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“a boundary between the being of God and the being of creation”? brief thoughts on K. Scott Oliphint’s proposal

 

In a book by Dr. Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God, we find statements like this:

 

There is, then, a distance of being between God and man. How can the Infinite One relate to finite creatures?[1]

 

[There is a] problem (for us, not for God) of the distance of God, which distance constitutes a boundary between the being of God and the being of creation.[2]

 

The problem of distance and the dilemma of God’s relationship to creation is no problem or dilemma for Him.[3]

 

The reason why “the problem of distance” is not a problem for God is found in God. For, in the words of Oliphint, “the absolute and the relative exist, first and foremost, in the Triune God Himself!”[4] By “absolute” Oliphint intends what God is essentially or “God’s characteristics as God (and, thus, quite apart from creation).”[5] He lists among these characteristics God’s infinity, eternity, immutability, and impassibility.[6] What he intends by “relative” is “[t]he characteristics that God has because of His voluntary condescension . . .”[7] He also labels these as God’s covenantal characteristics.[8] He says, “Some of those [relative/covenantal] characteristics are now permanent (e.g., grace, wrath), some only temporary (e.g., theophanies, human forms, appearances as fire, in the Old Testament).”[9] So the “distance of being between God and man” is bridged by God himself. God remains eternal, infinite, and immutable in his essential characteristics, but he also must be viewed as “expressing Himself in ‘new’ characteristics in order to relate to us.”[10] And both God’s absolute and relative character exist in God. Recall these words of Oliphint: “the absolute and the relative exist, first and foremost, in the Triune God Himself!”[11] If the relative is not infinite, eternal, immutable, and impassible as the absolute, this entails it is finite, temporal, mutable, and passible. But if the relative really exists “in the Triune God Himself,” then, in the words of Porter, God assumed “an acquired mode of being that affords him the ontological conditions by which he can interact with his creation,” and thus, the boundary or “distance of being” has been bridged. The answer to Oliphint’s question, “How can the Infinite One relate to finite creatures?,” seems to be that he assumes finitude in himself.

Oliphint’s thesis assumes an ontological problem that must be overcome. He says, there is “a boundary between the being of God and the being of creation” (emphasis added). But is there such a problem or boundary? McFarland asserts there is no “sort of ontological barrier that might limit God’s intimacy with creation.”[12] Bavinck says, “Implied in creation is both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence . . .”[13] It seems to me that both Frame and Oliphint assume a working tenet of forms of what some call theistic personalism or mutualism; namely, given classical Christian theism, there are ontological conditions in the eternal God which must be overcome if divine immanence is to be.[14] Process theism sees “a fundamental metaphysical continuity between God and all that is not God.”[15] This is denied by Frame and Oliphint. But process theism further asserts that “[o]nly if God and the world operate on the same metaphysical plane is it possible for God to engage the world both directly and without compulsion.”[16] But is God an ontological boundary or barrier which must be overcome if he is to reveal himself to creatures? Is it the case that there is “a boundary between the being of God and the being of creation” (emphasis added)? We think not. McFarland is surely correct when he asserts, “God’s engagement with the world is neither impeded by nor subject to the metaphysics of becoming.”[17] God does not become in order to create or manifest himself to creatures. Creation manifests God to creatures. McFarland continues:

 

For while God’s acting outside of God’s self to bring into being that which is other than God does not involve any blurring of the distinction between God and the creature, neither does it presuppose any sort of ontological barrier that might limit God’s intimacy with creation.[18]

 

If God is pleased to manifest himself to creatures, then God does so; and he is so pleased. This we confess in 2LCF 4.1. Again, the God confessed as manifesting himself at confession 4.1 is the same God of confession chapters 2 and 3.

 

To be continued at SCRBPC ’17.

 

[1] K. Scott Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery: Celebrating the Glory of an Incomprehensible God (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 95.

[2] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 97.

[3] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 101.

[4] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 103.

[5] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[6] See Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[7] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[8] See Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 102.

[9] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 105.

[10] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 101. It seems that Oliphint has changed the way he states his covenantal properties/characteristics proposal in this book. In God with Us he uses the language of God taking “on attributes, characteristics, and properties” (110). In The Majesty of Mystery he uses “expressing Himself” (101) and “the covenantal characteristics . . . are expressed by God” (103), for example.

[11] Oliphint, The Majesty of Mystery, 103.

[12] McFarland, From Nothing, 55.

[13] Bavinck, RD, 2:110.

[14] See Frame, Systematic Theology, 378, where he says: “My approach bears a superficial resemblance to process theology, which also recognizes two modes of existence in God, transcendent and immanent . . .”

[15] McFarland, From Nothing, 18.

[16] McFarland, From Nothing, 18.

[17] McFarland, From Nothing, 19.

[18] McFarland, From Nothing, 55.

4 Responses

  1. Hi,

    When will the video and audio be available for the 2017 conference?

    Thank you.

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