By Christopher Fisher
An Open Theist comments on a rough draft of my new book:
Though I think I understand your definition of “anthropomorphism” as fable or myth, I do not believe I have ever met a Calvinist who believed he was arguing that texts about God’s changing His mind (etc.) were fables about some non-existent, mythical, fictional character called “God.” They were always using the definition according to what I see the dictionary defintion to be, that of ascribing human characteristics to something (some real object or animal) that does not actually have those characteristics. When I say the “head” or “foot” of the bed, I do not believe, or even want to imply, that the bed does not exist. I am simply trying to communicate something about the bed that is easier to say than “the place where your head would be,” or “the place your foot would be if you were to lie down on the bed” (in the normal fashion, of course).
Now, maybe these Calvinists and I are using “metaphor,” or “personification,” and mistakenly calling it an anthropomorphism, but I never thought it would be appropriate to accuse them of saying God was a myth, or a fable. And, as far as I know, they were not trying to say that.
It seems to me that for way too long Arminians have been too generous with Calvinistic theology, theology which strips God of all emotion. These Calvinists blanketly qualify everything about God as anthropomorphism. But an anthropomorphism is a fictional framing device, not a metaphor or personification (in which one thing stands for another).
When Yahweh walks in the Garden of Eden, some Calvinists would claim this is an event that never happened. When God proclaims (to no one in particular that He regrets making man), when Abraham reasons with God, when Moses coerces God, when God repents to Samuel, when Jonah argues to God, when Ezekiel asks for one small change in God’s command (Eze 4)… they would frame these dialogues as never having happened. The dialogues only work under the assumption that the future is not set and that mankind can influence God. Did the individuals in the stories (who were talking to God) believe they could not change God’s mind? Did God actually engage in multiple two sided conversations under this impression? Because if the human side was genuine, then God’s side must be as well.
Taking this element (God’s mutability) from these stories robs the story of the core message and does not communicate anything. It literally turns God’s portion of these events into fable. From a narrative in which God sees that mankind has become wicked, then exclaims His regret in making man, then the narrator saying that He regrets making man, then God destroying the whole earth in an act commensurate with repentance… the audience is left with God not changing but destroying the Earth (no motivations, emotions, are left). How is this different from the flood myths around the world which explain why the flood happened? How is this materially different from the myth of Persephone in the Greek religion, a myth that explains why the seasons change? How is this different from the South American myth explaining how the rabbit lost its tail? In each of these myths, reality is explained with fictional stories. They are all myths. And when the Calvinist strips out God’s reasoning, dialogue, and actions, they are making stories about God into myth.