God in the dock (Part 2) The Challenge of Open Theism

Let’s remind ourselves of what Open Theism is all about.  We can say that it is the belief that:

God’s main attribute is love

In his love God wants humans to have genuine freedom

In order for us to have freedom God designed a world where even he did not fully know the future.

Clark Pinnock explains the origins of the theory as follows:

“In order to bring out the truth of God’s rule over the world, the dynamic character of his nature and the openness of his loving relationships more effectively, myself and some colleagues offered the ‘openness of God’ model, so called because it was an appealing and unused term. In it we portrayed God as a triune communion who seeks relationships of love with human beings, having bestowed upon them genuine freedom for this purpose. Love and freedom was our central concern because it was God’s desire for loving relationships which required freedom. In a controversial move, we also envisaged God making a world, the future of which was not yet completely settled, again to make room for the input of significant creatures.”[1]

So, as we have seen before, Open Theism starts with the premise that God’s essential characteristic trait is Love. Furthermore, it goes on to offer us a description of what love entails. Love is about the ability to enter freely into a relationship. Therefore, love requires freedom. If God is to genuinely be love, then he must allow us to be free. If I am not able to make choices and decisions for myself, then I’m not really free.  This causes two problems.  First of all, it suggests that God coerces and controls me, which does not fit with Pinnock’s understanding of love. Secondly, it means that I am unable to exercise freedom and choose to love God back and yet this is what God wants. I cannot fulfil his creation purpose for me.

Pinnock goes on to outline four principle tenants of Open Theism:

“First God loves us and desires for us to enter into reciprocal relationships with him and with our fellow creatures. The divine intention in creating us was for us to experience the triune love and respond to it with love of our own. In this, we would freely come to collaborate with God toward the achievement of God’s goals. Second, God has sovereignly decided to make some of his actions contingent on our requests and actions.  God establishes the project and elicits our collaboration in it.  Hence there is conditionality in God, in that he truly responds to what we do. Third, God chooses to exercise a general rather than a meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for God to be resourceful in working with it. Fourth, God granted us the libertarian freedom necessary for personal relationships of love to develop. God freely enters into give and take relations with us which are genuine and which entail risk-taking on his part, because we are capable of letting God down.”[2]

So God has limited himself. He allows himself to be constrained by our actions and by an unknown future. God is now in some way dependent upon his creation.

Now, in engaging with Open Theism, there are four key questions that we need to respond to. The first one is “What does it mean to describe God as “love?” Secondly, does God change? Thirdly, to what extent does or doesn’t God know the future? Fourthly, what type of freedom do human beings have?

Now, the third question “To what extent does God know about the future?” is something that arises out of our understanding of God as eternal and all knowing. If God is eternal and so transcends time and if he knows everything, then it follows from this that God will be able to see the future. We will return to this part of the question a bit later on because there’s a further piece of the jigsaw to add. We need to think a little bit about what God does as well as who He is and so we will be going into a bit more detail about things like foreknowledge alongside the big questions of election and predestination.  Similarly, the type of freedom we have relates to those questions and so will be treated later.

So, at this stage, we want to focus on two aspects of the Open Theist challenge. First of all, we will revisit the question of God’s Love. Have Open Theists got the definition right? Secondly, we will return to the question “Does God change” and subject it to a little more scrutiny.

[1] Pinnock, Most Moved Maker, 3.

[2] Pinnock, Most Moved Maker, 5. He takes these from his colleague John Sanders.

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4 thoughts on “God in the dock (Part 2) The Challenge of Open Theism

    • Hi yes … though I am just wondering of the cuff if it’s best to call it a definition or description. In other words did Paul intend to give the definitive this is what love is or given that it’s a contextual response to describe what love does and doesn’t do. On reflection I’d like to go back and include 1 Cor 13 in the series though!

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      • Considering that the context is that if one does not have love, one has nothing, it seems to be a definition “a statement that is expressing the essential nature of something”(merriam-webster.com) It says what love is *and* what love does.

        Do you think your god should be beholden to such a definition/description?

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  1. Hi remember as well 1 John 4 gives us a “This is love” …so definition not in the here’s the dictionary definition to turn up and find the exhaustive definition in a statement. As I said that’s really just an off the cuff reflect to on about how literature works. Any way I’ll probablybe picking up on 1 Cor 13 in due course ☺

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