Monday, 29 July 2013

Thoughts on Open Theism

Sitting down to write an article on Open Theism turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be. This has been rewritten a few times already simply because it is such a difficult thing to try and define; it is a little like trying to define what colour the sea is. It may be clear in one area, blue in another and brown somewhere else.
So here is my best attempt at explaining what seems to be at the heart of open theology and how I feel about it.

Open theism is a response to the more traditional or classical view on the attributes of God. The classical view can be traced back to early Greek philosophy while the Open view, is a bit harder to determine, although similar thoughts can be seeing in the writings of Calcidius, a 4th century interpreter for Plato. Many traditionalists believe that God fully determines the future; He also exists outside of time and thus does not experience emotions in a literal sense. Open theists reject that the future, at least in the smaller things, is set in stone, some even contend that God does not operate outside of time at all and that the future is unknown even to Him. While Open Theists accept that God is both omnipotent and omniscient, they interpret them slightly differently to most evangelicals. The classical view says of Gods omnipotence that He has the power to do anything He wants to, while the open view states that we should not define omnipotence as the power to determine everything but rather, as the power that enables God to deal with any situation that arises. Likewise, omniscience is not seeing as God knowing everything that will take place, but rather as God knowing every possible (yet unwritten) scenario that could still unfold and how best to respond to that.

Rather than the three “O”’s which classical theism concentrates on, the Open crowd have chosen to focus on Gods attributes of love and the relational aspects associate to that, thus the heart of the message is that God is not behind the violence, evil, sickness or “acts of God” in the world today, neither was He an accomplice in the sense that He knew full well what men like Hitler and Nero would unleash on the world when He was forming them inside their mothers’ wombs. But rather, like the ultimate chess player ever, He is able to pre-empt any move that we can make and still with 100% certainty control the outcome for goods ultimate triumph over evil.

Regarding scripture, they will point to verses like Genesis 6:6-7 and 1 Samuel 15:11 where God regrets decisions He had made, or Exodus 13:17 and Ezekiel 12:3 where God considers different future possibilities. In Genesis 22:12 God tests Abraham so that He can “know” Abraham's heart. There are also 39 occasions in scripture where God changes His mind (like in Exodus 32:7-14 and Isaiah 38:1-5). God is also seeing to exhibit genuine emotions, like when Jesus weeps over the death of a friend before raising him back to life, similarly he also lamented over Jerusalem in Mathew 23. The father also anguishes over Israel’s disobedience throughout the Old Testament and in 2 Peter 3:9 we read that He desires that none will perish but that all would find life in His son.

You could start quoting verses in response to the above ones as well but I will leave that up to you to go and research, just Google “open theism” and plenty will pop up, trust me. I must say that for myself I am not fully satisfied that either camp is 100% right. I think both sides have some compelling arguments and holes in their theology. Because this article is about Open theism though, I will stick to that, I believe that Open Theists are spot on in that the future is not completely set in stone as some of the scriptures above reveal. 

Regarding tragedy, I do believe that God can cause a life threatening storm like we see with Jonah. He may make it rain fire like with Sodom and Gomorrah  Yet in Job we also see Satan use a "great wind" to kill Jobs children and we also see Jesus rebuke a wind that had his disciples freaking out, if Jesus rebuked it you would have to assume that it was not from God. Verses like 1 Peter 1:6-7, James 1:2-3 and the story of Job which speak of persecutions and trials reveal that, while God may not be the author of our suffering, He may allow it for our refining or for other purposes, for example, the spreading of the gospel as was the case with Paul being a prisoner in Rome. Yet I am also very uncomfortable with the classical view when we see a child die and the parents are led to believe that it happened because they made an idol of their family, or that God was pulling the strings for some other purpose. Surely God cared as much for the child's life as he does for the parents? Yes, He will use the situation for good but it does not necessarily mean He orchestrated it. Surely He weeps at the tragedies within a fallen world along with us.

Something the Open View highlights which I like is that bad things happen because people make stupid decisions and the Devil is real and active in the world. Our prayers DO have an impact in the world and we can’t take it for granted that things will just work out because God has preordained them already. Some of Greg Boyd’s thoughts on this are worth a read over at The one major thing however that I cannot reconcile with in the Open view is that God is restricted within time, there is just to much in scripture that reveals that God is beyond it, 2 Timothy 1:9 is the perfect example of Gods foreknowledge. Knowing something will happen does not equal being an accomplice to it, if anything, all it reveals is that God does not exercise his authority over others free will even when He is passionately opposed to those ideas. Obedience is always better when it comes from a changed heart rather than a fearful victim. There may be cases where He steps in to restrain evil but it would be impossible to philosophize about the when and why with full confidence. Open theists do attempt address the time issue in books like Greg Boyd's  God of the Possible, and William Lane Craig's Time and Eternity. I have not had the means to read them yet though.

Overall I think some good questions are being asked and some nice insights being shared, yet we need to be able to reconcile ALL the attributes of God without having to throw away the pieces that we may not like or understand. Some people are super aggressive in their response to Open Theism, yet I think it's at least closer to the truth than Calvinism is. I am far more concerned with the way God gets painted in doctrines like Penal Substitution or unconditional Predestination.  

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