God and Time: Four Views

  • Gregory E. Ganssle
  • Jan 1, 2003
  • Series: Volume 6 - 2003

Ganssle, Gregory E., editor God and Time: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2001 247 pp. Paperback. $17.99. ISBN 0830815511.

At first glance, a book entitled, God and Time: Four Views, might seem to have little connection with Christian life and practice. However, further reflection reveals that an understanding of the philosophical issues surrounding the nature of time and God's relationship to the temporal creation, is a prerequisite to understanding the current debate in evangelicalism concerning the openness of God. Not only will this book shed light on that issue, but it also serves as a case study for those seeking a clearer understanding of the relationship between theology and philosophy.

In his helpful introduction, Gregory Ganssle, introduces the methodology, the key issues and the authors that follow in the book. His treatments of methodology and key issues are particularly beneficial in orienting the reader to the material that follows. Methodologically, he affirms that the viewpoints to follow are all "to be rooted in Scripture" but are also to be defended philosophically (11). He correctly notes, however, that the parameters set by Scripture concerning God's relationship to time allow for a plurality of positions. "Determining which position is most adequate takes us beyond the particular data of the Scriptures. We will have to think philosophically while remaining in the bounds of Scripture" (11). Ganssle also lays out five key issues to our understanding of God's relationship to time, the most critical of these being the nature of time. The debate will rage between those who hold to the A-theory of time, also know as the process or tensed theory, and the B-theory also called the static or tenseless theory. For the A-theorist, the future becomes the present, which becomes the past, but the Now exists in a way that the past or future does not. For the B-theorist the Now holds no privileged position over any other time. Since each moment of time is as real as any other moment, events can be adequately described by their relation to one another. With methodology explicated and issues clarified, we can now move to the four views of God and time.

First, we encounter Paul Helm's view of Divine Timeless Eternity also called eternalism. Helm is a B-theorist who holds that God exists atemporally or timelessly, that is, outside of time. Helm defends his position by appealing to the "idea of divine fullness or self-sufficiency" (29). Helm reasons from the doctrine of divine fullness, that God possesses "the whole of his life together" (30). If God were in time, parts of his existence would be over and therefore God would not possess the whole of his life at once.

Alan G. Padgett views eternity as relative timelessness. Padgett clears the way for his thesis by first exposing weaknesses in and rejecting both the eternal and everlasting view of God's existence. After establishing his negative case, he develops the notion of relative timelessness. Padget affirms that God created our time and also transcends it. We live in a "dynamic, changing world" (note the A-theory of time), and if God is to relate to the world he must "in some sense be temporal" (105-105). Our created time is measurable and exists within God's infinite and immeasurable time. God, though temporal, is timeless relative to our time and as such transcends and is not limited by time.

Next, William Lane Craig, another A-theorist, defends his hybrid view entitled "Timelessness and omnitemporality." Craig also attacks the eternalist position averring that it makes the personhood of God impossible, it prevents divine relations to the temporal world, and it restricts God's knowledge in that he cannot know tensed facts. With these considerations in mind Craig believes that with regard to creation, God must be temporal. But prior to the creation, (here Craig means logically not temporally prior) God existed in a "changeless, undifferentiated state" which Craig soon realizes "looks suspiciously like a state of timelessness" (159). Thus Craig affirms "two phases of God's life, one timeless and one temporal, which are not related to each other as earlier and later" (159).

Finally, Nicholas Wolterstorff advocates a view called "unqualified divine temporality." Wolterstorff starts in Scripture, claiming that the Biblical narrative should be interpreted literally "unless one has good reason not to do so" (29). He finds that God has frequently interacted with his creation at different times, some earlier, some later and some now. In his words, God's has a history. Wolterstorff is an A-theorist who believes that God is temporal.

We have then, four views of time, or do we? Consider Craig's response to Padgett, "Alan Padgett's view of divine eternity most closely resembles my own" (115). Wolterstoff also sees Padgett's view as "a variant on the everlastingness view" (120). Padgett notes that Craig's essay "contains much I am in agreement with" (165). Wolterstorff writes that there is "not much" he disagrees with in Craig's essay (170). Craig states, "I largely agree with everything Nick Wolterstorff has to say in his essay" (224). Padgett writes, "I am in fundamental agreement with everything Nicholas Wolterstorff has to say in his chapter" (219). It is remarkable to find such little disagreement amongst three philosophers.

Perhaps we really have two views of God and Time rather than the four presented by the title of the book. On one hand we have Helm, a B-theorist, who holds that God is atemporal and on the other we have Padgett, Craig and Wolterstorff, all A-theorists, who all hold that God is temporal in some manner. Wolterstorff rightly challenges Padgett to explain what he means when he says, "our time, created time exists within the pure duration of God's time which is relatively timeless." How can "one time, our measured time, exist within another time, pure duration, while yet, presumably, remaining distinct?" (234). Wolterstorff, delighted that his view sidesteps this issue, must answer the old question of why God created when he did and not earlier. Craig answers that question but raises another difficulty. The universe as an effect exists without a temporally prior cause. God existed only logically prior to the universe because there literally was no time for God to exist temporally prior to creation. As indicated by their responses to each other, these issues seem to be an intramural debate between A-theorists who are in fundamental agreement with each other.

Perhaps a truly different view that could have been included is one espoused by Edward Wiernga, who is an A-theorist, yet holds to an atemporal view of God. (For Wierenga's view see Edward Wierenga, The Nature of God: An Inquiry into Divine Attributes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989), chapter 6) Craig briefly rejects this view is his essay, but also calls it one of "the most sophisticated attempts to explain how God can be timeless and yet know tensed facts" (149). Wierenga's view would have encouraged even more intriguing dialogue.

Yet even without Wierenga's view, the interchange and dialogue that is aroused between these philosophers is alone worth the price of the book. The book is written well enough that those without a strong philosophical or theological background can grasp the material with a little "spade work" while leaving those with more experience plenty of material to work through. Anyone interested in philosophy of religion and philosophical theology will find this book to be an excellent addition to his or her library.

Ray A. Naugle Jr.
Denver Seminary