God, Eternity, and Time (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011)
I am grateful to Ashgate for the review copy.
How are we to conceive of God’s relation to that remarkably complicated philosophical construct we label ‘time’? Is God in time or outside of time? Should we prefer to say that God is transcendently immanent within the universe, or, conversely, that God is immanently transcendent over all things – and is there a difference? Moreover, can we argue coherently that an atemporal deity can act temporally, or that a temporal God is free from time, that is, not imprisoned by time? These are important questions to ask, and much of the theology we imbibe through our ecclesial practices is likely to be affected and even formed by the provisional answers.
As a technical contribution to the advancement of discussion of these kinds of issues, Christian Tapp and Edmund Runggaldier have collated papers delivered at a conference on ‘God, Eternity, and Time’ held in Berlin during September 2008. The collection consists of research provided by ten scholars, the majority from the United States and continental Europe, and is divided into four main sections. Part I offers defences of the notion of divine timelessness classically understood, and here we find work by Robert Pasnau, Eleonore Stump, and Thomas Schärtl. Pasnau’s paper, ‘On Existing All at Once’, is a fascinating exposition of the concept of timelessness, and Pasnau argues that the best way to understand God’s eternality is to hold that God lacks temporal parts and so exists all at once. Stump’s essay on ‘Eternity, Simplicity, and Presence’ is similarly absorbing, and she contends that divine eternity and simplicity do not prevent God from being personally present to all people. Schärtl’s contribution, ‘Why We Need God’s Eternity’, probes why a concept of divine eternity is needed at all, and concludes that, among other things, Christology is safeguarded when God is eternal. Those studying the theology of Robert Jenson in particular will find Schärtl’s chapter of value.
Part II contains two challenging treatments of the relation between God’s omniscience and human freedom. Linda Zagzebski’s essay, ‘Eternity and Fatalism’, examines the link between fatalism and temporality. Fatalism is often assumed to entail the idea that because one cannot control the past, one cannot control the future; all is fixed. Theological fatalism can be addressed, it is supposed, by a turn to divine timelessness, but Zagzebski shows, first, that this is not necessarily the case, and that, secondly, the matter of (a)temporality is not the most important problem to resolve when seeking to avoid fatalism. Christoph Jäger’s chapter, ‘Molina on Foreknowledge and Transfer of Necessities’, discusses Luis de Molina’s analysis of how free human actions are consistent with God’s foreknowledge.
The three contributors to Part III each propose a ‘third way’ between temporal and atemporal depictions of God. Christian Tapp, in ‘Eternity and Infinity’, carefully notes the various interpretations of infinity and intriguingly advocates an understanding of an atemporal God who becomes temporal with the act of creation. Alan G. Padgett looks afresh at his own concept of relative timelessness in ‘The Difference Creation Makes: Relative Timelessness Reconsidered’, which, he suggests, applies to God before creation. After the act of creation, Padgett continues, God is omnitemporal. Reinhold Bernhardt’s submission, ‘Timeless Action? Temporality and/or Eternity in God’s Being and Acting’, is an interesting but, for me, finally unsatisfying account of how a timeless God acts in created time. Bernhardt notes the priority of the Holy Spirit in conceiving of God’s action in the world, but frames this pneumatology in terms of a spiritual force-field as a pervasive and effective power.
Part IV is concerned to guard divine temporalism in relation to modern science. Here, William Lane Craig’s ‘Divine Eternity and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity’ defends divine temporality from the allegation that Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity (STR) presumes or requires God to be atemporal. Craig, with his usual analytical flair, demonstrates that STR instead relies on a defective epistemology. The second paper in Part IV, and the final contribution to the book as a whole, is Hans Kraml’s ‘Eternity in Process Philosophies’, which champions different ontologies (and the need to find models of linking them) and suggests that, for understanding time, process ontologies are best.
To repeat, each of these papers was presented and discussed at the ‘God, Eternity, and Time’ conference, and many of them still have the feel of a position paper rather than of a fully expressed argument, and so it is difficult to ascertain how much impact this volume will have on academic discussions. At times, it seemed that each contributor was employing the terminology of eternity, temporality, and so on, in ways different from the others. Some of the chapters would have been made more accessible had clearer statements of their intent, or even clearer conclusions, been included. In contrast, other papers were especially insightful, and I found that the contributions by Pasnau, Stump, Schärtl, Tapp and Bernhardt in particular contained much of value.
In conclusion, Tapp and Runggaldier have produced a stimulating, but often difficult, collection that should be required reading for postgraduates and specialists researching divine eternity, divine timelessness, and related fields.