Because life is a series of edits

Learner’s Take on Open Theism

In Thought on March 13, 2006 at 8:37 am

It’s a bit long for this medium, but here’s Learner’s paper on open theism, as presented in the book, The Openness of God:

“God gives us a role in shaping what the future will be.
He is flexible and does not insist on doing things his way.
God will adjust his own plans because he is sensitive
to what humans think and do.”
– The Openness of God

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
– Psalm 8

Imagine you are an ant. As ants are small, so are you. Busy and hard-working, but small.

Now imagine that I am god of the ants – the Yahweh of yard bugs, so to speak. And suppose that you, as an ant, know that I am your god, that I made you, and that I have also made a way for us to communicate. But here’s the rub: I began with some goals in mind for the world, ones that your ancestors rebelled against and chose apart from. As a result, I can’t achieve my goals without you, and you can’t achieve yours without me.

But, I have an idea. Perhaps we can work this out together, you, from your perspective, helping me, from mine, run the world. You tell me what you want to do and, in good faith, I promise not to categorically override your desires. I’ll even promise to limit what I know about the future or might have once wanted to sovereignly bring about. Never mind the differences between us (you, an ant; me, your god). This will simply display how much you mean to me as I respect your decisions, as well as how almighty of a god I am in being able to adjust and still make it all work.

So, where do we start? What do you want? Tell me what you think.

I’m open.

Is this an accurate perspective of the relationship that exists between God and humanity? Are we capable of such partnership with God? Is God really open to us in this way? In The Openness of God, the answer to all three questions is an unqualified “yes”. But does this description of line up with the historic understanding of the Scriptures?

I would say not. Instead, the authors have developed a biblical worldview that begins with an anthropology of those created, and then builds a theology of their Creator. The result is a system that looks at life through the wrong end of a telescope: God seems smaller, man seems bigger, and any differences between the two don’t seem to matter.

The Appeal of Open Theism
What is the appeal of open theism as a theological system? In a word, I think it is an imagined “equality” – humanity’s with God’s – that implies a sharing of opportunity, respect, influence, and benefit, all of which are values atop our culture’s list of ideals.

Theologically speaking, our presuming to be equal partners with God resonates with our American egalitarian tendencies, seemingly elevating our role and importance in the universe and putting us on more of a level playing field with the God who created it. This, we reason, is good for both parties, as it conceivably helps our spiritual self-esteem while painting God as more approachable and personal than perhaps otherwise thought.

Another attaction of open theism that the authors put forth is that, on a practical level, this open view of God is the working perspective a majority of evangelicals (consciously or unconsciously) hold, as evidenced by how they pray to and petition God:

“(The open) view resonates deeply with the traditional Christian devotional life. Biblical personalism is widespread among believers, for it allows for a real relationship with God. When we address God in prayer we commonly believe that we are entering into a genuine dialogue and that the future is not settled…If we remember that it presents in a systematic way what most Christians already practice in their devotional lives, then it will not seem strange at all…” (8)

In other words, the authors are saying that because Christians tend to pray with the hope that the future is not settled, indeed, it must not be; thus, the outcome of the world and our lives within it come as much from humanity’s desires for it as from God’s.

They go on to say that, as partners, humanity must have had equal knowledge and influence concerning this outcome, not only in the unfolding of the historical biblical narrative, but also in the creation of it, for (somehow), “God knows everything but is still learning what the world is becoming.” (125)

Oh, the Humanity
Indeed, the open view of God might comfort humanity, resolving the perceived tension between God’s sovereignty (though without foreknowledge) and man’s free will. Anthropologically speaking, this view appeals to humanity’s need to feel wanted, not to mention our American values of charting our own course and being able to make up for previous mistakes (i.e. the Fall) by working our way back to some position of influence.

Biblically and traditionally speaking, though, open theism holds a higher view of man and a lower view of God than I believe it can or should, at least when compared to the past 5,000 years of Christian orthodoxy and teaching on our human nature. For if…

“…orthodoxy is that understanding of God, Jesus Christ, and human nature such that the gospel story of redemption in Christ is preserved in a manner faithful to its ancient telling…” (from class notes)

…then we may be indeed be in partnership with God – and it may have been at his initiation and invitation – but we are not equal with him, for we stand in debt to his perfection and holiness because of our sin and need for redemption. While God freely provided such redemption in the saving work of Christ, this redemption does not restore us to a level equal with God, but rather only to that of our initial (and perfect) humanity in Adam, who, even as a partner with God, was still quite subject to him in the Garden.

The God of the Scriptures

Though Psalm 8 does record God making man “a little lower than the heavenly beings,” our idea should be that this gap is at least as significant as the one between you as an ant and me as your god, if not much, much greater. Contrary to open theism, the Scriptures clearly teach that God is sovereign and independent (Daniel 4:35); that God is immutable and eternal (Psalm 102:26-27); that God is omniscient and all-knowing (Hebrews 4:13); that God is indeed all this and more, regardless of whether or not we as his created humanity agree that he can be, should be, or is.

Though the open view of God may in some ways seem more appealing to or descriptive of fallen humanity and our perspective of what our place in the universe might be, the independent, eternal, and all-knowing God of the Scriptures is still the one to whom we must appeal. For while the traditional Christian perspective of both God and man does not deny the reality of humanity’s free will co-existing alongside or within God’s sovereignty somehow, it does not confuse the former with the latter, either.


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