Originally this was going to be the first in a series of posts expanding on the outline of the distinctive theology of open theism that I gave in “Introduction to Open Theism,” an outline based on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site. However Dr. Sanders has kindly given me permission to quote from “summary of openness theology” itself, and so in this post I’ll be commenting on the first point in his “summary of openness theology”:
According to openness theology, the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all. In freedom God decided to create beings capable of experiencing his love. In creating us the divine intention was that we would come to experience the triune love and respond to it with love of our own and freely come to collaborate with God towards the achievement of his goals. We believe love is the primary characteristic of God because the triune Godhead has eternally loved even prior to any creation. Divine holiness and justice are aspects of the divine love towards creatures, expressions of God’s loving concern for us. Love takes many forms–it can even be experienced as wrath when the lover sees the beloved destroying herself and others.
Sanders opens his consideration of love as an attribute of God in The God Who Risks (pages 175-181) by observing that Western theology emphasizes instead such abstract and impersonal attributes as omnipotence and omniscience. A glance at my systematic theology books confirmed his observation. However I think that most ordinary Christians when asked what God’s most important attribute is would unhesitantly reply, “Love.” Why the difference? Sanders suggests that it’s because theologians tend to think of God as an absolute being rather than as rather than as the personal being that ordinary Christians think of Him as being. Openness theologians seek to correct this situation, as evidenced by the quotation from “summary of openness theology” given above.
A Bible verse that supports Saunders’ claim in the quotation that God’s primary characteristic is love is 1 John 4:8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (ESV. Biblical quotations in the rest of this post are also from the ESV.) In the Greek original the word for “love” in this verse is agape, a word which scholars say points to a quality in the one loving rather than to qualities in the one or thing loved which make him/her or it attractive to the one loving him/her or it. This suggests that when the Bible refers to the love of God it has in mind an innate quality of God rather than just His feeling the kind of affection that we feel for a family member or a member of the opposite sex.
A few other passages that highlight God’s love are:
“It is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharoah king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:8).
“I have loved you [Israel] with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, one of the first Bible verses memorized by me and countless others).
“God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
The passages that I’ve quoted above are among those that Richard Rice refers to in considering God’s love in his contribution to Clark Pinnock et al’s The Openness of God (pages 18-22).
By “the triune God has eternally loved” I understand Sanders to be referring to the eternal love of the members of the Trinity for one another, a love which he describes in his consideration of love as an attribute of God in The God Who Risks as “the agape love of one another: an unselfish, nonmanipulative love.” In the same place he observes that because of the Trinity’s experiencing and manifesting this kind of love, God didn’t need to create in order to love [and to be loved]. However in loving freedom He decided to create beings with whom to share this agape love.
“Divine holiness and justice are aspects of the divine love towards creatures” suggests that Sanders considers love to be the foundation of all of God’s attributes rather than just His primary characteristic. Rice actually makes that claim. I’ll discuss it in my next regular post in which I’ll consider chapter 4–“Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?”–of John M. Frame’s No Other God.
As I’ve already observed, in my next regular post I’m going to consider the chapter “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” in John M. Frame’s <No Other God>. That will be two weeks from now as I’ll be posting a Christmas message next weekend.