The January 9, 1995, issue of Christianity Today> 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 a book on open theism by each of its five contributors.
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.
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. Other good places to start are, arranged in order of publication, Gordon C. Olson’s The Foreknowledge of God to be summarized in my May 31 post, Richard Rice’s God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will summarized below, and Gregory A. Boyd’s God of the Possible to be summarized in my June 7 post.
Basinger – The Case for Freewill Theism
David Basinger’s The Case for Freewill Theism (Downers Grove, Ill., 1996) contains five chapters. “Basic Freewill Theism” distinguishes freewill theism (another name for open theism) from process theism and classical theism. The other four chapters consider the relationship between freewill theism and God’s knowledge, God’s goodness, evil, and petitionary prayer. As its subtitle A Philosophical Assessment indicates, The Case for Freewill Theism is philosophical. Thus I don’t think that it would be a good place to start one’s exploration of open theism. On a personal note, I disagree with Basinger’s conclusion in chapter 2 that freewill theists can affirm that God possesses foreknowledge (“knowledge of what will actually happen…including what humans will freely do”) or middle knowledge (knowledge of “what would happen in every possible situation, including what every possible free creature would do in every possible situation in which the creature could find itself”) as well as present knowledge (knowledge of “everything that is [or has been] actual and…what follows deterministically from it”). I think that they can only affirm that He has present knowledge and foreknowldge of what He has foreordained.
Hasker – God, Time, and Knowledge
Because I’m still working through William Hasker’s God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), I won’t summarize and comment on it here other than to observe that its being a volume in an academic series (Cornell Studies on the Philosophy of Religion) make it an unsuitable place to start one’s exploration of open theism. If any reader would like a summary of it, let me know in a comment on this post or by e-mail and I’ll provide it here or in a response to the comment or e-mail.
Pinnock – Most Moved Mover
Clark H. Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2001) contains a lengthy introduction and four chapters. “Introduction” describes the open view of God, the sources of controversy over it, and the writer’s approach to theological method. “The Scriptural Foundation” argues that the open view of God is at least as Biblical as its competition. “Overcoming a Pagan Inheritance” demonstrates that the conventional doctrine of God has origins in Greek thought thought as well as in the Bible and suggests some modifications that are needed in it on the basis of the Biblical picture of God. “The Metaphysics of Love” appeals for theology to be not only Biblical but also in a form that will be intellectually compelling to the contemporary generation. “The Existential Fit” shows that “besides being Biblical and coherent, the open view of God is adequate for the demands of life and relevant to concrete situations.” Although I enjoyed and benefited from reading Most Moved Mover, I don’t recommend it a place to start one’s exploration of open theism because it seems to have been written more as an apology for open theism to its evangelical opponents than as a primer in open theism.
Rice – God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will
Richard Rice’s God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985; revised version of The Openness of God, 1980) contains nine chapters. “The Conventional View of God” and “The Open View of God” examine the conventional and open views of God. The other seven chapters consider the relationship between the openness of God and creation, evil, the future, providence, prophecy, predestination, and personal religion. The back cover of God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will observes: ‘With strong theological background and sound biblical scholarship, Dr. Rice presents his viewpoint in convincing and easily understood style.” I agree. On a personal note, I disagree with Rice’s identifying man’s being in the “image of God” with man’s having a “position of creative sovereignty over the world” in chapter 3. I understand it to refer to man’s personality.
Sanders – The God Who Risks
John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (InterVarsity Press, 1998) contains 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. Although my current favourite of the books that I have on open theism, I don’t recommend it as a place to start one’s exploration of open theism because of its length.
In my next post, I’m going to consider four books promoting open theism by writers of previous generations, L. D. McCabe and Roger C. Olson.