Open Theism (1)

The word ‘new’ is a very popular word, especially in America. New products sell well because they are innovative and helpful. New technology moves humanity’s civilisation to unclimbed heights. New scientific discoveries bring humanity ever closer to being a global village of peace. The future is bright, the future is new. Or is it?

When it comes to theology, new is not good news to many people. Those who defend the faith, or at least their version of the faith, often do not like what new thinking and fresh ideas can bring. That which is new is seen as a threat to the stablished theological foundations, and therefore regarded as being an enemy. This is especially true of what open theism is proposing. Many in the established ways of thinking see open theism as a great threat that must be eradicated.  Why?

NEW PATHS DESPISED

If open theism (or any other way of thinking) could possibly have any merit for theologians, then surely they owe it to themselves to consider its merits? If it is untruth, then it will pass out of favour as quickly as it arrived. Pinnock himself has sensibly said that theologians “should not condemn open theism, but consider Gamaliel’s advice in Acts – if open theism was not of God, it would come to nothing.”

In his response to open theism, Nicole said, “Open theism is a cancer on the Evangelical Theological Society. That cancer has not been resolved by chemotherapy or radiation.  The only remaining option is surgery.” This kind of response demonstrates a legalistic closedness that is dangerous and divisive, and does far more damage than the newly proposed theology will ever do. Is that really the best way to respond to new ideas and fresh thinking? Is that really a Christian response?

As Pinnock has stated, “The truth claims that we make are all open to discussion and we ought to be teachable and ready to learn because none of our work rises to the level of timeless truth.” What the open theologians have declared is not a set-in-concrete finished and polished theology, but an exploration of a new and different way of looking at theology and therefore a new and different way of looking at God himself.

Pinnock explained that “The open view is a research program, not a settled model clearly defined in every way.” but other theologians were treating it as if it were a finished and highly polished theological model. They were also treating the ideas and concepts of theology as if they had almost emerged from hell itself. It certainly seemed that they treated the thinkers themselves like that, too, if the vitriol spewing from them was anything to go by.

Openness theology was put forward as a basis for discussion, but other theologians have not sought to fairly discuss and evaluate it, but only sought to shoot it down in flames. They have treated those who thought about open theology as if they were virtually emissaries of Satan himself. They launched astonishing attacks upon their fellow Christians and – frankly – made me ashamed to be Christian if being Christian meant being connected with them.

Yet, those who argue so vehemently against openness theology do so from within their own theological framework from which they obviously regard any other way of thinking as almost satanic and to be violently opposed. In other words, they are saying that they and they alone are right and their own theological position proves it. Yet, if openness theology is the new and radical theology that its opponents declare it to be, how can its validity be tested within the framework of an opposing or different theology?

One of the greatness weaknesses and vulnerabilities of those who oppose open theism is their total unwillingness to fairly and objectively consider what has been proposed. This is not the way of the scholar, it is the way of the bigot. As Lloyd-Jones declared, “The bigot thinks he is contending for the faith but he is not.  He is a man who lacks balance, who lacks discipline, who does not know how to control his own spirit.”

God does not need defenders of the faith, they do him no favours at all. He is perfectly capable of looking after himself. Lloyd-Jones again: “We are not here to defend Him but to praise Him and to show that we have a knowledge of Him and not merely a knowledge about Him.” As Strange has said, “This debate has a long way to go and evangelicals are just beginning to tackle it.” Please, evangelicals, tackle the debate, and not the man. Engage with the thinking and stop thinking that open theism thinkers are the enemy to be destroyed.

Let us then now turn to consider the foundations of those who so vehemently defend their own ideas of classical theology, and see what light it may shed on this matter for us.

FAITH AND PHILOSOPHY

God’s sovereignty, and his necessary detachedness from our world since he is in timeless eternity, form the traditional view of God that has held sway for hundreds of years and is popular still. In this respect, a charge that open theists lay at the door of classical theists is that their theology is not truly based upon the Scriptures, but upon philosophy.

For example, Boyd declares that “classical theology cannot accept (open theism) because of philosophical preconceptions of what God must be like”, and that those who read open theism should do so “without reading into the material a philosophical conception of what God must be like”.

Boyd and others point out that concepts of God such as impassibility, omniscience, omnipotence and immutability owe far more to Greek philosophy than they do the Scriptures. Every Christian owes it to themself to constantly examine and re-examine the foundations upon which their faith is built, in order to ensure that their faith is truly based in God and that it is truly of God.

For example, the classical view that God is omniscient  (all-knowing) is one that is puzzling. Did the Logos really learn nothing by emptying himself and becoming a human being? What of Jesus the God-man, and the suffering that he endured. Did God really learn nothing through that suffering?

What astonishes Pinnock is that “evangelicals, who make much out of their supposed faithfulness to the Bible, can so uncritically swallow the pagan legacy of the absolute immutability of God”. Lloyd-Jones put it starkly when he said that “Philosophy is the greatest enemy of Christian truth”. How long, then, has the tail of philosophy been wagging the dog of theology?

As Cymbala has observed, “The philosophies of men fail, but the Word of God in the demonstration of the Spirit prevails.” Let us then look at the Scriptures and consider what they reveal to us about God and suffering. Do the Scriptures back up the theology of open theists? Does, or did, God suffer?