Archives For Open Theism

When my friend first told me about Open Theism my reactions were mixed. On the one hand I eerily wondered all the things one might wonder in reaction to unfamiliar ideas. Is it heresy? Does it deny God’s omniscience? What about Bible prophecy? On the other hand I found myself drawn to a way of understanding God which helped answer deep and abiding questions about the nature of prayer, about who God is and about how he interacts with his creation in history.

My curiosity had been piqued. My next step was to look into Open Theism, to see what it was all about and to see what those who disagree with it have to say. Continue Reading…

But up front, I want to make it clear that, after serious and lengthy consideration, for better or for worse, I personally have come to a conclusion and formed an opinion. My opinion is that what is known as open theism provides us the most biblical and the most helpful theological framework for doing our part in seeing “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

C. Peter Wagner

As Open Theism becomes more popular many people want a clear and simple explanation of what it is. I’ve written this post for such a person. But if you already know what Open Theism is please feel free to share this post with your curious friends. I consider this post to be in perpetual development so I appreciate your feedback.

Continue Reading…

Okay, so here’s the rub. I have read at least twenty books on Open Theism, at least half of which were written by Calvinist’s, and the rest by Open Theists. I hold the term/label “Open Theism” at arm’s length because on the one hand I see a solid argument in favour of Open Theism established on the bedrock of scripture, while on the other hand I struggle over certain (albeit rare) interpreted passages and philosophical assumptions (my own).

Still, perhaps because I am so well informed on the subject (by contrast to the engagement I’ve experienced on-line via facebook and blogs and sadly even by what I’ve read in many books written by “professionals”), I get frustrated over what usually amounts – at minimum – to simple ignorance or – at most – pure unadulterated slander. Such slanderous myths include:

  • Open Theism/theist is nothing but recycled Arminianism.
  • Open Theism/theist denies God’s sovereignty.
  • Open Theism/theist reject the atonement.
  • Open Theism/theist is akin to socinianism.
  • Open Theism/theist denies God’s omniscience.
  • et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

Can you image the frustration the early church must have endured when they were accused by the wider public of cannibalism? They gathered together once a week to “eat the flesh and drink the blood” of some guy. Rumors flew and spiraled out of control and before long, everyone believed that Christians were cannibals. This must be the same frustration felt by those who hold to Open Theism; having to endure constant slander and misrepresentation. But there is a difference in the example given: in the early churches communion service, the Eucharist was practiced in private, and only baptized Christians were permitted to even be present. So naturally rumors spread out of ignorance because the outside world had no outlet to inform them as to what was really being practiced. By wide contrast, books by Open Theist are widely available and so those who slander out of ignorance are without excuse. And those who misrepresent but who do know what Open Theist believe, they will be held to great account.

Roger Olson has taken this slander (and those who do the slandering – without naming names) to task. Read his post here!

(P.S. Olson is a firm classical Arminian who rejects Open Theism, but defends its evangelical validity. I add this note for those who have uncritically accepted the myth that Open Theism as simply recycled Arminianism.)

I made a new friend on my blog, xTraex, who first commented on the post, Time To Unlearn a Few Things. In that post I made the case, using Walter Brueggemann’s book An Unsettling God as a point of reference, that the Hebrew testimony of God is not like the platonic god of traditional theism.

xTraex raised the concern that if God can be moved, if he is emotional, if he is effected by the passing of time and if he changes (or at least changes his mind), wouldn’t he be the same as the ancient gods of Greek mythology? (See the post for my answer to that question.)

The story of Noah presents an interesting case study because it reveals God precisely as I suggested in that prior post (the biblical account describes God as being “sorry” that he created man and “it grieved him to his heart“), and because there is a Mesopotamian parallel to this story in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Both stories are similar in that humanity is destroyed by a flood brought about by the divine, and one man and his family escape the disaster (Noah/Utnapishtum) by way of a “box” (Hebrew).

So because God is depicted as acting on emotion with a heart that was grieved to action, what distinguishes him from the gods in the Gilgamesh story?

In the Gilgamesh story the gods actions seem arbitrary (they destroyed the earth because humans were annoying them by making noise). The Greek myth gods are just as arbitrary, cruel, lustful and all things immoral. The striking difference between them and God is his faithful and righteous character.

How can we be sure that “the gods” will not destroy the earth again with a flood? We can be sure because God (← capital “G”) has unilaterally made an unconditional covenant with Noah which he sealed with a sign. Unlike the ancient myth gods, the God of the scriptures is righteous, faithful, calculated and purposeful.

We humans are a creation of God’s imagination and made in His image to be like him (Gen 1:26). We should not be surprised that the scriptures depict God as emotional, he’s our Dad and we are emotional beings who take after Him. This thought does not create God in our image, it acknowledges that we are created in his.

I suggest that if we put the question of Calvinism and Arminianism aside for a time and study God as he has revealed himself in the scriptures we will not discover Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover as Calvinism has always espoused; in fact we may not even discover God as the Arminian understands him. It may be, after seeking to discover the God of the scriptures on their own terms, that we may discover the God of Open Theism quite by accident! Not of Calvin’s Unmoved Mover, but of Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover.We will, in all probability, discover as John Sanders said, a God Who Risks. This – I believe – is the truth we all must wrestle with whether or not we embrace Open Theism.

Walter Brueggemann, one of the foremost Old Testament scholars, seems quite disinterested in questions of determinism and foreknowledge – except when specific texts’ call attention to such speculation – and in the debates between Calvinism and Arminianism (and Open Theism). But in his studies of the God of the Old Testament, the “Hebrew testimony” and portrayal of YWHW, he writes: “the defining category for faith in the Old Testament is dialogue, whereby all parties – including God – are changed in a dialogic exchange that is potentially transformative for all parties… including God.” And again, “The Old Testament is an invitation to reimagine our life and our faith as an on-going dialogic transaction in which all parties are variously summoned to risk and change.” He goes on:

“When we are freed of static categories of interpretation that are widely utilized among us, we are able to see that the articulation of God in the Old Testament partakes exactly of the quality of complexity, dynamism, and fluidity that belong to the post-modern world… such an open and thick articulation of faith may be threatening to some and may require unlearning by us all”. An Unsettling God; 2009, p.xii; italics added.

What a powerful statement from a man who is not interested in sustaining “static categories of interpretation” such as Calvinism or Arminianism; neither, it is prudent to add, is he interested in Open Theism. When Brueggemann approaches the scriptures he does not ask, is the God of Calvin here or the God of Arminius or the God of Pinnock? When Brueggemann approaches the Old Testament he asks the question to the ancient Hebrews, “Who do you say that He is?” Sometimes we see the categories of Calvin and sometimes we see the categories of Arminius, this is partly what makes God “unsettling”, because YWHW cannot be made to easily fit into our “static categories of interpretation” – He is too big, and we are too fallible.

Yet it is a fearful road Brueggemann offers, it is a road of discomfort; because in asking the Hebrews and not the Greeks “Who is YWHW?” he finds himself immediately at odds with classical Christian theology.

“In… much classical Christian theology, ‘God’ can be understood in terms of quite settled categories that are, for the most part, inimical to the biblical tradition. The casting of the classical tradition… is primarily informed by the Unmoved Mover of Hellenistic thought… a Being completely apart from and unaffected by the reality of the world” [p.1]

We have come to a point – or perhaps we have always been there – where the God revealed by the Hebrew testimony is rather embarrassing to our sensibilities. The Hebrews speak of a God affected by the passing of time; a God emotionally invested in his creation and sometimes those emotions are even mixed. They speak of a God whose mind is not settled and what’s worse, they don’t seem to mind this God at all! This God repents, He laughs, He tests, He changes His mind and what’s more, He allows his creation to move Him to action and at other times, they have the power to stay His wrathful hand.

“It is common to be embarrassed about the anthropomorphic aspects of this God, so embarrassed as to want to explain away such a characterization or at least to transpose it into a form that better serves a generic notion of God…. All such embarrassments, however, fail to do justice to the scriptural tradition.” [p.2]

Again, Walter Brueggemann has called us out on the carpet; all of us! Classical Christianity cannot escape the ugly reality that we have since near the beginning been embarrassed of the Hebrew testimony of God and so silenced it. It does not jive well with our sensibilities, our Hellenistic sensibilities. But who is the guilty one; are they or are we? It is not they who are being unfaithful to the scriptures; indeed they wrote them! And instead of being embarrassed of the Hebrew testimony of YWHW we ought to be embarrassed of our selves. It will no longer do, in my mind, to dismiss the challenge of the Old Testament as embarrassing “anthropomorphic” ramblings of ancient people. Christianity needs – to some extent – to put Classical Christian Theology on trial and the judge ought not to be Aristotle, but Abraham. Classical Christian Theology is in need of purification, and its filter ought to be the scriptures.

When a friend first told me about “Open Theology” I knew it was something I had to look into. For years I read the bible, particularly the Old Testament, and always came away with questions which remained unanswered. Open Theology offered a way to understand the nature of God which correlated well with many biblical passages. It’s not a perfect system (Calvinism and Arminianism are both far from being perfect systems also!), but for me it offered a way forward to what I perceive to be a more biblically nuanced articulation of the nature of God.

But people are afraid of what they don’t understand and they become (sometimes) vicious when they feel like their concept of God is under attack. I have experienced this first hand.

As a result Open Theology has been bemoaned as “heresy”, I have been called nothing less than a devil worshiper for considering the strengths of this system and God is often said to be “imperfect” if Open Theology is correct.

I’d like to underscore what I said a moment ago: People are afraid of what they don’t understand. I think Open Theism is misunderstood. I have read responses to Open Theism by John Piper, John Frame, Bruce Ware, Paul Helm and many others, and none of them seem to be able to accurately explain what Open Theology teaches, and if they don’t understand it, how can they accurately respond to it? This ignorance is only perpetuated when fans of these popular authors read their books.

I want to extend this warm invitation toward you to give Open Theology a fair hearing. Greg Boyd is one of the most vocal advocates of Open Theology and in the videos below he is a guest speaker in Clark Pinnock’s class (Pinnock is a Calvinists turned Open Theist).

Your comments below will intrigue me…