What Is Open Theism? image

What Is Open Theism?

So what is open theism? It is the idea that God does not exhaustively know the future, because the future is “open”: what will happen tomorrow is not yet fully determined, but depends in part on the free decisions of God’s creatures. Here’s Richard Rice in The Openness of God:

Instead of perceiving the entire course of human existence in one timeless moment, God comes to know events as they take place. He learns something from what transpires. We call this position the “open view of God” because it regards God as receptive to new experiences and as flexible in the way he works toward his objectives in the world. Since it sees God as dependent on the world in certain respects, the open view of God differs from much conventional theology.

Clark Pinnock, in The Grace of God, The Will of Man, says similarly:

Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential— yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom … God too faces possibilities in the future, and not only certainties. God too moves into a future not wholly known …

Or here’s Greg Boyd in Letters from a Skeptic:

In the Christian view God knows all of reality—everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know—even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions.

Boyd, whose books and website represent the most accessible and compelling presentation of the whole system—as well as providing a cleverly disparaging epithet, “the blueprint worldview,” for the orthodox alternative—is actually quite different from many other open theists in his handling of specific biblical texts. For many openness theologians, God cannot orchestrate any evil actions; when evil things occur, they occur in spite of rather than because of God’s (ultimately good) intentions. For Boyd, however, this is not always true. His treatment of the Joseph story in Genesis (45:5; 50:20) is fascinating:

Compatibilists often argue that these texts illustrate that God ordains evil actions for greater good … while I agree with compatibilists that this text shows that God may decide to orchestrate evil actions according to his sovereign will, I deny that this passage supports the conclusion that all evil actions occur in accordance with God’s eternal, sovereign will.

Which only goes to show, I guess, that sweeping statements about what open theists believe are difficult to sustain. As Thomas Jay Oord puts it in The Uncontrolling Love of God:

Open and relational scholars do not agree on all the specifics, of course. The details of their visions of providence, for instance, differ depending on their interests, expertise, inclinations and primary concerns. The open and relational umbrella is broad enough to include a diversity of ideas.

Nevertheless, Oord explains, there are usually three ideas at work in any account of “open” or “relational” theology:

1. God and creatures relate to one another. God makes a real difference to creation, and creation makes a real difference to God. God is relational.
2. The future is not set because it has not yet been determined. Neither God nor creatures know with certainty all that will actually occur. The future is open.
3. Love is Gods chief attribute. Love is the primary lens through which we best understand God’s relation with creatures and the relations creatures should have with God and others. Love matters most.

So, with all the usual caveats about how generalisations can kill you, that’s what open theism is. What should we make of it? Don’t miss Friday’s thrilling instalment.

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