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BGC Amendment #1

Following is the entire booklet which was produced to present, explain, and defend the amendment to the BGC Affirmation of Faith. It was made available to all the delegates at the 1999 annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida.

NOTE TO THE READER!

God,
Foreknowledge
and the
Baptist General Conference

Explanation and Rationale for the Proposed Amendment to the Affirmation of Faith of the Baptist General Conference

"God foreknows infallibly all that shall come to pass."
June 22-25, 1999
St. Petersburg, Florida
From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass,
so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am. -- Jesus Christ
John 13:19
Prepared by the
Concerned Pastors and Leaders
Table of Contents

1. Our Prayer in Times of Controversy

2. How to Use this Booklet

3.The Location and Wording of the Amendment

4. The Impetus for the Amendment

5. The Process of the Controversy

6. God and the Nature of the Future

7. Calvinism and Arminianism

8. Fourteen Reasons that the Issue is Important

9. Defining Who We Are: the Affirmation of Faith

10. Implications for Bethel if the Amendment Passes

11. Personal Issues

12. Conclusion

Appendix One: Various Theologians on Omniscience and Foreknowledge

Appendix Two: Answering Some of Greg Boyd's Key Texts Used in Support of His "Open" View of Foreknowledge

1. Our Prayer in

Times of Controversy

Gracious Father, have mercy on your children in disputes. We are sorry for any root of pride or fear of man or lack of insight that influences our stance in the controversy before us. We confess that we are not pure in ourselves. Even as we strive to persuade one another, we stand in need of a merciful Advocate. We are sinners. We are finite and fallible.

On both sides of the matter at hand, we take refuge together in the glorious gospel of justification by faith alone through grace. We magnify Jesus Christ, our Savior and King for all he has done to make us his own. We are a thankful people even in our conflict. We are broken and humble to think that we would be loved and forgiven and accepted by an infinitely holy God.

Forbid, O Lord, that our spirit in this struggle would be one of hostility or ill will toward anyone. Deliver us from every form of debate that departs from love or diminishes truth. Grant, Father, as Francis Schaeffer pleaded in his last days, that our disagreements would prove to be golden opportunities to show the world how to love - not by avoiding conflicts, but by how we act in them.

Show us, O God, the relationship between doctrine and devotion, between truth and tenderness, between Biblical faithfulness and Biblical unity, between standing on the truth and standing together. Let none of us be unteachable, or beyond correction. May the outcome of our dispute be clearer vision of your glory and grace and truth and wisdom and power and knowledge.

By your Spirit, grant that the result of all our arguments be deeper humility, more dependence on mercy, sweeter fellowship with Jesus, stronger love in our common life, more radical obedience to the commands of our King, more authentic worship, and a greater readiness and eagerness to lay down our lives to finish the Great Commission.

In all this, Father, our passion is that you would be glorified through Jesus Christ. Amen.

2. How to Use this Booklet

We have designed this booklet with the expectation that busy delegates cannot read it straight through. The question and answer format is meant to make it easy for you to scan the pages looking for the issues that most concern you. Use the Table of Contents to get your bearings, and then search out the most pressing questions you have. We hope we have addressed most of them. If we haven't, we invite you to attend one of the open forums on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Both supporters and opponents of the proposed amendment on foreknowledge will have rooms available. Room names will be announced. As we began with prayer (above), we pledge with you to continue in prayer. Let us think Biblically and pray without ceasing for the good hand of the Lord to be on us.

3. The Location and Wording of the Amendment

1. What is the amendment that is being proposed to the Affirmation of Faith?

The proposed amendment to the Baptist General Conference Affirmation of Faith is set forth under paragraph three concerning God the Father. The italicized and bold words in brackets are added to paragraph three.

3. God the Father


We believe in God, the Father, an infinite, personal spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power and love. We believe [that He foreknows infallibly all that shall come to pass,] that He concerns Himself mercifully in the affairs of each person, that He hears and answers prayer, and that He saves from sin and death all who come to Him through Jesus Christ.

2. Why is the amendment in this location in the Affirmation of Faith?

Paragraph three of the Affirmation of Faith speaks of the attributes of God among which the truth of his foreknowledge fits most naturally. It seems to us that the insertion flows easily and reads with dignity and simplicity. There is nothing awkward or artificial about the insertion.

3. Why are these particular words chosen for the amendment?

The amendment adds, ". . . that [God] foreknows infallibly all that shall come to pass . . ." The words themselves are straightforward. It is language that lay people and theologians can readily understand, as is fitting for an Affirmation of Faith. There are no hidden meanings. The intention is clear. It is stated in common speech.

The one word that is less common, namely, "infallibly" is meant in its ordinary sense of "free from mistakes or errors." The point of the word is to make explicit that the foreknowledge of God is perfect and involves no mistakes. That is, his foreknowledge is not probable knowledge based on the odds of present circumstances, but is completely reliable and unerring knowledge of what shall come to pass.

The words, "all that shall come to pass," has the ordinary, common meaning of what will happen tomorrow. The assumption is that some things will happen tomorrow and some things will not. God knows infallibly which will and which won't.

4. The Impetus for the Amendment

4. Doesn't the BGC Affirmation of Faith already implicitly affirm that God infallibly knows all that shall come to pass? Isn't that what we believe as a Conference?

The Concerned Pastors and Leaders thought so. We thought that the reference to "every divine perfection" (in paragraph two) and "perfect in . . . wisdom" (in paragraph three) implied God's infallible foreknowledge of all that shall come to pass. That is why our first plan was simply to bring a resolution (not an amendment) to the Conference, affirming that this was the intent of our present Affirmation of Faith. But this procedure met strong opposition. It appeared to some that we were trying to short-circuit the wise process of requiring two Annual Meetings and a two-thirds vote to amend the Affirmation of Faith. Since it became plain that many did not share our assumption that God's foreknowledge of all that shall come to pass was implicit in the Affirmation, we realized that for the BGC to make clear its identity on this matter would require an amendment to the Affirmation.

5. If the Affirmation of Faith has been sufficient for almost 50 years, why isn't it now?

Because at no time in those 48 years did anybody propose what the framers of the Affirmation probably considered unthinkable. Nobody proposed that the Affimation was meant to include the belief that God does not infallibly foreknow all that shall come to pass. We believe that the reason no explicit affirmation of God's foreknowledge is in the Affirmation of Faith is that it was unthinkable to the framers that it would ever be denied by pastors and teachers in our fellowship. Only because the unthinkable has happened, is the Conference now compelled to make explicit what we have always believed, along with the entire Christian church of all ages.

6. What is the theological error that caused this controversy?

A seriously defective view of God, known as the "openness theology," is spreading among evangelicals. One element of this theology is the conviction that God does not infallibly foreknow all that shall come to pass. This view of God's foreknowledge is presently espoused by at least one professor at Bethel College, Greg Boyd. He writes,

In the Christian view God knows all of reality - everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person's free activity is already there to know - even before he freely does it! But it's not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don't exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn't anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions. (Gregory Boyd, Letters from A Skeptic [Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994], p. 30 italics added)

7. Is the "openness" view of God's foreknowledge unique to Dr. Boyd?

No, it is typical of a cluster of theologians espousing "openness theology" (a term that Dr. Boyd uses of his own view, distinguishing it from Calvinism and Arminianism). One prominent spokesman for this view is Clark Pinnock of McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario. He wrote in 1990, "Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential - yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict [but not foreknow with certainty] a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom. . . . God too faces possibilities in the future, and not only certainties. God too moves into a future not wholly known. . . ." (Clark Pinnock, "From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology," in: The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, ed. by Clark Pinnock [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990], pp. 25-26)

8. Does the denial of God's exhaustive definite foreknowledge, as seen in "openness theology," have any historical precedents?

Yes, and, to the best of our knowledge, they have all been rejected by the Christian church as unorthodox. For example, Dr. Boyd observes that "Until the time of the Socinians [named for the heretic, Socinus, 1539-1604], the belief that God's omniscience included all future events was not generally questioned" (Gregory A. Boyd, Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne's Di-Polar Theism Towards a Trinitarian Metaphysics [New York: Peter Long Publishing, Inc., 1992], p. 296-297).

Charles Hodge testifies also to the universal Christian affirmation of the exhaustive definite foreknowledge of God with the primary exception of the Socinians: "The Church . . . in obedience to the Scriptures, has, almost with one voice, professed faith in God's foreknowledge of the free acts of his creatures. The Socinians, however, and some Remonstrants, unable to reconcile this foreknowledge with human liberty, deny that free acts can be foreknown. As the omnipotence of God is his ability to do whatever is possible, so his omniscience is his knowledge of everything knowable. But as free acts are in their nature uncertain, as they may or may not be, they cannot be known before they occur. Such is the argument of Socinus" (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 [Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989, orig. 1871-1873], pp. 400-401).

9. Hasn't the universal church for 2,000 years - Catholic, Protestan, and Orthodox - affirmed that God infallibly foreknows all that shall come to pass?

Yes. That is why C. S. Lewis, who never identified himself as Arminian or Calvinist, said, "Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow" (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity [New York: Collier Books, 1952], p. 148). Robert Strimple points out, concerning the denial of God's exhaustive foreknowledge, "Here Christians face the denial not simply of one of the distinctives of Reformation theology but of a fundamental truth held in common by every historic branch of the Christian church" ("What Does God Know?" in: The Coming Evangelical Crisis, ed. by John H. Armstrong [Chicago: Moody Press, 1996], p. 139).

10. So are you saying we should believe what people have always believed? Are you making tradition an infallible guide?

No. The Bible is the only infallible rule of faith and life. And it may overturn long-cherished, erroneous views. The point of stressing the 2,000-year agreement of all orthodox Christian groups on the exhaustive definite foreknowledge of God is to bring all the weight of the greatest orthodox minds of church history - all of them! - to the witness stand in this controversy. This unified historic witness of all the greatest orthodox thinkers, in all ages and all Christian communions, may not be true. But one can at least understand why some of us are more impressed with the testimony of such a large, diverse and capable band of saints than we are with a revival of a very old error.

5. The Process of the Controversy

11. Has Dr. Boyd's view been studied and assessed by duly appointed Bethel representatives?

Yes. As part of Bethel's established procedures of assessment, a Committee for Theological Clarification and Assessment concluded unanimously that this theology "is within the bounds of evangelical Christian orthodoxy and compatible with the theological commitments expected of faculty members at Bethel" (Quoted from a Communications Bulletin from the Office of Public Relations to Bethel College and Seminary Faculty, Staff, and Administration, May 19, 1998). The voting members of the committee were Jay Barnes, Clarence Bass, David Clark, Lee Eliason, Roger Olson, Al Glenn, LeRon Shults, and Bob Ricker. To our knowledge, none of these persons agrees with Boyd's view of God's foreknowledge.

12. Have the trustees of Bethel taken a position on whether a faculty member may believe and teach that God does not infallibly foreknow all that shall come to pass?

At the June, 1998 meeting, the Trustees received the report from the Committee for Theological Clarification and Assessment (see # __) and, to the best of our knowledge, supported it.

13. What efforts have been made to resolve this difference before coming to the Annual Meeting with an amendment?

In 1994, Greg Boyd's book, Letters from a Skeptic, was published containing the sentence, "God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people he creates until he creates these people, and they, in turn, create their decisions" (p. 30). Since the fall of 1995, various pastors have been in touch with the leaders of Bethel expressing concern that this view seems unbiblical, very important and outside the bounds of our historic beliefs as a Conference. Since the summer of 1996 BGC leaders have been informed of the concern. In December, 1996, concerned pastors were informed that the matter had been brought to the Executive Committee of the Bethel Trustees and that they "gave approval to a review process which is continuing." Since February, 1998, John Piper and Greg Boyd have been in personal contact, both face to face and by Email.

May, 1998, Bethel published the report of the Committee for Clarification and Assessment (made up of Jay Barnes, Clarence Bass, David Clark, Lee Eliason, Roger Olson, Al Glenn, LeRon Shults, and Bob Ricker, with two external, non-voting participants, Timothy George and Timothy Weber) saying that "Boyd's theology is within the bounds of evangelical Christian orthodoxy and compatible with the theological commitments expected of faculty members at Bethel." On June 10, 1998, Greg Boyd and John Piper debated the issue of God's foreknowledge publicly in the Great Hall at Bethel College before about 500 people. The event was sponsored by the Minnesota Baptist District and moderated by Truett Lawson. Questions were allowed from the floor. In June, 1998, the Trustees of Bethel College and Seminary received the report of the Committee for Clarification and Assessment.

From August, 1998, a group of BGC pastors have been meeting regularly to discuss concerns over the findings of the Bethel leaders that "openness" views of the foreknowledge of God are "compatible with the theological commitments expected of faculty members at Bethel." At first the Concerned Pastors and Leaders (as the group came to be called) thought a resolution at the Annual Meeting would express what the consensus understanding of the Affirmation of Faith was. But this met with strong resistance. The Overseers of the BGC suggested that an amendment process would be wiser. The Concerned Pastors adapted its plan to this suggestion. In March, 1999 Greg Boyd and the Concerned Pastors and Leaders made presentations to the Overseers of the BGC. Since then, various forums have been held around the Conference on the issue, and Bethel has communicated its support for Dr. Boyd (not agreement with his view) to the Conference at large.

6. God and the Nature of the Future

14. Is this controversy about the nature of God or the nature of the future?

Both. To deny that it is about God is misleading. A God who is learning billions of new certainties every hour, and who is adjusting his plans continually to deal with these new certainties, is a different kind of God than one who knows infallibly all that shall come to pass. Openness theologians believe that "God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions" (Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, p. 30). Therefore, among six billion humans, there are billions of such decisions being made every hour that "God can't foreknow" as certain.

15. But what about the nature of the future?

For most people, the "future" is "what will come to pass" or "what will be." Webster's Dictionary says the future is "what is going to happen." The day after tomorrow certain things will have happened tomorrow. The controversy before us is: Does God know today what those things will be? And does this matter enough to be part of our doctrinal identity?

16. What, then, do Dr. Boyd and the leaders of Bethel mean when they say that the controversy is over the nature of the future?

We can see the answer if we think carefully about the May 6, 1999 letter to the churches from Bethel leaders. In it, Dr. Boyd says (from his book, God of the Possible, p. 5): "God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge." Then he explains, "God exhaustively knows the future as the future is now" (italics added). Notice: this seems to raise the question of the "nature of the future." But that is not really what is happening. Rather, Dr. Boyd virtually redefines the future as the present. He says, God knows "the future as it is NOW" (emphasis added). But "the future as it is now" is no longer the future. It is the present. But to know something that is NOW is not foreknowledge, but just knowledge. So what openness theology really claims is that God has exhaustive knowledge of the present, not the future.

Here's the problem: In ordinary language "foreknowledge" does not mean "knowledge of what is now," but rather "knowledge of what will come to pass." The nature of what will come to pass is not the issue. The issue is: Whatever and however the future comes to pass, will God have known it infallibly before it happened?

17. Isn't it enough that the leaders of Bethel say emphatically in their May 6, 1999 letter that they will not "defend the right of a teacher at Bethel to diminish God's eternal supremacy over time and his complete omniscience of all that exists"?

The problem is that this pledge is weakened by the same linguistic fog we have seen in Dr. Boyd's position. "Omniscience of all that EXISTS" is not the same as Omniscience of all that WILL exist. God's perfect knowledge of all that exists is simply not the issue. Whether he knows infallibly all that SHALL come to pass is the issue.

18. How about the argument that, just as omnipotence is not limited by God's inability to make a square circle, neither is omniscience limited by God inability to know future free choices?

To quote Dr. Millard Erickson, "The comparison between doing illogical actions and knowing the future is not correct. The former, creating square circles, involves performing acts that are internally contradictory, and absurd. The latter [knowing future free choices] does not involve an internal contradiction. The contradiction is only between divine knowledge and libertarian or noncompatibilist view of human freedom. To assume the latter is to beg the question. A more appropriate analogy would be that God does not know or foreknow the existence of square circles" (personal correspondence).

7. Calvinism and Arminianism

19. Does this amendment oblige one to be a Calvinist or an Arminian?

No. It does not oblige one to be either. To use the terms of Dr. David Clark, this amendment states a "doctrine," (the doctrine of God's exhaustive and definite foreknowledge) and leaves room for various "theories" about how the doctrine can be explained. For example, the amendment intentionally leaves room for a person to defend the foreknowledge of God as an Arminian or a Calvinist who believes God is outside time; or an Arminian who believes God is in time; or various forms of Calvinism which affirm that God knows the future because he plans the future and which explain, in different ways, the compatibility of God's governance of all things and the full accountability of man.

20. In the words of the amendment, "all that shall come to pass," isn't there the implication that the future is fixed and determined?

No. The simple, straightforward, ordinary meaning of these words is intended with no philosophical commitments one way or the other on how the future comes to pass. There is no intention to pass judgment on whether what will happen is determined or undetermined, contingent or necessary. The words of the amendment simply mean that, when tomorrow is over, certain things will have come to pass. Does God know today what they will be? That is the issue.

21. Are there contemporary Arminians that affirm the exhaustive definite foreknowledge of God?

Yes. Most of them do. That is the historic Arminian position. Jack W. Cottrell writes as a contemporary Arminian who does not believe in limited foreknowledge: "God has a true foreknowledge of future free-will choices without himself being the agent that causes them or renders them certain. . . . This is how God maintains sovereign control over the whole of his creation, despite the freedom he has given his creatures." Jack W. Cottrell, "The Nature of Divine Sovereignty," in: The Grace of God, the Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989], pp. 111-112).

22. Does historic, classical Arminianism differ from openness theology, and affirm that God infallibly foreknows all that shall come to pass?

Yes. Jacobus Arminius affirmed, for example, "The fourth decree, to save certain particular persons and to damn others . . . rests upon the foreknowledge of God, by which he has known from eternity which persons should believe according to such an administration of the means serving to repentance and faith through his preceding grace and which should persevere through subsequent grace, and also who should not believe and persevere" (Quoted in Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation [Nashville: Abingdon, 1971], p. 352).

23. Did the founders of Bethel and the BGC take an explicit stand on the issue of God's foreknowledge of human choices?

Yes. John Alexis Edgren, the founder of Bethel wrote, "God knows everything that ever was, everything that now is, and everything that is to be; all that is actual and all that is possible. Therefore God knows in advance all the free acts of all free creatures" (Fundamentals of Faith, [Chicago: BGC Press, 1948], pp. 19-20.). This is the issue at stake. Was this vision of God implicit in the Conference doctrinal identity from the beginning? We believe it was and that we should preserve this unifying vision.

8. Fourteen Reasons that the Issue is Important

24. Why is the truth that God foreknows all that shall come to pass so important that it deserves to be included in our Affirmation of Faith?

We agree that not all truth has the same importance and weight. So the question is not only whether God knows infallibly all that shall come to pass but also whether this is important enough to be part of our Conference doctrinal self-definition. We believe it is for the following reasons:

Reason #1. Because giving legitimacy to the denial of historic Christian views of God's foreknowledge erodes our common vision of the God we worship together. Legitimizing the openness view of God undermines the biblical foundation of our unity and forces us to unite around less and less of a common view of God. For example, to say that we all worship an omniscient God will be evacuated of common meaning, because openness teaching and historic Christian teaching have radically different views of what is meant by "all-knowing."

Reason #2. Accepting the evangelical legitimacy of denying God's exhaustive definite foreknowledge virtually undermines the unifying force of the Affirmation of Faith. If our Affirmation of Faith can be made to embrace this false teaching, against its longstanding implicit embrace of the historic Christian view, it ceases to define our unity and is an ambiguous cloak for serious disunity. It is not the proposed amendment that threatens the unifying power of the Affirmation of Faith; that unifying power is threatened by the effort to force into the Affirmation a false doctrine that the Affirmation was never intended to embrace.

Reason #3. Because embracing the legitimacy of the openness view of God would put the Baptist General Conference seriously out of step with the entire unified history of the Christian church. It would move toward the margins of orthodoxy. Every orthodox Christian communion for 2,000 years has affirmed the simple foreknowledge of God. Departures from this view have been assessed and rejected as unorthodox by every major branch of the Christian Church. The presumption that our little group can go against 2,000 years of unified Christian witness is dangerous. It is also ironic that this would be done in the name of unity, when, actually, it would be putting us at odds with a unified vision of God's foreknowledge that has served the unity of the church for twenty centuries.

Reason #4. Protests to the contrary, the openness view of God really does imply that God makes mistakes, because of his uncertainty about the future. For example, in Jeremiah 3:19b-20, God says, "I said, 'You shall call Me, My Father, and not turn away from following Me. Surely, as a woman treacherously departs from her lover, so you have dealt treacherously with Me, O house of Israel,' declares the LORD." Dr. Boyd says that God predicted one thing and that another came about: "He genuinely thought his people would behave differently." He softens this with the words, "The Lord thinks one thing will most likely occur while it turns out that something else occurred." And again, "The Lord, having a perfectly accurate assessment of all probabilities, thought his people would do the former when this situation came about," but they did not do what he thought they would do. Dr. Boyd does not call this a "mistake," because he does not believe it is a mistake when you mis-predict on the basis of the best knowledge available. But most people do call this a mistake. (Quotes here are from pages 12-14 of Dr. Boyd's unpublished paper, "The Bible and the Open View of the Future," quoted with permission.)

Reason #5. Because the openness view of God imputes to him a massive ignorance and a continual process of learning and adapting to the unknowable future, which is unworthy of the biblical vision of God. Since "God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions" (Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, p. 30), therefore God is learning billions of new certainties every hour, and is adjusting his plans continually to deal with these new certainties. This is a very serious departure from the glorious, biblical vision of God who knows infallibly all that shall come to pass.

Reason #6. Because God's foreknowledge of all that shall come to pass is viewed by Isaiah as evidence of God's unique deity among all the gods. It is one of the "evidences of . . . [God's] peculiar glory, greatly distinguishing him from all other beings" (Jonathan Edwards, The Freedom of the Will, ed. by Paul Ramsey, in: The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957], p. 22). For example, Isaiah quotes God as saying, "Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure'" (Isaiah 46:9-10). From this and many other texts in Isaiah, we conclude that the denial of God's foreknowledge is an unwitting assault on the glory and deity of God.

Reason #7. Because Jesus teaches that his ability to predict the free acts of responsible people is an essential part of his divine glory, so that the denial of this foreknowledge is, whether intended or not, an undermining of the deity of Christ. For example, in John 6:64 Jesus says, "'There are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him." Then in John 13:19, Jesus says at the Last Supper, "From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am." What does "I am" mean? It is the name of God in Exodus 3:14, and it is the designation Jesus uses in John 8:58 to describe his preexistent deity, "Jesus said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." These are the words that God uses of himself in texts like Isaiah 43:10 ("'You are My witnesses,' declares the LORD, 'and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am.'"). Therefore, the warrant Jesus gives for believing that he is divine is that he is predicting the human evil acts which he infallibly foreknows are going to befall him in the next hours, including the betrayal of Judas (see John 13:21-27 and Matthew 26:2), and the denials of Peter (Luke 22:31-34). Therefore, denying that Christ knew all that would befall him tends to undermine our confidence in the deity of Christ.

Reason #8. The denial that God foreknew the sinful volitions of responsible creatures tends to undermine confidence in the plan of redemption. The Bible teaches that God made provision for salvation from the effects of the Fall before the foundation of the world. Thus, he foreknew that there would be a Fall and that there would be effects of it that needed a plan of redemption. For example, in 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul says that from all eternity God has planned to give us grace in Christ Jesus as our Savior. "[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." In other words, God not only foreknew in eternity the sinful choice that Adam would make (and Lucifer before him), but he also planned to give us grace through Jesus Christ in response to the misery and destruction and condemnation resulting from the Fall that he foreknew. Therefore to say that "God can't foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions" (Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, p. 30), is to imply thatGod could not infallibly see the Fall coming and plan for it the way Paul said God did.

Reason #9. Because the effort to make a Biblical defense of the denial that God foreknows all that shall come to pass is not successful. None of the passages of Scripture that is brought forth against the exhaustive definite foreknowledge of God teaches that God does not have such foreknowledge. Rather this denial is inferred from circumstances that seem to require it. For example, reference is sometimes made to texts where God changes his mind from what he said he would do (Isaiah 38:1,5; Jonah 3:4,10), is sorry for what he has done (Genesis 6:5-6; 1 Samuel 15:11), seems surprised (Jeremiah 26:1-3), says "perhaps" (Jeremiah 3:6-7), and puts people to the test (Genesis 22:9-12). In all these texts, the denial of God's exhaustive foreknowledge is an inference that seems necessary to some interpreters. However, in the history of the church right up to our own day, plausible explanations have been given to each of these texts which cohere with the wider, more explicit teaching of Scripture that God foreknows all that shall come to pass (see Appendix Two).

Reason #10. Because the denial that God foreknows all that shall come to pass is practically and pastorally harmful. Bad theology hurts people. Sooner or later wrong thinking about God leads to wrong believing. And wrong believing leads to the weakening of moral and spiritual life, and finally to condemnation. Most Christians see intuitively that denying God's foreknowledge of free human actions will tend to undermine the confidence of the church that God can guide persons and nations, that he can answer prayer concerning the hearts of the erring and lost, that he can predict the future, that he can be assured of final triumph, and that all things will work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. Some generation will pay the price of this wrong thinking about God. And the closer the wrong thinking gets to the center of God and his personal perfections and his saving ways, the sooner and the more painful will be the payment. Eternal things are at stake in the denial of the exhaustive foreknowledge of God.

Reason #11. The alleged practical and pastoral gain from openness theology does not materialize. The hope of openness theology to lessen the crisis of faith in times of calamity is not realized. In both openness theology and historic Christian theology, God has the right and power to intervene to stop hurricanes, heal diseases, hold back floods, discharge devils, strike terrorists blind, or otherwise hinder someone on his way to murder. Why he does not intervene is not answered by openness theology. A heartbroken mother may still ask, "Why did God not intervene?" In all these cases, God saw calamity around the corner and did not intervene. The testimony of our people in pain and calamity is this: Believing God cannot see what is coming in my life is no comfort.

Reason #12. The denial of God's simple foreknowledge of all that shall come to pass is so serious that at least one well known, responsible Arminian scholar regards it as heresy? Thomas Oden, a Methodist scholar who has become famous in recent years in part because of his turn from old-line liberalism to evangelicalism, knows theological liberalism and how a denomination gets there. Oden's comments are all the more significant because he is not a Calvinist. Here is what Oden said of the view of God's foreknowledge that Dr. Boyd, and other openness theologians, teach:

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)

Reason #13. The importance that we put on the foreknowledge of God is not marginal or eccentric. It has broad historic precedent and many sober-minded contemporary representatives (see Appendix One). The errors of openness theology have been challenged, to take a small sampling, by

Reason #14. Because evangelical denominations and educational institutions move away from orthodox Christian faith for lack of vigilance over incremental defections from Biblical truth. Each progressive deviation seems too small to justify a confrontation. It doesn't seem worth the controversy and tension. It seems like a distraction from the main message of the gospel and the mission of the church. Nevertheless, it is the very message and mission that are being undermined. This is why the apostle Paul gave himself not only to proclamation, but to "the defense and confirmation of the gospel" (Philippians 1:7). The Baptist General Conference and the leaders of Bethel College and Seminary would do well to heed the words of Keith and Gladys Hunt, in their history of InterVarsity. Their warning to InterVarsity applies to us.

Many organizations go off-track by the time they reach their fiftieth anniversary. Doctrinal statements are not enough; they need to be constantly checked and their finer points taught and emphasized. It is easy to 'get on with the mission' and belatedly discover that the faith that began the movement has eroded away. If history tells us anything, it's that theological drift occurs almost imperceptibly over long periods of time. One little change here, another there (Keith and Gladys Hunt, For Christ and the University: the Story of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of the U.S.A. 1940-1990 [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1991], p. 379).

Similarly, from the British perspective Pete Lowman describes the demise of the World Student Christian Federation:

In short, WSCF had virtually all the ingredients of an evangelical student movement of lasting effectiveness. What it lacked was a doctrinal concern that would have ensured that its voting members - and above all, its leaders - stayed loyal to a faith based unambiguously on the Word of God; and commitment like the apostle Paul's, that would have seen the maintenance of the divinely-revealed gospel as more crucial than unity with all those who seemed religious. Only one weakness; but through that weakness the WSCF made shipwreck. IFES-linked groups have no cause to be complacent. There, too, but for the grace of God, we might be drifting (Pete Lowman, The Day of His Power: A History of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students [Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1983], p. 44).

9. Defining Who We Are: the Affirmation of Faith

25. Why is the BGC Affirmation of Faith, as it stands (without the amendment on foreknowledge), insufficient to define who we are?

Because there are essentials of our faith that are not explicit in the Affirmation. They seemed so obvious to the framers that they were taken for granted and left unexpressed. When these are denied, it becomes necessary to make them explicit. In other words, while some things were left out of the Affirmation of Faith because they are non-essential (like precise views of eschatology and spiritual gifts and church officers), other things were left out because they seemed so obviously essential that they did not need to be included.

For example, our Affirmation of Faith does not affirm the truthfulness of God. No one felt the need to say, "We believe that God is truthful in all his dealings and that he keeps all his promises." Similarly, the Affirmation of Faith does not explicitly affirm that God is just or good. It does not affirm that Satan or demons exist, or that they have any role in our lives. It does not affirm that the Bible consists only of the sixty-six books of the Protestant canon rather than including the Apocrypha. Nor does it affirm that Christ himself indwells his people by faith. The statement on Christian Conduct (VIII) does not affirm that marriage is between man and woman (as opposed to two men or two women), nor that stealing and murder and lying and adultery and coveting and polygamy are wrong.

Nevertheless we believe all these things, and regard them as essential to who we are. Teaching contrary to any of these things by one of our pastors or teachers at Bethel might require the Conference to make explicit in the Affirmation of Faith what has always been believed.

The Concerned Pastors and Leaders believe that God's infallible foreknowledge of all that shall come to pass is among those essentials that were so obvious when the Affirmation was created that they did not need to be affirmed.

26. How does the BGC Affirmation of Faith serve unity and identity?

We do not believe that every part of the Affirmation of Faith must be believed in order to be saved. It was not designed to declare the minimum of saving truth, but to define a fellowship around shared convictions. Not all these convictions are of equal weight. But they were included out of the conviction that truth and piety and unity and mission are well served by communities of defined conviction. The Affirmation of Faith is a witness to the persuasion that Biblical doctrine stabilizes saints, strengthens the church, supports spiritual unity, safeguards against debilitating error, and serves the evangelistic mission of the movement.

The spirit of the Affirmation of Faith is not one of separation but self-identification. It is true that many devout and effective servants of Christ cannot affirm our Affirmation of Faith and thus cannot belong to or lead one of our churches. For example, there are godly men and women who do not share our convictions about believers' baptism and the importance of immersion (paragraph nine); there are those who believe in authority structures of the presbytery or the episcopate (paragraph ten), and those who are not persuaded that "church and state must be kept separate" (paragraph ten) and those who do not believe that the final state of the unbelieving is "endless suffering" (paragraph twelve). Our Affirmation of Faith is not designed to anathematize these brothers and sisters.

Instead the Affirmation of Faith is our testimony that the unity of the universal Church is best served, not by finding the lowest common denominator of doctrine, around which all can gather, but by elevating the value of truth, stating the doctrinal parameters of the fellowship, and then demonstrating to the world how Christians can love each other across boundaries, rather than by removing boundaries. In this way, the importance of truth is served by the existence of doctrinal borders, and unity is served by the way we love others across those borders.

We do not believe that the Affirmation of Faith has the authority of the Bible. It is a human effort to be faithful in a specific historical and cultural setting. It is not final or unchangeable. There is hope that, as conversation and debate take place, from generation to generation, we will learn from each other (inside and outside the BGC), and that the boundaries will be adjusted, even possibly folding into closer fellowship formerly disagreeing groups. It is similarly possible that persons and groups within the fellowship may move to doctrinal commitments that put them outside the defining commitments of our fellowship. The separation that this would involve would not have to be rancorous or mean-spirited or demeaning any more than we are rancorous or mean-spirited to other godly people to whom we humbly deny membership and leadership because of doctrinal disagreements like those listed above.

27. Will, then, the proposed amendment concerning God's foreknowledge significantly change the way the Affirmation of Faith functions in the cause of unity and identity?

No. The Affirmation of Faith has always been a Bible-believing, evangelistic, baptistic expression of evangelical consensus. It has not drawn the lines of self-identity between Arminians and Calvinists, between pre-, post-, or a-millennialists, between egalitarian and complementarian, between cessationists and charismatics; nor has it demanded unity on styles of worship or local church government. None of that is changing. Nor is the spirit of the Affirmation changing. There is nothing new in this amendment beyond what has been believed by the Conference as a whole during its entire existence. The amendment simply makes explicit an old and unifying belief that is now being denied by a few who are vocal and effective in spreading their new view.

28. How do you decide if a new view is orthodox and if it fits within the definition of who we are as a Conference?

Over time, the power of the Word of God, by the agency of the Spirit, through the renewed mind of the Body of Christ will bring forth corporate decisions that recognize the truth. In this process, careful exegesis, compelling logic, honest debate, humble teachability and respect for historic Christian teaching that has endured from age to age will have their part. The local church may, in the end, define itself as it is led. But to the degree that we regard the doctrinal unity of a fellowship of churches as valuable, we will continue to act as a body of messengers from those churches. We will come together, we pray, under the leading of the Holy Spirit, and in allegiance to the final authority of the Scriptures, define our doctrinal identity.

29. Some have suggested that if a new doctrinal view gives rigorous exegetical and logical effort to defend itself biblically and rationally, it thereby has a legitimate evangelical standing. Do you agree?

No. Because Arians, universalists, annihilationists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and those who deny inerrancy, and other Christian truths also give rigorous exegetical and logical efforts to defend their views. The issue is not "rigorous" and "logical" but "compelling" and "valid." Who decides in the end? In the very end, God decides. In the meantime each fellowship of believers that wants to honor truth and strive for unity must decide through its duly appointed processes of coming to common convictions.

30. What do you make of the warnings that the amendment is a movement toward unbaptistic credalism?

We think they are unfounded. We have made clear that the Affirmation of Faith does not have the final authority of Scripture and that it is not unchangeable and that it is mainly a statement of identity not separation. It seems to us, in fact, that those who resist changing the Affirmation of Faith are as vulnerable to the charge of "credalism" as those who believe it is open to change with new historical circumstances.

31. Do you agree with the criticism that this amendment will be an unnecessary cause of division?

No. If there is division, which we believe that God will mercifully prevent, it will not be the fault of those who call us to affirm the historic, unifying doctrine of God's simple foreknowledge, but of those who press us to redefine ourselves to accept the legitimacy of its denial. How it can be legitimately called divisive to affirm something held by all Christian communions - Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox - for 2,000 years escapes us.

32. Is there an analogy between last year's amendment to the Affirmation of Faith and the amendment being proposed this year?

Last year the Conference voted to change the language of the Affirmation of Faith to be gender-inclusive. There was manifest egalitarian influence behind the amendment. And there was significant unease over the changes proposed. Why did this not cause division in our Conference? The reason there was no significant, ongoing division is that those who opposed the amendment decided not to divide over it. They voted their conscience, and then went forward with their partnership in the Conference ministry. That is possible in the present controversy. Those who resist this amendment can make it a matter of division or not. The amendment need not be blamed for division any more than last year's amendment might have been blamed for division if leaders had responded differently to a decision they disagreed with.

33. Do you see a danger of "chaos and constitutional collapse"? What if the BGC says yes to the amendment but some districts say no?

This kind of specter could be raised with every issue that we deal with. It is unhelpful and elevates political repercussions above the issues of doctrinal truth. We are confident that, if there is good will and a desire for unity, such repercussions would be avoided. In the end, our confidence is in God, who loves the Baptist General Conference and its mission. If his truth and his revealed will are upheld and honored in our assembly, we believe he will work with great power to lead us through the practical outworking of our commitments. We urge the delegates to trust God's grace and power and wisdom for the future, rather than being led by fear of the unknown.

34. How should we respond to the proposal that the Affirmation of Faith be amended only if the amendment is endorsed by the Annual Meeting of the BGC and by the districts?

We think this would be an unwise diversion from the established process of amending the Constitution of the Conference, and would create a greater constitutional crisis. 1) Since there is no precedent for this procedure in the amending process, there would be confusion over whether a majority or a two-thirds vote would be required to put such a procedure in place. 2) Would a precedent be set so that we would begin to deal with all controversial issues at two levels (Conference and Districts)? 3) How many dissenting districts would it take to undo the two-thirds vote of the Annual Meeting of the BGC? 4) The present one-year delay between the introduction of an amendment and the final vote is designed to give the districts time to study and discuss the issue and make their voices heard. 5) In the end, it is always possible that a district may move away from its commitment to the identity of the BGC as a whole. We believe that the present process for amending the BGC Constitution is a good balance between cavalier changes and excessive restraints on change.

35. Do you agree with the paper sent out by Bethel on March 19 that "God knows all" is a "doctrine" that is "essential," but that whether God knows "all that shall come to pass" is a "theory" about the doctrine that is "peripheral"?

No. The paper asserted, but did not give reasons, that the doctrine of God's foreknowledge is a peripheral theory and not an essential doctrine. We do not embrace this peculiar use of the word "doctrine" as referring only to those things that are essential. We believe that there are doctrines that are essential and doctrines that are not essential. Therefore, in principle, we agree that not all truth has the same weight, and that a fellowship must decide what doctrines will rise to the level of its self-defining Affirmation of Faith.

If we concede to use the peculiar definitions of this paper, we would argue that God's infallible foreknowledge of all that shall come to pass is indeed a "doctrine" (that is, essential to our Affirmation of Faith) and that the "theories" (embraced within our Conference) are the various forms of Calvinism and Arminianism that try to explain how God can foreknow all that shall come to pass (e.g., by being outside time, or by ordaining things, etc.)

Does the Baptist General Conference believe that "God infallibly foreknows all that shall come to pass" is a "peripheral" theory about God's omniscience? Or do we believe that this is essential to our doctrinal self-definition, and that diverse theories about how God knows the future will continue to be embraced among us?