Rescuing Necessary World Theology from the Tenseless Theory of Time

Readers of this blog will be aware of Necessary World Theology (NWT), but for the uninitiated, NWT states – among other things – that creation is an eternal act of God (meaning that there was never a time that God did not create, because time itself came into existence at the moment of creation). It also states that God is omnitemporal, meaning that he exists simultaneously in every moment of time rather than moment-to-moment as do humans. This is an extension of his omnipresence.

These two factors seem to suggest a “tenseless” theory of time [B theory] – meaning that the flow of time is essentially an illusion, and that past-present-and future all exist in some sense simultaneously. The more intuitive theory of time is the “tensed” theory [A theory] which suggests that time is exactly what it seems to be: a continual progression forward from past to future in which the only state that is actual is the present.

While the tensed theory is the intuitive one, a broad range of scientists and philosophers tend to prefer B-theory over A-theory.

That said, several Christian philosophers such as the noteworthy Dr. William Lane Craig, reject B-theory out of hand, and posit instead a God who exists within time, moving past-to-future as do humans.

Craig and others have offered criticisms of B-theory which it is not possible to address in the scope of this article. The question becomes, if one rejects B-theory, is NWT impossible to maintain?

Before that question is addressed, it is first worth pointing out several facts that favor NWT over Craig’s theory of a tensed deity.

The first of these is one of limitation. If God created time, and then entered time, God is necessarily limiting himself. Worse, if God is unable, by the nature of time, to remain outside of its effects, this becomes a “rock so big he can’t lift it” dilemma. Nevertheless, without examining the arguments for Craig’s notion of God and Time, this objection may be ill-founded.

Another objection to God being tensed within time is that of omniscience. Omniscience insists that God knows everything; including the future.

While NWT provides the mechanism by which it is possible for God to know the future (namely that he inhabits the future, along with the past and present), if one places God within time wherein the future lies ever in front of God, one must reduce God’s knowledge of the future to some kind of mystical awareness that God has by virtue of being God. Possibly it does not require an explanation at all, or possibly one might say it is because God has determined the future and so he knows what he is going to do.

Nevertheless, of one reduces God’s knowledge of the future to a conditional knowledge based on mystical awareness or future plans, this does not afford the quality of knowledge that comes from actually being present in every moment, and thus experiencing the future as it is happening.

However this is the question this article is attempting to address. Would it be possible to maintain an A-Theory of time and also keep NWT, or does one absolutely preclude the other?

Before one answers this question, it is important to know one of the virtues of an omni-temporal God when it comes to God’s knowledge and interactions.

A God who does not simply remember the past, but is actually in the past is a God who makes every decision he makes in interaction with the past, present and future. This means that, as God calls out Abraham to be the father of his chosen people, he is also calling out Jacob over Esau, Judah over his eleven brothers, David over his six brothers and so forth, selecting the exact genetic lineage of Jesus’ body, exactly as Jesus was being born; essentially hand-designing the body he currently is inhabiting as an incarnate God.

Other examples would include, as Abraham is sacrificing his son, God is sacrificing his son. When the Old Testament saints are justified by their faith, it is because at God’s level of existence, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is currently taking place, even as Jesus is currently triumphing over death.    

God does not patiently await the triumph of Good over Evil, because exactly as evil is running rampant, Good is triumphing in God’s experience.

All of this makes NWT attractive, because God does not sit in anticipation of the fulfillment of his future plans – all of God’s plans are fulfilled even as he makes them.

All of this said, there is one way in which one may be able to keep a form of NWT under A-Theory. Consider this:

If one imagines that God has perfect knowledge of the future and perfect memory of the past, and perfect awareness of the present, then this perfect awareness of each moment of time is not significantly different than being entirely present in each moment. While God might not actually be present in a future that has not yet been materially actualized, he is present in mind, given that he is perfectly aware of what is happening at the moment of that actualization.

Consequently, in mind – God’s future self is interacting with his present self is interacting with his past self, because in his omniscience, he is perfectly aware of each moment, even when they are not yet actualized.

So in this respect, God is interacting with both his past and future self by virtue of his omniscience.

If, for instance, Good has not triumphed over Evil temporally, it has in God’s mind, because God is mentally aware of himself in that moment. He is perfectly aware of himself at the moment of creation, even though that moment has long passed, aware of the moment of Christ’s sacrifice as he lavishes his forgiveness upon those he is aware of in the past, present and future.

In other words, God need not be omni-temporal in a essential sense, so long as he maintains total awareness of each moment of time, both actualized and potential. And the concept of omniscience, practically demands that God maintains such awareness.

In short, one may rescue NWT from B-theory without contradiction, if one appeals to omniscience as an ineffable part of God’s nature.

One possible objection is, of course, the lack of free will God might have if he knows the future. However, notice the concept that NWT maintains: God interacts with his awareness of past present and future as he makes decisions concerning these. A better way to understand this is that God makes what essentially amounts to a single decision – one that comprehends every moment of time, rather than moment by moment as do humans.

This also may arguably rescue freedom of will for human beings. God does not simply know what humans will choose, as maintained by Armenians. Nor does he force each person to choose what they do as some determinists might maintain. Rather, he interacts with every decision that person makes over their lifetime. He also interacts with all of that person’s ancestors, such that the genetic and circumstantial line leading to that person and each decision they make is inevitable. Humans are free, however, every experience they have and every decision they make are in context of the decisions of an omnitemporal God (in will if not in being). This maintains aspects of free will without elevating to the extremes of molinism, nor descending to the rote notions of determinism.

While this writer still prefers the idea of a God who is essentially present in every moment simultaneously, there remain no real difference between this and a God who is virtually present in every moment simultaneously.