August 16, 2015

Questions Sparked by Defenders Class

Dear Dr Craig, greetings from Tauranga, New Zealand

First of all I wanted to write and thank you for making your Defenders Podcasts freely available on your website. I find them both stimulating and encouraging.

I grew up as a staunch atheist and worked initially as a scientist. I tried as much as possible to challenge my assumptions and vigorously research alternatives to propositions before I adopted them, always with the proviso that I might change my mind if new evidence presented itself. Imagine my consternation when as an adult I came to realize that I was mistaken about the existence of God, and that he was real and active in my life!

Although I have been a Christian for over 25 years I still try to take the same approach to my theology and when presented with statements about God I like to know the evidence for them and what the alternatives are. Sadly many of the other Christians I meet find this irritating or threatening, and it is always encouraging to find a kindred spirit so I host a very small home-group for such people from my church.

Last term I shared your Defenders 3 Doctrine of Revelation pod-casts with them. It went very well, and we are keen to use more of your pod-casts. I was on a long car journey yesterday and took the opportunity to listen to all of the available Doctrine of God pod-casts which made the journey much more stimulating, or I might even say over-stimulating as I am still processing what I heard!

We have two quick questions: First does the Defenders 3 series stand on its own, or is it necessary to go through series 1 & 2 first? Also listening to your pod-casts we often hear what sounds like a pen moving on a white-board but of course we cannot see what you are writing! Have you ever considered making video files of your talks available?

I also have a more complex question of my own. I have found your descriptions of omni-temporalism and middle-knowledge have challenged some of my assumptions, but instead of finding this irritating or threatening I am grateful to have had my horizons extended, and I am very interested to know more. I suspect I shall have to track down a copy of your book "Time and Eternity" for a detailed explanation, but I wondered if you could find the time to provide a short answer?

Regarding the eternal nature of God I have taken a position that you describe as a-temporal, that God exists outside of Time as we know it. Further more, I have assumed that God's foreknowledge of events is what I might call a secondary attribute, dependent on his primary attribute of being a-temporal. In other words his fore-knowledge isn't really fore-knowledge, it is post-knowledge that is available to him at all times. Because of this I haven't been troubled by fatalism: we have total freedom, God sees our choices after we make them, and that knowledge is available to God in an a-temporal fashion.

However such a viewpoint has no place for middle-knowledge; God cannot see what could have happened, only what did happen. Accordingly I suspect people with an a-temporal viewpoint are more likely to reject the concept of middle knowledge when they meet it. However, on reflection I find that I don't have a strong justification for considering foreknowledge a secondary attribute, only that it was simpler to treat it that way given that I already had an a-temporal viewpoint. If instead I consider God's fore-knowledge to be an independent primary attribute, then the concept of middle-knowledge presents no great difficulty, and provides a very satisfactory explanation for the God-breathed aspect of scripture as you pointed out in your Doctrine of Revelation series, as well explaining texts like 1 Samuel 23:1-13 as you pointed out in part 13 of Doctrine of God. So I am happy with the idea of middle knowledge.

But I am finding the idea of omni-temporalism much harder to get my head around. If God didn't create time then who did? Also aren't temporal beings in a sense controlled by time? As you point out, God would still has his perfect knowledge of the past, but does omni-temporalism lead to a belief that God is under the control of time?

You also speak of the difficulty of an a-temporal God to know what the time is "now", but when you say "now" just before lunch on a summers day, I hear it a few days later on a winters evening, which I feel weakens the force of that argument a little. I agree that the A-Theory (or the tensed theory) is the common-sense view of time, but according to my common-sense a clock on the ground should stay in sync with clocks on planes flying east or west. Yet the Hafele Keating experiment of 1971 shows that my common-sense is incorrect, and that relative to the ground clock, the west moving clock gained time while the east moving clock lost time. So which of those clocks would God agree represented "now?"

You also say you find it objectionable that in some sense the crucifixion never passes away. Lets say it has been 1,982 years since the crucifixion (2015-33AD). If I imagine myself in space 1,982 light years away from earth looking through my spaceship's super powerful telescope, won't I see Jesus hanging on the cross right now? And I take it on faith that any sins I commit in that spaceship are in some sense paid for by the crucifixion I am watching right now through my telescope.

So my question is, are these valid thoughts to ponder as I weigh a-temporalism and a tense-less B-theory against omni-temporalism, or have I misunderstood the debate?

Kind regards


New Zealand

Your question, Darren, gives me the opportunity to tell folks about our wonderful Defenders class on Christian doctrine and apologetics. I teach this 35 minute class weekly every Sunday morning at 11:40 a.m. in the U.S. Eastern time zone. The lecture is live-streamed on the Internet so that churches and individuals who can join us at that time can be part of the live class. This is a great resource for churches which don’t have a local teacher who can teach on these subjects. The class is video-taped and podcast the following week in both video and audio format. The lectures are also transcribed, so that one can study the lessons without the need of listening to the class. The transcripts are an especially valuable resource to those who want to really study the material. All these resources are available free on our website.

The Defenders curriculum comprises all the main areas of systematic theology, from Doctrine of Revelation to Doctrine of God to Doctrine of Salvation to Doctrine of the Last Things. As you note, we have run through the entire series of lectures twice before, which are archived on the website as Defenders I and Defenders II. Defenders III, the current series, is still near the beginning, so that someone who is interested in learning about topics yet to be addressed should consult Defenders II, which is complete. Defenders III does not presuppose any knowledge of the previous series and differs from them only insofar as my thinking on the topics discussed continues to develop. (Since the classes are recorded before a live audience, they will also, of course, differ in the questions raised by the class members and my responses to them.) Because we have no deadlines to meet, we have the luxury of spending as much time on each topic as we want. Having attended and taught seminary for several years, I can assure you that someone who completes the entire Defenders series will be better educated in Christian doctrine than the graduates of most of our evangelical seminaries.

Now as to your “complex question,” I think that you have, in fact, misunderstood a number of things. First, divine timelessness in no way excludes middle knowledge. Luis Molina held that God is timeless, and I also hold that God existing alone without creation is timeless. There is no reason to think that in such a state of affairs, God does not have knowledge of all true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom about what people would do in any set of circumstances. When you say, “God cannot see what could have happened,” that only shows that God’s natural knowledge of all possibilities and his middle knowledge of what creatures would freely do under various circumstances is not part of what Aquinas called God’s scientia visionis (knowledge of sight), or what Molina called God’s free knowledge (His knowledge of everything that does, did, and will happen).

On my view God creates time and enters into it in virtue of His real relation to the world and His knowledge of tensed facts like Halley’s comet is approaching Earth. He is the Lord of time but condescends to take on our temporal mode of existence for our sake and our salvation.

Yes, you need to read Time and Eternity (Crossway, 2001) to get a full answer to your question about the relativity of our measurements of time and which time is God’s time. In a nutshell, I think that relativity describes the behavior of our clocks, not of time itself, and for a measure of God’s time we need a frame-independent clock, such as is afforded by the expansion of the universe.

Part of my theological critique of a tenseless or B-Theory of time, according to which temporal becoming is an illusion, is that the victory of the resurrection is hollow because the crucifixion is never really done away with. This permanency is not at all analogous to someone many light years from Earth’s only now perceiving the events of 2,000 years ago, which are over and done with on an A-theory of time, just as we now observe supernovae which happened millions of years ago in stars that no longer exist. The fact that Christ’s atoning sacrifice has been made and now he is risen has no effect on the efficacy of that sacrifice for any future sins that people may commit.