There's a precedent at least as far back as 150 years but, about a decade ago, Open Theism created quite the theological squabble. Ground zero was the Twin Cities, where there were two pastor/theologians whose differences highlight the big umbrella policy of not only contemporary evangelicalism but their own denomination. John Piper, pastor of Minneapolis' Bethlehem Baptist, is so Reformed that he's tacked an additional two points onto the historic five. Greg Boyd, pastor of St. Paul's Woodland Hills Church, is an Open Theist who makes folks like Piper long for the good ol' days of the Calvinism-Arminianism war.
The other most well-known Open Theists are John Sanders and the late Clark Pinnock, both of whom faced votes for their expulsion from the Evangelical Theological Society because of this belief. In the end neither lost his membership, which precipitated Norm Geisler tendering his resignation on the grounds that ETS wasn't fundamentalist enough... er.... didn't uphold his view of inerrancy. In retrospect the controversy had the opposite effect as was intended by those wanting the pair ousted. Far from condemning Open Theism, it provided rare empirical backing that self-identifying evangelical theologians consider it, at the very least, a viable option.
Today Open Theism remains controversial, but the dust has pretty well settled. It isn't affirmed by any conservative evangelical I'm aware of, but is held by a growing number espousing to be moderate, progressive, and post-conservative evangelicals.
Content & Perspectives
Depending on who you ask you're going to get a different spin. The crux of the whole thing is that Open Theism is a rejection of the presuppositional foundation of Platonic Greek philosophy, upon which much early christian theology was built. The three-fold reasoning goes something like this:
(Let me preface the next few points by begging for the philosophers' mercy. This ain't my field of expertise. I'm a history guy who only dabbles in philosophy.)
- There are abstract forms to which all else that we see and interact with points. These forms are the only ontologically knowable things. So if something is red, its ultimate essence derives from the form "redness." If something is a chair, then its from "chairness."
- There's this idea of taking things to their (supposed) logical extreme through linear thought process. So if there's a person who is good and lives a long time, then then god must be best and last forever. Taking things to the Nth degree, so to speak.
- In Plato's mind, something to be knowable it must be at least noticeably static.
Such apostolic fathers as Justin Martry sought to defend Christianity and make it seem intellectually plausible to the second century Roman aristocracy. Moreover, they argued that the truth of Christianity aligns with truth anywhere and sought to reconcile it with Neo-Platonism, which they held in high regard. Thus, Classical Theism was developed and came to be viewed as an essential core of christian doctrine.
Open Theists, however, claim that the Bible and Neo-Platonism cannot be fully integrated. They assert that Classical Theists have to find... creative... ways around the obvious historico-grammatical interpretation when the OT, in particular, says God repented or changed His mind. Open Theists claim to interpret such texts in a more faithful way to what an original audience would have understood.
Concerning God's foreknowledge, there's a diversity of thought within Open Theism not unlike the variety of views among, say, Dispensationalists' eschatological beliefs. Some Open Theists hold that God chooses not to know the future as a sort of self-restraint, thereby providing true free will. Others say it's much simpler than that. They believe that God doesn't know the future because it's not something that's knowable. It's a rejection of the Doc Brown view where you can hop in a DeLorean and move forward in history because the entire space-time continuum has already been written. In other words, the future cannot be known (even by God) because there is no such thing; it just plain doesn't exist.
Naturally, Classical Theists are none too pleased about all this this. Arminians and, to a greater extent, Calvinists see this as undermining their whole theological system. It's not a mere nuance or shift, by a complete deconstruction and rebuilding of major elements within christian theology. They assert that Open Theism effectively humanizes and even deposes God by painting Him as this weak deity who's in a constant struggle and isn't definitively in control. They argue that the God of Open Theism reflects more a god out of the Greek pantheon than the God of the Bible.
(If this next paragraph confuses you, just ignore it and move on. It's non-essential.)
Now is a good time to distinguish between Process Theology and Open Theism. Perhaps a good analogy would be chess. All agree that God is the game's inventor, but Process Theologians don't think God invented the rules. They believe the rules are continually being developed. Open Theists, on the other hand, think God invented the rules and is the best chess master imaginable, but (some) aren't sure that God will win. Folks like Norman Geisler lump all them together as basically the same thing.
As one who approaches all matters of faith first and foremost from the perspective of history, I want to facepalm myself whenever I hear conservative evangelicals claim that their beliefs are rooted within Scripture whereas Open Theism is built upon philosophy. The simple historical fact is that Classical Theism predates Christianity and doesn't stem from Hebrew thought. It's a philosophical system developed as a direct response to the cantankerous deities of the Greek pantheon. As such it's quite foreign to the Ancient Near Eastern thought processes of most the biblical authors, was imported into christian thought by church fathers as they syncretized Christianity with their culture, and has stuck. The practical result is that the ANE God revelaed in the Scriptures has looked awfully dang Greco-Roman ever since.
Unfortunately, most conservative evangelicals have been so conditioned by their worldview that they're completely ignorant of its influence. They cannot see beyond their own cultural perceptions. In the terminology of cultural anthropology, they have an emic (insider's) perspective and are unable to even consider an etic (outsider's) perspective. I cannot help but marvel at the irony. They knowingly filter their interpretations of Scripture through the lens of Greek philosophy even as they claim to place the Bible above philosophy. It's like writing an essay about how you reject the alphabet.
Platonism was developed in response to the Greek pantheon, it became Classical Theism as it was integrated into Christianity, and anyone who rejects Classical Theism is said to believe in a God resembling a deity out of the Greek pantheon. Seems we've come full circle, doesn't it? As ludicrous as this sounds, allow me to suggest that there just might be more than two options. (All the binary thinkers just revolted while the others rejoiced.)
Personally, I think christian theology's second century Hellenization is a tragedy. As one author put it, "Yeshua's teachings, which supposedly form the basis for Western Christianity, are now filtered through 2000 years of traditions born in ignorance of the land, language, and culture of the Bible." That's why I'm willing to reconsider the doctrine of God's omniscience. Specifically, His divine foreknowledge. I'm not, however, willing to toss my hat in with the Open Theists.
Most Christians don't realize that the vast majority of biblical prophecy has little to do with foreknowledge and everything to do with "forthknowledge," as a professor of mine used to say. Nevertheless, there are some clear examples of foreknowledge in Scripture. I think about Genesis 3:14-15 and Jesus' crucifixion, as well as Mark 13:2 and the destruction of the temple in AD 70. Such passages are why I cannot embrace Open Theism in general or Sanders' "probalistic prophecy" specifically, which says that it is possible, however unlikely, that prophecy will not come to pass. I do think God has some sort of foreknowledge, although I have no idea what limitations, whether internal or external, there might be.
In my opinion, too many of these divine sovereignty and human responsibility arguments are shallow. They bounce around on hot button, surface level issues. Rarely do the participants get down to that core question, which is this: Who is God? If one's presupposition of God's essence align with Classical Theism, then by definition God must have foreknowledge of everything and that's the end of the discussion. But if one is willing to explore an etic perspective by seeking to get into the mind of the ancient biblical authors (as best we can, anyway), then questions about the nature and extent of God's foreknowledge are fair game.
Though many of my blog posts explore controversial subjects and I put my perspective out there in a forthright manner, I make a concerted effort to encourage civil dialogue. Yet there comes a time when doing the right thing involves getting pissed and calling people out. This post on Open Theism wouldn't be complete without me doing this.
Quite frankly, many conservative to fundamentalist evangelicals--theologians, pastors, etc.--have behaved like complete assholes. Usually the complaint about academics is that they care more about truth than people, more about stroking their intellectual pride than fostering understanding. This group has managed to neglect both their heads and their hearts in their defense of their perspective on the truth. To quote Lord Vader, "Impressive. Most impressive." Not only do they oversimplify complex issues, they've also almost wholly thrown love, humility, grace, compassion, and civility to the wind. Apparently they missed the memo that orthopraxy (right living) is as important as orthodoxy (right doctrine), according to James. And speaking of orthodoxy, Open Theism isn't a freaking heresy! Every Open Theist I know and have read explicitly embraces each doctrine compromising historic orthodoxy as defined by the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds.
I don't mind disagreement. In fact, I value it because of the principle of iron sharpening iron. But will ya conservative blowhards please stop the Inquisition? All I'm asking is that ya settle down a bit, commit to simply understanding where Open Theists are coming from, and treat them like brothers and sisters in Christ... i.e. behave like Christians. Call me crazy, but I don't think that's too much to ask. Oh, and if I hear just one more person say they reject Open Theism because they're "Bible-believing" Christians, well, I just might snap. Jesus ain't Greek and Plato ain't the Messiah, folks.