Some Older Books Promoting Open Theism

This week I’m going to consider four books on open theism by writers of previous generations, two by L. D. McCabe and two by Gordon C. Olson.

L. D. McCabe

Lorenzo Dow McCabe (1812-1897), a professor of mathematics and of philosophy at Ohio Wesleyan University, wrote The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy (Revival Theology Promotion, North St. Paul, MN, 1987; originally published by Cranston & Stowe, Cincinnati, 1887; copyright, 1878) and Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity (Revival Theology Promotion, North St. Paul, MN, 1988; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1882; copyright, 1882). Although they, especially the former, deserve the accolades given to them by many contemporary open theists as seminal works in open theism, I don’t recommend them as a good place to start one’s exploration of open theism because of their length and of their numerous quotations from and references to the views of individuals unknown to today’s readers.

The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy presents in 30 chapters McCabe’s position “that universal prescience is incompatible with human freedom; that there can be no tenable system of doctrine or of moral philosophy based upon that doctrine; but that the whole Christian system may be made consistent, defensible, and satisfactory by the denial of it; and that all the doctrines and prophecies of Scripture are plainly reconcilable with such denial” (p. 11). He opens by stating why he undertook the work (Chapter I). Then he explains how what we now call open theism works (Chapters II – IX), demonstrates that the traditional view of God’s absolute foreknowledge is inadequate (Chapters X – XVIII), and details some of its harmful effects on Christian doctrine and practice (Chapters XIX – XXVIII). He closes by reiterating that the denial of God’s absolute foreknowledge is tenable and explaining eloquently why he questions prescience and embraces its negative (Chapters XXIX- XXX).

In Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity, McCabe devotes a chapter to each of the following reasons for divine nescience or ignorance of future contingencies being a necessity: in the necessity of things, in the nature of things, in order to escape the dreaded system of necessity, to the divine perfections, to safeguard the wisdom and candor of the Holy Ghost, to escape the crushing system of pantheism, to give validity to our hopes and pains, to the impression that ought to be made on the mind of a probationer for eternity, to an interpretation of the holy Scriptures, to an explanation of the utility of prayers, to the construction of a satisfactory theodicy, to a universal atonement, for the logical and final settlement of the doctrine of endless punishment, to the harmonizing of the Calvinian and Arminian schools of theology, and because of the reality of time.

Gordon C. Olson

Gordon C. Olson (1907-1989), tractor design engineer and moral government teacher, wrote The Foreknowledge of God (The Bible Research Corporation, Arlington Heights, Illinois; copyright, 1941) and The Omniscience of the Godhead (The Bible Research Corporation, Arlington Heights, Illinois; copyright, 1972). Facebook contains a fan page for him started by Jesse Morrell of Open Air Outreach.

In the preface to The Foreknowledge of God Olson acknowledges his indebtedness to McCabe’s The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy. The Foreknowledge of God contains five sections: Foreknowledge to the Calvinist, Foreknowledge to the Arminian, Is a Denial of Absolute Divine Foreknowledge Tenable?, Objections Commonly Raised to the Denial of Absolute Foreknowledge, and Concluding Remarks. In the third section Olson presents six reasons for denying divine foreknowledge of all future contingencies, and in the fourth section he responds to four objections to the denial of absolute divine foreknowledge. The Foreknowledge of God also contains lists and charts of Bible passages supporting and denying the foreknowledge of God. Although it predates the rise of contemporary open theism, I consider The Foreknowledge of God a good place to start one’s exploration of the view.

On the other hand, I consider The Omniscience of the Godhead to be a place to reinforce what one knows about open theism rather than to start one’s study of it. The bulk of it presents Scriptural evidence for the openness of God in four sections: that the Godhead lived in time and experienced its passage; that the Godhead experienced grief and disappointment because of man’s sin and persistent rebellion, suggesting the Godhead’s existence in time; that “repent” and its derivatives are used to describe the actions of God some 33 times in the Old Testament; and that other accounts of Divine actions and reactions indicate that future decisions of moral beings and the Godhead were not known beforehand. These sections are preceded by a section describing how speculative philosophy complicated the early church’s simple understanding of God’s existence and of man’s free will and are followed by six short sections, most just references to other writings by Olson.

In my next post I’ll consider some books promoting open theism by a leading contemporary open theist, Gregory A. Boyd.

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8 thoughts on “Some Older Books Promoting Open Theism

  1. hjimfoxy

    This is an interesting post. I am going to have to go over it in more depth. Off the top of my head, though, it seems that McCabe stretched his point when he said: “that universal prescience is incompatible with human freedom; that there can be no tenable system of doctrine or of moral philosophy based upon that doctrine; but that the whole Christian system may be made consistent, defensible, and satisfactory by the denial of it; and that all the doctrines and prophecies of Scripture are plainly reconcilable with such denial” (p. 11).
    Clearly, Calvinism is tenable. I admit that, even though I am not a Calvinist. Arminianism is tenable, though I am not an Arminian. Molinism gives a quite satisfactory explanation of how “universal prescience” is compatible with human freedom. I admit that, even though I am not a Molinist. My own book “CrossCurrents” (see http://is.gd/amgX7t) gives what I consider a tenable system, also, which goes beyond Molinism, but is not wholly opposed.
    So McCabe is guilty of hyperbole, at the very least. The rest of the above quote is not well taken, either, in my humble opinion, but I will save that for another time.
    Thanks for uncovering these obscure articles and bringing them to light. I don’t know how I would have ever been aware of them otherwise.
    Blessings……………

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Jim, for visiting and commenting at Open Theism.

      “Clearly, Calvinism is tenable…. Arminianism is tenable.” As you know, I disagree, believing with MaCabe that “universal prescience is incompatible with human freedom.” See my February 16 post, “God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom.” However, because of their attempts to be both Biblical and logical and of their acceptance by so many, I respect both.

      However I don’t have that same respect for Molinism, which you claim “gives a quite satisfactory explanation of how ‘universal prescience’ is compatible with human freedom.” I consider its doctrine of middle knowledge to be speculative rather than Biblical and logical and am disappointed to learn that your system “goes beyond Molinism.”

      As pointed out in its About, Open Theism is “is intended to explain open theism to my family and friends. It is not open for advanced discussion of open theism or for arguments between supporters and opponents of open theism, other sites being available for both of those activities.” Your comment seems more suitable for a discussion debating open theism than for explaining it to my family and friends. However because of my respect for you, I approved it.

      Enjoy the weekend.

      Reply
  2. hjimfoxy

    Hi Bob,
    Yes, I don’t see the need of middle knowledge. on the other hand, I am not one that gives much credence to the “grounding objection.” But I take a different tack. I suppose this is a bit of what I meant when I said that my “system” goes beyond Molinism. I only mentioned these things to show why I thought McCabe went too far. In your explanation to your family and friends, though, you are going to have to face up to these issues.
    Thanks for indulging me.
    Cordially,
    Jim

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks for the explanation, Jim. What do you mean by the “grounding objection”? What issues do you think that I’m going to have to face up to that I haven’t already faced up to?

      Reply
      1. hjimfoxy

        Hi Bob,
        The “grounding objection” says that the idea of middle knowledge (Molinism) is incoherent, because middle knowledge holds that God knows what free creatures will decide, given a set of circumstances. But it does not explain how God knows.
        You will have to demonstrate that open theism conforms more closely to Scripture and has better explanatory power than either Calvinism or classic Arminianism. Perhaps you feel that this has been done, and that you have “faced up.” This is your blog, and you are the one that must be pleased. I understand that. I just keep looking for something tangible that gives open theism a leg up.
        Best wishes,
        Jim

      2. Bob Hunter Post author

        Hi Jim,
        Thanks for explaining what the “grounding objection is” and for answering my other question so nicely.
        Best wishes, Bob

  3. Rose Spillenaar Harmer

    Dear Bob,
    Obviously I am not a theologian though I must admit I have found your posts challenging and enjoyable. It does often take a long time for me to get to them as we are on the road now full time – just finishing up in Michigan to head to Ontario. Take care and thanks for the discussions. Rose

    Reply

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