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John Sanders


Theological Lawbreaker?

A response to Stephen Williams.

Stephen Williams' review of my book, The God Who Risks [B&C, November/December 1999], raises some issues he believes I should address and others which he thinks I sophomorically ignored. Let me see if I can shed some light on three important issues he raises, and so make the book seem less naive than the reader of his review might conclude.

Williams opens with a satire on what he believes would be my paraphrase of the Annunciation. Here the issue is predictive prophecy and whether things will happen precisely the way God says they will. It is true that there are many predictions in the Bible that come to pass exactly as God said. However, there are also a number of predictions where what God said would happen did not, in fact, occur. King Hezekiah, for example, falls ill and is informed by Isaiah, "Thus says the Lord … you shall die and not live" (2 Kings 20:1). God explicitly says that the king will not recover from this illness. However, Hezekiah prays, and God sends Isaiah back to the king to announce that God has rescinded his decision. Now, even though God spoke unconditionally, it turns out that this was a conditional prophecy (this will happen unless something changes), but we know it was conditional only because it did not occur as God first said.

One of the differences between Williams and myself is the number of conditional predictions we believe are in Scripture. Our habit is to classify the unfulfilled predictions as "conditional" and the fulfilled ones as "unconditional." In my view, many of those typically classed as unconditional were actually conditional prophecies which came about because God's unspoken conditions were met. The subtitle to Williams's review asks, "Were the biblical prophecies mere probabilities?" No. But were some (even many) of the biblical prophecies conditional utterances? The answer to that is, Yes.

Thus far, Williams has gotten me mostly correct. But am I committed to all he accuses me of in his satire? No, because he plays ...

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