Open Theism

From Academic Kids

Open theism, also known as Free will theism, is a theological movement that has arisen within Evangelical Protestant Christianity.

Controversy about this movement has been ongoing since 1994, when five essays were published by Protestant Christian Evangelical scholars under the title of The Openness of God. Open theism is an alternative to the classical idea of God, stemming from a single crucial point of difference: Open theism asserts that God does not know everything about the future. (This claim is from the perspective of its opponents. Open theists state that God does know everything about the future; the question is the nature of the future itself.) Therefore, open theism is a consistent repudiation of any doctrine of predestination and any similar philosophy or theology that is based on fatalism or determinism.

This is not only a rejection of predestination as it is understood by Calvinism, but also in most accepted alternative versions. The writers in favor of free-will theism differentiate their views from those of Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Arminianism, Eastern Orthodoxy, neo-orthodoxy, and Islam, all of which—differently from one another, but similarly over against open theism—assert that God has a certain knowledge of all aspects of the future.

Contents

Arguments

Proponents of open theism assert the following, with some variation:

  • The concepts of omnipresence, and immutability do not stem from the Bible, but from the subsequent fusion of Judeo-Christian thought with the Greek philosophy of Platonism and Stoicism, which posited an infinite God and a deterministic view of history.
  • The God described in the Bible was the most powerful, most knowing, most loving, and most unchanging, but not omni-everything. He was shown to have limits in every degree, although those limits were far beyond us and our understanding. In scripture, he changed his mind and plans[1] (http://www.carm.org/open/Exodus32_14.htm), was limited in power, was surprised by events on Earth[2] (http://www.trinitycrc.org/sermons/gen22v01-19.html), was hurt [3] (http://www.biblehelp.org/choice6.htm), assumed a definite geographical location[4] (http://www.fairlds.org/apol/misc/misc03.html), physically wrestled with people[5] (http://www.blueletterbible.org/cgi-bin/tools/printer-friendly.pl?book=Gen&chapter=32&version=nltp&Go.x=24&Go.y=11), and took the advice of men and angels[6] (http://www.blueletterbible.org/kjv/Exd/Exd032.html#10).
  • The classical Omnigod leads to a number of logical inconsistencies, such as the problem of prayer (of what effect is our prayer if God already knows what will happen before we pray?), the problem of evil (why would a God permit evil to exist when he knows everything, can do anything, and wants only good?), the problem of sin (if God set the universe in motion in such a way that we would inevitably sin, how can we be punished for the sin he planned, and we could not avoid?), as well as other, more trivial inconsistencies (Could God make a stone so big he couldn't lift it?).
  • The God of open theism resolves those logical inconsistencies. Prayer has meaning, because we can influence God's decisions in an undetermined future. Evil exists because there are other powers in the universe besides God's. Sin is punishable because we sometimes make decisions contrary to God's will, and deserve punishment.
  • Open theists believe that God is infinite, but limited, much as certain geometrical objects like one half of a plane can be infinite and still have limits.
  • A minority of open theists believe that God is not yet omnipotent, but someday will be when the victory is won, as the only use of the word "omnipotent" in scripture is in Revelation 19:6, a picture of God's future victory. Open theists believe that by His power and through His Church, God will ultimately overcome evil, sin, and death and reestablish His reign on Earth. They frame this not in terms of a historical necessity or a predestined fact, but in terms of Faith and Hope that God will rescue this struggling, desperate, and confused world in time. Most open theists believe that God is omnipotent, but not able to do what is logically contradictory, and never choosing to do what is inconsistent with His own divine character.

Opponents of open theism respond with the following points:

  • The more theologically traditional position asserts that open theism denies the omniscience of God, because it denies that God knows all of the future. Most open theists reject this characterization, commonly espousing one of two counterarguments. Open theists following Greg Boyd (God of the Possible, Baker Books, 2000), argue that the parts of the future that are unknown to God are not merely unknown or unknowable, but are simply not yet determined in any way, and therefore not "there to be known" by even an omniscient entity. One way to put this would be to say that God knows all facts, but parts of the future (those parts involving free human actions) exist only as a set of possibilities and are not yet factually determined. Boyd says that it would make no more sense to require an omniscient God to know the undetermined aspects of the future than it would to require an omniscient God to know how far you could sail before you fall off the face of the Earth. The Earth is round, so there is no knowledge of this sort to be had, and the future is partially undetermined, so there is no complete knowledge of the future to be had either. A minority of open theists follow William Hasker (God, Time, and Knowledge, Cornell Univ. Press, 1998) in saying that God knows all that it is logically possible for him to know. Hasker would say that we don't expect an omnipotent God to be able to create a rock so large he can't lift it, because such a feat would be logically impossible. In the same way, we can't expect an omniscient God to know what is logically impossible for him to know. Opponents counter by saying that these involved explanations of omniscience amount to redefining the term to mean less than is Biblically acceptable (e.g. Bruce Ware, God's Lesser Glory, Crossway Books, 2000).
  • According to G. Boyd in Is God to Blame? God's limits are the consequences of decisions he has made in creation, i.e. they are self-imposed, to create a world that supports love of God and fellow man through creaturely freedom. By contrast, the limits proposed by Process Theology are characteristics of God -- God can only woo, but cannot impose his will. Thus, any similarity between these two views is not supported by their underlying ideas.
  • Proponents of the classical Omnitheism argue that open theism diminishes God by limiting God's attributes, which is contrary to the beliefs of many of the world religions.

See also

Books

Pro

Con

  • God's Lesser Glory, by Ware, Bruce A. ISBN 1581342292
  • Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace, by Schreiner, Thomas R.; Ware, Bruce A. (Eds.) ISBN 0801022320
  • The Sovereignty of God, by Pink, Arthur. ISBN 0801070880
  • Divine Foreknowledge: 4 Views, by Beilby, James and Eddy, Paul (Eds.), et al, ISBN 0830826521
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