Jewish Approach to God

I’ve been reading Rabbi Neil Gillman’s interesting book, The Jewish Approach to God. My initial impression was that Jews and Christians approached God in much the same way. Jews believe that God is echad, which is a Hebrew word meaning “one” or “unique.” God is, as his name suggests (YHWH, Hebrew for “I AM”), uniquely one. This is definitely similar to the Christian view of God as eternally self-existent.

Here the similarity ends. First, Jews don’t view God as sovereign over the natural world, nor over human free will. Where the Christian view is that God is always in control, even over our free will decisions, the Jewish view is closer to open theism in God having no control or even knowledge of our free will decisions.

This has stunning implications for understanding early Christian philosophy and theology. Were the early Christians open theists? This throws conditional election out the window, since God can’t know the free will decisions of his creatures ahead of time that means that he can’t know who would choose Christ. That means Arminianism is wrong; but stripping God of his sovereignty over human free will decisions means that Calvinism is out as well. That leaves either open theism or Molinism as the two main alternatives.

Second, the Jews don’t view God as omnipotent. They view him as self-limiting. They believe that he has limited himself by not affecting human free will, that he is limited by his “public image,” and that he is bound to his covenants and promises of the past. This is consistent with open theism.

So, what to make of all of this? If I am to stay true to early Christian philosophy, it means that I must renounce Reformed theology and look more seriously at Molinism or open theism. It also means that I may have to finally admit that Beowulf2k8 is right–original sin simply doesn’t exist.

Am I ready to admit that I am wrong about Reformed theology? Well, I have been slowly swayed toward the dark side of Arminianism for some time now, since all of my friends and family are proud Arminians, and my church actually preaches against Calvinism. Let’s just say that, for now, I’m ready to admit the possibility exists that I’ve been dead wrong this whole time, and that much more serious study is required to find out what God has revealed about himself.

In the coming posts, I will attempt to find out just what it is that I believe in a systematic theology. I will attempt to run out the implications of open theism and Molinism in early Christian philosophy and try to arrive at a systematic theology that is true to the original intent of the New Testament writers.

I want debate and interaction with my Reformed readers as well as my Arminian/open theist readers. E-mail me, challenge me, and debate me. I want to learn what God wants me to learn, and I can’t do that without friendly discourse from the people of God.

About Cory Tucholski

I'm a born-again Christian, amateur apologist and philosopher, father of 3. Want to know more? Check the "About" page!

Posted on December 5, 2008, in Bible Thoughts, God, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. “Here the similarity ends. First, Jews don’t view God as sovereign over the natural world, nor over human free will. Where the Christian view is that God is always in control, even over our free will decisions, the Jewish view is closer to open theism in God having no control or even knowledge of our free will decisions.”

    Do yourself a favor for Judgment Day and stop saying “the Christian view is…” when you are only describing the Calvinist view. But also, Sovereignty doesn’t mean micromanagerial control (like the Calvinists would have you believe). It is the vassal who micromanages, while the Emperor, i.e. Sovereign, (who has no boss breathing down his neck ready to take his head at the slightest misstep) does not feel any need to do so. Your mistake here is similar to the next mistake.

    Second, the Jews don’t view God as omnipotent. They view him as self-limiting.

    Having all power and using all power are not the same. This is a mistake on your (i.e. Calvinists’) part. Calvinists think that because God is Omnipotent and Sovereign he has to use all the power he has. Thus, because God has the power to take our free will away the Calvinist will argue that he must do so. That’s just ridiculous, however. I have the power to kill myself. If I don’t kill myself, if I self-limit, does that mean I don’t have the power? No. It means I chose not to use it. God has the power to turn a turkey into a fire breathing dragon, but I’ve never seen him do it.

    “They believe that he has limited himself by not affecting human free will, that he is limited by his “public image,” and that he is bound to his covenants and promises of the past.”

    Sounds like the Christian view to me. In fact, it is the Christian view. The problem is that Calvinism is Gnostic, not Christian! I mean look at it this way, if God is not limited by his covenants, how is he just and holy and all that? Doesn’t the New Testament say that God cannot lie? Does that statement “God, that cannot lie,” (Titus 1:2) mean that God is not omnipotent? No. It means he has limited his use of power within the bounds of his holiness. The very fact that Calvinism asserts a god who can just do whatever he pleases (including tell us one thing in his “revealed will” and intend something wholly different in his “secret will”) ought to tell us that Calvinism is way way off track and far removed from New Testament Christianity! Especially since the Bible actually says in Amos 3:7 “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.” Yet we’re supposed to believe the Calvinists that God has a “secret will” that is in direct conflict with his “revealed will.” What that means is that Calvinism really teaches that their god is a liar who cannot be trusted. So, even if you are a good little “Reformed” Calvinist, chances are that Calvin’s god can just say on the last day “Although my revealed will taught salvation for some by arbitrary election, my secret will was always to send you all to hell, so go burn for my glory!” That is the scenario that Calvinism always brings to my mind. I thank God for the real God, and say “Soli gloria Deo. Non autem gloria deo Calvini.”

    Now, you also say “This throws conditional election out the window, since God can’t know the free will decisions of his creatures ahead of time that means that he can’t know who would choose Christ.”

    I see no reason to believe that God cannot foresee our choices (since he is omnipotent) nor that he has any ethical reason to limit himself from using such knowledge. Here’s my take on election/predestination. Romans 8:28-29 clearly shows that based on foreseen faith (on a conditional foresight) God has arranged the universe to the benefit of those he foreknew would believe. Like this, “If I send my son to the cross fro all mankind and then get that gospel to Mr. Jones, will he believe?” Not obviously, will he believe the gospel without me sending my Son (an impossibility) or without me making sure he gets the gospel (another impossibility) but will he believe if I do these things (which things are grace). If the answer is yes, then God arranged the world to Mr. Jones benefit, whereas if the answer is no Mr. Jones may still hear the gospel although it is not an absolute definite as it is if the answer is yes. For Paul says in Rom 8:28-29 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 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.” As with Cornelius, his hearing the gospel was not left to change, but God sent an angel to direct him to Peter. So, God arranged circumstances in Cornelius favor because God foresaw Cornelius would believe if he did so. But God didn’t necessarily take any special concern to arrange circumstances in Hitler’s favor to make sure he would hear the gospel for he foresaw he wouldn’t believe. Yet Hitler may have heard it anyway, but it was not guaranteed to be so.

  2. In looking at my above comment again, it looks a little confrontational. I didn’t mean it that way. I am certainly glad that you are willing to consider the possibility that your beliefs are not currently in line with Scripture. I do a lot of that myself. You really have to. We can’t obet two masters, God and an erroneous systematic theology. If we’re going to truly follow Sola Scriptura then we must actually do it and not follow Sola Augustina and call it Sola Scriptura.

    I had to go lookup Molinism. Based on what I saw in wikipedia it looks like it means that God knows not only what is and what will be but what could have been under every different possible condition yet he doesn’t have to cause the future to know it. Sounds reasonable to me. Much better than the Calvinist view in which god is so weak he can’t know anything witout causing it. And much better too than the Open Theist view in which the future is simply unkowable period.

  3. Corey,

    As a Jew who believes in Jesus, I suggest you view the Old Testament for how God dealt with the Jews, versus how they dealt with God. I’m serious. A lot of the Old Testament is a description of how they got it wrong, the consequences for it, what God did about it, and how He brought them back to Him… over and over again… just like He does in our walk with Christ.

    It’s easy to think yourself in circles… I’ve done it. But all you get is dizzy. You have a firm foundation for your faith, even while you don’t understand it all… because you won’t, and you can’t, lest your walk be devoid of faith. However, if you dwell on God’s truth, and earnestly seek out His truth in His word, as you do, He will reveal just enough truth for you to go the next mile. That’s what He does.

  4. As you go through your journey, I wanted to give you something encouraging. Something that confirms the core of your faith, and yet is unmistakenly Old Testament and Christian. Here is a link to an old website of mine: http://www.geocities.com/israeltour/. I used to write bible studies there. I would suggest you read the series on Proverbs. It’s nothing you don’t already know in your heart, but I think it will help.

  1. Pingback: geocreationism.com » Blog Archive » Labeling My View of God

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