How to research Open Theism

Derek Ouellette —  April 15, 2013

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.

I figured the best place to start was at the beginning. So I went back to the book which launched Open Theism into the lime light: The Openness of God. It really was the best place to start. The Openness of God is written by a group of five scholars who each presented Open Theism from five different angles: biblically, historically, theologically, philosophically, and practically. Although this book was a great introduction I knew I had to go deeper if I was to get grounded in what Open Theism taught.

I next read Most Moved Mover by Clark Pinnock who quickly won a place in my heart. Pinnock argues, in this book, for a God who really is as the scriptures show him to be. I, in fact, was moved by this book. As I said, Open Theism helped to answer deep and abiding questions about the nature of God, prayer and his relation to his creation.

But for me that wasn’t enough. Although Pinnock does begin with a “scriptural foundation,” I found his biblical arguments to lack a certain amount of depth. And without a solid biblical foundation, I was left with merely sentimental mumbo jumbo. So I turned next to Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible which boasts to be “A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God.” In this book Boyd offers a systematic and biblical approach to Open Theism which I found – with few exceptions – to be quite convincing. (It was about this time that I read Is God to Blame by Boyd.)

Was I becoming an Open Theist? I better put myself in check and see what the other side had to say.

I decided to begin with a book which appeared to be the mirror image of The Openness of God. It was called Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. This was a good book to begin, I felt, because it too was a collaborate work of about a dozen scholars led by John Piper and Justin Taylor. It had eleven chapters broken up into five parts with the ultimate aim to conclude that Open Theism ought to be pushed outside the boundaries of biblical Christianity. While this book did raise some interesting questions which needed to be asked, nothing in it justified the extreme call to push Open Theism outside the bounds of biblical Christianity. The cover had more force than the pages within.

I then read The Battle for God by Normal Geisler and Wayne House, No Other God by John Frame and God’s Lesser Glory and Their God is Too Small by Bruce Ware. Having already read three full books on Open Theism by Open Theists – not including other works by Open Theists – I was now reading with a steady stream of frustration. Underlining statements, circling whole paragraphs and scribbling in the margins, “Open Theism does not teach that!” I was frustrated because I knew what Open Theism taught, and rather than read rebuttals I was merely witnessing the mass murder of straw-men.

The effect was two-fold. 1. It had caused me to consider even more the probability of the validity of Open Theism. If the other side – the traditional side – did not understand what Open Theism taught, if they felt they had to build up straw-men in order to discredit that view, then perhaps there is something too the Openness of God after all? 2. It had also caused me to be weary of those who just read from the books of the traditional side. They were suckling from the breasts of misinformation and without being armed with first-hand information, the masses would bound to grow in hostility toward the Openness of God.

But my research was not complete. People on both sides were quoting a guy named John Sanders (who was a contributor in The Openness of God). So I decided to see what he had to say and I read his book The God Who Risks. It quickly became one of my favourite on this subject. Later I read a Perspectives book On The Doctrine of God: 4 Views. This book included Paul Helm, Bruce Ware, Roger Olson and John Sanders (I later reviewed this book). In that book Sanders chapter was absolutely superb! Ware’s chapter was pretty good to (though frustratingly inconsistent if I remember correctly). Helms chapter was dreadful and Olson’s chapter left me disappointed.

So that was the general rout I took in my research into Open Theism. I still struggle with some elements of it, and I’ve read a few half-decent rebuttals recently showing – at last! – a maturing response to it. But at the moment I remain persuaded that some variation of Open Theism must be correct.

Since then Open Theism has received, either famously or infamously, much more attention (thank you internet!). In my experience people widely form opinions about Open Theism based on journals, web articles, sound bites from their favourite leaders or on blogs like this one. None of which is conducive for deep, honest and reflective consideration.

And often when I do chat with someone who has read a book on Open Theism, it is a book written by a foe rather than a friend. Most of those works poorly reflect what Open Theism actually teaches and opinions are formed on misinformation. I think most people are either predisposed to lean away from it or lean toward it. And I think the old axiom is true, where you begin will determine where you will end up.

This does not mean everybody will end up in the same place. But I do believe that if everybody began with works by Open Theists they will end up in a place where Open Theism can be accepted firmly under the evangelical umbrella – whether or not they agree with it.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Derek Ouellette

    Hey James,

    My comments got all mucked up and some how hundreds of comments (beginning with yours here) never even came up as pending!

  • Derek Ouellette

    Thanks Dan!