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Theologically and linguistically confusing, but still interesting
on November 1, 2013
BTC is somewhat a work in speculative theology, which I was initially glad to hear. I think speculative theology done within certain bounds has the potential to be fruitful. Speculation is often how the human mind flourishes and it is done in every science. And, like in other disciplines, speculation will have its limits. Ross’s starting points are the God of the Bible and String Theory. He seeks to answer various theological problems with his speculation (free will/determinism, how does God hear all prayers and answer them, the atonement, the problem of evil, the trinity). He labels all of these issues as theological paradoxes. While I disagree with him on all of these being labeled paradoxes, it’s not a huge issue, seeing as they are all issues that many things can be said and written about.
So, the presupposition of thought is String Theory and the God of the Bible. For String Theory to work, you need at least eleven dimensions. And six of them exist at the moment of the big bang, but we really only experience four of them. He believes the Bible speaks to these extra dimensions of reality (cf. 20).
The huge flaw of the book is Ross’s use of language to describe God and the difference between God’s attributes and God’s means to attain certain ends. It has led some who have read this work to conclude that Ross thinks that God must be physical. And I can certainly see why some would think that. But, Ross does say in this work that God is not physical, and that he possesses all of the classical attributes that the Bible seems to describe. Just consider the way Ross expresses the “extra-dimensionality” of God:
“Whoever caused the universe, then, must possess at least one more time dimension (or some attribute, capacity, super-dimension, or supra-dimension that encompasses all the properties of time). To put it another way, God is able to interact with us in ways we interpret (through our time-bound experience of cause and effect) as the result of timelike capacities in the person or essence of God or the existence of other timelike dimensions through which God operates” (23).
“Again, God may possess super-dimensions, capacities, or attributes that permit causation just as a time coordinate does” (66).
Ross doesn’t seem to get that his language about God is confusing. God doesn’t ‘possess’ any dimensions. In fact, the idea of God ‘possessing’ a dimension is incoherent. The ‘capacity’ that God has is that he is non-physical and is not bound by our dimensions. But one doesn’t need to say that God ‘possesses’ extra-dimensions. Such language is simply confusing. Again, God may ‘use’ extra dimensions as a means to attain his ends, but that is different than saying that extra-dimensionality is an attribute of God. These are not synonymous. At other times, Ross seems to get the point across rather well (even on the same page). Consider some other quotes:
“. . . we find confirmation of the biblical revelation of a Creator who exists and operates beyond our time dimension and who is in no way confined to it” (23).
“. . . God must be operating in a minimum of eleven dimensions of space and time” (32).
“Since God has demonstrated the capacity to create space-time dimensions, He may have at His disposal super dimensions that co compass space-time capacities and much more, or He may possess transdimensional attributes that somehow permit cause and effect endeavors independent of space-time dimensions” (54).
Of course God is ‘beyond’ our time dimension and is not confined to it. But this is not synonymous with God ‘possessing’ extra-dimensions. What are ‘transdimensional attributes’? We often have to have an empirical reference point in our God-talk. When Ross says God has ‘transdimensional attributes” that implies physicality to the reader (at least to me). That is not equivalent to God using other dimensions or transdimensions as means to ends.
He also talks of these dimensions as if they are metaphysically necessary and uses them to explain God’s attributes. He says, “Just this one extra time dimensions releases Him from the necessity of a beginning--and an ending for that matter” (63-64). However, this puts the cart before the horse. God isn’t eternal *because* he *resides* in these other dimensions, but he may use these other time dimensions because he is non-physical and eternal. Or consider, “They [ancient Christian creeds] present a doctrine that can be true only in a realm beyond what we humans experience” (89).
At other times he redeems himself. So, I don’t think he is necessarily wrong, I just think he didn’t think through the language he wanted to apply to God well enough. For instance, he says, “God really is omnipresent. His omnipresence, of course, applies to all dimensions and realms, to those we live in . . .” (71). So, you do see that Ross isn’t implying that God is physical or that these extra-dimensions are metaphysically necessary, he just doesn’t fully explain his position.
His doctrine of the incarnation also bears strange language that the theologically minded might find confusing. He seems to accept a kenotic theory: “relinquished the independent use of His divine attributes and His extra-dimensional capacities” (104), and also seems to conflate Jesus’ two natures (“He became a flesh and blood embryo“) rather than asserting that Jesus took on a human nature. I’m not saying Ross is necessarily implying a kenotic or heretical notion of the incarnation, I’m merely suggesting that his language is confusing. Yet even his own theory contradicts itself! On the same page that he writes that Jesus divested use of his extra-dimensional capacities he says, “Examples of Jesus’ control over dimensionality while He was with us in human form may be found throughout the four Gospels” (104-05). Perhaps a mediating position is that “He retained the capacity to deliver Himself from those limitations at any time and place He chose” (105).
He also has a very speculative take on the atonement and whether or not Jesus is still dying in an infinite amount of time dimensions and that Jesus actually descended into hell. Ross is likely citing the passage from 1 Peter and the Apostle’s Creed, however, a careful exegesis of the 1 Peter passage would show that Christ did not actually descent into hell. Instead Peter is likely referencing a realm of fallen angels that Jesus went and ‘preached’ to. Concerning the atonement he says, “Because of Christ’s identity as God and His access to all the dimensions God encompasses, He could experience suffering and death in all the human-occupied dimensions and then transition into any of His other dimensions or realms once the atonement price has been paid” (109). I’m not sure this is *how* the atonement is done, but I’m hesitant to be more positive about it.
I could go on. As I noted before, this is a speculative treatise on God’s *means* to answer certain theological *paradoxes*. I will let the reader decide on whether or not they believe Ross is successful. The heart of the book is applying Ross’s speculation about God using extra-dimensions to accomplish his means and solve these paradoxes. But Ross flounders on the language he uses to describe God and God’s means to ends. And it does affect the quality of the book. It is confusing. Ross should really re-edit this or have an editor carefully re-edit this to clear up the confusion.