Udo Middelmann is president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation and the author of books including Pro-Existence and The Market-Driven Church. His newest work is The Innocence of God (Paternoster, 2007). Here's an edited transcript discussing that work. (Another piece of the conversation can be found at World On the Web.)
WORLD: You oppose both "extreme Calvinism" and openness theology, saying that hyper-Calvinism abolishes personal significance and openness theology makes God ignorant. Did you consciously set out to establish a middle course?
MIDDELMANN: Neither of the two propositions does justice to the God revealed in the Scriptures and through human experience. The extreme, hyper-Calvinism ultimately leads me to a fatalistic, "I observe what takes place and bow to that." The reaction to that hyper-Calvinism in the openness theologian gives up too much on the side of a God who knows the end from the beginning.
WORLD: And what's your alternative to those two propositions?
MIDDELMANN: Scripture describes an unfinished, healing process of redemption. The legal and moral problem of sin and guilt before God has been dealt with by Christ on the cross.
WORLD: You mention God going back to work on the eighth day. Did He have to because of what man did, or was this something that was part of His plan all the time?
MIDDELMANN: That's one of those conditional, contingent consequences of the fact that God created a world and then told Adam and Eve to go on creating. It's beautiful, and unique to Judaism and Christianity, that God precisely did not create-and whammo, there it all was. That's Allah, in a locked situation. The God of the Bible creates something out of nothing. . . . Then He calls Adam and Eve and tells them, "Now you create."
WORLD: They have responsibility for what follows?
MIDDELMANN: They have dominion. They give names to the animals and whatever Adam called them, that they were called-and by God, too. God made them man and woman and told them, "Now you create a relationship.". . . The fall of Adam and Eve was such a creation. They created a new, evil, broken, damaged reality that God then responds to. Not out of ignorance: He knew that ahead of time because He had already prepared Christ the Lamb of God from before the foundation of the world. But it didn't become actual until Adam and Eve sinned.
WORLD: The openness theologian says God did not know that Abraham loved him until Abraham raised the knife.
MIDDELMANN: It's not that it was news to God but it was a new experience to God. It wasn't real until it became actual and consequential, and the same with the other passages in the Bible. When Adam sinned he created a totally new situation. He smashed what God had made to be together, and then God, faced with that new situation, does what a God who has invested so much in His creation does: He runs right after it and says "gotta go back to work, put your hand to the plow, stop fighting amongst each other." Adam immediately says, "God, you gave me this woman who gave me the fruit." God says, "Stop that. You're hiding in the bushes. You're ashamed. Come out. You're depressed over this because you've done something terrible, but it's not hopeless: A woman will give birth to the Messiah."
WORLD: You write about God's gracious patience.
MIDDELMANN: It is out of the realization that God doesn't want anyone to be lost that He runs after Adam. He sent His prophets. He sent His Son. He sent the Holy Spirit. He sent apostles. He sends Christians out to provoke people to reconsider.
WORLD: God could relieve the pain, but He self-limits?
MIDDELMANN: Yeah, but not in the sense that He has a choice, that's who He is. He can forgive sins because He Himself, in the person of Christ, took the sins on Himself. He's the Judge of the universe became the judged. So it's dealt with, but He can't just wipe out sin and say it's not. No He can't. He's limited. He can't contradict Himself and still be God.
WORLD: Would it be a contradiction, let's say in the case of the Minneapolis bridge disaster that may have been caused by sin on the part of the bridge-builder, for God in His mercy to overlook momentarily the stress on the bridge caused by poor design or poor workmanship? He could do that?
MIDDELMANN: Oh, absolutely. That would be a miracle that we didn't notice.
WORLD: Right, and there are many miracles all the time that we don't notice.
WORLD: So when we pray with a clause such as, "If it be Your will," is that shorthand for, "If You can do this without doing violence to Your own character?"
WORLD: We're saying, "We know Your character as best we can in our fallen way. We don't want You to do violence to it and we also know that there are a lot of things going on that we don't know."
MIDDELMANN: That's right. Donald Rumsfeld used to say there are the known unknowns and then the unknown unknowns. When he talked about this world as untidy, that's right: It is untidy. . . . In Russia, history as such is personified deity, and we're all on this necessary progression through struggle and conflicts towards a more perfect world. The practical attitude of most Russians is we'll just wait and see what happens.
WORLD: Sometimes events are materialistically determined, sometimes spiritually determined, but always determined?
MIDDELMANN: It's your assignment from God if you're an Orthodox. It's determined by the stars if you're a materialist.
WORLD: As in Hinduism.
MIDDELMANN: Yeah, absolutely. All of these [worldviews] are religions and they are all basically the same. Christianity and Judaism are not religions and are totally different. Religions tie you into a bigger whole and that bigger whole determines you-whether it's Allah, or African tribal faith, or Buddhist oneness of being, or materialist energy. In each case you lose yourself like a drop of water falling into the ocean. It's comfy because you're one among billions and you no longer have a life. Only Christianity says you're made in the image of God-"I give you a name, stand up, and take dominion. Be accountable, but I want to talk to you. I want you to enjoy Me."
WORLD: The hardest thing is theodicy: the question of how you can have a good God and yet all this evil occurs.
MIDDELMANN: The Bible emphasizes that every moment of life before God and before each other is of central importance, and thus no amount of bliss takes away the tragedy of the now. When Christ was on the cross saying "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" that was not diminished by His knowledge that three hours later He would be able to say, "It is finished." That was a real separation.
WORLD: But is our view of it substantially changed? After all, we call the day of the crucifixion Good Friday. We would not be calling it that were it not for the Resurrection on Easter.
MIDDELMANN: Yeah, but it's God's Friday. There's nothing good about it. I don't think we need to have bad experiences to enjoy the good and reject the evil. I propose that's a modern notion of beauty. You can't enjoy marriage until you've had a divorce-that's baloney. You can't enjoy a BMW until you've had a '57 Plymouth with rusted whatever? No, you enjoy it because it's a beautiful machine.
WORLD: But don't you treasure it more if you've had the clunker?
MIDDELMANN: Only if you're insensitive to its internal composition. No, I don't think you need a clunker.
WORLD: I need a clunker.
"We are told to rejoice in all situations, not for them without discernment. I am thankful for the true and good things I learn, but not always for the ways that I came to that knowledge. I am glad for God's presence and faithfulness, but not always for the circumstances in which I came to greater understanding."