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 What Is Open Theism?, an outline based on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site. However Dr. Sanders gave me permission to quote from “summary of openness theology” itself, and so in this post I’ll quote and comment on the first point in it:
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.
A Bible verse that supports Saunders’ claim 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 Eypyt”
“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).
“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. That many Christians believe this is affirmed by another open theist, Richard Rice, in his contribution to Clark Pinnock et al.’s The Openness of God (Downer’s Grove, Illinois, 1994): “As they interpret the Bible, love is not only more important than all of God’s other attributes, it is more fundamental as well. Love is the essence of the divine reality, the basic source from which <i>all</i> of God’s attributes arise. This means that the assertion God is love incorporates all there is to say about God” (page 21).
Although finding attractive the claim of modern open theists that love is the most important attribute of God, I haven’t been persuaded by their claim that love is the foundation of God’s other attributes rather than just the most important of His attributes, my feeling that some aspects of the world are inconsistent with a God motivated solely by love. Moreover I’ve been impressed by A. H. Strong’s argument that holiness is the fundamental attribute of God in his Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Pa: Judson Press, 1907, pages 295-303) and by John M. Frame’s questioning that love is God’s most important attribute in his No Other God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2001, pages 49-56; he argues that God’s lordship is at least as important as His love).
Thus I don’t view love, or holiness or any of God’s other attributes, as the foundation of God’s other attributes but view all of His attributes as ways of describing Him and essential to His being. However, consistent with the idea often expressed that God’s holiness required Him to punish sin and His love motivated Him to take the punishment upon Himself, I do view holiness and love as jointly the most important of God’s attributes (or at least of His moral attributes).