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Recommended Reading on Open Theism

Since the publication of Clark Pinnock et al’s The Openness of God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994), numerous articles, books, websites, and blogs have been produced on open theism. Here I’ll describe four books with which I’d recommend beginning one’s exploration of open theism and provide links to earlier posts by me describing some of the many other books and websites/blogs about open theism.

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 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.

Gordon C. Olson’s The Foreknowledge of God

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.

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 book 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 another good place to start one’s exploration of the view.

Richard Rice’s God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will

One of the contributors to The Openness of God, Richard Rice had earlier written a book called The Openness of God which was later renamed God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1980/1985). At the time that he wrote the book, he was an ordained minister with pastoral experience and was teaching university courses in theology and philosophy of religion.

God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will 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 the book observes: “With strong theological background and sound biblical scholarship, Dr. Rice presents his viewpoint in convincing and easily understood style.” I agree and consider God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will another good place to start one’s exploration of open theism.

Gregory A. Boyd’s God of the Possible

Gregory A. Boyd is a popular proponent of open theism. My family has four books by him and I have his ReKnew website bookmarked. The next section of this post contains links to a post by me describing the four books and to ReKnew.

God of the Possible consists of four short chapters. “The Classical View of Divine Foreknowledge” presents examples of God’s 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 some important, beneficial, and practical implications for our lives. “Questions and Answers” considers the commonest questions asked about and objections raised against the open view. I consider God of the Possible another good place to start one’s exploration of open theism.

Links to Earlier Posts by Me Describing Books and Websites/Blogs about Open Theism

Some Contemporary Books Promoting Open Theism summarizes The Openness of God and a book on open theism by each of its five contributors.

Some Older Books Promoting Open Theism summarizes four books by two writers of previous generations, two by L. D. McCabe and two by Gordon C. Olson.

Some Books Promoting Open Theism by Gregory A. Boyd summarizes God of the Possible and three other books in which Gregory A. Boyd promotes open theism.

Some Books Opposing Open Theism summarizes and comments on three books opposing open theism: Bruce Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory, John M. Frame’s No Other God, and Harry James Fox’s CrossCurrents: Making Sense of the Christian Life.

Open Theism on the Internet gives links to three reference websites with “Open Theism” entries, some websites and blogs about open theism, and two websites for discussing open theism.

Recently I was appointed an administrator of one of the two websites for discussing open theism, Facebook – Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Pentecostal, by its founder and head administrator, William Lance Huget. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn more about and/or discuss open theism.

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What Is Open Theism?

What is open theism? It is a contemporary view of God that has created controversy among evangelical Protestant academics since the publication of Clark Pinnock and others’ The Openness of God by InterVarsity Press in 1994. According to it, in giving us free will God limited His control over and knowledge of the future and thus the future is partly open. In this brief introduction to it, I’ll summarize the traditional and openness views of God’s foreknowledge and present some advantages claimed for open theism and objections made to it.

Traditional Theism

Traditional theism holds that God knows the future completely either because He preordains all that is going to come to pass (Calvinism) or simply because He knows what is going to come to pass (Arminianism).

Two passages which indicate that God knows the future are:
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalms 139:4, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Other passages indicating that God knows the future are those containing prophecies later fulfilled and those supporting the Calvinist view that God preordains all that is going to come to pass, such as Lamentations 3:37-38 and Romans 11:33-36.

Open Theism

The following outline of the distinctive theology of open theism is based on John Sanders’s “A Summary of Openness Theology (Open Theism)” at Open Theism Information Site.
1. God’s primary characteristic is love. His intention in creating us was that we would experience and respond with love to His love and would freely come to collaborate with Him in achieving His goals.
2. God sovereignly decided to make some of His actions contingent on our requests and actions and elicits our free collaboration in achieving His goals.
3. God exercises general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for Him to be creative and resourceful in working with us.
4. God has granted us the freedom necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop.
5. God knows all that can be known. However because He decided to create beings with significant freedom, part of the future is open and thus unknowable even by Him.

Advantages Claimed for Open Theism

Proponents of open theism claim that only it makes good sense of passages in which God changes His mind, regrets His decisions, expresses surprise over what happens, states He didn’t know what people would do, tests His people to learn what they will do, and shows uncertainty about the future. See A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View at Greg Boyd’s ReKnew website for examples of such passages and Open Theism verses listed by topic at Matt Slick’s Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website for explanations of the passages by an opponent of open theism.

Proponents of open theism also claim that it makes better sense of Scripture as a whole than alternate views and that it has significant theological and practical advantages over alternative views. Examples of the latter are: it frees God from appearing responsible for atrocities like the Holocaust and for the creation of damned individuals, and it encourages prayer because according to it God may change His mind when petitioned.

Some Common Objection to Open Theism

Naturally opponents of open theism, like its proponents, claim that their view (Calvinist, Arminian, or other) makes better sense of Scripture than alternative views, including open theism. They charge that the latter actually contradicts Scripture, which affirms God’s exhaustive foreknowledge (see Traditional Theism above) and states that God doesn’t change His mind (Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29).

Opponents of open theism also charge that it undermines God’s omnipotence and omniscience, thus demeaning His sovereignty and diminishing His glory. Further they charge that it cannot account for biblical prophecy and that it weakens our confidence in God’s ability to accomplish His purposes and to guide us.

Postscript

The above is based on an article that appeared in Christianity – Protestant at Suite101.com on August 31, 2005. That article contained a list of recommended reading on open theism. Instead of including it here, I’m going to devote my next post to descriptions of four books that I’d recommend beginning one’s exploration of open theism with and a list of links to earlier posts by me describing some of the many books and websites/blogs about open theism.