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A Review of Gregory Boyd’s God of the Possible


By Ross Olson

Dr. Gregory Boyd, in his book, God of the Possible, makes a well reasoned, Scripturally-based case for a God Who does not completely know the future -- not because God is deficient but because the future does not exist. He appeals to his harshest critics to not consider this position heretical and to his followers to glory in a God Who is vulnerable although omnipotent. Thus he can counsel a young woman whose dreams of missionary service were shattered by unfaithfulness of the husband she sincerely believed was given to her by God, that God is not to blame because He didn’t know. And when accepting his premises, Dr. Boyd’s logic seems irrefutable.

Yet there are indeed flaws in the case, the first of which is the recurrent assertion that God’s foreknowledge means control – that if God knows the future, it is therefore fixed and we have no freedom to change it. Even as an untrained philosopher I know that this has been a conundrum down the through the ages. Yet I think there is an answer. If God created all that is, He also created time and exists outside of time in eternity. Eternity is not locked to time and God is not limited to time just as God created space and is not limited to it.

Thus God created us with true free will, existing in time, making decisions with real consequences, being influenced by the warnings and promises that God gives us as He invades time and space. With all that happening and our free wills operating within the boundaries that the real world gives us, God still sees the future results of those decisions.

Dr. Boyd explains the Biblical passages seeming to imply God’s complete knowledge of the future and those implying that God changes His mind by the concept that the future is partly settled – in those areas where God has willed that something must happen – and partly open – in the individual decisions of individual people. An example would be the circumstances of Jesus birth being fixed but the actions of most of the actors in that scenario being open.

I would like to propose that some of the passages implying that God changes his mind are explained by another “partly” idea. This is the concept that God exists partly in eternity and partly in time. Thus in His relationship to us He has indeed entered time and space, most completely in the incarnation, but also in His relationship with His people in the Old Testament period. God sought to instruct, influence and guide the free wills of His people at the same time as He knows the results of those decisions. He even wills to answer the prayers of His people. It would not be unreasonable to assume that He knew what would have happened had He not influenced them. It is also understandable to assume that He knew who would respond.

Now it is possible that for us human beings, locked in time and yet free to change, that if we were told the future, we would try to alter it. So conveying the future to us has interesting ramifications. If we were told by God that doing A would cause B to happen and by doing Y, Z would happen, we might have any number of possible responses to those options. But the future results of those free choices might already be known by God who looks down on the whole span of time from eternity.

For example, suppose a coach who was a true prophet said that his basketball team would win an important game. It would be hard fought, require maximum effort by every player for every minute of the game, but in the end, they would win. In order to make that come true, he would have to coach with that in mind. If somehow he said, “Hey, we are destined to win and let the team play lackadaisically, the prophecy would not have come true, including the part he had control over. Could God not play such a role?

This brings up the tests of the true prophet as described in Deuteronomy 13 and 18. If a prophet tells the people of God to follow another god other than the One Who powerfully confirmed his existence and revelation with the events of the Exodus, they are not to follow him. But also, if a prophet makes a prediction that does not come true, he has not spoken a word from the Lord. If God really makes an unconditional prophecy and then really changes His mind, we have the bizarre situation where God Himself fails the test He requires of His spokesmen!

Dr. Boyd also claims that interpretation of Scripture has been influenced by Greek philosophy. There are a couple of considerations that flow from this question. First is that maybe the Greeks got some things right. After all, Plato’s concept of the ideal, seems to fit with the Biblical “Logos,” that the concept precedes the actuality and that we all ultimately have our origin in the mind of God. And Thomas Aquinas certainly seemed to be able to build a substantial theology on the concordance of Aristotle with Scripture.

But secondly, I think Dr. Boyd is heavily influenced by the philosophies of our age, even beyond what he recognizes. He acknowledges a kinship of his ideas to quantum mechanics in that individual subatomic activities are seen as unpredictable and only describable statistically whereas macroscopic events are essentially predictable in spite of this. He also aptly describes this view as being like a swarm of gnats, each of which seems chaotic although the group moves together.

Now for those who are convinced of the truth of quantum mechanics, this may be additional confirmation. However, quantum mechanics leads down some strange rabbit holes, such as the Copenhagen interpretation in which something does not exist until it is observed, or the theory of light being both a particle and a wave, depending on which you look for. Further, there is a serious challenge to quantum mechanics spearheaded by the physicists of Common Sense Science ( http://www.commonsensescience.org/ ) who have been able to explain all the experimentally verifiable parts of quantum theory without these paradoxes, using a new model of elementary particles as rotating rings of charge rather than points.

Implicit in Dr. Boyd’s concept of God’s knowledge as the ultimate chess master who keeps track of all possible moves of all the players is the idea of infinite possible universes, radiating out from every point of decision. I did not see any acknowledgment of this idea, but it seems to be implicit in his view of God. Again, philosophy may get some things right, although it seems a lot more likely that that clear thinking Greeks would do so than those attempting to work in the present post-modern fog.

In all of this I see a clear influence of Dr. Boyd’s father, the skeptic in Letters From A Skeptic. It is disturbing to be confronted by the unanswerable questions of the ages articulated by a critic of the faith, especially if it is a loved one, and feel helpless to answer. After all, why DID God created a universe in which all go wrong and some will be eternally lost? There is strong motivation to come up with an answer, whether or not there really is one that we as finite mortal creatures can comprehend.

And finally, although Dr. Boyd does his best to apply this concept devotionally to our every day lives – we have a God Who takes risks, immerses Himself in our world and individual lives, goes through the dark valley with us and yet will by His sovereign power bring it all to a conclusion at the end of the age – a thoughtful analysis is bound to bring up nagging doubts. Since He really does not know the end from the beginning, might it not be possible that something statistically unpredictable might slip by? Might there not be a cosmic intelligence failure or a stunningly successful strategy by the evil opponent that surprises God, as Dr. Boyd claims God was surprised in the past by the turn of certain events? This God starts to sound a bit more like a Mormon deity, who worked his way up from a human condition in a heavenly pyramid system.

If God does not really know, then will we not be tempted to say, “Trust, but verify,” and to think when confronted with either a temptation or an obstacle, “Maybe God doesn’t really understand this one?” I don’t think that is a fair picture of the God of the Bible.

The God of the Bible created time. He is not pictured in Scripture as trapped in a pre-existing Cosmos or bound by preexisting principles. Rather He purposes before the beginning and carries it out in space and time, which He also created.
2 Timothy 1:7-10: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life— not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (King James translates it "before the world began"), but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
Titus 1:1-4 "Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness — a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time (King James translates it "before the world began"),, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior, To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior."

Ross S. Olson

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