Playing with Open Theism

Yesterday Adam brought up the benefits of open theism. Though I have not studied it thoroughly, I haven’t found anything that objectionable, but I know it can be a lightning rod issue for some.

In all fairness to both sides, Christianity will stand whether or not open theism is true, so it’s worth looking at. Remember, theology is a “second order discipline,” which means that all of our theological constructions should never be confused with the Bible itself and God’s ultimate authority. Today’s “Traditional” Evangelical doctrine should never be confused with the true faith, i.e. all who disagree with this group are heretics on the outs.

I’d like to begin with the global/historical picture. Open theism does have some roots in Eastern Orthodoxy, the Catholic tradition, and some of the church fathers.

“Some of the components of open theism have antecedents in the church fathers who, unlike Augustine, did not affirm theological determinism; Richard Swinburne has said that theologians who hold to libertarian freedom include all Eastern Orthodox theologians and most Roman Catholic theologians after Duns Scotus, and that the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century affirmed libertarian freedom (quoted in Pinnock, Most Moved Mover, 92). Open theism has antecedents in Arminianism, in the theology of John Wesley, in holiness and Pentecostal churches, and in individual writers such as Emil Brunner, C. S. Lewis, and Leonard Hodgson. Nevertheless, taken as a package, open theism is a new proposal about God, a fact that its authors acknowledge, and they argue that Protestants of all people should understand that sometimes the church?s tradition needs to be reformed.” by Fisher Humphreys

The same is said by Sanders:

“Even so, some critics hold that openness just goes too far. We do so, it is asserted, because openness theology is shaped by contemporary cultural thought-forms. For instance, it is said that open theists are captive to a non-biblical understanding of freewill. Of course, this criticism applies to many more than open theists since most of the early fathers, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants affirm the same understanding of freewill.” On Heffalumps and Heresies: Responses to Accusations Against Open Theism and see also Is Open Theism Christian Theism

Having said that, it’s worth also noting that most Christians, whatever doctrinal statement they signed at their church and no matter what is on their bookshelves (ahem, John Piper), live like open theists. We pray expecting God to change things, to make things different. Why bother praying if it was going to happen anyway?

Obviously the danger of open theism is that we start stripping powers and attributes from God until he’s a cute, little purring kitten. We have to be prayer, critical, and tireless.

It’s pretty clear that some of Greek philosophy’s categories have snuck into our doctrine of God (see the wikipedia article) and ferreting them out may do us and God a lot of good.

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