What's New?


BibleBeyond the Bounds (2013)

After writing a brief analysis of Calvinism, I thought that it would be good to check my ideas by reading through Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, a critique of open theism written by a dozen Reformed authors, and edited by John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth. I have heard of John Piper, but I am not familiar with the other names. Each author wrote a chapter and I will refer to the chapter number rather than the author.

The writers refer primarily to two proponents of open theisn: John Sanders and Gregory Boyd. I have heard of these authors but I have not read any of their books. The Reformed authors suggest, and I agree, that Boyd’s version of open theism is more developed than Sander’s version. I have major problems with Sander’s version, while most of the points of Boyd’s version appear to be consistent with the theory of mental symmetry. However, I suggest that Boyd’s version desperately needs a cognitive model. Without this cognitive model, his theory is forced to make some arbitrary statements without backing them up. However, if one begins from the theory of mental symmetry, then the conclusions which one reaches appear to be reasonably similar to what Boyd is proposing. Again, I should emphasize that I have not yet read anything written by Boyd. Rather, my conclusions are currently based upon the footnotes and quotes in Beyond the Bounds which describe the views of Boyd.

Turning now to the dozen Reformed authors who wrote the chapters of this book, I confess that I found both their approach and content to be generally disappointing. Therefore, I would like to look at each chapter and explain the reasons for this general statement.

Before we begin, I should clarify some concepts. First, I suggest that neither the libertarian freedom of open theism nor the compatibilist freedom of Calvinism accurately describe how the mind functions. Instead, as I’ve mentioned earlier, it appears that the mind has limited real freedom. A person can make real choices, but these choices are limited by the mental networks that determine his nature. So far, I am saying what Sproul says.

Going further, I suggest that the choices that a person makes play a major role in building the mental networks that guide a person’s behavior. Once a person’s behavior has been established by the formation of mental networks, then it appears that God will use that established nature as part of his plan. This is consistent with what Boyd says, as quoted in a footnote on page 252: “Our libertarian freedom is the probationary means by which we acquire compatibilistic freedom either for or against God. So long as we possess self-determining freedom we possess the power to do otherwise. But this power is provisional. It diminishes over time until our doing has determined our being. It is at this point no longer true that we could be other than we are.”

However, I also suggest that it is possible to restore free will by playing one mental network against another. Thus, while it is not possible to use free will to overturn established nature, it is possible to use free will to construct the mental networks of a new nature and then choose to use free will to choose to feed one nature at the expense of the other. I suggest that this corresponds to Paul’s description of the struggle between flesh and spirit.

Boyd is quoted further on page 252 as saying, “Our libertarian freedom is the probationary means by which we acquire compatibilistic freedom either for or against God. So long as we possess self-determining freedom we possess the power to do otherwise. But this power is provisional. It diminishes over time until our doing has determined our being. It is at this point no longer true that we could be other than we are.” This statement is criticized by the Reformed author as contradicting the open theist position on libertarian freedom, however I suggest that Boyd is accurately describing the development of human nature but lacks a cognitive model in which to place his observations.

Using mental symmetry, I suggest that it is possible to come up with a more complete explanation of Boyd’s statement. Summarizing and expanding what was described earlier, the goal is for all the parts the mind to work together in harmony. However, living in a physical body in a physical world inevitably causes the mind to form mental networks that drive a person to take mental shortcuts that satisfy some cognitive modules at the expense of other cognitive modules. Thus, a person is born in sin and cannot use free will to overcome his sin nature. However, it is possible to use words to build a new set of mental networks that describe mental wholeness. Because the mind now contains two incompatible sets of mental networks, free will can choose between the old mental networks of the flesh and the new mental networks of the spirit.

Free will emerges first primarily in the area of Perceiver facts and personal honesty. Even though I cannot yet change my behavior, it becomes increasingly possible to acknowledge the facts of my behavior. This corresponds to the first stage of personal salvation, which leads to an increasingly adequate mental concept of God. Eventually it becomes possible for free will to spread to the area of Server actions, and it becomes possible to choose what I will do guided by the understanding of God that was constructed during the first stage. This describes the second stage of personal salvation. During the third stage, the mental networks of the flesh fall apart and are fully replaced by the mental networks of the spirit.

I suggest that this third stage describes the condition of what Boyd calls ‘compatibilistic freedom for God.’ However, I suggest that Boyd’s description is incomplete. Remember that the final goal is mental wholeness—having all the parts of the mind function together in harmony. When a person goes through the ‘dying to self’ of the third stage of salvation, then he acquires the nature of functioning in mental wholeness; his core mental networks will drive him to think and act in a way that encourages all the parts of the mind to function together in harmony. It is now no longer possible for him to choose to continue to sin. Free will in the general sense has disappeared because free will requires a set of conflicting mental networks. This is no longer the case because the spirit has swallowed up the flesh. However, free will is still able to choose between but choices are consistent with mental wholeness. And, because mental wholeness is a general goal that can be expressed in many different specific ways, the mentally whole person is free to choose to explore any specific aspect or expression of mental wholeness.

Looking at this from God’s perspective, if God’s goal is to lead humans and humanity to mental wholeness, then God can eventually give complete personal freedom to those who are mentally whole, being confident that any choices that they make will remain within the confines of wholeness. Why would God go through such a convoluted process? One major reason is that imposing mental wholeness upon creatures is uninteresting since all created beings are simply carrying out pre-programmed routines. Saying this another way, I suggest that a Calvinist God would find his creation immensely boring. However, if a created being acquires the ability to act and think independently in a way that remains consistent with the character of God, then God gains something which is almost impossible for a universal being to acquire: novelty and meaningful interaction. Saying this another way, God wants to be surprised, but he must guarantee that he will be surprised by unexpected good rather than unexpected evil. Thus, I suggest that Sander’s view of God being surprised by unexpected evil is fundamentally flawed.[1]

Why is Open Theism attacked So Strongly?

(This paragraph was added in 2015.) I suggest that there is a cognitive reason why most evangelical theologians are so averse to discussing the concept of open theism. I have mentioned that one can only transform core mental networks by replacing them with an alternative set of mental networks. (Here is an introduction to mental networks.) This same principle applies when attempting to transform the TMN of a mental concept of God. In other words, the only way to transform an inadequate concept of God is by replacing it with a more adequate concept of God. The fundamentalist concept of God is based in words that are reinforced by MMNs of personal status. When a mental network continues to receive inconsistent input, then it will start to fall apart and it will respond to this threat of disintegration by generating strong hyper-emotions, similar to the way that a habit that is in the process of being broken generates exceptionally strong urges. Teacher thought wants theories to apply universally without exception. When the Teacher theory of a concept of God is based in the words of the holy book, then the natural way to universalize this concept of God is by using words backed up by emotional status to verbally proclaim that God is universal. Hence, a strong doctrine in the sovereignty of God. But this doctrine of divine sovereignty is being severely tested in today’s postmodern and post-Christian world. Few Christians actually act as if God’s sovereignty extends to all of human existence. Instead, as long as a concept of a ‘sovereign God’ is based in words from a holy book, people will act outside of the religious realm as if God is not sovereign, to which theologians will verbally insist with greater emotional fervor that God truly is sovereign, making the discrepancy between words and practice more obvious, leading to a stronger verbal insistence. Accepting a doctrine of open theism threatens the integrity of a mental concept of God that is based in words and personal status. Thus, this must be avoided at all costs, even if everyone acts as if open theism is true. The way out of this dilemma is to construct a universal concept of God that extends beyond mere words and outside of the ghetto of religious experiences. That is what I am attempting to do using the theory of mental symmetry, by recognizing that the Bible is an accurate description of how the mind works. This will have two results. First, more theologians (and Christians) will act upon their beliefs rather than merely preaching and writing about them. Second, one will realize that 'the way things work' is more general than the specific words of some book or the specific experiences of some person. Instead, God's ways appear to be expressed as general patterns that encapsulate many specific situations and choices, leaving substantial room for human freedom in specifics while maintaining total divine sovereignty with the overall plan.

Continuing now with the 2010 essay...

Preface and Introduction

Now that I have suggested an overview, let us examine the specific chapters of Beyond the Bounds. My general premise will be that God is a universal being and that the goal for man is to achieve mental wholeness.

Before we start I need to clearly define a concept that will be reappearing through this analysis. Perceiver thought deals with facts and truth. Mercy thought remembers people and emotional. When Perceiver thought is functioning, then a person will search for truth and by looking for connections that are repeated. However it is also possible to impose truth upon Perceiver thought by using Mercy emotions to overwhelm Perceiver thought. I suggest that all education begins this way. For instance, the primary student believes truth because it is being it spoken and written by important people. I will refer to this method of acquiring truth as blind faith or fundamentalism.

We begin with the opening paragraph of the book: “The stunning thing about open theism in American Christianity is how many leaders do not act as though it is a departure from historic Christianity and therefore a dishonor to Christ and pastorally damaging...‘The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds.’ His warning to the church is sobering: ‘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.’ Oden’s indictment points toward the baleful heart of open theism and the broken heart of those who love the historic biblical vision of God.”

Notice all of the adjectives that I have italicized. Mental symmetry suggests that the childish mind uses emotional Mercy experiences to determine Perceiver truth. Using this ‘logic’, one can ‘prove’ that a message is false by defaming the character of the messenger. This book opens by accusing the messengers of open theism of dishonor to Christ, following fantasy, teaching divine ignorance, promoting heresy, submitting to demonic temptation, having a baleful heart, and breaking the hearts of those who love God. When a book on theology opens by attacking the messenger in such a manner, then this does not suggest either Godly maturity or mental wholeness.

In the introduction, the comment is made that “We know that some will view the very existence of this volume—with its title, its argument, and its conclusions—as incompatible with Christian charity and humility. Some will even brand it as an example of theological bigotry” (p.16). Thus, this author recognizes that a Christian book should not just ‘shoot the messenger.’ But the same author goes on to maintain that “Controversy is required when essential truths are called into question.”

When Perceiver truth is defined by Mercy status, then the only way to question Perceiver truth is by attacking the emotional status of the source of truth. The author states that, “We must distinguish between a tolerant spirit toward persons that manifests itself in love, and a tolerant mind toward ideas that is never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Mental symmetry agrees that a distinction must be made between people and emotional experiences in Mercy thought and truth and facts in Perceiver thought. However, when a person accepts as a fundamental principle that the Bible is true solely because it was written by the Very Important Person of God, then at the most basic level Mercy status is being used to determine Perceiver truth. When this is the primary mindset, then the only way to change truth is by personally attacking the source of truth. I suggest that part of the solution lies in recognizing that people discover truth and do not create it. In other words, the Bible may be a completely accurate description of truth, but it is not the sole source of truth.

Chapter One

The first chapter illustrates this method of evaluating Christian truth by focusing upon the personal source of Christian truth. In essence, it appears that both open theism and Calvinism are attempting to show that they are based in the good sources of the Jewish rabbis and the Hebrew scriptures, while attempting to show that the other side has been corrupted by the bad sources of the Greek philosophers and pagan philosophy.

The author quotes Sanders as saying: “Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish thinker who sought to reconcile biblical teaching with Greek philosophy. To him goes the distinction of being the leading figure in forging the biblical-classical synthesis. Both the method and the content of this synthesis were closely followed by later Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers” (p.24). I have suggested that personal free will emerges when there are conflicting mental networks. The more I read about Alexandria and historians’ analysis of Alexandria, the more I am convinced that it was a divine experiment in which God was hoping that a breakthrough would occur driven by the interaction between Greek and Jewish thought. One result of this cross-cultural interaction was Philo who attempted to integrate Greek and Jewish thought.[2]

However, instead of attempting to understand this cross-cultural fertilization, the author focuses upon the fact that the Jewish rabbis in Israel focused entirely upon the bible, learned nothing from Greek philosophy, and did their best to ignore Philo. And the author is pleased to conclude that these ‘mentally pure’ rabbis largely agree with Calvinist doctrine. This, I suggest, is an inevitable by-product of basing Perceiver truth in Mercy status. Instead of learning from ‘them,’ it does its best to ignore ‘them’ and learn only from ‘us’.

The author of the first chapter concludes that open theism “requires us to believe that Christians and Jews have misunderstood history, theology, and exegesis for thousands of years. It requires a new history and a new exegesis to support its new theology. It then requires a new hymnbook, a new prayer book, and a new liturgy. Next it requires a new Bible, and finally, a new God. It requires too much; it supplies too little. Instead of requiring a new religion, let us reject the claims and the teachings of the openness view, and let us maintain those cherished and precious scriptural truths of God’s infinite knowledge and perfections that have always comforted and consoled his saints. Here, we will find rest for our souls” (p.41).

I suggest that the first sentence is correct, because open theism is associated with a mindset that goes beyond blind faith in authority. However, I suggest that the author is mistaken in concluding that the content of scripture requires the mindset of fundamentalism. Notice also how he concludes by using emotional language to recommend clinging to the method of using emotional status to determine truth.

Chapter Two

The second chapter continues in a similar vein by focusing upon the personal sources of truth. On the one hand, the author mentions that open theists “accuse the traditional position of leaning on classical Greek philosophy and of filtering Scripture through a Hellenistic grid” (p.44), and says that “Open theist writers contend that Augustine did Hellenize the faith, and did so in a damaging manner” (p.52). He then points out that “It is curious that open theists often point to parallels between traditionalists and the Greeks, as if that in itself is sufficient condemnation, but they rarely confess to the parallels between their own views and those of the philosophers” (p.63), and adds that “Several thinkers have recently compared open theism to Socinianism, a model which Sanders curiously leaves out of his survey of historical theology” (p.65).

Mental symmetry suggests that all of this is of secondary importance. Truth is not created by people, but rather exists to be discovered by people. One major step in reaching mental wholeness is to realize that truth exists independently of people.[3] When an author focuses upon the sources of truth, this demonstrates that the author believes that truth does not exist independently of people.

On page 67, the author states that “It would be hard to find anyone who makes a stronger case for the sovereignty of Satan in this world and for a warfare dualism than does Boyd in his argument in this soon-to-be trilogy of books.” This is a perceptive statement, but I suggest that it also reflects the concept that truth is based in people. For, if evil exists in the world independently from God, then this implies that a source of evil exists in the world who is independent from God. In contrast, mental symmetry suggests that God adapts his eternal plan to be compatible with the level of maturity of human individuals and human society. As long as people believe that truth comes from good sources and falsehood comes from bad sources, then God is forced to deal with people at the level of good source vs. bad source or God vs. Satan.

The author also points out on page 69 that “Open theists are quite specific about their willingness to allow contemporary culture to stand as a source for theology. Influences from areas of thought such as feminism and postmodernity seem to be rampant in their writings.” I agree with the author’s conclusion. Basing Perceiver truth in a good Mercy source may describe an inadequate way of thinking, but it is better than basing Perceiver truth in a rotten Mercy source.

Chapter Three

The flavor of chapter three is quite different. That is because the author has experienced extended personal suffering, and he knows the valuable lessons that can be learned through suffering. Instead of looking at sources or condemning the messenger, he struggles with the dilemma of how a sovereign God could allow evil. And, he states from deep personal experience that physical disability forces an individual to recognize that he cannot rest his heart in the purely physical (p.88), which tells us that the author has experienced to at least some extent the third stage of personal salvation. We see this on page 105, where the author states that “Salvation, then, for compatibilists, consists in God’s changing our nature so that we are no longer slaves to sin (see John 8:34; Rom. 6:6). It consists in Christ setting us free (see John 8:36; Rom. 6:7) so that we can choose to present ourselves to God as slaves of righteousness.” Mental symmetry agrees with this definition of salvation, but suggests that the compatibilist view ultimately boils down to a movie of salvation, in which God is creating the image of pretending to lead humans through the process of salvation.

The author also mentions on page 108 that “Our relationship flourishes the more we sense that our love for each other is strong and steady. Perfect fellowship rests in the knowledge that its parties will unfailingly affirm the value of their relationship; that neither party is going to back out and reject the other; that the love of each for the other is irrevocably fixed.” This describes the type of relationship described earlier that emerges when a person goes through the third stage of salvation. Again, we see that the personal suffering of the author has led him to substantial personal maturity. But, I suggest that this maturity was gained experientially by responding correctly to the path of suffering.

The author points out the difference between moral evil and natural evil and suggests that open theism may provide an answer for moral evil but does not address the question of natural evil. (For instance, if I kill a person, then that is moral evil, but if a rock falls on a person and kills him then that is natural evil.) This is a valid question. I suggest that the answer lies in realizing that God adapts his eternal plan to be compatible with the level of maturity of human individuals. One sees this illustrated by the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Because Adam and Eve chose to follow a path of rebellion against God, the natural world was altered to become a source of natural evil.

Looking at the example of Joseph sold into slavery, the author points out that God meant this for good while his brothers meant it for evil (p.92). Here, I find the author’s interpretation superior to Sander’s interpretation. I suggest that God’s plan is for humans and human society to reach mental wholeness. But when humans are functioning at the level of tribalism, then God is forced to teach his lessons using inferior methods. However, I’m convinced, and the opening verses of the book of James agree, that patience can lead to mental wholeness just as well as suffering.

The author also questions Sanders’ claim “that God and Jesus only realized in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus would have to be crucified” (p.95). I agree with the author. Mental symmetry suggests that personal death and resurrection is a fundamental step in personal development. The specific form that this death and resurrection takes may change. For instance, both suffering and patience lead a person through ‘dying to self’ but dying to self through patience is much nicer than dying to self through suffering. Thus, as scripture states, Jesus was ‘the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.’ However, I suggest that there was some freedom as to the specific nature of this divine sacrifice.

As for Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane that ‘God would take the cup from him’ (p.95), mental symmetry suggests that this is a result of the interaction between abstract thought and concrete thought that occurs in incarnation. It is one thing to know theoretically that death and resurrection are required. It is quite another thing to personally face the moment when one has to go through this death and resurrection. Thus, we find that the finite human aspect of Jesus the incarnation is drawing the strength to go through this painful process by submitting to the universal divine aspect of Jesus the incarnation. A similar struggle occurs within the human mind whenever theory is put into practice.

While this author presents a number of valid insights, he ultimately has no answer: “How can God govern the choices of human beings without that entailing that those choices are no longer free? The correct answer to these questions is that we cannot understand how these things can possibly be. We cannot understand how some human act can be fully explained in terms of God’s having freely intended it without that explanation taking away from the freedom and responsibility of its human intenders. We cannot understand how divine and human agency are compatible in a way that allows the exercise of each kind of agency to be fully explanatory of some event’s coming about” (p.99).

Instead, he says that scripture teaches both divine sovereignty and human freedom without explaining how they interact. Thus, when faced with a choice between the inadequate answer of open theism and the non-answer of Calvinism we are expected to shut down Teacher thought and embrace the paradox of a non-answer. That, I suggest, does not describe the path of growing mental wholeness.

The author suggests that it is a ‘category mistake’ to use human logic to attempt to analyze God (p.99). Mental symmetry agrees that viewing God from the Mercy viewpoint of finite humans is a category mistake (as is using rigorous logic to define God, because rigorous logic always deals with some limited domain, whereas God is a universal being). However, if one views God from the vantage point of a universal Teacher theory, then this leads to a concept of God that appears to be consistent with scripture and the process of understanding the nature of God leads to greater mental wholeness. Unfortunately, if a person believes that Perceiver truth is based in Mercy status then this will mentally lock in the category mistake of viewing God from a Mercy perspective. Similarly, if a person insist that God is a mystery, then this will prevent a person from mentally viewing God from the viewpoint of Teacher universality.

Chapter Four

The fourth chapter begins by looking at why open theism is popular today. The author suggests that people are looking for a God who is more intimate. He says that “Reformed theologians stress God’s transcendence so much that it is hard to imagine having a close relationship with him” (p.115), a point which I emphasized earlier on in this essay, and states that “we shouldn’t fault evangelicals for sensing the need to embrace God’s immanence and pursue an intimate, growing relationship with him” (p.116).

He adds that “Its answers almost never offer ‘mystery’ as the best we can do in answering some of Christianity’s thorniest questions” (p.118) and agrees that “open theism provides answers that appear both rationally plausible and psychologically satisfying” (p.118). Similarly, mental symmetry suggests that it is very important to develop a rational understanding of God that goes beyond mystery.

But, the author complains that “Lamentably, these answers come only at the cost of God’s majesty” (p.118). I suggest that this is because the wrong method is being used to give freedom to man. Instead of carving out a realm for man by restricting the sovereignty of God, one should make room for finite man by increasing the generality of God’s sovereignty. As was suggested before when looking at incarnation, this is done by stating of the laws of God in general form. For instance, a specific form of the law of gravity says that my apple will fall to the floor if it slips from my hand. The sovereignty of that statement is very low because it only applies to a specific apple. In contrast, a more general form of the law of gravity says that any object will fall to the ground if it is dropped. This type of statement has far greater sovereignty because it applies to many specific situations.

A more general expression of law also leaves room for human freedom, because a person is now free to drop any object to the floor that he wishes. And, if the most general system of divine laws describes what it means to function in a mentally whole manner, then submitting to the sovereignty of God becomes equivalent to living in paradise.

Unfortunately, the author appears to think that personal faith is incompatible with the concept of a universal God. He says that God “wants us to know him as a person, not just as an idea. Traditional theists too often have urged the faithful to cling to their idea of God because it is part of a beautiful system or because it is traditional” (p119). He adds that “open theism is a direct rejection of central doctrines about God’s knowledge and relationship to his creatures” (p.126).

The author then spends the rest the chapter complaining that “Evangelicals have largely accepted the suggestion that any exercise of authority undermines community. As a result, they are less likely to seek spiritual nurture inside a structure that requires submission to ordained shepherds” (p.129). And, “A significant amount of theological discussion today takes place out from under the oversight of ordained shepherds” (p.130). In other words, the author is convinced that Mercy emotional status should be used to impose Perceiver truth.

He appears to believe that truth must be imposed through a chain of authority: “While many strategies could effectively arrest the spread of openness influence, the only authority that can legitimately command obedience is the collective judgment of overseers set apart by ordination. Conservative scholars may be able most clearly to explain the dangers posed by open theism’s understanding of God and his dealings with his people, but only ordained overseers have the biblical authority to condemn the error” (p.132).

The author goes further to complain that open theists “are publishing articles, books, and web discussions that are widely read, especially by other academics and authors” (p.133) because open theism “has been developed in detail and published widely apart from effective ordained oversight” (p.134). He concludes by taking hope in the fact that “the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly passed a resolution affirming God’s exhaustive a statement that open theists should find hard to accept” (p.136).

I suggest that this chapter is an illustration of the method of fundamentalism with its imposed blind faith overwhelming the message of the Bible. The author attacks open theism for suggesting answers that ‘come only at the cost of God’s majesty’ but he then responds by calling for humans to impose truth upon believers. But if humans are imposing truth, then this increases the majesty of man and not the majesty of God.

Chapter Five

Chapter five presents two related fundamental concepts. The first is that “all Scripture is anthropomorphic. From beginning to end Scripture testifies a condescending approach of God” (p.188). This principle is repeated numerous times throughout the chapter. The second is that “God reveals himself to us in human terms, yet we must not compare God to us as if we were the ultimate reference point” (p.163).

Mental symmetry suggests that the human mind normally uses analogy: First, mental processing uses analogy. Perceiver thought and Server thought discover facts and sequences by looking for analogies—situations and contexts that are similar but not identical. For instance, the Perceiver category of tree contains maple trees, fir trees, Christmas trees, and so on. All of these are similar but not identical. Second, mental structure is rooted in analogy. Teacher thought, for instance, uses words to build theories and looks for order-within-complexity. Thus, anything that contains this combination is mentally analogous because it is being interpreted by the same cognitive module. Finally, mental networks impose analogy. Whenever a mental network is triggered, then it will use emotions to impose its structure upon the situation. For instance, because ‘using emotional status to impose truth’ has formed a mental network within the mind of the author of the previous chapter, his natural response is to respond to doctrinal error by ‘using emotional status to impose truth.’

Thus, suggesting that ‘scripture is anthropomorphic’ make sense. (Whether it is only anthropomorphic is another question, because the mind does not use only analogy.) In addition, it is important to realize that human analogy is not the ultimate reference point for analyzing God.

Mental symmetry suggests a possible solution to this problem. Finite humans are mentally represented within Mercy thought as collections of emotional experiences. Thus, it makes sense to use Mercy thought to evaluate humans and to compare one human with another. But, God is not a finite human. Therefore, using Mercy thought to evaluate God is a category mistake. However, if one uses Teacher thought to evaluate God, then it seems to make sense. However, there are many similarities between Mercy thought and Teacher thought: both function emotionally; both can be the source of mental networks; both want harmony and dislike disharmony; both lead to a form of personhood. Thus, if one uses Mercy thought to evaluate God, then the results will make some sense because there are some similarities. However, if one uses Teacher thought to evaluate God, then the results make a lot more sense—and possibly even adequate sense.

Thus, mental symmetry suggests that the category mistake does not lie in ‘man attempting to grasp the true nature of God,’ but rather in man using the wrong cognitive module to grasp the true nature of God. But why would man use the wrong cognitive module to analyze God? Again, I suggest that the ultimate culprit is the attitude of fundamentalism. If Perceiver truth about God is based in emotional Mercy status, then this will naturally lead to the category mistake of using Mercy thought to evaluate God.

Chapter Six

Chapter six continues with a discussion of anthropomorphic revelation: “All of God’s self-revelation is analogical, not just some of it. This is why Calvin speaks, for instance, of God’s ‘lisping’ or speaking ‘baby-talk’ in his condescending mercy” (p.210).

The author then tells us that this leads to a basic problem. If humans can only use analogy to partially grasp the nature of God, then how can humans know that their partial grasp is correct? For instance, suppose that I say that a bothunk is like a bear. Because I do not know what a bothunk is, I do not know whether the similarity lies in the size, the fur, the claws, the hibernation, or the demeanor. In a similar vein, the author asks, “How can we know if the analogies fit? The assumption seems to be that unless one can stand outside of the analogy and its referent, one cannot compare the analogy for its accuracy” (p.211).

The author answers that “because Scripture is God’s own speech in human language, the analogies that God selects are appropriate whether we know the exact fit or not. We do not need that which we cannot possibly have—namely, archetypal knowledge” (p.211). In other words, the correct aspects of the bothunk to evaluate are the ones that are mentioned in the words of a specific book. But, whenever revelation about universality is limited to a specific object such as a book, then one has, by definition, limited universality.

Thus, the author’s solution sounds like it preserves the sovereignty of God, but I suggest that it actually ends up restricting the sovereignty of God and limiting human development. As the author says, “Scripture is sufficient for the purposes God intended—to reconcile us to himself, not to satisfy our curiosity.” When intellectual curiosity is being discouraged, then Teacher thought is being limited. It is true that the focuses upon reconciling man to God, but I suggest that this is because God wants man to think for himself. The bible contains sufficient content to instruct man how to become mentally whole, and man is then expected to use his God-given mind to figure out the rest.

The author states that “Open theism is a current theological trend that results from a quest to know God as he truly is in himself” (p.156). But, the author concludes that “Despite his claims to the contrary, Boyd’s reasoning brings the Creator down to the creature’s level, for he reasons, what is true for the creature must be true for the Creator” (p.190).

I suggest that both sides are partially right. I agree with Boyd that it is good to try to understand more about the true nature of God. However, I also agree with the author that attempts to analyze God’s true nature should not bring God down to the level of man. The solution, I suggest, lies in approaching God from the viewpoint of a universal Teacher theory, rather than from the viewpoint of finite Mercy humans.

Chapter Seven

Chapter seven discusses the inerrancy of scripture. In the words of the author, “Scripture alone (sola scriptura) is ultimately the necessary and sufficient condition to warrant and justify any theological proposal. Another way of stating this, in more philosophical language, is to say that the authority and reliability of Scripture is the transcendental condition for the very possibility of doing Christian theology in any kind of normative fashion” (p.241).

This sounds good, and any attempt to question this statement is viewed by conservative theologians with suspicion. However, notice that our analysis of Beyond the Bounds has repeatedly led us to conclude that the attitude of inerrancy creates a mindset that leads to theological paradoxes and causes people to deviate from the content of scripture. In other words, I suggest that it is mentally impossible to ‘believe in the inerrancy of the Bible’, because the attitude will prevent a person from fully understanding the content, causing a person to claim inerrancy while changing the content in practice.

“Without the living God who discloses himself in an authoritative and reliable Word-revelation, theology loses both its identity and its integrity as a discipline and is set adrift, forever to be confused with psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and the like” (p.241). Mental symmetry agrees that ‘an authoritative and reliable Word-revelation’ is required to start the process of programming the mind, and mental symmetry, as well as other data, provides corroborating evidence that the Bible is an authoritative source of truth. But mental symmetry—backed up by the analysis of Beyond the Bounds—suggests that it is only possible to complete the process of programming the mind by letting go of the attitude of sola scriptura.

When this step is taken, then theology will become integrated with ‘psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and the like’ because God is a universal, sovereign being who is lord of everything and not just the lord of the bible. But mental symmetry also suggests that the centrality and content of the Christian message will remain intact.

The author says that there are two primary views of human freedom. There is “an indeterministic notion referred to in various ways such as libertarian free will or incompatibilism, and a deterministic notion referred to as compatibilism or soft determinism. Open theism strongly endorses the former rather than the latter” (p.250). As I have mentioned, mental symmetry suggests that the mind actually possesses limited freedom, which is free but not libertarian, and guided by nature but not compatibilistic. As I have mentioned before, I suggest that the compatibilistic freedom which the author describes on page 251 is merely the feeling of being free.

The author then suggests that “one cannot consistently affirm the total inerrancy of Scripture and yet also utilize the Free Will Defence as a response to the problem of evil” (p.259). In other words, if people really possess libertarian free will, then God cannot guarantee that scripture contains no errors. This is a logical conclusion. However, mental symmetry suggests that humans do not possess libertarian free will but rather limited free will.

The author then extends this argument to the question of evil itself: “For once it is assumed that God can control the actions of free creatures, it follows immediately that God could have created a world containing free moral agents but absolutely no moral evil—i.e. God could have brought it about that every individual would always freely choose in every situation to perform the exact action God desired. But if God could have brought it about that every instance of moral evil was freely not performed, then we must conclude that God is directly responsible for each instance of moral evil in the world” (p.260).

I suggest that this argument is confusing God’s primary purpose with secondary by-products of that ultimate purpose. The ultimate goal, I suggest, is mental wholeness. In order to reach mental wholeness, mankind must be led through a path of salvation. If humans insist upon being slow learners, then God is forced to adopt the teaching method of suffering. And, when humans are mentally immature, then God is forced to dictate truth through humans. However, as humans grow in mental and spiritual maturity, then it becomes possible for God to adopt less draconian methods. In other words, instead of guaranteeing universal free will, God is leading humans along a path that gives them increasing personal freedom, and instead of eternally revealing truth, God is leading humans along a path that gives them increasing understanding.

Summarizing, the author suggests accurately that libertarian free will cannot guarantee inerrant scripture. This may be true, however if we observe how the mind operates, then we conclude that the concept of ‘inerrancy’ has its own problems, because it guarantees that a person will not have an inerrant comprehension of scripture, even if this scripture has been accurately transcribed.

Chapter Eight

Chapter eight continues discussing this idea of the trustworthiness of the Christian message. The author poses the following general question: “ ‘How,’ Nash asks, ‘can God know what he is going to do in the future, when God’s own future acts are a response to future . . . free actions that he cannot know?’ (p.284).

I suggest that a cognitive model is required to answer this question. When one physically moves from one location to another it is not necessary to know the details of the journey because there is a physical world that determines one’s current location. Similarly, mental symmetry suggests that the structure of the mind can be used to determine one’s cognitive location. In other words, when God is leading humans and humanity towards mental wholeness, he is following a path that has been predetermined by the structure of the mind. This may sound like an inadequate answer, but after using the theory of mental symmetry (which actually started as a description of spiritual gifts in Romans 12) to analyze personal and societal development, I have come to the conclusion that this cognitive ‘map’ contains just enough detail to provide all the certainty that is required. Thus, in agreement with Boyd, I suggest that the structure of the mind predetermines the general outline of God’s plan, while the specific nature of each step is still open to being adjusted. However, what Boyd is missing is a cognitive model to back up his statement.

The author points out that “what Boyd makes clear is that the openness debate has moved beyond the question of whether or not God can, in fact, foreknow the future actions of responsible moral agents, to the question of the kinds of responsible moral actions that God, in fact, can foreknow” (p.285). It is precisely this question which it appears that the cognitive model of mental symmetry can answer, as developed further in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules.

The author complaints that “Boyd’s comments on character solidification in this quotation are vague. When he says, ‘solidified to the extent that,’ does he mean ‘irreversibly’ established and ‘permanently’ or ‘unalterably’ acquired (ibid., 189)? Or, does he really mean something less than “irreversibly” established and ‘permanently’ or ‘unalterably’ acquired?” (p.294). Again, it is precisely this sort of question which I have been attempting to answer by analyzing Christian growth in terms of cognitive development.

The author poses the dilemma of Alexander von Kluck’s being appointed to the generalship of the German First Army just prior to the outbreak of the First World War (p.302). Von Kluck’s inept leadership ensured that Germany would not win the war, which through a chain of events led to the birth of both Nazism and communism. Why didn’t God stop this from happening so that millions would not die? I cannot give a detailed answer to this question, but I can suggest some general ideas. First, in order to propel society through a major transformation, it appears that God plays major forces against one another. In order to guarantee that God’s sovereign plan will succeed, these forces must be sufficiently strong. Second, when human minds are only partially programmed, then God is forced to use more painful methods. Third, within this global sovereign plan, there is substantial room for individual humans to escape personal suffering. For instance, my great-grandparents fled Russia before the rise of communism because they saw that their religious freedom was being restricted. Fourth, God’s plan is broader than just the Christian church. God is a universal God whose domain extends far beyond the words of a book and the subculture of a religion—even if this religion has been entrusted with ‘the very oracles of God’. Fifth, Scripture also teaches that God will eventually make things right for every individual.

In the words of Paul, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (II Cor. 4). In other words, what matters is internal development and long-term results, consistent with my suggestion that God is leading individuals and society towards mental wholeness.

The author says that the God of open theism is “Like the pampered child whose every move is motivated by the whims of self-interest, he could have intervened to prevent the suffering that breaks his heart, but he did not, not because his nonintervention was governed by a larger, albeit mysterious, purpose, but rather because he, well, just did not feel like it” (p.304). In contrast, I suggest that when a person insists upon the attitude of inerrancy, then cognitively speaking, he is adapting the mindset of the child, and I suggest that this type of childish mentality will prevent a person from understanding the universal Teacher theory of God’s plan. Without such an understanding, open theism does not make sense.

Similarly, it is the childish mind that throws up its hands in despair and says ‘I cannot understand’: “We must acknowledge, in other words, that the problem of evil is beyond our capacity to understand exhaustively because God is beyond our capacity to understand exhaustively” (p.306). Obviously, finite humans cannot understand anything exhaustively. But, science indicates that there is an alternative between ignorance and exhaustive knowledge, which is an understanding of the fundamental principles that tie everything together. I suggest that this is a concept which theology needs to learn from science, which means not being like the narrow-minded rabbis of Israel who refused to learn anything from the Greeks.

Chapter Nine

Chapter nine continues in a similar vein. The author suggests that “open theism is an unacceptable and nonviable view for Christians who desire to remain biblically faithful, in part because it fails to account for necessary elements of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel that is at the heart of the Christian faith itself” (p.310). I suggest that this is because open theism lacks a cognitive model. Using mental symmetry, I show in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules that it is possible to explain the essential elements of ‘the gospel that is at the heart of the Christian faith itself.’

The author claims that under open theism, it would not possible for God to know beforehand which people would be born (p.312), which people would be saved (p.313), whether God would make a covenant progress with Abraham (p.316), and to whom the substitutionary punishment of Jesus would apply” (p.332). Science, a study of God’s world, seems to have no problems with this type of uncertainty, because the laws of science are all stated in general terms. For instance, one does not need to know the identity of every object for the general law of gravity to apply. Again, I suggest that we are seeing a by-product of the cognitive bias towards Mercy thought with its focus upon specific people. As I mentioned before, I suggest that incarnation uses law and generality to bridge the Teacher universality of God with the Mercy specifics of humans.

Going further, the author wonders “how God could justify old testament saints based upon the future death of Jesus” (p.318) and questions Boyd’s explanation that “Since God determines whatever he wants to about world history, we should not find it surprising that the central defining event in world history—the crucifixion—included a number of predestined aspects. It seems that the incarnation and crucifixion were part of God’s plan from ‘before the foundation of the world.’” (p.321). Mental symmetry suggests that the death and resurrection of an incarnation is pre-wired into the very structure of the mind, because an analogous transformation occurs within the mind during the process of reaching mental wholeness. This is described in detail in God, Theology & Cognitive Modules.

The author concludes, “Once again, we see the contrast with the true gospel of certain hope and the end of fear, based on the confidence that God knows the end from the beginning, and that the consummation will be just as he has planned. What glory, what joy, and what blessing—in the true gospel of our gracious and glorious all-knowing God” (p.335). In contrast, I suggest that the confidence of the ‘inerrant theologian’ is misplaced because it begins with the assumption that the bible is the Word of God. However, when Mercy emotions—as evidenced by an emotional phrase such as ‘What glory, what joy, and what blessing’—are used to impose truth upon Perceiver thought, then the result will be the imposed confidence of blind faith. The individual with blind faith really ‘knows’ that he is right, but this sense of knowing does not have a factual basis. This does not mean that blind faith is automatically wrong. It may be totally right, but there is no way of knowing unless one emerges from blind faith, and then one has to be satisfied with partial certainty.

The author says that “Openness advocates want it both ways. They want high risk, and they also want high assurance of God’s success. They cannot have it both ways” (p.335). But, is not blind faith the ultimate ‘high risk’ strategy? Is it not better to examine the evidence and see if this faith is justified? I’m not suggesting that theologians use only blind faith. However, it appears that the underlying fundamental mindset of Beyond the Bounds is blind faith.

[1] Jeremiah 32 says, “They have turned their back to Me and not their face; though I taught them, teaching again and again, they would not listen and receive instruction. But they put their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.” For years, my primary goal has been to build my mind around mental networks that can survive for eternity. Thus, I find it inconceivable that a person would worship a universal being by deliberately destroying his most precious mental networks. However, even if such behavior would not enter my mind, it is still possible for me to use the theory of mental symmetry to explain this behavior. If this describes my gut response as a finite creature who is struggling to deal with eternal issues, imagine how a universal being would respond.

[2] I’m not suggesting that Philo succeeded. But he did try.

[3] The basis for objective truth is the structure of the physical world. The basis for subjective truth appears to be the structure of the human mind, and a mind that is whole will form a concept of God that is consistent with the Christian Trinity.