Thomas Oden's Charge of Heresy Concerning the Denial of God's Foreknowledge
The recent articles in Christianity Today (Feb. 9, 1998) by
Roger Olson and Timothy George and Thomas Oden intensify the
concern that we should have over the teaching of Greg Boyd
(especially concerning the foreknowledge of God), professor of
theology at Bethel College and preaching pastor of Woodland Hills
Church. Of particular relevance is the recent article by Thomas
Oden, a Methodist scholar who has become famous in recent years
because of his turn from old-line liberalism to evangelicalism.
Oden knows theological liberalism and how a group gets there.
Oden's comments are all the more significant for two other reasons.
Oden is not a Calvinist. This is significant because the question
of whether Greg Boyd's view is orthodox has been deflected by some,
as if it were an intramural tiff between Calvinists and Arminians,
which it isn't. Here is what Thomas Oden said of the view that Boyd
(and Clark Pinnock and others) teaches and writes:
If "reformists" insist on keeping the boundaries of heresy open, however, then they must be resisted with charity. The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds ("I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come"; Isa. 46:10a; cf. Job 28; Ps. 90; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1), as it has been in the history of the exegesis of relevant passages. This issue was thoroughly discussed by patristic exegetes as early as Origen's Against Celsus. Keeping the boundaries of faith undefined is a demonic temptation that evangelicals within the mainline have learned all too well and have been burned by all too painfully. (Thomas Oden, "The Real Reformers and the Traditionalists," Christianity Today, Feb. 9, 1998, p. 46. emphasis added)
There is no point in equivocating here about the degree to which the future is known. In this context in CT, with Clark Pinnock involved, and the issue of the "openness of God" on the front burner, the reader is not left in the dark as to what Thomas Oden is referring to. He is referring to the very kind of doctrine that is being taught at Bethel College and defended in three books from Greg Boyd (Letters From a Skeptic, God at War, and Trinity and Process, with another volume promised, Satan and the Problem of Evil).
In other words, a leading non-Calvinist evangelical theologian who is not marginal or alarmist or fundamentalistic or narrow calls this view "heresy." He does so not in a huff behind closed doors, but calmly and with charity in a mainstream evangelical publication. This is very significant.
What is needed now, in view of this public development, brought about from outside assessment, but confirming the concerns of many pastors, is some clarification from the Conference leadership as to where the BGC stands on two questions: 1) Does the denial of God's foreknowledge of human choices contradict or cohere with the Conference-defining faith of the BGC? 2) May a person who denies God's foreknowledge of human choices remain in good standing as the pastor of a BGC church?
I believe a great deal for the future of our Conference hangs on
how we respond to Oden's charge of "heresy" relating to the views
of one of our most influential pastors and teachers.