I used to subscribe to the prestigious evangelical magazine Christianity Today. Its January 9, 1995, issue carried an article, “Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy?”, in which four scholars reacted to a recently published book, The Openness of God (InterVarsity Press, 1994), which proposed that God limited His control over the present and His knowledge of the future when He created beings with a free will. Since I’d reached the same conclusion when I was doing a study of the attributes of God with California State University Dominguez Hills in 1984, I purchased The Openness of God and some of the books that appeared in the next few years supporting or opposing the view set forth in it. Here I’ll summarize The Openness of God and four other books, two supporting the view and two opposing it.
The Openness of God
The Openness of God contains five chapters, each by a different author. In “Biblical Support for a New Perspective,” Richard Rice explores the Scriptural evidence for the openness of God and takes into account passages that seem to call it into question. In “Historical Considerations,” John Sanders argues that traditional theology interprets the Bible differently than The Openness of God does because of the influence of Greek philosophy on it. In “Systematic Theology,” Clark Pinnock portrays God as not only the creator of and ruler over the world but also as a loving parent who limits himself to interact with us. In “A Philosophical Perspective,” William Hasker shows that the openness view is rationally superior to other ways of understanding God and His knowledge and action in the world. In “Practical Implications,” David Bassinger considers the practical implications of the openness of God on petitionary prayer, divine guidance, the problem of evil, social responsibility, and evangelistic responsibility.
The high calibre of the authors of The Openness of God is indicated by each of them also writing an entire book supporting open theism:
– Richard Rice, God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985; revised version of The Openness of God, 1980).
– John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998).
– Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2001).
– William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989).
– David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (Downers Grove, Ill., 1996).
Although the view had been expressed previously, The Openness of God was the first major attempt to bring it into the evangelical theological arena. It succeeded, being voted one of Christianity Today’s 1995 Books of the Year and sparking widespread and vigorous discussion and over the next few years the production of several books supporting or opposing the view expressed in it. And, despite the overlapping of material that occurs in it because of its fivefold coverage of the view, I think that it’s still a good place to start one’s exploration of the view.
Two Other Books Supporting Open Theism
Another good place to start is John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (InterVarsity Press, 1998). It consists of nine chapters. “Introduction” introduces the idea of God as a risk taker. “The Nature of the Task” considers methodological matters, in particular defending the author’s taking seriously the metaphorical language used in the Bible about God. [I’d suggest skipping the chapter in one’s first reading of the book.] “Old Testament Materials for a Relational View of Providence Involving Risk” and “New Testament Materials for a Relational View of Providence Involving Risk” discuss numerous texts to demonstrate that the risk model of providence enjoys Biblical support. “Divine Relationality in the Christian Tradition” argues that the model is consistent with the major themes of Western theology. “Risk and the Divine Character” explores philosophically certain attributes of God in relation to the idea of His being a risk taker. “The Nature of Divine Sovereignty” compares the two basic models of divine sovereignty, specific and general. “Applications to the Christian Life” explores the two models in light of various aspects of the Christian life—salvation and grace, evil, prayer, and divine guidance. “Conclusion” summarizes the book and the risk model of providence.
A briefer and easier primer to open theism than The Openness of God and The God Who Risks is Gregory A. Boyd’s God of the Possible (Baker Books, 2000). It consists of four short chapters. “The Classical View of Divine Foreknowledge” presents examples of God predicting future events in the Bible and then explains the passages from the open perspective to show they do not teach that the future is exhaustively settled. “The God Who Faces a Partially Open Future” examines the Scriptural evidence for divine openness and concludes that the future is partly open and partly settled. “What Practical Difference Does the Open View Make?” shows that the belief that the future is partly open and that God knows it as such has important, beneficial, and practical implications for our lives. “Questions and Answers” considers the commonest questions asked about and objections raised against the open view. [Personally I disagree with Boyd’s assertion in “Questions and Answers” that possibilities and probabilities, unlike actualities, are eternally in God’s mind.]
Two Books Opposing Open Theism
Bruce A. Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory (Crossway Books, 2000) passionately opposes open theism. It consists of an introduction, three main sections, and a conclusion. Part One, “What Does Open Theism Propose?”, summarizes the central elements of and support for open theism in two chapters, “The Perceived Inadequacy of the Classical Arminian View of God” and “The Perceived Benefits of Open Theism.” The author said that he sought fairness and accuracy in the description, and I think that he succeeded. Part Two, “What’s Wrong with Open Theism’s View of God?”, critiques the biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments supporting open theism in three chapters, “Assessing Open Theism’s Denial of Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge,” “Scriptural Affirmation of Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge,” and “The God Who Risks and the Assault on God’s Wisdom.” Although I was impressed by the Biblical evidence given by the author for exhaustive divine foreknowledge in the middle of the three chapters, I found his explanations of open theism’s straightforward reading of divine growth-in-knowledge and of divine repentance texts unnatural and thought that his discussion of the open theism view that the future is open and risk-filled misrepresented that view. Part Three, “What Difference Does It Make in Daily Life” focuses on three main areas of practical application of open theism to the Christian life in three chapters, “Harm to the Christian’s Life of Prayer,” “Weakening of Our Confidence in God’s Guidance,” and “Despair amid Suffering and Pain.” The whole section was disappointing to me because it seemed to be basically name-calling.
John M. Frame’s No Other God (P&R Publishing Company, 2001) also opposes open theism. It contains 14 chapters, the titles of which indicate their content: What Is Open Theism?, Where Does Open Theism Come From?, How Do Open Theists Read the Bible?, Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?, Is God’s Will the Ultimate Explanation of Everything?, How Do Open Theists Reply?, Is God’s Will Irresistible?, Do We Have Genuine Freedom?, Is God In Time?, Does God Change?, Does God Suffer?, Does God Know Everything in Advance?, Is Open Theism Consistent with Other Biblical Doctrines?, and Conclusion. In its preface, the author says, “I have tried to be fair in my interpretation of their [open theists’] writings, to avoid caricature, to give credit where credit is due, and to acknowledge weaknesses where they exist in the traditional position.” I think that on the whole he succeeded. Thus I found No Other God more credible than God’s Lesser Glory and was enlightened by it about both open theism and traditional theism. My main criticisms of it are that the author often draws unwarranted general conclusions from specific instances and attributes to open theism the personal views of individual open theists and that “Is Open Theism Consistent with Other Biblical Doctrines?” is too speculative and thus unfair to open theism. Despite its having those flaws, I think that any reader interested in knowing more about open theism would benefit from reading No Other God.
Where To Start
Where would I suggest that you start? For my family, I’d suggest beginning with God of the Possible. It and the other books summarized or listed in this post are in my personal library, which you have access to. On the other hand, you could just wait and read my weekly posts. For others, I’d suggest browsing Open Theism Information Site and reading my weekly posts.
In my next post, “Some Websites on Open Theism,” I’ll describe some websites and blogs about or with significant material on open theism.