Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Theological Thoughts: Open Theism

I'm hoping to do some more regular posts (ie - weekly) around a theme, and I thought Wednesdays could be our Theological day...so, to start us off I am planning to post consecutive segments of an article that Dad wrote on Open Theism. Open Theism has become more popular of late amongst some Christian leaders, and it is important to know what it is and what are some of the dangers of that belief.

And, don't worry. We're going to have some fun themes as well...so, it's not going to be all heavy stuff. Just heavier stuff on Wednesdays. So, here goes...

Open Theism: A Critique

Part 1: God and the Future

Open Theism is a theological phenomenon or paradigm that made its presence within the past 15 to 20 years. The prominent leaders of the movement include such men as John Sanders, Gregory Boyd and Charles Pinnock. The movement gets its name from the assertion of an openness about God in reference to man and the future. There are differences as to how each of these men and other prominent spokesmen of the movement see or interpret this openness, but there is enough commonality in their views and definitely in their presuppositions to group them together. However, I will attempt to distinguish some of the differences as those between Boyd and Sanders are somewhat significant.

Whenever a “new” phenomena in theological constructs is offered it is important to seek out the motivating factors behind the movement. The motivating factors behind the “Open Theistic” construct are relatively easy to ascertain as the leaders are fairly open as to what has motivated them. There seem to be at least 3 motivating factors: a desire for a real and personal relationship with God; a desire for a meaningful prayer life; and a desire to uphold the integrity of man as a morally responsible being. A fourth factor should probably also considered, and that is the difficulty of explaining evil in the world.

Keeping the fourth motivating factor somewhat separate at this time, we can use the group of the initial three to understand their thinking. Their thinking seems to be as follows. First, concerning the desire for a real and personal relationship with God, they presuppose that a deterministic God cannot be a God that is personal and enters into real loving relationships. This is because, they hold, love cannot truly exist if it is coerced. That is, if one is made to love another, then it is not love because they were not free to choose to love the other. So, if God has determined that an individual will love Him and He makes them love Him then they really do not love Him because they did not freely choose to love Him.

Second, if God has determined all things, then prayer is meaningless. In the mind of the “Open Theist” only if future events are left open to different possibilities can prayer life become purposeful.

Third, the “Open Theist” presupposes that man can operate as a true moral agent only if he is completely free. That is, only if his future actions have not been determined and they become reality only as the consequence of man’s free choice, can man be considered to be a morally responsible agent.

The common theme running through all this is a rejection of God determining or knowing the future. Only if the future is undetermined, left open, can the desired results be achieved in the “Open Theist” philosophy. This is why Greg Boyd, a leading proponent of “Open Theism”, declares that he prefers to refer to this theological construct as “Open

Future” or “Open Futurism” rather than “Open Theism.” Though much of what “Open Theism” holds hinges on God not knowing, in truth, any future reality, it propagates several other teachings about the nature of God, man and the relationship of God and man that I will continue to refer to it as “Open Theism” rather than some other title.

It needs to be understood that “Open Theism”, though very much a reaction against the Calvinistic view of God’s divine decrees, it is also a reaction against the Arminian understanding of God’s knowledge of the future. In other words, the “Open Theist” not only rejects the view that God foreordains all that occurs and therefore knows the future because He has determined it, the “Open Theist” also finds the Arminian understanding of God’s knowledge of the future, which is obtained by God’s ability to look down through time and see the future (that is, His foreknowledge by way of foreseeing), as unacceptable. The only acceptable position for the “Open Theist” is God’s inability to know the future truly, but only in the realm of possibility. This is a complete rejection of the historic position of the eternity of God which has been held consistently through out Church history. God, it has been consistently held by the Church, does know the future, either by His predestination or by His Foreknowledge (foreseeing).

The “Open Theist” however, says, this is not so. God does not know the future, because the future has not happened, it is still only a possibility. This, of course, is an attack on the omniscience of God. The “Open Theist”, however, will attempt to cover himself by saying that he is not denying God’s omniscience, because God knows all the possibilities that exist, therefore He is omniscient. In other words, they redefine omniscient to fit their scheme and then declare that they are not denying omniscience. The fact of the matter is, however, that they have denied the historic use of the term omniscient as it is understood to articulate the very attribute of God in relation to what He knows. For, the historic Christian position is that God does know both all things possible and all things actual as it relates to the past, the present, AND the future. The “Open Theist” may say all he wants about not denying God’s omniscience because God knows all things possible concerning the future, but by redefining the meaning of “omniscience” they categorically deny the true omniscience of God.

God and His relation to future events is a, if not the, hinge pin in the “Open Theist” theological paradigm. It can be argued against from a historical perspective, as I have been doing, but that is not final determining point. Though the historic proclamations of the Church can typically be trusted to determine the accuracy of a teaching or doctrine, they still qualify as one man’s word against another. The ultimate test is whether that which is proclaimed by the “Open Theist” is in agreement with the Word of God itself. Thus, the question is, does the Word of God teach that God knows the future in certainty or does God only know the future in possibility?

To Be Continued...

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