Open Theism

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This is an old entry from December 2003, but the main body of it was originally on my old website, and I had just linked to it. Since I'm about to refer to it in my next entry, I decided it would be good to include everything in the post itself and move it to a current date.

A couple things worry me about open theism (the view that God doesn't know the future because of free human decisions that God can't predict). I should say that I think someone can believe the gospel and be an open theist, though I do think it has some serious tensions with things that are very important for the gospel (e.g. that Jesus needed to die for God's plan to work, yet free human decisions were required for this). I also think it just plain flat-out contradicts clear statements in scripture (e.g. Isaiah 10, where a human king is responsible for what he does yet is portrayed as a tool in God's hands, which means God can have absolute control over what we do freely).

I remember Christianity Today doing an article on open theism (the view that God doesn't know the future because of future human free choices) a few years ago, and I was disappointed at how imbalanced the discussion was, though they say they were just giving tools for people to make their own decision. Most of the points that I thought needed to be said were included in the letters they published in the next issue. Rather than say much of anything on my own, I've assembled the best letters CT published in response to that article. It struck me how insightful some of these letters were. The main reasons for the traditional view and the most serious criticisms of the reasons given for open theistic arguments are all here in extremely concise form.

These letters are all taken from the Christianity Today website.

IT IS MY OBSERVATION that language of God "repenting" or changing his mind is primarily from the Old Testament. Another issue, especially prominent in the Old Testament and related to the discussion, is how God acts to bring about what is attributed otherwise to human decisions. Divine causation accounts for what simply "happens"--for example, the division of the kingdom after olomon. As we seek to understand both positions, let us keep the dialectic in view, remembering that God's ways are also past finding out.
CHARLES HOLMAN
Regent University
Virginia Beach, Virginia


THEOLOGICAL HOMEWORK must begin with the proper approach. That the crux of the debate is found in arguments about anthropomorphisms and the influence of Greek philosophy indicates that something has been missed. What is absent is a basic rule of biblical research and interpretation. One must always interpret unclear passages in light of clear ones.

The basic problem with the openness of God approach is that it is based on a divine literary technique rather than the clear statements of Scripture. When God says, "I the lord do not change," or "I make known the end from the beginning," he speaks in simple, declarative statements. Openness theology openly disagrees with these passages. While attempting to wrestle with difficult passages, the "openness of God" proponents would rather dismiss what God clearly says that he is than admit that their image of God is based on what they would like him to be.
GARY FRIEND
Louisville, Kentucky


I'M MORE THAN a little bemused that the advocates of the "openness of God" are permitted to gain so much mileage with the charge that classical theism depends primarily on the categories of Greek philosophy. For one thing, the Scriptures cited in your editorial concerning God's unchangeable nature could be multiplied many times over. Moreover, it seems clear to me that the openness camp carries plenty of extrabiblical baggage itself.

The views of Clark Pinnock and his associates owe much to at least three sources:

1) the panentheistic process views of philosophers such as Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne;
2) the American democratic tradition whose influence prefaces Charles Finney's theology and the theology of those who have followed him;
3) the market-driven elevation of human choice as the supreme modern and postmodern value.

Pinnock's and Sanders's protestations to the contrary ring hollow to me, as I think they will to anyone who examines their arguments within their philosophical and cultural context.
TIMOTHY D. HALL
Central Michigan University
Mt. Pleasant, Michigan


THERE IS SOMETHING silly, or even anachronistic, about evangelicals worrying about the charge that they worship the God of Greek philosophers instead of the God of Scripture. Who is this alleged God of philosophy? Certainly not Plato's Demiurge, who does the best he can to implant eternal forms into recalcitrant matter. Nor is it one of Aristotle's 55 divine heavenly bodies. Even Aristotle's famous unmoved mover is, at best, a final cause and is in no way responsible for anything's existence.

It is impossible to find such a god in Democritus, Lucretius, or Epicurus, who professed a rank materialism. The historical truth is that the omnipotent and omniscient Sovereign of all that exists never entered philosophers' minds until Augustine and Aquinas, who reflected carefully on Scripture, especially the great "I am" passage (Exod. 3:14). For the full story of the transformation of Greek philosophers' conception of god as "guide by the side" into the only Almighty King, I suggest reading �tienne Gilson's 1931-32 Gifford Lectures published as The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy.
RIC MACHUGA
Butte College
Oroville, California

3 Comments

I have run into the openness movement before because of several things that one of my former colleague had said at various points. I don't know if he actively subscribes to this movement, but his comments suggest that not even God can see the future. Just exactly what issue(s) the openness movement is trying to solve is unclear. If they are trying to solve the paradox between freedom of choice and God's sovereignty, they have failed miserably. I honestly could not care a bit whether this "benevolent but limited" idea came from the Greeks (although it is unlikely, considering their pantheistic bent).

For Greg Boyd, it's primarily coming out of his desire to respond to the problem of evil while absolving God of any wrondoing. I'm not sure why it's even our place to absolve God of wrongdoing, and he makes too many philosophical mistakes along the way anyway, but that's what's driving it for him.

For Clark Pinnock, I think it's just a sharp reaction to the Calvinism of his youth, and every new paper he writes is another move in the direction of revisionary thinking. Once you pay less heed to what the Bible says and try to shape it in the direction you want it to go, you keep doing so. At least Boyd doesn't have that problem.

William Hasker is just philosophically biased against certain views that make eminent sense without certain preconceived notions that I think came out of unbiblical thinking. Most other open theistic philosophers are in the same position, I believe.

“God includes the world; he is, in fact, the totality of world parts, which are indifferently causes and effects. Now AR [absolute perfection in some respects, relative perfection in all others] is equally far from either of these doctrines; thanks to its two-aspect view of God, it is able consistently to embrace all that is positive in either deism or pandeism. AR means that God is, in one aspect of himself, the integral totality of all ordinary causes and effects, but that in another aspect, his essence (which is A), he is conceivable in abstraction from any one or any group of particular, contingent beings (though not from the requirement and the power always to provide himself with some particulars or other, sufficient to constitute in their integrated totality the R aspect of himself at the given moment)..... Just as AR is the whole positive content of perfection, so CW, or the conception of the Creator-and-the-Whole-of-what-he-has-created as constituting one life, the super-whole which in its everlasting essence is uncreated (and does not necessitate just the parts which the whole has) but in its de facto concreteness is created - this panentheistic doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations. Thus ARCW, or absolute-relative panentheism, is the one doctrine that really states the whole of what all theists, if not all atheists as/well, are implicitly talking about.”
Charles Hartshorne, [i]Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism[/i] (1964).

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