clementia when he was only 22, and later became one of the most prolific theologians in Christian history. His renown and influence was impossible without an opportunity to publish his work as a young man.
This journal is not an echo chamber, meant only for similar ideas and opinions. Instead, students who publish this journal interact critically with the big-ideas of history and current culture in such a way that demands conversation with secular and sacred realms alike. This journal has a vision of showing there are eloquent and scholarly young men and women with an exceedingly large amount of worthwhile ideas that deserve interaction. It is intended to be ecumenical enough to provide scholarship that critically engages ideas from other Christians, and exclusive enough to clearly exemplify the importance of engaging all ages, races, denominations, and worldviews. We believe they deserve a listening ear.
The inaugural issue of the Augustine Collegiate Review is centered around the evaluation of various aspects of metaphysics. As one of the classic disciplines, philosophers have focused on metaphysical questions for centuries, and continue the discussion today. From evaluating the relationship between the body, the mind, and the soul to exploring the presence of personal identity as it relates to the meaning of humanity, these big questions individuals have long been asking will continue to drastically shape the life of the individual and society as a whole. Overall, developing a proper view of human nature is determined by one’s ultimate reality. Thus, the men and women who contributed to the journal connected with scholars past and present in the quest for answers to these philosophical questions. They evaluate various facets of literature, personhood and technology, beauty and craftsmanship, a theology of place, and God and time. We hope readers, through critical evaluation, self-initiated research, or a simple peaked curiosity, will venture down new paths and join this journey as well.
We hope the inaugural issue of the Augustine Collegiate Review proves fruitful, encouraging, and challenging to a wide audience. It offers students the opportunity to engage ideas charitably while also publishing an academic work for a diverse audience. Ultimately we hope it fosters intellectual curiosity for many readers, and encourages a legacy of cultural and academic engagement from a biblical worldview.
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By any measure, Hurricane Harvey has been a disaster. The financial damage is an estimated $180 billion. The destruction has spread over 300 miles and damaged about 200,000 homes. But the greatest damage is clearly the estimated 47 people who have died. The physical destruction is substantial, but the human loss is unmistakably the most significant ...
La Compasión: Una Marca Central de Jesús y Sus Seguidores / Compassion: A Central Mark for Jesus and his Followers
La compasión debe ser sentimiento esencial de aquellos que se dicen seguidores de Jesucristo. La palabra compasión significa “sufrir juntos” y es un sentimiento que se manifiesta al percibir y comprender el sufrimiento de los demás y, por lo tanto, produce el deseo de aliviar, reducir o eliminar este sufrimiento. Al ver las noticias, caminar por las calles o simplemente al conversar con personas a nuestro alrededor es fácil darse cuenta que muchas personas están sufriendo por diferentes circunstancias. La tendencia natural y tristemente común incluso en muchos de aquellos que se dicen cristianos es juzgar a los demás y asumir que sus circunstancias negativas son consecuencia de sus malas decisiones. Es fácil amar a los que nos aman y preocuparnos por aquellos que son cercanos a nosotros, pero una marca central de Jesús y sus seguidores debe ser amar y tener compasión por todos sin importar quienes son o qué han hecho ...
This paper concerns itself with objections to the doctrine of divine timelessness. Since, however, the doctrine needs careful articulation before such objections can be considered, I begin by briefly defining it. In so doing, I elucidate three distinct positions that its advocates may take. Finally, I consider objections to the doctrine which have appeared in the contemporary literature, concluding that none succeeds.
The Doctrine Defined
Some theists maintain that being eternal amounts to existing everlastingly in time. In their view, God enjoys a beginningless and endless temporal existence. Thus, they affirm that
(1) For every time t, God exists at t.
Such theists I refer to as temporalists; their view I refer to as temporalism. Not all theists are temporalists; some deny (1). They do so not because they think God exists at some but not all times; instead, they maintain that God’s existence is not temporal, that he is timeless.
Nelson Pike separates the view that God is timeless into two distinct claims. “First,” he states, “if God is timeless, He has no duration, i.e., He lacks temporal extension…Secondly, if God is timeless, God also lacks temporal location.” Now while it might be possible for one to be temporally located without being temporally extended, it is not possible for one to be temporally extended without being temporally located. To be temporally extended is to exist for the length of some temporal interval. But since a temporal interval amounts to nothing more than an unbroken series of temporal locations, to exist for the length of such an interval is to exist during a series of such locations. Thus, one cannot be temporally extended without being temporally located. For this reason, the claim that God is timeless can be reduced simply to the claim that he lacks temporal location. Or so it can on Pike’s account of it. On his account, then, advocates of divine timelessness are theists who affirm that
(2) For every time t, it is not the case that God exists at t.
Such theists I refer to as atemporalists; their view I refer to as atemporalism.
Richard Swinburne attributes to atemporalists the view that “[t]here is no temporal succession of states in God.” On its face, this attribution seems well-founded. Since having temporally successive states involves having some state s1 at some time t1 and having some other state s2 at a later time t2, one has temporally successive states only if one exists at both t1 and t2. But if one exists at both t1 and t2, one is temporally located. Thus, if one has temporally successive states, one is not timeless. Or, at least, not on Pike’s account.
So, on that account, the doctrine of divine timelessness entails the absence of successive states in God. That this follows from (2) indicates a serious inadequacy in Pike’s understanding of that doctrine. For, however surprising it might be, one can coherently maintain both that God is timeless (in a significant sense of ‘timeless’) and that states of the divine mind are successively ordered. This follows from the fact that God might be located at a time (or times) not temporally related to the present moment.
Here I need to introduce a notion which features prominently below—the notion of a temporal array. Let a time t be temporally related to a time t* just in case t is earlier than t*, simultaneous with t*, or later than t*. Roughly put, a temporal array is a set of times temporally related to one another. The present moment happens to be a member of infinitely many different temporal arrays; and among the temporal arrays having that moment as a member is one which has no members temporally related to times not belonging to it. Such a temporal array I refer to as a complete temporal array. More formally, these points can be put as follows:
(3) For any set of times T, T is a temporal array if and only if every member of T is temporally related to every other member of T.
(4) For any set of times T, T is a complete temporal array if and only if (i) T is a temporal array, and (ii) no time which is a member of T bears a temporal relation to a time which is not a member of T.
Let the complete temporal array to which the present moment belongs be t. Atemporalists affirm that
(5) For every time t, if t is a member of t, it is not the case that God exists at t.
From (5), (2) follows only if every time is a member of t. Is every time a member of t?
Since the existence of a time which is not a member of t entails the existence of at least one complete temporal array other than t, the question of whether such a time exists amounts to the question of whether t is the only complete temporal array. Is it? Perhaps, but perhaps not. For while t might be the only complete temporal array, it certainly seems possible that there be others.
Atemporalists who believe it possible that complete temporal arrays other than t exist might characterize eternity as just such an array. Such atemporalists might view eternity as a complete temporal array having only one member, namely, the divine present. Or they might view it as a complete temporal array having, say, infinitely many members. On the latter view, states of the divine mind might be successively ordered, even though God is not temporally located in t. Hence, atemporalists holding this view could affirm both that there is succession in the divine mind and that God is in a significant sense timeless. On such a view, states of the divine mind would be successively ordered, but God would not exist at any time temporally related to the present moment. Advocates of this view would affirm (5) but deny (2). So also advocates of the view that eternity is a complete temporal array which has only one member—namely, the divine present—would affirm (5) but deny (2).
Hereafter I refer to atemporalists who affirm (5) but deny (2) as relative atemporalists and to their view as relative atemporalism. I refer to relative atemporalists who view eternity as a complete temporal array having more than one member as extrinsic atemporalists and to their view as extrinsic atemporalism; I refer to those who view eternity as a complete temporal array having only one member as intrinsic atemporalists and to their view as intrinsic atemporalism. Not all atemporalists deny (2). I refer to theists who affirm not only (5) but also (2) as absolute atemporalists and to their view as absolute atemporalism. According to absolute atemporalists, eternity is notproperly characterized as a complete temporal array. Elsewhere I argue not only for atemporalism broadly construed but for absolute atemporalism. What follows, however, concerns itself not with any specific version of atemporalism but rather with atemporalism per se.
The Doctrine Defended
An examination of objections to the doctrine of divine timelessness is worth undertaking for at least two reasons. First, if any of these objections were decisive, whether God exists temporally would be a settled issue. Second, even if none of these objections were to settle the issue, they might nonetheless be instructive for its advocates, providing constraints for atemporalists and thus establishing parameters for delineating their view. Determining whether they in fact provide constraints and set parameters for atemporalists requires considering them carefully. So, then, the remainder of this essay comprises an examination of the more prominent objections to the doctrine of divine timelessness in the contemporary literature.
The Objection from Simultaneity
Perhaps the most prosaic objection to the doctrine of divine timelessness is one which arises from the transitivity of simultaneity. This objection finds eloquent expression in the work of Anthony Kenny, who takes the doctrine’s incoherence to follow from a straightforward understanding of simultaneity. His argument goes as follows:
Indeed, the whole concept of a timeless eternity, the whole of which is simultaneous with every part of time, seems to be radically incoherent. For simultaneity as ordinarily understood is a transitive relation. If A happens at the same time as B, and B happens at the same time as C, then A happens at the same time as C. . . . But, on [the atemporalist’s] view, my typing of this paper is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Again, on [this] view, the great fire of Rome is simultaneous with the whole of eternity. Therefore, while I type these very words, Nero fiddles heartlessly on.
Kenny thus sees the transitivity of simultaneity as a serious threat to atemporalism.
Is he right? Well, if it follows from atemporalism that the burning of Rome is simultaneous with the typing of these words, then atemporalism is indeed untenable. So if Kenny’s argument turns out to be sound, atemporalists face insuperable difficulties. Fortunately for atemporalists, however, his argument does not turn out to be sound. To see this, consider the argument more closely. It goes as follows:
(6) For any times t, t*, and t**, if t is simultaneous with t* and t* is simultaneous with t**, then t is simultaneous with t**.
(7) If the doctrine of divine timelessness is true, then eternity is simultaneous with every moment in history.
(8) If eternity is simultaneous with every moment in history, then every moment in history is simultaneous with every other moment in history.
(9) But every moment in history is not simultaneous with every other moment in history.
(10) Therefore, the doctrine of divine timelessness is false.
The conclusion, (10), follows from (7), (8), and (9). (8) follows from (6). As nothing more than a statement of the transitivity of simultaneity, (6) is beyond reproach. (9) is surely true. So if (7) turns out to be true, the argument succeeds. As it turns out, however, (7) is not true. According to the doctrine of divine timelessness, eternity is not simultaneous with every moment in history. Indeed, it is not simultaneous with any moment in history. Since the doctrine stipulates that God is not located at any moment temporally related to the present one, eternity cannot be simultaneous with any such moment according to atemporalists. Hence, on their view, it cannot be simultaneous with every such moment.
In attributing (7) to the atemporalist, Kenny takes too literally atemporalist attempts to characterize God’s uninhibited access to every moment in history. Let us say that one has ‘uninhibited access’ to an event e if and only if there is no temporal distance between the occurrence of e and one’s access to e. While a temporal being might enjoy uninhibited access to certain events which occur in 2014 and certain other events which occur in 2017, its uninhibited access to events occurring in 2017 comes at the expense of its uninhibited access to events occurring in 2014. To be sure, such a being might have uninhibited access to each set of events. Even so, its uninhibited access to the first set must be temporally distant from its uninhibited access to the second set. But the timeless God suffers no such indignity. While he enjoys uninhibited access to events occurring in 2014 as well as uninhibited access to events occurring in 2017, no temporal distance stands between his uninhibited access to the first set and his uninhibited access to the second set. If atemporalists appropriate the language of simultaneity in order to make this point, they clearly do not use it in its ordinary sense. William Hasker is correct: “the statement about simultaneity is simply a metaphorical way of putting the point that all of time is ‘present’ in the ‘now’ of eternity.” So for the objection from simultaneity to succeed, atemporalist claims that eternity is simultaneous with every moment in time must be understood in a flat-footedly literal sense. Given their commitment to the doctrine of divine timelessness, however, atemporalists clearly do not intend such claims to be understood in this way. While the ordinary understanding of ‘simultaneous’ is ‘at the same time as,’ atemporalists use it to mean something like ‘at no temporal distance from.’ By thus appropriating ‘simultaneous,’ they make the point about God’s uninhibited access to all temporal events mentioned above. So, then, the objection from simultaneity fails.
The Objection from Agency
Theists hold that God created the universe and sustains it in being. Moreover, they claim that he plays an active role in the course of temporal events. He speaks to Moses from a burning bush, protects Daniel by shutting the mouths of lions, hears Jonah’s prayer and delivers him from a great fish. According to Robert Cook, however, “it is difficult to fathom how an atemporal God could do anything at all.” Being active, J. R. Lucas claims, presupposes being temporal. “To act purposefully,” William Kneale tells us, “is to act with thought of what will come about after the beginning of the action.” Lucas and Kneale thus suggest the notion of atemporal agency turns out to be incoherent. Unfortunately, however, they offer little by way of argument to support their suggestion.
Still, other opponents of atemporalism have offered arguments for eschewing atemporal agency. Richard Gale argues that
Our ordinary concept of causation involves some sort of temporal relation, which can be that of simultaneity, between cause and effect. This holds even for the notion of agent causation in which the cause is not an event but a person. God’s timeless causation is a species of such agent causation but one that has no temporal relation to its temporal effect. Our ordinary concept of causation does not make room for timeless causation…
If one then employs the “ordinary concept of causation,” the notion of atemporal agency makes no sense. Hence, if one wants to save that notion, one must “give a mystical interpretation” to the doctrine of divine timelessness. “But,” Gale argues, “the theist must pay a significant price for going this mystical route, namely, he winds up with a God who is a nonperson.” Now whether the ‘mystical route’ leads to a God who is not a person is an issue which need not detain us. For given the notorious problems associated with the concept of causation, I see no reason for thinking Gale correct that only such a route can save the notion of atemporal agency from incoherence. He assumes that all causes either precede or are simultaneous with their effects. Since an atemporal agent’s actions would neither precede nor be simultaneous with its effects, he concludes that no such agent is possible. But what atemporalist would grant the assumption upon which Gale rests this conclusion?
Even if effects cannot precede their causes (and this is a matter of debate), why can the atemporalist not claim that
(11) Necessarily, for any cause C and effect E, if C causes E, then it is not the case that E precedes C, rather than
(12) Necessarily, for any cause C and effect E, if C causes E, then either (C precedes E) or (C is simultaneous with E), is the appropriate principle here? Both (11) and (12) seem consistent with our experience of ‘ordinary causation.’ But unlike (12), (11) is also consistent with timeless agency. Since Gale’s argument hinges on eschewing (11) in favor of (12), he needs to argue for the truth of (12) over (11). Otherwise, he begs the question against the atemporalist. Unfortunately, he offers no such argument. Thus, Gale’s argument against atemporal agency fails.
The Objection from Omniscience
While those who raise the objection from agency claim that the doctrine of divine timelessness is inconsistent with the activities which theists traditionally ascribe to God, those who raise the objection from omniscience claim that it is inconsistent with the knowledge which theists traditionally ascribe to God. Perhaps the best-known statement of this objection comes in the following passage by Arthur Prior.
I want to argue against [divine timelessness], on the ground that its final effect is to restrict what God knows to those truths, if any, which are themselves timeless. For example, God could not, on the view I am considering, know that the 1960 final examinations at Manchester are now over; for this isn’t something that He or anyone could know timelessly, because it just isn’t true timelessly. It’s true now, but it wasn’t true a year ago (I write this on 29th August 1960) and so far as I can see all that can be said on this subject timelessly is that the finishing-date of the 1960 final examinations is an earlier one than 29th August, and this is not the thing we know when we know that those examinations are over.
Since, then, a timeless being could not know such propositions as
(13) The 1960 final examinations at Manchester are now over,
such a being could not be omniscient.
What Prior claims a timeless being could not know are tensed propositions. It might seem that such propositions can be reduced to dated, tenseless ones. So, for instance, one might think that
(13) The 1960 final examinations at Manchester are now over,
expressed on August 29, 1960, can be reduced to
(14) The 1960 final examinations at Manchester are (tenselessly) over on (or before) August 29, 1960.
If such a reduction were plausible, atemporalists could offer as a plausible response to Prior the argument that a timeless being could know propositions such as (14) and thus know ones such as (13) as well.
According to Prior, however, such a reduction is not plausible. Here, he states,
I cannot think of any better way of showing this than one I’ve used before, namely, the argument that what we know when we know that the 1960 final examinations are over can’t be just a timeless relation between dates because this isn’t the thing we’re pleased about when we’re pleased that the examinations are over.
So, on Prior’s view, propositions such as (13) are essentially tensed and cannot be reduced to tenseless ones. If propositions such as (13) turn out to be essentially tensed, it seems that no timeless being could so much as entertain them; and propositions one cannot entertain are also propositions one cannot know.
Although Prior’s claim that tensed propositions cannot be reduced to dated, tenseless ones is far from true, let us suppose it to be correct. Given this supposition, what plausible response can atemporalists make to the objection from omniscience? Well, as Patrick Grim points out, being omniscient seems no more compatible with the truth of essentially indexical statements such as ‘I am making a mess’ than it is with those such as ‘the 1960 final examinations at Manchester are now over.’ It thus follows that first-person knowledge creates for temporalists whatever problems knowledge of the present creates for atemporalists. So if arguments involving essentially indexical statements raise problems for atemporalists, they do so for temporalists as well. Or, to put the point differently, whatever force the objection from omniscience has against atemporalists, similar objections have the same force against theists more generally.
Given these considerations, then, all theists have good reason to conceive of divine knowledge in a way that does not fall prey to objections involving essentially indexed statements. This can be accomplished by understanding omniscience not in terms of what an omnipotent being knows but rather in terms of the cognitive power possessed by such a being. On such an understanding, being omniscient amounts to having unsurpassable cognitive power. Since one’s having unsurpassable cognitive power does not preclude the possibility that there are truths which one could not know, such an account provides atemporalists who agree with Prior about the irreducibility of tensed statements to tenseless ones with an obvious response to the objection from omniscience. Even if a timeless being could not know what time it is now, such a being may nonetheless possess unsurpassable cognitive power.
The Objection from Personhood
Stewart Sutherland claims timeless beings cannot utter, represent to themselves, create, deliberate, reflect, anticipate, intend, remember, suspect, confirm, or love. “The question which inevitably arises,” he tells us, “concerns what sense, if any, could be attached to the claim that a God who cannot do any of these could be regarded as a person, or even as ‘personal’.” He thus argues against the possibility of a timeless person. Since God’s personhood is an essential tenet of theism, a successful argument against the possibility of a timeless person would thoroughly undermine atemporalism.
Since this objection involves claiming both that there are certain activities in which a timeless being could not engage and that a necessary condition of being a person is being able to engage in those activities, atemporalists have two available responses. First, they can deny that being able to engage in the activities in question is necessary for being a person. Given the notorious difficulty of delineating an adequate conception of personhood, atemporalists can simply maintain that any conception of personhood according to which no timeless being could be a person ought ipso facto to be rejected. If Sutherland expects the objection from personhood to be persuasive, he needs to provide compelling reasons for thinking that the conception of personhood underlying it ought to be accepted; he provides no such reasons.
Second, atemporalists can argue that a timeless being could engage in at least some of the activities in question and thus count as a person. Consider, for instance, Moses’ request that God show him his ways. This request pleases God and Moses receives a favorable answer to it. If God is timeless, his being pleased does not occur after Moses makes the request. Moreover, Moses’ making the request does not occur before God answers it. It nonetheless remains true that both God’s being pleased and his answering Moses’ request result from Moses’ making it. If Moses had not made the request, God would neither have been pleased about his doing so nor have answered it favorably. In such a case, then, it makes perfectly good sense to maintain that Moses’ making the request affects God and that God’s answering it amounts to his responding to Moses. As far as I see, Sutherland does nothing to show such a case to be impossible. Thus, he fails to show that the conception of personhood he employs precludes the possibility of a timeless person.
The Objection from Theological Inadequacy
Although coherent, William Hasker maintains, the doctrine of divine timelessness turns out to be religiously inadequate. This follows, he tells us, from the account of divine knowledge to which the doctrine commits its advocates. On this, he states,
It seems inescapable . . . that if God is eternal, he knows us only by contemplating in eternity his own unchangeable “similitudes,” “images,” or representations of us. But I find this extremely difficult to accept as the truth of the matter. I can tell myself that an eternal God can still cause there to exist in time all of the events that we experience as his historical interventions, as his gracious presence in our lives, and the like. But that God in very truth knows us, and relates to us, only as the eternal representations in his own essence—this is a hard doctrine.
So in the end, Hasker concludes, the doctrine of divine timelessness “leaves too great a distance between the God who is affirmed theologically and the God who is known through Scripture and experience.”
Let us regard as too hard to accept a doctrine according to which God knows and relates to us only as “eternal representations.” Still, the question remains, why think the doctrine of divine timelessness is such a doctrine? Hasker gives his reasons for thinking this in the following passage.
One can be immediately aware only of what is present for one to be aware of; what else, after all, can “immediate” mean? If God is timeless, he can be immediately aware of (supposedly) temporal facts only if these facts really are timeless after all. If, on the other hand, the world really is temporal, only a temporal God can be immediately aware of it—and then only of its present, not of its past or future.
From the claim that objects of immediate awareness must be present to their knowers, Hasker thus concludes that a timeless God could not be immediately aware of temporal beings.
Put more formally, his argument goes as follows.
(15) For any knower K and object of knowledge O, if K is immediately aware of O, then O is present to K.
(16) Thus, if God is timeless, then God is not immediately aware of temporal beings.
Now, as it stands, this argument is invalid. In order to deduce (16) from (15), Hasker needs something like
(17) For any knower K and object of knowledge O, if K is timeless and O is temporal, then O is not present to K,
to be true. Of course, from (15) and (17) it follows that
(18) Thus, for any knower K and object of knowledge, if K is timeless and O is temporal, then K is not immediately aware of O.
And, moreover, (16) follows from (18).
In order for Hasker’s argument to succeed, then, both (15) and (17) must be true. In support of (15), Hasker simply asks what else ‘immediate’ can mean. But one is immediately aware of something if both one is aware of it and one’s awareness of it is not mediated by something else. That (15) follows from this is far from obvious. In fact, as I see it, such an understanding of ‘immediate’ provides no reason whatsoever for accepting (15). Moreover, while Hasker claims that a timeless being’s awareness of temporal beings would be mediated, he does not tell us what would mediate it.
Let us suppose that a timeless being is indirectly aware of some temporal being. What is mediating its awareness? The most plausible answer to this question is that those ‘eternal representations’ to which Hasker refers are mediating its awareness. Such representations amount to ideas (i.e., ‘images’ or ‘similitudes’) within a timeless being’s mind which correspond to the temporal beings known by such a being. Were he so to answer, however, Hasker would undercut his argument against the possibility of a timeless being’s immediately knowing temporal beings. For if such representations were mediating a timeless being’s knowledge of temporal beings, it seems that they would be directly related in some way to the temporal beings which they represent. But if they could be so related, why could not the timeless being itself be so related? So, then, Hasker’s admission that a timeless being could know temporal beings indirectly undercuts his argument that such a being could not know them directly.
Here it also seems worth noting that what it means for an object of knowledge to be ‘present’ to its knower is far from clear; and as long as this remains the case, determining what (15) means will be a difficult task. Still more difficult will be the task of determining whether it is true. Of course, if its meaning were perspicuous, perhaps the truth of (15) would be evident. Even so, Hasker will find little comfort in this fact. For, even if (15) were to turn out to be true, it also might turn out that temporal beings can be present to a timeless being in the sense of ‘present’ at issue. Thus, even if (15) is true, (17) might nonetheless be false.
For (17)’s truth, Hasker offers no argument. Since he himself does not invoke (17), this is hardly surprising. Still, if his argument is to succeed, he needs (17) (or something like it) to be true. Unfortunately, as Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann point out, he seems simply to assume the truth of something like
(19) x can be directly aware of or epistemically present to y only if x and y share the same mode of existence.
Such an assumption, however, has little to commend it. Few theists would accept (19) with respect to space. In fact, since theists have traditionally maintained that God is spaceless, no traditional theist would accept (19). “And,” Stump and Kretzmann argue, “if traditional theists cannot accept [(19)] as applied to space, they cannot reasonably apply it to time.” So, then, traditional theists—both temporalists and atemporalists alike—have compelling reasons to reject (19). Moreover, given the apparent incompatibility between (17) and a timeless God’s direct awareness of temporal beings, few committed atemporalists are likely to grant the truth of (17). If then Hasker expects his argument to succeed, he needs to offer compelling arguments for affirming (17) (or something like it). Since he fails to provide such arguments and since the general principle which underlies (17) is inconsistent with traditional theism’s view of omnipresence, I conclude that the argument for (16) from (15) and (17) fails.
Having weighted five of the most prominent objections to atemporalism in the recent literature, I find them wanting. Of course, the failure of objections to the doctrine of divine timelessness does not entail its truth. So whether some version of atemporalism succeeds remains an open question. As mentioned above, I argue elsewhere for absolute atemporalism. Here I have attempted to show that atemporalism per se is neither indefensible nor one-dimensional.
Questions related to origins are some of the most divisive in the church today: How old is the earth? Is there good evidence for intelligent design? Did God use evolution? Sadly, rather than discussing differences in a sober and gracious manner, conversations are often characterized by defensiveness, misunderstanding, and personal attacks. What a shame!
But this need not be the case. The recent book Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? demonstrates that leading voices in the origins debate can come together and wrestle over big questions of faith and science with both “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15) ...
I had not given the subject of time much thought until, as a fairly new professor at Wheaton, I picked up a 1975 Eerdmans Festschrift for a long-time Calvin professor — God and the Good: Essays in Honor of Henry Stob. One of the chapters was “God Everlasting” by Nicholas Wolterstorff, a piece that has been anthologized frequently in the philosophy of religion. Therein, he argued it was unnecessary and puzzling to say God existed outside of time, and that he was “atemporal.” Besides, the Bible did not require or even suggest that we must talk this way.
I was fresh from a doctoral program where I was most impressed with the empiricist and pragmatist philosophers, and impatient with the way in which metaphysicians spun all sorts of fantastical schemes from their dubious presuppositions and postulates, generating systems of thought which were untestable and unaccountable to common sense. Their schemes, floating in air, if you will, were, to use a technical expression, “very cool,” but it was not clear how you might adjudicate among them, for each had its own internal logic and conceptual splendor. And though we did not have the notion of “post-modernism” at hand in that day, these metaphysicians, with their rival, unverifiable conceits, were setting us up for the day when we would throw up our hands and deny that there could be any valid metanarrative. You had your truth, I had mine. This worked for you, and that for me. Of course, the metaphysicians did not mean it that way, for each was sure that his overarching account was correct. But the futility of validating one as over against the other tended to give metanarratives a bad odor.
My first-semester course in German Idealism at Vanderbilt showed me how much fun the spawning of rival systems could be, but how hopeless it could be to declare one the winner. We began with Kant, who argued for a “Copernican Revolution” against the empiricists, such as Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. These were the Brits who more or less bought into the notion that the mind was, at first, a passive receptor of sense impressions (a tabula rasa, or “blank slate,” to used Locke’s terms), and that it then had the task of sorting what it had received into a workable system of thought. Kant tried to blow up this thinking, saying the mind was comprehensively aggressive in pre-sorting whatever was out there, so once it reached our consciousness, it was bundled into discrete, countable entities, embedded in causal series, located in space, varying in magnitudes, and so on. He gave us a double-decker world, with readily grasped phenomena at hand, backed up by more-or-less inscrutable noumena, realities as they really were.
Once, Kant gave the mind such organizing power, the Germans were off to the races. Fichte argued that it was his mind rather than each and every other mind that ran things—a kind of solipsism (though he did wax eloquent over the splendor of the German people). The professor (an energetic, demonstrative, Hungarian refugee who repeatedly won the Chancellor’s Cup for excellence in teaching) gave us a particularly dramatic lecture on Fichte’s The Science of Knowledge (Wissenschaftslehre), one in which he stacked up an imaginary wall of blocks, only to knock it down with relish (something we kids used to do in the church nursery, as I recall). The point was that the mind constructed a challenging world for itself, one in which it could grow by overcoming self-imposed difficulties.
And then came Hegel, who said that, no, it was not our minds or my mind in charge, but The Mind, the Weltgeist, the Absolute Spirit, which ran the whole show. History itself was its “thinking” as worked through developmental challenges (“antitheses”), whose conflict with current notions and events (“theses”) generated brand new things (“syntheses”), which, in turn, became theses, against which rose antitheses, and so on.
Other Germans riffed on this theme of the marching, powerful mind. (You can almost hear the rhythmic tramp of Reich battalion boots, accompanied by Deutschland, Deutschland, über Alles.) Marx (along with Engels and Lenin) espoused a “dialectical materialism” (a dialogue of matter) to supplant Hegel’s “dialectical idealism” (a conversation of concepts), thus giving us the naturalistic base for Communistic atheism. Schopenhauer, in The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung) got depressed over the pervasive grind of willful struggle that is human living, and he waxed rhapsodic over the arts, which he called a sort of Sabbath, a place of relief from the dog-eat-dog workings of our circumstances and natures. (Ricky Stark recently received his Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary after defending a dissertation on the similarities and dissimilarities between the Lord’s Day and Schopenhauer’s Sabbath.) Not surprisingly, Schopenhauer was taken with Eastern thought, since Buddhism advanced a regimen of deliverance from the strivings and worries of desire.
Nietzsche followed with his Will to Power (Der Wille zur Macht) and “Superman” (Übermensch), who should lord it over the wimpy Judeo-Christians, who had replaced original, intimidating nobility with pathetic values such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control,” the only personality features that losers could manage. And, this sort of thinking trickled down to France, where existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre said that we create our own values. (Our “existence precedes our essence,” so that we are not at all answerable to such silly things as pre-existing human nature or universal ethical norms.) On and on it went in this triumphal mode, thanks, in large measure to Kant’s anointing of the mind as the world-shaper.
By the turn of the 20th century, a Germanic idealism had made its way into the British heartland of empiricism, thanks to F.H. Bradley, who was quite the rage in his day. Indeed, the English were capable of spinning out their own metaphysical tales, as in the case of Alfred North Whitehead (later of Harvard), whose “Process Philosophy” gave us the neologisms appetition, concrescence, comformal, formaliter, ingression, prehension, regnant society, and superject.
But then came the revolt in both the UK and America (with some major help from Vienna). A group calling themselves “logical positivists” insisted that enough was enough, and hereafter, the only legitimate propositions were those which entailed scientifically-testable results. No more of these gaseous speculations which could neither be confirmed nor disconfirmed. And in the U.S., men like Charles S. Peirce and William James said you had to be able to find “cash value” in a claim—cash in terms of actionable intelligence and real-live eventualities—for it to be meaningful. While A.J. Ayer said a proposition should be “verifiable,” Karl Popper said it should be “falsifiable,” but they agreed on the need for testability. So you can have your fun with Fichte, Hegel, and Schopenhauer all you want, but your ratiocinations and fulminations come to naught in the light of a cognitively-responsible day.
Unfortunately, the positivists cleared out more than the weeds of groundless speculation. They also wiped out ethics, aesthetics, and religion, saying these matters came to no more than personal emoting, just a matter of booing or cheering. But, to the contrary, most people understood that “God exists” and “Slaughtering and eating babies is wrong” and “Rembrandt is a better artist than my grandchild, whose work I put on my refrigerator door” are more than mere subjectivities, relativities, and proclivities. Indeed, it became clear to most that the pendulum had swung too far back in the other direction, the direction in which Hume took empiricism when he discounted religion, undermined causality, and deconstructed the notion of the human soul. A sign of this discontent was the establishment of The Review of Metaphysics in 1947, edited by Jewish philosopher Paul Weiss and sponsored primarily by The Catholic University of America.
Observing this back-and-forth through the years, I have turned to the biblical image of Jacob’s Ladder, upon which the angels were descending to earth and ascending to heaven (Gen 28:10-19). In my estimation, the German metaphysicians were comfortable at the top of the ladder, offering a “God’s eye” view of the universe (albeit a false one), but they were not at all adept at producing testable entailments that might show their theories to be either sound or bogus. (The same goes for the pantheistic, Amsterdam Jewish philosopher, Spinoza, but that is another story.) On the other end of the ladder, the positivists were good at earthly tests (e.g., water boiling at 100 degrees centigrade; the economic impact of mercantilism; the psychological effects of opioids), but they were indifferent, indeed, contemptuous, toward the important things going on at the top of the ladder e.g., intelligent design in the universe.
This is not to say that all the empiricists were stuck at the bottom end. John Locke and George Berkeley were confessing and argumentative believers, as was twentieth century Anglican bishop, Ian Ramsey, who rebuked the positivists with the simple observation that “God exists” is indeed testable—at least eschatologically—for it is logically possible that one day (when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess”) that even A.J. Ayer would have to admit that Yahweh is real.
Unfortunately, self-professed Christians sometimes cling to the upper levels with little regard for the lower rungs. George Berkeley called out the Roman Catholics for this very thing when he dismissed “transubstantiation,” wherein the elements of the mass supposedly become the body of Christ. While the wine continues to look, smell, taste, feel, and sound like wine throughout the observance, it actually flips from wine substance to blood-of-Christ substance, or so the story goes. Berkeley, a good Protestant bishop, asked, rhetorically, what sort of thing substance might be. Could they describe it? Could they cash it in experientially? His answer was no, and thus he declared the sacrament delusional, literally nonsense.
Locke made a similar move when, in Essay Concerning Human Understanding, he picked up on the free-will dispute. He said he understood what will was, for he was familiar with exercising it regularly, as in choosing to pick up a pen and then doing so, with accompanying decisional and kinesthetic experiences. But what, he asked, was the extra experience that signaled that this was a “free” act? Was this to distinguish it from an unconscious act, like sleep walking, or an involuntary act, like plunging into a ravine when a footbridge collapses, or maybe a non-human eventuation, like the rusting of an iron gate? Well, yes, certainly. But beyond this, what sense could be attached to the question of whether taking up the pen was free? He concluded it was an empty question since the term ‘free’ was undefined. And thus he helped open the door to the widely-accepted notion of compatibilism (popular with many Christians), whereby the sovereignty of God coheres with human freedom: We are free in that we do what we want to do, but we are not free in the sense that we do not choose our wantings. The latter are a function of our nature, whether in bondage to sin or born again, a new creation, indwelt by the Holy Spirit—all a matter of God’s pleasure.
Which brings us to our original conundrum: Is God atemporal or “merely” everlasting? What in the world would it mean for one to be “inside” or “outside” of time? What, exactly, is time?
I am perfectly aware that it is piously fashionable to say God is not in time. Indeed, I work with a website whose video series about the biblical story begins with the words, “Before there was space, before there was time, there was God.” But following Wolterstorff (and, in his way, Swinburne), I am not there yet. For one thing, I cannot see that the Bible demands it (or allows it, for that matter). Some point to Genesis 1:1 to suggest God existed before the beginning (of time), but the beginning of earthly time does not rule out previous activity on God’s part, activity that took time. They also might point to the ESV translation of Jude 25:“to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” But the NIV sticks closer to the Greek with “before all ages,” and, indeed, the ESV offers the footnote, “or before any age.” For one thing, the word in question is aionon, not chronos. And, of course, Jesus existed before historical ages (whether Bronze, Middle, and Machine).
Besides, the Bible is full of accounts of God doing things, actions spread out through time. Over the centuries, he has brought down some rulers and exalted others (Luke 1:52); prompted Balaam’s donkey to rebuke the prophet on his back (Num 22:21-23); sent a great fish to swallow the fleeing, disobedient Jonah (Jonah 1:17); providentially gobsmacked Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6), and thousands of other things reported in the Bible. Each involved a before, during, and after, to which God was a party.
So what might time be? I think Aristotle was in the ball park when, in Physics (Book IV, 11), he tied it to movement and succession. It is a matter of change, of one state of affairs’ giving way to another. And it is not just physically external, as in the rotation or circumnavigation of planets, for it can be extended to thought, as when one idea succeeds another. And these successions are not in some sort of atmosphere or solution or locale we might call time; rather, they constitute time itself. So, on this understanding, there was no such thing as “before time” as long as the Trinitarian God was doing something, whether thinking or otherwise acting, including deeds of loving fellowship among the persons of the Trinity.
Recall, if you will, the story of Sleeping Beauty, where a spell is cast upon the whole kingdom so that everyone falls asleep and stays that way until she awakens. Extend that big freeze to not only their bodies, but to their dreams, the growth of vegetation, the scurrying of insects and other animals, sunrise and sunset. Everything. And imagine there is no supernatural observer, conflagration on the sun, race of asteroids, incidents of aging. No change in composition or place anywhere. Then, all of a sudden, it all cranks up again. People are talking. The moon is running through its cycles. The crickets are chirping. So then the question arises: How long was everything stopped? The answer is that the question makes no sense. For it is only with reference to something moving, e.g., the sweep of a second hand, a shift in mood, radioactive decay, that we can speak meaningfully of the passage of time. A river needs a bank to be a river, or perhaps it is better to say a riverbank needs a river to be a riverbank. But, of course, there has been no such time stoppage, for God has always been doing things, “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2).
But I can hear the philosophers asking, rhetorically, “How can you say there was a succession of thoughts and actions in the Godhead when ratiocination and rumination require some sort of lack, a chain of reasoning as yet incomplete, a goal not yet achieved?” Surely God does not have to sort things out. He knows immediately. And if you are suggesting that in the Trinity’s internal love relationship, there were needs to be fulfilled, instances of deprivation needing amelioration, then you slight either God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit, or any combination thereof.
In this connection, I am reminded of a question a trustee asked me when I was interviewing for a position at Midwestern Seminary. He wondered if I believed God was impassible, untouched by and incapable of emotion. After all, since he was not subject to surprises, disappointment, dread, bio-rhythms, and such, he could not be subject to the roller-coaster of mood swings that we humans suffer. He must surely sail serenely above the tumult.
Okay, I see the argument, but, as I told him/them, I was first of all a biblicist, and whatever philosophical march I chose to follow, I must answer to the drumbeat of the text. And it seemed clear to me that the text said God was capable of emotion, as when his wrath toward sin was appeased by Christ on the cross (propitiation), when the Holy Spirit was grieved, and when he was pleased with righteous worship.
When I read in Genesis 1:26 that he/they said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness . . .” it seems to me to say, on the face of it, the Trinity came to the point of initiating our species, and they did not have to go slumming into some temporary Timeland, situated after “Before There Was Time” and before “Time Will Be No More” in order to implement this choice. No, it is perfectly reasonable to say God set his mind upon making us prior to the first day of creation. And the initiating act of the whole earthly shebang followed an eternity of Trinitarian activity, an endless succession of godly initiatives and responses, characteristic of a loving relationship within the Trinity, so often stipulated in Christian meta-ethics as the source and template for our own congregational mutuality. And where there is succession of thought and deed, whether earthly or pre-earthly, there is time.
As I read it, the Kalam version of the cosmological argument claims there cannot be an infinite number of prior events culminating in the current moment, for it is impossible to traverse an infinity, so we would have never arrived at the present. Therefore, there had to be a beginning in time. Therefore, we had to have an initiator of time, viz. God. The problem is, we do, in fact, have an infinity of preceding events, namely the pre-Creation activities of an eternal God. And I am disinclined to say we have a firm enough grasp on infinity-theory to insist otherwise.
Of course, I understand why one might want to say that God is outside time. For one thing, the pre in predestination is less troublesome. An atemporal God would not really lock in your choices before you made them since he does not work in the realm of before and after. Also, time seems to be a form of bondage, and we do not want God to suffer restraints, he being omnipotent. But just because I grasp the motives, it does not follow that I have to accept the conclusions. For instance, I understand the impetus for practicing infant baptism. The child is not able to choose Christ on his own, so you want to give him some sort of coverage in case he dies before he can muster a decision. In this vein, the Roman Catholics invented Limbo to give unbaptized babies who die in infancy a better fate than Purgatory or Hell. Similarly, the Presbyterians drew on Old Testament circumcision to analogize the family-of-God advantages that came from the sprinkling of water. But I cannot see good intentions and earnest aspirations suffice. The Bible just will not support the conceit of paedobaptism. (And, I would argue, great harm has ensued since there are millions of church attendees who assume, incorrectly, that something of spiritual significance happened to them because of a hold-over ceremony from pre-Reformation days—a case where the theological apple did not roll far enough from the tree).
But what about God’s ability (or inability) to see the future? If time is a succession of events and some events have not yet happened, then what is there to see? But does not the Bible say he looks into the future, as in Romans 8:29-30?
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
How can you foreknow something that does not exist? Would it not be more sensible to appropriate Boethius’s image of God gazing down upon the road of time from a hilltop outside of time, whereby, to one side, he looks directly at 1517, and then, to the other side, he looks directly at 1994, without being temporally tainted by either? But I have two big problems with that. First, the biblical passage does not make good sense if we read it in a libertarian fashion, where God is able to see what choice this or that person will make and then act accordingly, bringing blessings to bear on those whom he sees will choose him. If that is the reading, why would he have to do any predestinating at all? He sees that the fellow has picked up on salvation, so he can just say Amen! and wait for the happy eventuality.
Would not I think it would be better to read it, “For whom he did set his mind upon, he also did predestinate . . . .”? His sovereign choice results in the good things that follow—predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. So how might he know the deliverances of the future? He knows since he is Lord of all that happens, and the future will unfold exactly as he pleases and insures by whatever means he chooses.
I have another problem with the hilltop analogy. I cannot imagine what it would be like to experience all of history simultaneously. It cannot just be a matter of God’s sitting in a studio with a massive bank of TV screens, one showing Noah at work on the ark, another what is going on in the Final Four in Phoenix, and yet another covering what President Trump’s press secretary is saying in a briefing three months from now. No, to make this work, you need to have a separate screen for each one thousandth of an inch (for starters) of the trajectory of each shot taken in each game, etc. And, on this model, God would not be able to scan the bank of screens to get a summary of the sequence or a composite, for that would take time, which, so the story goes, God does not do. You would get some sort of Edward Muybridge freeze-frame chronicle of the instants of a horse in motion. But that would not be to see the event, but rather a dissection of it, where the living action is cut up and pinned down on a tar-filled tray. Or, to put it otherwise, it would be like listening to Ravel’s Bolero instantaneously, with its tens of thousands of notes, all up and down and across the score, each assigned to a particular instrumentalist to play and hold. You would have white noise, not melody; chaos, not symphony. It would make more sense to say God observed the collapse of Jericho’s walls in “real time,” and that he was not simultaneously viewing Luther’s defense of himself at Worms. That would come later. Would that really do theological damage?
But wait, what about the bondage of time? Surely you would not want to put God in such a straitjacket, whereby he is limited by time, unable to travel and act freely outside the limits of temporality? But what sort of limit would that be? Certainly, it makes sense to speak of our time limitations. We work with time constraints, with a writing assignment due Tuesday. We miss our plane because we did not leave the house soon enough. We want to get a project completed, but we worry that in our 91st year, we will not be around to see it through. But none of that is a problem for God. He does whatever he pleases, within the bounds of logic. (He cannot make a square simultaneously a circle or preserve the bachelorhood of a married man. Those are simply contradictions, another kind of nonsense.)
But am I saying he cannot return to the day of Moses on Sinai? Well, yes, of course. The past has passed. But, if he so pleased, he could instantly recreate the scene, replete with drowned Egyptians in the rear, deluded Golden Calfers in the flatlands, and a Moses up the hill, with a mind as yet unaware of what would be inscribed on the tablets. But that would be the work of replication in the present. I cannot imagine why the Lord would want to do that, but he could without a hitch. So again, where is the bondage?
Ah, but what about the different time frames mentioned in 2 Peter 3:8, where we read that, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (NIV). Well, a couple of things come to mind. First, God is not a clock watcher, anxious as the hours tick away. He does not see his opportunities or energy or prospects slipping away as the shadows lengthen. So he can relax and take the long view, where we operate in an antsy frame of mind. Second, we are all familiar with phenomenological time, where a thirty minute sermon can seem to take an hour, and a two-hour sermon can seem to run forty-five minutes. And judging from my experience in a batting cage, the same seventy-five mile per hour pitch that seems like a blur to me would have seemed languorous to Ted Williams, who could read the rotation of the stitching as it made its way to the plate.
But you see, Coppenger, you are ignoring anthropomorphisms and insisting that God fit into your experiential straightjacket. Your empiricism is legislative and parochial.
No, it is confessional. I just do not know what you are talking about when you say God is “outside of time.” When I say it is nonsense, I am not doing so contemptuously, as I would be if you told me Billy Graham was a closet atheist. Not at all. I am simply pleading, “Please do not push me in this direction. It makes no sense to me.” And, besides, I do not see that the Bible asks me to head that way at all.
The other evening at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville (there for an evening of Debussy and Ravel), I saw a poster on sale in the gift shop, one published for the January 2011 reopening after the hall after the damage from the 2010 flood had been repaired. It featured a quote from the composer, Aaron Copland, one that read, “To stop the flow of music would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable.” I would amend it to say, “To stop the flow of absolutely everything would be like the stopping of time itself, incredible and inconceivable,” and that has never happened. For the Trinity has been doing things forever.
Look, there is so much more to say. So many interlocutors to engage, whether McTaggart, Einstein, Stump, Craig, or Helm. But time is up, and I hope that I have at least shown where I am coming from in this conversation, with a measure of warrant.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Peter J. Gentry, Donald L. Williams Professor of Old Testament Interpretation, talks with Towers editor Andrew J.W. Smith about this new book, How to Read and Understand the Biblical Prophets.
AJWS: How does one go about finding a genre for the prophets? How do you build a framework for interpreting them?
PG: The prophets, you could argue, are not a specific genre because they use every communication trick in the book to get their message across, including acting. Jeremiah hides his underwear in the rock, Isaiah goes naked and barefoot, Ezekiel cuts off his hair and throws it out the window. But part of prophetic literature in particular is what we would call apocalyptic literature, which uses highly colored metaphors and symbols to describe future events. Some people have not figured out that this is a way of speaking among the prophets. It really comes out of their belief in the doctrine of creation because that’s the central teaching in the Old Testament, that there is one God who created everything. So when your whole world is going to be turned upside down, they talk about it like an anti-creation event. The sun will be darkened, and the moon will be turned to blood. So this apocalyptic language comes out of their belief in the creator God and their understanding of creation.
AJWS: What is a covenant?
PG: A covenant is a serious and permanent commitment to a relationship that is characterized by loyalty, love, faith, trust, and obedience. Family relationships are considered covenantal relationships. A lot of covenant language in the Bible uses family language. When God makes a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, he says, “I will be a father to you, and you will be like my son.” So there’s going to be a relationship of faith. You’re going to have to believe what I say. You’re going to have to obey what I say. I’m looking for complete devotedness and loyalty and faithfulness in this relationship. And of course children are supposed to serve their parents. So an obedient son and a servant king is really the idea that is carried through each one of the Adamic figures as we show in Kingdom Through Covenant.
AJWS: How does prophecy as we often think of it — foretelling the future — function throughout the Scriptures?
PG: I would summarize the covenant relationship very simply by saying being completely devoted to the Lord as the only true God, to treat others in a genuinely human way, and to be good stewards of the earth’s resources. So as Jesus said, love God and love your neighbor as yourselves. So that’s a summary of the covenant. So one of the problems is the Israelites are not completely devoted to Yahweh as the only true God. They’re farmers, they’re shepherds, and they’re hedging their bets with Baal at the same time that they’re going to the temple in Jerusalem. They’re putting their eggs in a number of baskets, and they’re not putting their total devotion, their total loyalty, and their total trust in Yahweh. So you’ve got a problem: how do you prove Yahweh is the only true God and Baal is a false god? There is only one true test of deity. That is the being who is God is someone who not only knows but determines and controls the future. If we think about it, this is the one thing in spite of all the greatness of our human technology that we cannot do. If you look, the weather channel is the most-watched channel in America, which shows that we want to know what’s going to happen. And nobody does know for sure what’s going to happen. So prediction of the future becomes part of the prophets’ message to prove two things: first of all, if a prophet makes a prediction and it comes true, then you know according to Deuteronomy 18 that he’s a true prophet. Then when he makes a prediction that occurs beyond the hearer’s lifetime, you believe that because he is now tested as a true prophet by his own contemporaries. So they make predictions of the future to prove first of all that they are genuine, authorized agents. Then they make predictions that demonstrate that Yahweh is the only one who not only knows but controls the future and determines it.
AJWS: How can we rightly identify something as a messianic prophecy?
PG: Well, I show in the book that there are basically three different ways in which the prophets talk about the future. Number one, you could actually simply make a prose statement. Here is what is going to happen without any figures of speech, just straight prediction. And I think there are examples of that although liberal scholarship does not accept them, the prediction of Cyrus the Great as coming to deliver them from Babylon. You can use what’s called typology, and that is very simple. Because God is in control of history and because he is consistent in his character, there will be patterns in events. So certain things in the past are actually patterns or foreshadow events that will happen in the future. Another way you can describe the future is using types. In the Old Testament, God’s great act of deliverance in the past is the Exodus, so the prophets talk about how after the time of judgment God will rescue them, he will deliver them, he will save them — and people like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel use language from the Exodus to describe the coming salvation. And the other way they do this is by very colorful metaphors and symbols in what we call apocalyptic language, and it’s very easy to understand. So we shouldn’t be surprised by the different methods that are used to describe the future, because if God is predicting something that’s 700 years in advance or 2000 years in advance, a literal description is not going to be useful.
AJWS: Take students who are reading through the Bible in a year: they get through Genesis and Exodus just fine. They work their way through Leviticus and Deuteronomy and do their best. Then they do the Psalms. Then they get to the prophets, they get to Isaiah and Jeremiah and then they start to slow down because there’s all this complicated material in there. There’s oracles about foreign nations and all these other things going on, and so their reading plan falls apart. What are some reasons that happens?
PG: The idea of repetition, of course, is basic to all Hebrew literature, so they’re going to see this in Genesis. Even in prose you’ll have large sections that involve repetition. Hebrew literature also uses pairs of words, which you can’t get the idea from each word individually, but together they communicate something, so with poetry and with word pairs you get the minimum version of the left speaker and the right speaker. So they’re going to have a lot of experience, they’re going to see this throughout. In Exodus 14 you have a prose version of the crossing of the Red Sea, in Exodus 15 you have the poetry version. Judges 4 is the battle with Sisera described in prose. Chapter 5 is the battle described in poetry. You see other things like long sections that deal with the foreign nations. Those are really connected to the covenant in Deuteronomy, in particular to Deuteronomy 32 because Moses already knows that the people do not have a faithful heart. He says their heart is not circumcised, and it’s just a way of saying, you’re not completely devoted to the covenant. God wants them to realize that he’s not just the tribal deity, but he’s the creator-God of the whole world. He governs all the nations, and his plan through Abraham is to bring blessing to all the nations through Israel. So God is bringing Israel back to himself so Israel can bring a blessing to all these other nations. Israel as a nation never really grasped the purpose of why God had called them and given them special blessing in Abraham. The blessing to Abraham was not for themselves but to be the instrument of blessing and salvation for the whole world. So that’s why you have these kinds of sections.
AJWS: How do we recognize the Bible does go into great detail about this and does have truth that can be applied to our lives while also being open-handed about it?
PG: Well, that’s why I wrote the book. I’ll be honest, most of my writing over the last 40 years has been extremely technical, so I tried to write something that was as popular possible. I’m hoping this will help people know how to read these texts for themselves. I can teach people what I think the Bible is saying, but I’m more interested in them actually learning to read the text for themselves and coming to the right conclusions.
I had the occasion to watch a six-part DVD series called PovertyCure, produced by the Acton Institute. It is indeed an eye-opening series that I’d encourage you to watch. Each part is less than 30 minutes long and is available in the Biola Library (BV4647 .P6 P68 2012 DVD). It challenges the effectiveness of the traditional model of helping the poor through foreign aid in regions where there is wide-spread poverty and the economy is largely depressed. This aid can come in the form of government sponsored foreign aid, through global agencies such as the IMF or World Bank, and even from NGO’s (both secular and Christian). By the end of the series, I think most would at least pause to consider if “aid” (as a “handout”) helps to alleviate poverty, or whether it actually exacerbates the problem ...