Posts tagged Evangelical Theological Society
by John Sanders
Wesleyan Theological Journal. Volume 45, Number 2, Fall 2010
Although it may not seem so from his article, Laurence Wood’s position has many points of agreement with open theism. Both views are part of what I call the free-will Christian family of theology. Hence, both agree on matters such as: God loves creatures and seeks their highest good; God grants humans libertarian freedom; God does not exercise meticulous providence; and thus, God takes some risks since not everything goes the way God would like it to go. Both positions agree that the watershed divide between free-will Christianity and theological determinism is whether or not any of God’s decisions are responses to what creatures do. Free-will Christians believe that God enters into genuine give-and-receive relations with us, our prayers can affect some of God’s decisions, and, in many areas of life, God takes risks. Hence, God is open to what creatures do.
Additionally, open theism affirms a second element of openness: history is open in that it contains multiple possible futures rather than just one actual future. These two senses of openness motivate open theists to diverge from traditional free-will Christianity on two issues, God’s relationship to time and whether God has exhaustive-definite knowledge of future contingent events.1 Though some traditional Wesleyans have held that God is temporal, the majority have affirmed that God is atemporal. The lightning rod issue surrounding open theism has been the claim that God does not know with certainty what creatures with libertarian freedom will do in the future. In his article, Wood links these two issues in order to argue, as many Wesleyans have done in the past, that, if God experiences all time at once (the “eternal now”), then God bas knowledge, not merely beliefs, of what we will do in the future.
For open theism, God has dynamic omniscience. God has definite knowledge of all the past and present and God knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). God’s knowledge of the future contains knowledge of those events that are determined to occur (e.g., natural events and anything God has decreed), as well as knowledge of what may possibly happen, and which of those possibilities are most probable. Though the future is partly open, God is not caught off-guard since divine foresight anticipates what we will do.
Wood implies that open theists affirm a limited omniscience when he repeatedly says that we reject “full omniscience” or “exhaustive omniscience.” This makes it sound as though there are things that God could know that open theists deny that God knows. Wood’s rhetoric suggests that 1 00-proof omniscience includes exhaustive-definite knowledge of the future, with any view which denies this being a watered-down omniscience. This would be like claiming that only transubstantiation is 1 00-proof Eucharist-any other view is watered-down communion. However, both Wood and open theists agree that God is omniscient. The debate is about the content of omniscience (e.g., does omniscience include middle knowledge?). The real focus of Wood’s article is not whether God is omniscient but whether God has definite knowledge of future contingents. In ordinary parlance, the disagreement is about divine foreknowledge.
Traditionally, free-will Christians have affirmed that God knows what we will do in the future. Two different theories have been used to explain how God has such knowledge. Perhaps the most common view has been “simple foreknowledge” in which God “looks ahead” and “sees” what we will do in the future. The second option uses divine atemporality (whether thought of as timelessness or the experience of all time at once) to say that God “sees” all of history at once (the eternal now). This is often accompanied by the illustration of God standing on a mountain which allows God to see everything in the valley of history below. In the second view, God does not have “fore” knowledge since there is no past or future for God. 2
Wood accuses me of “equivocation” when I say that God “looks ahead” because a being with an eternal now does not “look ahead.” Open theists are quite well aware that that, according to divine atemporality, God has knowledge, not “fore” knowledge.3 Perhaps I should have been clearer about the reason why “looks ahead” and “sees” are in quotation marks in my book, even when discussing simple foreknowledge. The language of God knowing and deciding things in succession concerns the “logical” or “explanatory order” of events, not a temporal order. For example, God’s decision to liberate the Hebrews from Egypt is logically subsequent to the divine knowledge that they are in bondage. Reversing the explanatory order leads to the nonsensical: God knew they were in bondage because of his decision to liberate them.
Wood goes with the second option of divine atemporality (understood as the possession of all time at once). He uses the notion of an eternal now/present to explain how God knows what we call our “future” actions. It seems to me that Wood’s key claim is that a Boethian account of divine atemporality gives free-will Christians everything they believe is important for the God~human relationship, libertarian freedom and divine responsiveness to creatures, while also affirming exhaustive-definite knowledge of future contingent events. His arguments in support of this claim, though not clearly stated in his paper, seem to be the following:
1. The Bible supports the claim that God has knowledge of our future.
2. Theological tradition affirms that God has knowledge of our future.
3. If relativity theory is correct, then the future is real. Since God knows all of reality, God must know the future.
4. A God with dynamic omniscience is not trustworthy.
The astute reader will notice that few (if any) of these arguments support the claim that the eternal now supports a responsive God. Rather, the bulk of Wood’s article is spent peppering open theism with criticisms. The strategy seems to be to criticize open theism so that readers will conclude that the eternal now position is correct. Wood repeatedly claims that a “Boethian” conception of eternity allows God to experience before and after, such that God can enter into genuine give-and-receive relations with us, avoiding determinism. However, he never explains how this can occur. He simply repeats the claim over and over in the paper without providing evidence for this claim. Moreover, he fails to address the lengthy discussion in my The God Who Risks of the contradictions between the eternal now position and the core doctrines of free-will Christianity.4
In the remainder of this article I will comment on each of the four arguments of Wood in an attempt to show why the eternal now view is problematic for free-will Christians. Also, I want to respond to a number of his criticisms of open theism. Wood’s article contains many factual errors and misrepresentations of what we have said. Therefore, the reader should be cautious about accepting his word as to what particular open theists believe, or what we believe as a group.5 Now to his main arguments.
First Argument: The Bible affirms that God has knowledge of our future.
Though he could have given more texts, Wood cites only one text from Isaiah with the authority of Von Rad in support of this claim. He says, “Sanders attempts to soften this statement that God knows the “end from the beginning” in Isaiah by saying that it refers to the deliverance from exile …. “Well, it would be softening if it were certain that Wood’s interpretation is the correct one. However, my discussion follows the detailed exegetical work of Fredrik Lindstrom who notes that Isaiah’s use of light and darkness is connected to the beginning and the end of the exile, such that Isaiah is talking about a specific event and not the entire history of the world. 6
The God Who Risks contains a hundred pages discussing biblical texts in support of dynamic omniscience and that God experiences time. Here I can only highlight the types of texts used in support of open theism. The Bible portrays God as:
1. Authentically responding to petitions (Ex. 4, 32; 2 Kings 20; Mk. 2; Lk. 8:48).
2. Grieving over sin (Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11; Mt. 23:37; Jn. 11 :35).
3. Expecting something to happen but it does not (Jer. 3:6-7, 19-20; Isaiah 5: 1-4; Mk. 6:5-6).
4. Testing individuals and Israel “to find out what they will do” (Gen. 22; Ex. 15:25; Deut. 13:3).
5. Refusing to change his mind (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29).
6. Changing his mind (Ex. 32:14; 1 Sam. 15:11-35; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13-14; Mt. 15:21-28) and reconsidering what God had previously promised (1 Sam. 2:30-31; 13:13).
7. Having knowledge of some future events but not others. There are two types of texts about the future in scripture.
7.1 Predicting specific events that do come to pass (2 Kings 20:17-18; Jer. 29:10).
7.2 Predicting specific events that either do not come to pass at all or not in the precise way they were predicted (Ezek. 26:17ff; 29:17-20; Amos 9:11-12 & Acts 15:15-18; Acts 21:11).
Wood correctly says that a God with an eternal now “knows all things instantly.” If so, then how can grief, change of mind, and testing be attributed to such a being? How can God expect something to happen and it not happen? How can a God who knows all events of history simultaneously be said to predict that the city of Tyre will be totally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek. 26) and then later admit that the prediction failed (Ezek. 29: 17 -20)?7 What does Wood do with these texts? He claims his eternal now view can handle them, but he never once shows how this can be done. Wood claims to take the biblical portrayal of God seriously, yet he makes no attempt to explain the meaning of these texts if the eternal now is true. Open theists have developed a view which seeks to explain all the types of biblical texts mentioned above.8
It is part of the core piety and beliefs of free-will Christians that God is responsive. In the book I explained why it is contradictory to say that a God who experiences an eternal now also experiences changing emotions and changing decisions. On several occasions Wood supports his case with the classic article on eternity by Stump and Kretzmann. They are proponents of the eternal now and acknowledged experts on what the position entails. In this article, they say that an atemporal being “has no past or future, no earlier or later. “9 They point out that, if God experiences an eternal now, then “God cannot deliberate, anticipate, remember, or plan ahead.”10 The experts on divine atemporality admit that grief, expectation, and change of mind cannot be attributed to God. Wood, however, says both that God experiences all time at once and also that God has “before and after.” Stump and Kretzmann say that this is contradictory, but Wood makes both claims without acknowledging that there is a problem here, let alone furnish us with a solution to it.
Nicholas Wolterstorff points out that for the eternal now “none of God’s actions is a response to what we human beings do; indeed, not only is none of God actions a response to what we do, but nothing at all in God’s life is a response to what occurs among God’s creatures.”11 This is precisely the reason why the influential Methodist theologian John Miley rejected divine atemporality.12 He understood that it undermined essential Wesleyan piety, such as God responding to prayers.
Wood admits that “outright logical contradictions cannot be affirmed without committing theological suicide,” yet it is precisely at this point that he fails to demonstrate why his own authorities are wrong to claim that it is logically contradictory to affirm both that God is atemporal and also that God grieves. Instead, Wood simply claims that his position contains “tensions” and “mystery.” If there is a contradiction at the heart of his claims, then it is not mystery, but nonsense. If Wood and other Wesleyans do not believe that this position is contradictory, then they need to show why it is not and why the expert proponents of divine temporality are wrong. Wood and I agree that human language is stretched when applied to God, but contradictions do not stretch our language, they snap it in half.
Second Argument: Theological tradition affirms that God has knowledge of our future.
In my own work I have documented that the early church fathers and Wesley affl.rmed divine atemporality and that God possesses exhaustive definite knowledge of future contingent events. Also, I have explained the theological work that they intended for this doctrine to accomplish (e.g., how God could elect people for salvation prior to creation based on “foreseen” faith). So, I agree that the dynamic omniscience view is going against the mainstream of theological tradition. However, dynamic omniscience agrees with the free-will tradition that God does not determine the events because it is our actions which cause God to have the knowledge of what we do.13 That is, God “sees” what we will do in the future but God does not ordain that we do them, as with Calvin.
Though the dynamic omniscience view cannot claim the early church fathers, it has had a few proponents as far back as the fifth century. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the view began to gain a wider following, particularly in Methodist circles.14 On the contemporary scene, Wood lists Barth and Pannenberg on his side, while proponents of dynamic omniscience include Moltmann, Pinnock, Paul Fiddes, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Henry Knight, and Barry Callen. Also, the strong majority of contemporary Christian philosophers reject Wood’s view of divine atemporality, though there are a few distinguished exceptions such as Leftow and Stump.15
Third Argument: If relativity theory is correct then the future is real. Since God knows all of reality, God must know the future.
Wood does not actually formulate the argument as I have stated it, but I am trying to be charitable by developing an argument that would support his key claim that an eternal now is the best solution to the problem. It is unfortunate that the bulk of his article does not actually give evidence in support of his claim. Instead, he concentrates on the accusation that divine temporalists reject relativity physics and thus parallel the fundamentalists at the Scopes Monkey Trial. Space limitations permit only three areas of response.
A. Wood’s statements about contemporary physics. Professor Wood is to be commended for his extensive research into relativity theory. He is much more informed on the topic than am I. However, his statements on this subject are not always up-to-date or as settled as he suggests. For example, he castigates me for separating space and time into different categories. Apparently, what Einstein hath joined no one must put asunder. But a recent development has the physics world abuzz about a new theory of gravity which requires that space and time be separated, at least for high energy events. The December, 2009, issue of Scientific American has an article titled “Splitting Time from Space” in which the new theory, called Horava gravity, is discussed. The creator of this theory says, “I’m going back to Newton’s idea that time and space are not equivalent.”16 Though it is being widely discussed, the theory has not been established as the correct one. Also, this does not imply that everything in physics is in dispute, but it does show that physicists are not as dogmatic as Wood is that time and space are inseparable.
B. Why divine temporalists cannot accept the dominant interpretation of special relativity theory. It seems that the dominant interpretation of the special theory of relativity (STR) entails that all of time exists because there is no privileged present moment; all times are on a par ontologically.17 Hence, “now” is only a word expressing the speaker’s own temporal perspective. The idea of the present has no special status. This implies the “block theory” of time. Think of time as an extended block that includes what we call the past, present, and future. The entire space-time block exists together, and the “future” (from some temporal perceiver’s point of view) is just as much “fixed” and “there” as is the past. In other words, the future is real-it exists ontologically. Open theists agree with the third argument that, if the future exists, then God must know it. We just deny that the future is real.
Why do open theists have a problem with this majority interpretation of STR? For two reasons. First, because if the block of time is real then everything you and I will do in the future already exists on the block, which means that there are no “alternative possibilities” of the sort that are required for libertarian free will. Recorded on the block is a fact of the matter as to what each of us will do tomorrow. There is no possibility that these facts of the matter can be changed. In other words, the standard interpretation of STR is deterministic and that is why not only open theists but all libertarians must look for some other interpretation of the data. Second, as was stated above, the biblical portrait of God and the piety of free-will Christianity require divine responsiveness-which is excluded by the eternal now position. If the block theory is correct, then we do not see how it is possible to maintain these core beliefs.
I and other open theists may indeed be wrong to go with the minority interpretation of STR, but we do so because we want to affirm libertarian freedom and divine responsiveness. Hence, proponents of libertarian freedom should reject the block theory in favor of the dynamic theory of time in which the present has a special status and the future is not ontologically real. According to the dynamic theory, time is actually changing and is not, as Einstein said, a stubborn illusion. There is an interpretation of STR that is compatible with the dynamic theory.18 It is called the neo-Lorentzian interpretation. Though some prominent physicists affirm it, it is not popular among physicists.19 It is empirically equivalent to the standard interpretation of STR and has not been refuted empirically. Wood is wrong when he claims that we do not accept the empirical confirmation of relativity theory.20
C. Wood has a fundamental problem with four-dimensionalism. Wood affirms that, according to the standard interpretation of STR, four-dimensionalism is correct. It entails that the future is just as ontologically real as the past. Wood also acknowledges that Einstein held to the block theory because of STR. However, Wood rejects the block theory in favor of the dynamic theory.21 He does so without even a hint that there is any sort of problem here. The problem is that the block theory is the view that that there is no ontological distinction between past, present and future. Four-dimensionalism and the block theory are one and the same thing. The dynamic theory of time is logically incompatible with four-dimensionalism because, according to the dynamic theory, the future is not ontologically real. Hence, Wood’s position is logically contradictory in that he affirms both that the future is ontologically real and that the future is not ontologically real.
Wood does say that God is infinite and transcends time, but such remarks do not address this fundamental contradiction in his position. Also, Wood accuses me of “dictating to God what sort of world is possible” because I assert that the future is not ontologically real.22 This is unfair because on the very paragraph of The God Who Risks which Wood uses to justify his claim I say, “God could have created a world in which he knew exactly what we would do in the future if God had decided to create a deterministic world.”23 The point is that, if the block theory is correct and the future is an ontological reality, then God would know it, but then we would not have libertarian freedom. I am not dictating to God, I am only claiming that our theological statements cannot contain logical contradictions. Since Wood affirms this very principle, he must either demonstrate that this is not, in fact, a logical contradiction or he must modify his position. Appeals to divine infinity do not remove the logical contradiction at the heart of Wood’s view.
Finally, Wood’s attempt to combine the dynamic theory of time with the eternal now entails a serious theological problem.24 If God experiences all of time at once in an eternal now, then God knows all events that ever occur as well as the order in which they occur. Since there is no before or after in God’s experience, what is “now” for us is simply a set of events which God knows occur in history. However, if the dynamic theory of time is correct, then the God of an eternal now does not know what is happening in history right now because God’s now does not correspond to our now. In order for God to know what is happening right now, God must change, because a few moments ago these events were not happening but other events were happening instead. But, according to the eternal now theory, God cannot change. This means that Christ’s death, resurrection, and second coming are all simultaneous for God. So, when Jesus died, God did not know the event was happening then. God eternally knows that it happens, but at our moment in history when Jesus rose from the dead God did not know it was happening (a very strange idea and certainly not one the biblical writers endorse). The God of the eternal now does not know that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
Fourth Argument: A God with dynamic omniscience is not trustworthy
Towards the end of his article, Wood says that a God without exhaustive knowledge of the future “may weaken one’s capacity to trust in the Lord.” He suggests that such a God may “lead us wrongly” and thus be in need of atonement.25 Several responses are in order. According to dynamic omniscience, divine guidance is given on the basis of God’s perfect understanding of all that is possible to happen and perfect understanding of the probabilities of each of those possibilities. God knows what each of us is likely to do but, because we have libertarian freedom, we can, at times, act out of character and do what was unlikely. For example, God says he expected Israel to put away her idols and return to him but they did not (Jer. 3 :7). In this case God knew it was more likely that they would repent, but he also knew the lesser possibility that they would not repent. God did not say that they would definitely repent because God will not definitely believe that something will occur unless it is certain to occur. If an event is not certain to occur, then God knows the degree of probability that something will happen in a particular way. But God will not hold that belief as absolutely certain if human freedom is involved because our decisions, though somewhat predictable, are not absolutely so. When God expresses surprise, it is evidence that the less likely event came to pass, but this is not a “mistake.”
Second, let us say that I advise a friend to accept a job offer because I know the supervisor and that this individual is a wonderful boss. However, a couple of months into the job, the supervisor dies in an accident and is replaced by a horrible person. Is it legitimate to say that I sinned in the guidance I gave to my friend? I do not see any need of atonement in such as case. Gregory Boyd tells the story of “Suzanne,” a woman in his congregation, who was very angry with God because she believed God had intentionally guided her into an abusive marriage.26 From a young age she wanted to be a missionary in Taiwan. When she went to college she met a young man who shared that same goal. For three years they attended church together and prayed together. They consulted with their parents, pastor and friends, all of whom thought they should marry. After college, they married and then attended a missionary training school together. However, at this time her husband had an affair with another student. When confronted, he repented, but then the affair resumed. After a while he became physically abusive to his wife and then divorced her. Several of her friends told her what Job’s friends had told him-that God intended this horrible set of events to teach her a lesson.
Open theists give a different interpretation. At the time of their engagement her fiancée was a godly person with a passion for ministry, so the prospects were good that they would have a healthy marriage and ministry. However, because of free will, he gave in to temptation and resisted the promptings of the Spirit, even after he was found out. Through a series of choices he became what he had not been when they were dating. God’s guidance had not been wrong. What was wrong was the husband’s misuse of his free will.
How would Wood explain Suzanne’s story? Perhaps he believes that a God who possessed exhaustive knowledge of future contingent events would guide her away from marrying the fellow because God “eternally saw” that he would abuse her. That is, a God with knowledge of the actual future would be in a position to guide her so that she would not marry him. This is a common belief among free will Christians. It is also a common belief among critics of Christianity who say that a God who eternally knew Hitler would carry out the Holocaust should have prevented Hitler from doing so. Unfortunately, both sides are mistaken because the eternal now is useless for guidance. To understand why this is so, it must be kept in mind that what a God with an eternal now knows is what actually happens in history, not what might happen. If what God eternally knows is that Suzanne marries him and is abused, then it is not within God’s power to bring it about that she not marry him because that would mean that God’s knowledge of what actually occurs is wrong. By definition, God’s eternal knowledge of the actual future is always correct.
A God with an eternal now knows that Suzanne will be abused and thus cannot use that knowledge to either bring about the abuse or to prevent the abuse from occurring. What God knows is not some antecedent events which, unless hindered in some way, will lead to her abuse. Rather, what God knows is the actual abuse. It is contradictory to suppose that God knows an event will occur and also to hold that God prevents that event from occurring. That is, God knows that Suzanne will be abused and God knows that Suzanne will not be abused. It is logically impossible for God to know that an event will actually happen and that God will prevent that event from happening.
In The God Who Risks and elsewhere I have explained in detail why both simple foreknowledge and the eternal now positions are useless for divine providence.27 It does God no good to have either simple foreknowledge or the eternal now because God cannot change what God knows for a fact will happen. God cannot use knowledge of what we call the future to guide us in the best ways, or to prevent horrible events from happening, or to give predictions about the future to the prophets. Suppose that Tom asks God for guidance about whether or not to accept a job offer. Tom believes that God knows for a fact what will happen to Tom in that job (whether good things or bad), so Tom believes that God is in perfect position to lead him. The problem is that, if God knows only truths about the future and God knows for a fact that Tom accepts the job and endures years of misery while thus employed, then God cannot change that from happening. Once God knows it as a fact that Tom works there, then it is useless for God to give Tom guidance to reject the job offer. It is incoherent to claim that God knows the actual future and on the basis of this knowledge changes it so that it will not be the actual future. A God who eternally knows the actual future cannot answer such prayers.
Philosopher David Hunt, a proponent of the simple foreknowledge view, believes that the “uselessness problem” is one of the most serious objections and needs to be rebutted. If the eternal now and simple fore· knowledge views are useless for providence, then they are worthless for our theology. That is why Hunt has attempted to construct a way in which eternal knowledge could be somewhat more useful for providence than if God has dynamic omniscience.28 To date, I am aware only of the attempts by Hunt and another philosopher to solve the uselessness problem. William Hasker and I have explained in print why these two attempts fail.29 It is disappointing that Wesleyan theologians, including Wood, do not address the problem of uselessness. Wesleyans have sought to argue against the claim that, if God knows the future, then the future is determined but they have not taken seriously this new problem (uselessness) which is devastating to the simple foreknowledge and eternal now positions. Wood claims that his eternal now position is useful for providence, but he provides neither any evidence that this is so or any explanation of why it is not a logical contradiction to believe that God eternally knows that an event will occur and yet it is in God’s power to bring it about that it not occur.
Summary and Conclusion
I have argued that Professor Wood’s position entails three significant contradictions. (1) It is logically contradictory to affirm both that God is atemporal and also that God grieves and responds. (2) It is logically contradictory to say that the future is ontologically real and that the dynamic theory of time is correct (the future is not onto logically real). (3) It is contradictory to suppose that God knows an event will occur and also to hold that God prevents that event from occurring.
Wood says that “outright logical contradictions cannot be affirmed without committing theological suicide.” Appeals to “infinity” and “mystery” can be quite legitimate, but they cannot transform a genuine contradiction into an attempted suicide. Perhaps someone will figure out a solution to these problems, but until this happens the only views of omniscience that are useful for providence, and which are not logically contradictory, are theological determinism, middle knowledge, and dynamic omniscience. The only one of these three which affirms the biblical portrayal of divine responsiveness, grief, change of mind, and is compatible with the core tenets of Wesleyan piety and belief, is dynamic omniscience. If Wood and other Wesleyans are to avoid theological suicide then they must either solve these contradictions or accept open theism.30
today what I will do tomorrow then it is determined” by pointing out that an eternal God does not have a “today.” However, Wood fails to address the more recent formulations of the argument which use non-temporal language: if God eternally knows that I will have Cheerios for breakfast tomorrow, then it is not within my
power to have eggs (but not because God knows it). See William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 54.
John Sanders’ Introduction
When I was in high school one of my brothers was killed in a motorcycle accident. For the first time, I began to think about God’s role in human affairs-was God responsible for my brother’s death?
A few years later, while in Bible college, I read what my theology textbooks said about the nature of God. According to these books, God could not change in any way, could not be affected by us in any respect, and never responded to us. I was shocked! The piety that I had learned from other evangelical Christians was directly opposed to such beliefs. For instance, I was taught that our prayers of petition could influence what God decided to do. Not that God has to do what we ask, but God has decided that some of his decisions will be in response to what we ask or don’t ask.
Such problems put me into a state of questioning-either the piety I had been taught was wrong, or the theology I was reading was wrong, or both my piety and the theology had to be modified in some way. I continued to wrestle with these issues while in seminary and it took me over 20 years to formulate the views I now have. My conclusion is that the evangelical piety I was taught as a young Christian was biblically correct and so we need to modify our theology at certain points (not every point) so that our theology corresponds, rather than conflicts, with our biblically grounded piety.
Let me summarize the perspective I now hold-the so-called openness of God theology.
First, 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. God loves us and desires for us to enter into reciprocal relations of love with God as well as our fellow creatures. 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 toward the achievement of his goals. God has granted us the freedom necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop. Despite the fact that we have abused our freedom by turning away from the divine love, God remains faithful to his intentions for creation.
Second, God has, in sovereign freedom , decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions. God elicits our free collaboration in his plans. Hence, God can be influenced by what we do and pray for, and God truly responds to what we do. God genuinely interacts and enters into dynamic give-and-take relationships with us.
Third, the only wise God has chosen to exercise general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for God to be creative and resourceful in working with us. God has chosen not to control every detail that happens in our lives. Moreover, God has flexible strategies. Though the divine nature does not change, God reacts to contingencies, even adjusting his plans, if necessary, to take into account the decisions of his free creatures. God is endlessly resourceful and wise in working toward the fulfillment of his ultimate goals. Sometimes God alone decides how to accomplish these goals. Usually, however, God elicits human cooperation such that it is both God and humanity who decide what the future shall be. God’s plan is not a detailed script or blueprint, but a broad intention that allows for a variety of options regarding precisely how his goals may be reached.
What God and people do in history matters. If the Hebrew midwives had feared Pharaoh rather than God and killed the baby boys, then God would have responded accordingly and a different story wouldhave emerged. Moses’ refusal to return to Egypt prompted God to resort to plan B, allowing Aaron to do the public speaking instead of Moses. What people do and whether they come to trust God makes a difference concerning what God does-God does not fake the story of human history.
Finally, the omniscient God knows all that is logically possible to know. God knows the past and present with exhaustive definite knowledge and knows the future as partly definite (closed) and partly indefinite (open). God’s knowledge of the future contains knowledge of what God has decided to bring about unilaterally (that which is definite), knowledge of possibilities (that which is indefinite), and those events that are determined to occur (e.g., an asteroid hitting a planet). Hence, the future is partly open, or indefinite, and partly closed, or definite. It is not the case that just anything may happen, for God has acted in history to bring about events in order to achieve his unchanging purpose. Graciously, however, God invites us to collaborate with him to bring the open part of the future into being.
Your fellow servant in Jesus,
Compiled by Thomas Oord. Below are titles of books, articles, essays, and dissertations pertaining to “relational theology.” The list includes works on open theism, process theology, and others that are either for or against a relational understanding of God. The list is limited to materials published about a decade prior to 2002.
Basinger, David. The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996.
________. “Practical Implications.” In The Openness of God. Pinnock, et. al. InterVarsity Press, 1994.
________. “Can a Christian Justifiably Deny God’s Exhaustive Knowledge of the Future?” Christian Scholar’s Review. 25 (December, 1995): 133-145.
Bauman, Whitney. “God’s Creation, God’s Created, and God’s Creating: A Process View of Eschatology,” in the CTNS Bulletin, vol 21, no 4 (Fall 2001): 12-17.
Beckwith, Francis. “Limited Omniscience and the Test for a Prophet: A Brief Philosophical Analysis.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 36 no. 3 (Sept. 1993): 357-62.
Beilby, James and Eddy, Paul. Eds. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2001.
Berthrong, John H. All under Heaven: Transforming Paradigms in Confucian-Christian Dialogue. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1994.
Berthrong, John H. Concerning Creativity: A Comparison of Chu Hsi, Whitehead, and Neville. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1998.
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Williams, Stephen N. “What God Doesn’t Know,” Books & Culture, November/December 1999. vol. 5, no 6, p.16.
Wright, R. K. McGregor. No Place for Sovereignty. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 1996.
Yerxa, Donald A. “A Meaningful Past and the Limits of History: Some Reflections Informed by the Science-and-Religion Dialogue.” Fides et Historia, 34.1 Winter/spring 2002: 13-30.
Yong, Amos. “Divine Knowledge and Relation to Time.” In Philosophy of Religion: Introductory Essays. Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 2003.
________. “Possibility and Actuality: The Doctrine of Creation and Its Implications for Divine Omniscience,” The Wesleyan Philosophical Society Online Journal [http://david.snu.edu/~brint.fs/wpsjnl/v1n1.htm] 1:1 (2001).
________. “Divine Knowledge and Future Contingents: Weighing the Presuppositional Issues in the Contemporary Debate,” Evangelical Review of Theology 26:3 (2002): 240-64.
by John Sanders
This bibliography is arranged in five categories: (1) multi-views works, (2) works supporting open theism, (3) works engaging open theism, (4) works against open theism, and (5) doctoral dissertations and masters theses engaging open theism.
- The bibliography compiled by Thomas Oord on this website.
- The “History of Open Theism” on this website.
- Taylor, Jusin. “A Bibliography on Open Theism.” Eds with John Piper, Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. Chicago: Crossway, 2003: 385-400.
- Swanson, Dennis M “Bibliography of works on open theism”. Master’s Seminary Journal, 12 no 2 Fall 2001, p 223-229.
- Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views, edited by Bruce Ware (Broadman & Holman, 2008), includes a defense of open theism by Sanders, a defense of the traditional Arminian view by Roger Olson, a “classical Calvinist perspective” by Paul Helm and a “modified Calvinist perspective” by Bruce Ware.
- Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views ed. James Beilby and Paul Eddy (IVP, 2001). Contains Boyd on the open view, David Hunt for a modified simple foreknowledge view, William Lane Craig for middle knowledge, and Paul Helm for theological determinism.
- God and Time: Four Views ed. Gregory Ganssle (IVP, 2001). Wolterstorff defends a temporal conception of God, Helm the atemporal view, while Padgett and Craig affirm divine temporality since creation.
- Predestination and Free Will: Four Views, ed. David Basinger and Randall Basinger (IVP, 1986) contains Pinnock on open theism.
- Works supporting open theism:
Archer, Kenneth. “Open Theism View: Prayer Changes Things.” The Pneuma Review 5.2 (Spring 2002): 32-53.
_________. “How Much Does God Control? Open View Response to the Arminian View,” The Pneuma Review 1/1(Winter 2004): 60-64;
Baker, Vaughn. Evangelism and the Openness of God: The Implications of Relational Theism for Evangelism and Missions (Pickwick, 2013).
Barholomew, D. J. God of Chance (London: SCM, 1984), chap. 7
Basinger, David. The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1996.
________. ‘Can an Evangelical Christian Justifiably Deny God’s Exhaustive Knowledge of the Future?’ Christian Scholar’s Review 25/2 (1995): 135-145.
________. ‘Divine Control and Human Freedom: Is Middle Knowledge the Answer?’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 36/1 (1993): 55-64.
________. ‘Divine Omniscience and the Soteriological Problem of Evil: Is the Type of Knowledge God Possesses Relevant?’ Religious Studies 18/1 (1992): 1-18.
Borgman, Paul. Genesis: The Story We Haven’t Heard. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
Boyd, Gregory. God of the Possible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000.
________. “Two ancient (and modern) motivations for ascribing exhaustively definite foreknowledge to God: a historic overview and critical assessment.” Religious Studies 46 no 1 Mr 2010, p 41-59.
________. Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
________. God At War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict. Downers Grove: IVP, 1997.
________. Is God to Blame? IVP 2003
_________. Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne’s Di-Polar Theism Towards a Trinitarian Metaphysics. American University Studies Series VII, Theology and Religion vol. 19. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.
_________. (2001) “The Open-Theist View.” James Beilby and Paul Eddy eds. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Boyd, with Alan Rhoda,and Thomas Belt “Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future” Faith and Philosophy, 23(4), 432-459, October 2006.
Brents, T. W. The Gospel Plan of Salvation. 12th Edition. Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1928 [1st Edition, 1874].
Brümmer, Vincent. Speaking of a Personal God: An Essay in Philosophical Theology. Cambridge: University Press, 1992.
________. What Are We Doing When We Pray? A Philosophical Investigation. Revised edition, Ashgate, 2008.
Callen, Barry. Discerning the Divine :God in Christian Theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004
Carasik, Michael. “The Limits of Omniscience.” Journal of Biblical Literature 119.2 (summer 2000): 221-232
Clayton, Philip. “Kenotic Trinitarian Panentheism,” Dialogue, 44/3 (2005).
Cobb, John B. Jr., and Clark H. Pinnock, eds., Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue Between Process and Free Will Theists, William B. Eerdmans, 2000
Culp, John. “From Criticism to Mutual Transformation? The Dialogue Between Process and Evangelical Theologies.” Process Studies, pp. 132-146, Vol. 30, Number 1, Spring- Summer, 2001
Dorner, Isaac. Divine Immutability: A Critical Reconsideration, Robert Williams and Claude Welch trans. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), pp. 149-153
Ellis, Rober. Answering God: Towards A Theology of Intercession. Paternoster, 2005 Elseth, H. Roy. Did God Know? A Study of the Nature of God. St Paul: Calvary United Church, 1977.
Ellington, Scott. “Who Shall Lead them Out? An Exploration of God’s Openness in Exodus 32:7-14.” Journal of Pentecostal Theology, 14/1 (2005): 41-60.
Fiddes, Paul S. The Creative Suffering of God. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988.
Fretheim, Terence. The Book of Genesis. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville,TN: Abingdon, 1994.
________. “Creator, Creature, and Co-Creation in Genesis 1-2.” Word and World. Supplement 1 (1992): 11-20.
________.”Divine Foreknowledge, Divine Constancy, and the Rejection of Saul’s Kingship.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 47, no. 4 (Oct. 1985): 595-602.
________. Exodus. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox, 1991.
________. God and Violence in the Old Testament,” Word & World 24/1 (Winter 2004): 18-28.
________. “Prayer in the Old Testament: Creating Space in the World for God.” Ed. Paul Sponheim. A Primer on Prayer. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.
________. “The Repentance of God: A Key to Evaluating Old Testament God-Talk.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 10, no. 1 (June 1988): 47-70.
________. “The Repentance of God: A Study of Jeremiah 18:7-10. Hebrew Annual Review 11 (1987): 81-92.
________. “Suffering God and Sovereign God in Exodus: A Collision of Images.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 11 no. 2 (Dec. 1989): 31-56.
________. The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.
________. First and Second Kings, Westminster John Knox, 1999. Geach, Peter. Providence and Evil, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977
Goetz, James. Conditional Futurism: New Perspective of End-Time Prophecy. Wipf and Stock 2012. Argues that all biblical covenants and predictive prophecies [are] conditional. Does not discuss the open theism debate but is compatible with openness.
Goldingay, John. Old Testament Theology, vol. 1 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003)
Gould, James B. “Bonhoeffer and Open Theism.” Philosophy and Theology: Marquette University Quarterly, 15/ 1, pp. 57-91, 2003
Gregersen, Niels Henrik. “Faith in a World of Risks: A Trinitarian Theology of Risk- Taking.” Eds. Else Pedersen, Lam Holger and Peter Lodberg, For all People: Global Theologies in Context: Essays in honor of Viggo Morterson (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002): 214-233.
Harvey, Sharron. Open Theism and Environmental Responsibilities: A Promotion of Environmental Ethics. (Original publication 2007) AV Akademikerverlag, 2012.
Hasker, William. Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God, London: Routledge, 2004.
_________. God, Time, and Knowledge, Cornell Studies in the Philosophy of Religion. Cornell University Press, 1989.
_________. The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, with Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, and David Basinger, Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
_________. “Is Free-Will Theism Religiously Inadequate? A Reply to Ciocchi,” Religious Studies, .
__________.“The Antinomies of Divine Providence,” Philosophia Christi, 4:2 (2002), pp. 361-75.
__________.“Counterfactuals and Evil: A Reply to Geivett,” Philosophia Christi, .
__________. “The God Who Takes Risks,” in Michael Peterson, ed., Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.
_________.“Response to Helm,” in Michael Peterson, ed., Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.
_________. “The End of Human Life: Buddhist, Process, and Open Theist Perspectives.” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 32:2 (June 2005).
_________. “The Problem of Evil in Process Theism and Classical Free Will Theism,” Process Studies 29:2 (Fall/Winter 2000), pp. 194-208.
__________. “The Foreknowledge Condundrum.” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 50, Numbers 1-3 ( December 2001 ): 97 – 114
___________. “Bitten to Death by Ducks’: A Reply to Griffin,” Process Studies 29:2 (Fall/Winter 2000), pp. 227-32.
___________. “An Adequate God,” in John B. Cobb, Jr., and Clark H. Pinnock, eds., Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue Between Process and Free Will Theists, Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2000, pp. 215-45
__________.“In Response to David Ray Griffin,” in Searching for an Adequate God, pp. 39-52.
__________.“The Openness of God,” Christian Scholar’s Review 28:1 (Fall 1998), pp. 111-23.
__________. “Tradition, Divine Transcendence, and the Waiting Father,” Christian Scholar’s Review 28:1 (Fall 1998), pp. 134-39.
_________. “Providence and Evil: Three Theories,” Religious Studies 28 (1992), pp. 91-105.
__________. The Triumph of God Over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2008.
_________. “Why Simple Foreknowledge is Still Useless,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 52/3 (September, 2009): 537-544.
Hasker, William, Thomas Oord, and Dean Zimmerman eds. God in an Open Universe: Science, Metaphysics, and Open Theism (Pickwick, 2011).
Hayes, Joel S. The Foreknowledge of God; Or, The Omniscience of God Consistent with His Own Holiness and Man’s Free Agency. Nashville: Publishing House of the M[ethodist] E[piscopal] Church, South, 1890.
Hempelmann, Heinzpeter. Wir haben den Horizont weggewischt Die Herausforderung: Postmoderner Wahrheitspluralismus und christliches Wahrheitszeugnis (Wuppertal 2008).
________. Unaufhebbare Subjektivität Gottes. Probleme einer Lehre vom concursus divinus, dargestellt anhand von Karl Barths “Kirchlicher Dogmatik”, (Wuppertal 1992).
Kapitan, Tomis. ‘Acting and the Open Future: A Brief Reply to David Hunt.’ Religious Studies 33/3 (1997): 287-292.
_______. ‘Agency and Omniscience.’ Religious Studies 27/1 (1991): 105-120. Knight, Gordon. “Universalism for Open Theists.” Religious Studies: An International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, 42(2), 213-223. 11 p. June 2006
Krump, David. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of Petionary Prayer (Eerdmans, 2006)
Lucas, J. R. The Freedom of the Will. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970.
_________. The Future: An Essay on God, Temporality, and Truth. Blackwell, 1989. McCabe, Lorenzo Dow. ‘Does God’s Foreknowledge Embrace All Future Futuritions?’ Western Christian Advocate [Cincinnati], 23 May 1894: (Photocopy in Personal Library Collection of Gordon C. Olson.)
_________.‘Prescience of Future Contingencies Impossible.’ Methodist Review (September 1892): 760-773.
_________. Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity, Being an Introduction to ‘The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes’. New York: Phillips and Hunt, 1882.
_________. The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy. Cincinnati: Cranston and Stowe, 1887 [original copyright 1878].
Moberly, R. W. L. “God is Not a Human That He Should Reptent: Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29,” in eds. Tod Linafelt and Timothy F. Beal, God in the Fray: A Tribute to Walter Brueggemann (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998), pp. 112-123.
Nichols, Jason. “Openness and Inerrancy: Can They be Compatible?” JETS 45/4 (Dec. 2002) 629-649.
Olson, Gordon. The Foreknowledge of God and The Omniscience of the Godhead (Arlington Heights, IL: The Bible Research Corporation
Oord, Thomas Jay. “The Divergence of Evangelical and Process Theologies: Is the Impasse Insurmountable?” ARC: Journal for the McGill Faculty of Religious Studies, 51, 2003: 99-120.
_________. The Nature of Love: A Theology (Chalice, 2010) Oord, Thomas Jay editor, Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science (Pickwick, 2009).
Paulsen, David. “The God of Abraham, Isaac and (William) James.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 13.2 (1999) 114-146
Pinnock, Clark H. and Cobb, John B. Jr., eds., Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue Between Process and Free Will Theists, William B. Eerdmans, 2000
_________. ‘Open Theism: “What is this? A new teaching? – and with authority! (M[ar]k 1:27).’ University of Calgary, 03 February 2003.
_________. ‘There Is Room for Us: A Reply to Bruce Ware.’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45/2 (June 2002): 213-219.
_________. Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.
_________. ‘Divine Relationality: A Pentecostal Contribution to the Doctrine of God’ Journal of Pentecostal Theology 16 (2000):3-26.
_________. ‘Between Classical and Process Theism.’ In Process Theology, ed by Ronald [H.] Nash (309-327). Grand Rapids, Baker, 1987.
Pinnock, Clark and David Paulsen, “Open and Relational Theology: An Evangelical Dialogue with a Latter-day Saint.” BYU Studies 48, no. 2 (2009): 50-110.
Polkinghorne, John. Ed. The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.
________. Science and Creation (Boston: Shambala, 1988)
_________. Science and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter with Realilty (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004
Pratney, Winkey. The Nature and Character of God (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998 Prior A. N. “The Formalities of Omniscience,” Philosophy 32 (1962), pp. 119-29
Purtill, Richard “Foreknowledge and Fatalism” Religious Studies 10 (1974): 319.
_______. “Fatalism and the Omnitemporality of Truth,” Faith and Philosophy 5 (1988), pp.185-192
Putt, Keith. “Risking Love and the Divine ‘Perhaps’: Postmodern Poetics of a Vulnerable God.” Perspectives in Religious Studies 34.2 (2007): 193-214. (compares and contrasts Caputo, Kearney, and open theism).
Rice, Richard. The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will. Nashville: Review and Herald Publishing Assoc, 1980.
Reimer, David J. “An Overlooked Term in Old Testament Theology—Perhaps,” eds. A. D. H. Mayes and R. B. Salters, Covenant and Context: Essays in Honour of E. W. Nicholson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003),
Rhoda, Alan. [Most of his work is available at: http://www.alanrhoda.net/papers.htm
________. “The Fivefold Openness of the Future.” In William Hasker, Thomas Oord, and Dean Zimmerman eds. God in an Open Universe: Science, Metaphysics, and Open Theism (Pickwick, 2011).
_________. “Gratuitous Evil and Divine Providence,” Religious Studies, 46(3), 281-302, September 2010.
________. “Probability, Truth, and the Openness of the Future: A Reply to Pruss.” Faith and Philosophy, 27(2), 197-204, 8 p. April 2010.
________. “Presentism, Truthmakers, and God.” Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 90(1), 41-62, March 2009.
_______. Beyond the Chessmaster Analogy: Game Theory and Divine Providence, in Thomas Jay Oord (ed.), Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2009).
________. “Generic Open Theism and Some Varieties Thereof,” Religious Studies, 44.2 (May, 2008).
_________. “The Philosophical Case for Open Theism.” Philosophia, 35(3-4), 301-311, September-December 2007.
________. Open Theism, Omnisciece and the nature of the Future. Faith and Philosophy 23 (2006): 432–459.
Rhoda, Alan Greg Boyd and Thomas Belt “Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future” Faith and Philosophy, (2007)
Thomas Renz, “Proclaming the Future: History and Theology in Prophecies Against Tyre,” Tyndale Bulletin 51 (2000): 17-58
Saia, Michael R. Does God Know the Future? A Biblical Investigation of Foreknowledge and Free Will. Fairfax, VA Xulon Press, 2002.
Sanders, John. “Open Theism.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online, 2013.
_________. “Divine Reciprocity and Epistemic Openness in Clark Pinnock’s Theology,” The Other Journal: the Church and Postmodernity (January 2012).
_________.“Open Theistic Perspectives—The Freedom of Creation” in Ernst Conradie ed., Creation and Salvation: Essays on Recent Theological Movements. LIT Verlag, Berlin, 2012.
_________. “Open Creation and the Redemption of the Environment,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, Spring 2012.
_________. “The Eternal Now and Theological Suicide: A Reply to Laurence Wood,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 45.2 (Fall, 2010): 67-81.
_________. “Theological Muscle-Flexing: How Human Embodiment Shapes Discourse About God,” in Thomas Jay Oord ed., Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science (Pickwick Publications, 2009).
_________. “Divine Providence and the Openness of God” in Bruce Ware ed., Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views. Broadman & Holman. Nashville,2008.
_________. “Divine Suffering in Open Theism” in D. Steven Long ed., The Sovereignty of God Debate (Wipf and Stock Publishing, 2008).
_________The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence. Revised edition, IVP, 2007.
_________. “An Introduction to Open Theism,” Reformed Review, Vol. 60, no. 2 (Spring 2007). The issue includes three articles responding to my article.
_________. “No Way to Settle the Matter: the Criteria We Use to Develop Different Models of God.” in And God saw that it was good: Essays on Creation and God in Honor of Terence E. Fretheim, ed. Fred Gaiser, (forthcoming Word and World supplement, January 2006).
_________. “Response to the Stone Campbell Movement and Open Theism,” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, Vol. 2, ed. William Baker (Abilene Christian University Press, 2006).
_________With Chris Hall, Does God have a Future? A Debate on Divine Providence. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.
_________. “On Heffalumps and Heresies: Responses to Accusations Against Open Theism” Journal of Biblical Studies 2, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 1-44.
__________"Historical Considerations" and “Introduction” in The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. IVP, 1994.
_________“On Reducing God to Human Proportions” in Semper Reformandum: Studies in Honour of Clark Pinnock, eds. Anthony Cross and Stanley Porter (Paternoster, U.K. and Eerdmans, U.S. 2003).
_________ "Why Simple Foreknowledge Offers No More Providential Control than the Openness of God," Faith and Philosophy 14, no. 1 (Jan. 1997): 26-40.
__________.“Is Open Theism a Radical Revision or Miniscule Modification of Arminianism?” Wesleyan Theological Journal (Fall 2003).
__________.“The Assurance of Things to Come” in Looking to the Future, ed. David Baker, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2001.
_________. “On Heffalumps and Heresies: Responses to Accusations Against Open Theism” Journal of Biblical Studies 2, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 1-44 Online journal.
__________.“Be Wary of Ware: A Reply to Bruce Ware” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June 2002): 221-231.
_________. “A Tale of Two Providences.” Ashland Theological Journal 33 (2001): 41-55.
_________. With Chris Hall, “Does God know your Next Move?” Christianity Today, May 21, 2001, pp. 38-45 and June 7, 2001, pp. 50-56.
_________. “Truth at Risk,” Christianity Today, April 23, 2001, p. 103.
_________. “Theological Lawbreaker?” Books and Culture (January, 2000) pp.10-11.
Reprinted in Daniel Judd, ed. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Religion. McGraw-Hill, 2002. Sanders with J. Aaron Simmons. “A Goldilocks God: Open Theism as a Feuerbachian Alternative?” Element: The Journal for Mormon Philosophy and Theology (2013).
Sontag, Frederick. “Does Omnipotence Necessarily Entail Omniscience?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34 (1991): 505-8.
Studebaker, Steven M. “The Mode of Divine Knowledge in Reformation Arminianism and Open Theism,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 47.3(September, 2004): 469-480
Swinburne, Richard. The Coherence of Theism. Revised Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.
Truesdale, Al God Reconsidered: The Promise and Peril of Process Theology (Beacon Hill, 2010).
Tuggy, Dale. “Three Roads to Open Theism,” Faith & Philosophy (2006). Udd, Kris. “Only the Father Knows: A Response to Harold F. Carl,” Journal of Biblical Studies [http://journalofbiblicalstudies.org]. 1.4 (Oct-Dec 2001):
________. “Prediction and Foreknowledge in Ezekiel’s Prophecy Against Tyre,” Tyndale Bulletin 56.1 (2005): 25-41.
Van Inwagen, Peter. “What Does an Omniscient Being Know About the Future?” in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (2008): 216-230.
_______. “The Place of Chance in a World Sustained by God.” Ed. Thomas Morris. Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988)
Viney, Donald Wayne. “Jules Lequyer and the Openness of God.” Faith and Philosophy, 14 Ap 1997, p 212-235
_________. “The Varieties of Theism and the Openness of God: Charles Hartshorne and Free-Will Theism.” Personalist Forum, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 199-238, Fall 1998.
Wagner, C. Peter. Dominion! How Kingdom Act on can Change the World. Chosen Books, 2008. Ward, Keith. “Cosmos and Kenosis,” John Polkinghorne ed. The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2001
_________. “The Temporality of God,” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 50 (Dec. 2001): 153-169.
________. Religion and Creation (Oxford, 1996) pages 275-277. White, C. Jason. “An Accommodating and Shunning Culture: Evaluating the Cultural Context of the Evangelical Theological Society in the United States.” Scottish Journal of Theology 65, no. 2 (2012): 192-2011.
Witham, Larry. The God Biographers: Our Changing Image of God from Job to the Present (Lexington Press, 2010). Provides a history of the debate in evangelicalism.
Woodruff, David. “Being and Doing in the Concept of God.” Philosophia 35 (3-4), 313-320. September-December 2007.
_________. “Examining Problems and Assumptions: An Update on Criticisms of Open Theism.” Dialogue, 47.1 (2008): 53-63.
Woterstorff, Nicholas. “Unqualified Divine Temporality” in Gregory Ganssle ed. God & Time: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
Yong, Amos. ‘Divine Omniscience and Future Contingencies: Weighing the Presuppositional Issues in the Contemporary Debate.’ Evangelical Review of Theology 26/3 (July 2002):240-264.
Yerxa, Donald A. “A Meaningful Past and the Limits of History: Some Reflections Informed by the Science-and-Religion Dialogue.” Fides et Historia, 34.1 2002:13-30.
Zimmerman, Dean. [several of his articles are available at http://fas-philosophy.rutgers.edu/zimmerman/index1.htm
_______. “Open Theism and the Metaphysics of the Space-Time Manifold”, in God in an Open Universe: Science, Metaphysics, and Open Theism, ed. by William Hasker, Thomas Jay Oord, and Dean Zimmerman (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2011), pp. 125-57
_______. “Time and Open Theism”, in Science and Religion in Dialogue, Vol. 2, ed. by Melville Stewart (Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), pp. 791-809
_______. “God Inside Time and Before Creation,” Gregory Ganssle and David Woodruff eds., God and Time: Essays on the Divine Nature (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 75-94
_________. For more of Zimmerman’s papers on God, time, and foreknowledge see: http://fas-philosophy.rutgers.edu/zimmerman/index1.htm
3. Works engaging open theism: Christianity Today, 1995, Vol. 39 Issue 1 contains reviews by Roger Olson, Doug Kelly, Alister McGrath and Tom
Oden of the book, The Openness of God.
Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45/2 (June 2002): the entire issue. Master’s Seminary Journal, 12 no 2 Fall 2001, entire issue.
Bouma-Prediger, Celaine. “Toward a Reformed Theology of Prayer and Spiritual Direction: A Response to John Sanders. Reformed Review, vol 60, no. 2 (Spring 2007),
Boyd, Gregory & Paul R Eddy. Across the spectrum: understanding issues in evangelical theology. Baker Academic, 2002.
Cottrell, Jack. “Understanding God: God and Time” in Evangelicalism and the Stone- Campbell Movement, Vol. 2, ed. William Baker (Abilene Christian University Press, 2006).
Dorrien, Gary. The Remaking of Evangelical Theology (Westminster John Knox, 1998). Fackre, Gabriel “An evangelical megashift? The promise and peril of an `open’ view of God.” Christian Century, 5/3/95, Vol. 112 Issue 15, p484, 4p
Keepers, Brian. “My Only Comfort in Life and in Death: A Pastoral Response to Open Theism.” Reformed Review, vol 60, no. 2 (Spring 2007), Kurka, Robert. “Open Theism and Christian Churches (Independent)” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, Vol. 2, ed. William Baker (Abilene Christian University Press, 2006).
Robinson, Michael The Storms of Providence: Navigating the Waters of Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism. (University Press of America, 2004).
Tiessen, David Alstad. “The openness model of God: an Evangelical paradigm in light of its nineteenth century Wesleyan precedent.” Didaskalia (Otterburne, Man.), 11 no 2 Spr 2000, p 77-101
Warden, Duane. “Open Theism and Churches of Christ (a cappella)” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, Vol. 2, ed. William Baker (Abilene Christian University Press, 2006).
________. “Openness of God,” Restoration Quarterly, 46 no 2 2004, p 65-78
Yerxa, Donald A. “A Meaningful Past and the Limits of History: Some Reflections Informed by the Science-and-Religion Dialogue,” Fides et Historia, 34.1 Winter/spring 2002: 13-30.
4. Works Against Open Theism: Beckman, John C. “Quantum Mechanics, Chaos Physics and the Open View of God.” Philosophia Christi, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 203-213.
Bloesch, Donald. God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, Love. (IVP, 1995) Bray, Gerald. The Personal God. Patternoster, 1999.
Caneday, A B, “Critical comments on an open theism manifesto” Trinity Journal, ns 23 no 1 Spr 2002, p 103-107
________. “Putting God at Risk: a Critical Analysis of John Sanders’ The God Who Risks.” 1999. Trinity Journal, ns 20 no 2 Fall 1999, p 131-163
Ciocchi, David. “The Religious Adequacy of Free-will Theism,” Religious Studies 38 (2002): 45-61.
Cole, Graham A. “The Living God: Anthropomorphic of Anthropopathic?” Reformed Theological Review, 59 no 1 Ap 2000, p 16-27.
Davis, William. “Does God Know the Future?” Modern Reformation 8/5 (September, 1999) 20-27.
Erickson, Millard. God the Father Almighty. Baker, 1998.
________. What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? Zondervan, 2003 Feinberg, John. The One True God. Crossway Books, 2001 Flint, Thomas. Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Frame, John. No Other God: A Response to Open Theism. Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001.
George, Timothy. “What God Knows.”. First Things (June-July 2003): 7-9
Geisler, Norman and House, Wayne. The Battle for God. Kregel 2001.
Geisler, Norman. Creating God in the Image of Man? Bethany, 1997.
Helm, Paul. “Does God Take Risks in Governing the Universe?” in Michael Peterson ed. Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion. Blackwell, 2003.
_______ The Providence of God. InterVarsity Press, 1994. Helseth, Paul Kjoss. ‘On Divine Ambivalence: Open Theism and the Problem of Particular Evils.’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44/3 (2001): 493-511.
Hesselink, I. John. “A Response to John Sanders on Providence: Your God is Too Small.” Reformed Review, vol 60, no. 2 (Spring 2007),
Highfield, Ron. ‘The Function of Divine Self-Limitation in Open Theism: Great Wall or Picket Fence?’ Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45/2 (June 2002).
_______. Great is the Lord (Eerdmans, 2008)
_______. “The Problem with the ‘Problem of Evil’: A Response to Gregory Boyd’s Open
Theists Solution,” ResQ 45 (2003): 175-76,
Horton, Michael. “Hellenistic or Hebrew? Open Theism and Reformed Theological
Method.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 45.2 (June 2002): 317-342
________. “Is the New News Good News? Modern Reformation 8/5 (September, 1999) 11-19.
Huffman, Douglas and Johnson, Eric. eds. God Under Fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
Hunt, David P. “The Providential Advantage of Divine Foreknowledge” in Kevin Timpe, ed. Arguing About Religion (Routledge, 2009).
Lamerson, Samuel. “The openness of God and the historical Jesus” American Theological Inquiry, 1 no 1 Ja 15 2008, p 25-37
MacArthur, John. Open theism’s attack on the atonement” Master’s Seminary Journal, 12 no 1 Spr 2001, p 3-13.
Master, Jonathan. “Exodus 32 as an Argument for Traditional Theism,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45.4 (2002), pp. 585-598.
McCormack, Bruce, “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism,” in McCormack ed. Engaging the Doctrine of God (Baker, 2008).
Middelmann, Udo. The Innocence of God (Paternoster, 2007).
Mordomo, Joao.”Missiological Misgivings about the Openness of God Theology.”
Patrick Henry College, Global Journal of Classical Theology, 3.2 (Nov. 2002).
Mohler, Albert. “The Eclipse of God at Century’s End” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 1.1. (Spring, 1997) 6-15.
Murphy, Ganon. Consuming Glory: A Classical Defense of Divine-Human Relationality Against Open Theism (Wipf and Stock, 2006)
Picirilli, Robert. “An Arminian Response to John Sanders’s The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 44/2 (September 2001): 467-491.
________. “Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 43/2 (June 2000): 259-271.
Piper, John. ed. Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity. Chicago: Crossway, 2003.
Pyne, Robert and Spencer, Stephen. “A Critique of Free-Will Theism.”, in two parts Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (July 2001): 259-286 and (October 2001):
Richards, Jay Wesley. The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Immutability and Simplicity, IVP 2003
Robinson, Jason. “Freewill Theism: Doing Business in a Free-Market Society.” Theology Today 62 (2006): 165-175.
Robinson, Michael. “Why Divine Foreknowledge?” Religious Studies 36: 251-275. Roy, Steven. “God as Omnicompetent Responder? Questions about the Grounds of Eschatological Confidence in Open Theism” Looking Into the Future, ed. David
W. Baker (Baker Academic, 2001): 263-280.
______. How Much Does God Foreknow? IVP, 2006.
Stallard, Michael D. A dispensational critique of open theism’s view of prophecy” Bibliotheca sacra, 161 no 641 Ja-Mr 2004, p 27-41.
Schreiner, Thomas and Ware, Bruce. eds. The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, Baker, 1999.
Thompson, Matthew K. “Does God Have a Future? A Pentecostal Response to Christopher Hall’s and John Sanders’ Recent Book.” Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies; Spring2004, Vol. 26 Issue 1, p130, 8p
Tiessen, Terrence. Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2000)
Tracy, Steven. “Theodicy, Eschatology, and the Open View of God” Looking Into the Future, ed. David W. Baker (Baker Academic, 2001): 295-312.
Ware, Bruce. God’s Lesser Glory. Crossway Books, 2000.
________. “Despair amidst suffering and pain: a practical outworking of open theism’s diminished view of God.” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 4 no 2 Sum 2000, p 56-75.
_______. Ware, Bruce. Their God is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God (crossway, 2003).
______. God’s Greater Glory (Crossway, 2004). Webster, Loring C. The End from the Beginning; Or, Divine Prescience vrs. Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies. Cincinnati: Cranston & Curts, 1895.
Wellum, Stephen. “Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience, Inerrancy, and Open Theism” JETS 45/2 (June 2002): 257-278.
Williams, Stephen N. “More on Open Theism” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 22 (2004): 32-50. _______. “What God Doesn’t Know,” Books & Culture, November/December 1999. vol. 5, no 6, p.16.
Wood, Laurence. “Divine Omniscience: Boethius or ‘Open Theism?’” Wesleyan Theological Journal 45/2 (Fall 2010): 41-66.
________. “Does God Know the Future? Can God be Mistaken?: A Reply to Richard Swinburne.” Asbury Theological Journal 56 (Fall 2001): 5-47.
Wright, R. K. McGregor. No Place for Sovereignty., IVP, 1996. Yuille, Steven. “How Pastoral is Open Theism? A Critique from the Writings of George Swinnock and Steven Charnock.” Themelios 32/2 (Jan. 2007): 46-61.
5. Doctoral Dissertations and Masters Theses: Doctoral Dissertations:
- Park, Dong Sik. The God-World Relation Between Joseph Bracken, Phillip Clayton, and Open Theism. Claremont Graduate School, 2012.
- Baker, Vaughn. Evangelism and the Openness of God: The Implications of Relational Theism for Evangelism and Missions. University of South Africa, 2011.
- Holtzen, William Curtis. Dei Fide: A Relational Theology of the Faith of God. University of South Africa, 2007.
- Ham, T. C. Relational Metaphors and Omniscience in the Hebrew Bible (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2007).
- Holland, Richard. God and Time: Rethinking the Relationship in Light of the Incarnation of Christ (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, 2007).
- Ostrom, William Bruce. Divine Sovereignty and the Religious Problem of Evil: An Evaluation of Evangelical Models (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2007).
- Rissler, James D. Divine providence and human libertarian freedom: Reasons for incompatibility and
theological alternatives. University of Notre Dame, 2006, 322 pages.
- Calvert, Michael. Paradox Lost: Open Theism and the Deconstruction of Divine Incomprehensibility—A Critical Analysis (PhD, Trinity Theological Seminary, 2005).
- Harmon, Jerry. Exodus 24.6-7: A Hermeneutical Key in the Open Theism Debate (PhD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, 2005).
- 10. Moore, Scott. The Problem of Prayer (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006).
11. Campbell, Travis. The Beautiful Mind: A Reaffirmation and Reconstruction of the Classical Reformed Doctrines of the Divine Omniscience, Prescience, and Human
Freedom. Westminster Theological Seminary (2004).
12. Gilbert, Kevin James. The rule of express terms and the limits of fellowship in the Stone-Campbell movement: T. W. Brents, a test case. The Southern Baptist
Theological Seminary, 2004.
13. Robinson, Franklin Webster. Adversity, crisis counseling, and the openness of God: An evaluation of open theism for pastoral response to victims of violence.
Azusa Pacific University, 2002.
14. Kersey, Kent Allen The freedom of God and man: A critical analysis of the relationship between providence and anthropology in Open Theism. Southwestern
Baptist Theological Seminary, 2002.
15. Ladd, Steven Willis Theological indicators supporting an evangelical conception of eternity: A study of God’s relation to time in light of the doctrine of
creation ex nihilo. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2002.
16. Steven Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? An Evangelical Assessment of the Doctrine of the Extent of the Foreknowledge of God in Light of the Teaching of Open
Theism, Trinity International University, 2000. Now published.
17. Tae Soo Park, A Biblical Response to Open Theism: Christology in the Four Gospels. Bob Jones University 2004.
- Conn, Jeremy. Developing Doctrinal Criterion for Evaluating Orthodoxy and Heresy: Open Theism as a Test Case. Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2011.
- Belt, Thomas G. A Critical Evaluation of the Religious Adequacy of Open Theism: Toward an Open Theistic Theology of Petitionary Prayer. University of Wales, 2007
- Manning, John. Does God Suffer? Australian College of Theology, November 2006.
- McLaughlin, Ryan Patrick. God of Authentic Rapport: A Tale of MeinIgenes. Ashland Theological Seminary, August 2006.
- Lim, Joung Bin. A Thomistic Account of Divine Providence and Human Freedom. Texas A&M University, 2005.
- Verhage, Kara Elizabeth. Prayer and a Partially Unsettled Future: A Theological Framework for Prayer From the Perspective of Open Theism Emphasizing Prayers of Supplication. Luther Seminary, 2004.
- Thompson, Matthew K., Openness and Perichoresis: An Analysis of Pentecostal Spirituality Toward a Pentecostal Doctrine of God. Saint Paul School of Theology, 2003.
- Nichols, Jason. Omniscience in the Divine Openness: A Critical Analysis of Present Knowledge in God. Trinity International University, 1997.
- Jason Brian Santos, Jean Calvin’s classical divine providence juxtaposed with John Sanders’s Risk theology and the pastoral implications of Theodicy. Wheaton College Graduate School, 2002.
- Pillai, Jessica D. God’s Change of Mind. Denver Seminary, 2004.
- Joseph Holt: Predicating Infinity of God: An Open Theist Perspective. Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, MN, 2001.
- Craig W. Thompson. John Sanders’s Philosophy of Religious Language: an Analysis of Divine
Predication in the God Who Risks, Dallas Theological Seminary, 2002.
- Jonathan L. Master, Exodus 32 as an Argument for Traditional Theism. Capitol Bible Seminary, 2002.
- Irwin, Ben. The Sovereignty of God and the Biblical Narrative: A Response to Open Theism. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, May, 2002.
- Dana Arledge, Does Scripture teach libertarian Freedom? Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, 2003.
Bollag, Burton. “Can God see the future? Some evangelical scholars are taking worldly heat for suggesting that divine knowledge has its limits.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov 26, 2004 v51 i14 pA11-A14. Bollag, Burton. “Peer Review,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/18/2005, Vol. 51 Issue 24, pA8, 1/2p, 3c;
“One God, Hold the Omniscience,” Michael Valpy. Toronto Globe and Mail 9/3/2005. F7.
“Redfining Omniscience.” Bill Broadway; The Washington Post; Nov 8, 2003; pg. B.09
“2 Escape Expulsion by Evangelical Group” Bill Broadway. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Nov 22, 2003. pg. B.09 “Process, Open Theologians Debate” Thomas Oord, Science and Theology News. 4.5 (Jan 2004), pp. 2, 32.
Smith, James. “What God Knows,” Christian Century 7/12/2005, 122.14, p30-33.
- “College to close out ‘open theism’ scholar.” By: Dart, John.
Christian Century, 12/28/2004, Vol. 121 Issue 26, p13, 2/3p,
- “Open Theism Scholars Retained,” Christian Century, 12/13/2003, 120.25, p14.
“Evangelicals in the dock” Leithart, Peter J. First Things, 141 Mr 2004, p 9-11.
- “Cracks in the Ivory Tower,” Allen Guelzo. Books &
Culture (Summer, 2005).
- “Does God know what you’re thinking now?” Richard N. Ostling, Halifax Daily News 08-03-2003
13. “Theological society won’t oust two ‘open theists’” Adelle Banks Religion News Service 12-05-2003
- “Society Keeps Open Theists,” San Antonio Express-News 11-22-2003
- “Evangelical theologians reject ‘open theism’” Gorski, Eric The Christian Century 118.34 12-12-2001 p. 10
- “Theologians Divided over Free Will,” Eric Gorski, Colorado Springs Gazette 11/24/2001.
- “How Much Control Does God Have? Ray Waddle Tennessean 01-20-2001 3B
- “Area Religious Colleges Wrestle With Orthodoxy.” Rebecca Green, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette May 21, 2005, Page 1C.
19. “Love is the Answer,” Kevin Kilbane. Fort Wayne News Sentinel. 3/5/ 1999,
20. Open or Closed Case? Controversial theologian John Sanders on way out at Huntington. Stan Guthrie Christianity Today, 12/22/2004
21. “Open to Healing,” Neff, David. Christianity Today, Jan2004, 48.1, p21. 22. “Closing the Door on Open Theists?” Doug Koop Christianity Today, Jan2003, p24.
23. “Foreknowledge Debate Clouded by ‘Political Agenda.’” Neff, David. Christianity Today 11/19/2001
24. “God at Risk” By: Zoba, Wendy Murray. Christianity Today, 03/05/2001, 45.4, p56-9.
25. “Did Open Debate Help the Openness Debate? Christianity Today, 2/19/2001 26. “God vs God” Christianity Today, 2/7/2000 27. “Do Good Fences Make Good
Baptists? Christianity Today, 8/8/2000
A Paper Prepared for Presentation to the Forum of The Oxford Society of Scholars Meeting in Rewley House/Kellogg College, University of Oxford 12-14 January 2004
printed with permission
by George M. Porter
B.R.S., B.A., M.A., M.Litt., D.Phil.
Lorenzo Dow McCabe and Some Neglected Nineteenth Century Roots of Open Theism in North America
‘Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if preserved in, they must lead,’ said Scrooge, ‘But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.’ (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol)
When old Ebenezer Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come whether the dreadful scenes foretold him were shadows of things that will be or only of things that might be, he touched upon some of the vital questions posed by human beings from time immemorial. Dickens’s fictitious miser was neither the first nor the last to utter the major existential question of whether the writing could yet be sponged away.
The vast literature of humankind – including major works in philosophy and theology – continues to be permeated by questions about the nature of the future, whether it exists as a fixed reality or only as potential, as well as what can be known of it, or even whether it can be known with any degree of certainty at all. 1 Related questions concerning divine omniscience, along with the possibility, nature and extent of divine foreknowledge, go beyond academic significance as people are faced with tasks of coping with both personal and social scale suffering and by encounters with evil. 2
These questions have specifically troubled the waters of Christian doctrine and practice since apostolic times without bringing healing resolution. Many attempted the quest for answers, but Augustine and the Scholastic thinkers developed the approaches and theories which became the dominant answers to these vital questions. They were consistent with most post-apostolic theology and philosophy. 3
As the Christian world was shaken by the massive changes of the late medieval and renaissance period, and as controversies of the Protestant Reformation rekindled the questions, along with variations of those Augustinian and Scholastic dogmas, Erasmus and Arminius popularised alternative approaches. Debates since that time have been largely variations on these themes – themes which re-emerge in various contexts and historical epochs throughout Christian history.
In the turbulent years of the American Civil War, its aftermath and continuing on through the First World War in the early part of the last century, issues related to God’s knowledge of the future re-emerged. Questions of moral government in the light of social and justice issues, questions of maintaining the goodness of God in the face of moral evil including suffering and war (ie, ‘theodicy’), and questions of liberty and self-determination in a revivalist frontier environment combined to give rise to intense and sometimes heated reconsiderations of root issues concerning the various attributes of God (including omniscience) and the nature of God’s relationship to humans (including freedom of the will and foreknowledge). 4 Though philosophers and theologians of many denominational backgrounds addressed the issues, these concerns were engaged with new urgency among American Wesleyan, Methodist and holiness groups.
These perennial questions are alive and well once again at the dawn of our so-called postmodern age, characterised by change and uncertainty brought about by a massive paradigm shift affecting nearly all areas of western thinking, believing and living. Relativity, quantum physics and chaos theory have resurrected questions about the nature of time. 5 Revolutions, wars and threats of annihilation, combined with heightened global awareness of human rights issues have brought questions of theodicy again to the fore. 6
While not exclusive to Christians in the western world, North American evangelicals seem particularly engaged with questions of the nature of human free will, as well as related concepts of divine sovereignty, providence, and omniscience. Christian publishing houses, current popular periodicals, academic philosophical and theological journals, and evangelical theological and philosophical societies, are scenes of verbal combat verging on an ecclesiastical civil war over these ancient, unresolved issues. 7
Of particular concern is a growing debate between those who consider themselves ‘orthodox traditionalists’, embracing ‘classical’ theistic stances toward questions of the nature of God and God’s relationship to creation and time, and a loose association of theologians and philosophers variously labeled as ‘open theists’ or ‘freewill theists’, espousing an ‘openness of God’ theological paradigm. 8 The interactions generally carry little of the character of badinage among colleagues appreciating diversity in a common quest for theological articulation. 9 The former commonly depict themselves as defenders of the faith and champions of orthodoxy, polemically charging opponents within evangelical circles with quislingesque heresy and warning of dire peril to both individuals and the whole evangelical community in embracing these ‘neo-evangelical’ views. 10 Much of the work of open theists has, therefore, necessarily taken on an apologetic flavour.
In general, the former are found primarily in various shades of Augustinian or Calvinistic determinism. The latter identify more with Arminian and Wesleyan sources, toned by freewill beliefs, though they are sometimes deemed to go beyond Arminianism, finding themselves opposed and excluded even by many freewill traditionalists. 11
Clark Pinnock describes it as ‘a Wesleyan/Arminian model with a twist.’ 12 He claims that ‘[n]inety percent of it is in agreement with these evangelically oriented theological traditions, while ten percent is contested.’ 13 While John Sanders identifies the basic area of conflict within that smaller contested area as this very Arminian identity, Pinnock rightly recognises that it is open theism’s affirmation of what he terms ‘current omniscience’ and denial of exhaustive divine foreknowledge that are the most visible and contested sticking points in contemporary debates. 14
These debates intensified dramatically with the 1994 publication of The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God , co-authored by five of open theism’s leading thinkers. 15 Since that time a virtual flood of articles, books and internet publications continues to pour forth and sustain the controversies. Pinnock identifies open theism as ‘a variant of Wesleyan/Arminian theology which enjoys a respected place in evangelical tradition’ – an identification that most other evangelical open theists would affirm. 16 Opponents, however, speak of it as a clear departure from traditional evangelical orthodoxy, attacking it alternatively as either a new teaching or a restatement of an ancient heresy.
Despite clear distinctions, most critics associate this model with that of process theism. 17 While major proponents of open theism grant an appreciation for certain aspects of process theology, they are also very clear about radical distinctions between these two approaches. Though Pinnock, for example, has spoken of open theism as an attempt to find a via media between classical and process theisms, he has been specific about where the two models differ. 18 Gregory Boyd has been particularly forceful in presenting both the affinities and incompatibilities between them. 19 Despite certain limited similarities, evangelical open theists have not identified process thought as the source of their ideas.
Neither have they identified with Socinianism – after the teachings of the Polish reformer Faustus Socinus – another theological variant commonly critically associated with open theism. 20 Whereas process theologians indicate the importance of these sources, open theists are aware that there exists an unbridgeable gap between Socinian heresy and orthodox evangelical theism. 21 The resemblance between Socinian formulas concerning divine omniscience and similar expressions in open theism, though remarkable, are actually historically accidental rather than relationally dependent. 22
Ideas about limiting of foreknowledge in such a way that the future remains to some degree undetermined and uncertain, even for God, are not new. Not only did the Socinians hold an understanding of divine omniscience close in wording to the current omniscience of open theism, but the medieval Jewish theologian Gersonides said that in creating beings with genuine free will God limited the divine omniscience, even abdicating some dimensions of divine foreknowledge. 23 Likewise, Ambrose is reported to have said concerning prayer that ‘if God foreknows the future, and if this must needs come to pass,’ and ‘if all things come to pass by the will of God, and his counsels are fixed, and none of the things he wills can be changed, prayer is vain.’ 24
Contemporaries of Ambrose – Porphyry, Albinus and Calcidius – held similar ideas. The latter was reputed to have been a Christian, possibly even a Milanese deacon. He wrote that ‘it is true that God knows all things, but that he knows everything according to its own nature: that which is subject to necessity as submissive to necessity, the contingent, however, as provided with such a nature that deliberation opens a way for it.’ 25 And furthermore, ‘contingent things are not inflexibly arranged and determined from the beginning with the sole exception of the very fact, that they must be uncertain and depend upon a contingent course.’ 26
More specifically, however, open theists have insisted that this theological model is part of the larger picture Arminian and Wesleyan theological traditions. Open theism is seen not so much as a variant of this set of traditional views as a consistent development of, or within, it. Rather than being theologically discrete, it is traditional Arminian and Wesleyan belief evolved to a further level. 27
These roots of open theism as they developed during the second half of the nineteenth century are all but ignored by its opponents. Few critics allude to these historical developments, and fewer still take them seriously, despite the fact that open theists have consistently identified these factors as influential in their theological formation. 28
Rather than stretching credulity and the bounds of anachronistic fallacy, the major components of evangelical open theism can be found, at least in embryonic form, within these strangely neglected late nineteenth century historical theological developments among Arminian, Wesleyan, and holiness writers and preachers of the American frontier. While most of the writers from this period were content to simply replay themes previously heard, several of them articulated in their preaching and teaching barely-formulated ideas about how to understand divine omniscience and foreknowledge in ways which allowed humans authentic freedom of the will.
Methodist theologian and biblical scholar, Adam Clarke, for example, said that God ‘knows Himself, and what He has formed, and what He can do; but it is not necessitated to know as certain what He Himself has made contingent.’ 29 Although he described divine omniscience in a way which resembles ‘presentism’ or ‘current omniscience’ in open theism – the view that God has perfect knowledge of the past and present, as well as of what God determines to do in the future – he also insisted that ‘God’s gracious design to save a lost world by Jesus Christ could not be defeated by any cunning, skill, or malice of men or devils.’ 30
John Miley would later say that Clarke ‘held in the part of God a purely voluntary nescience’ – a position which he criticised as inconsistent because ‘a voluntary nescience in God must imply a knowledge of the things which he chooses not to know.’ 31 Miley, along with others of this period, understood ‘nescience’ – literally ‘not knowing’ – to be the antonym of prescience. He recognized that ‘[t]he divine nescience of such volitions would be a necessity, not a free choice.’ 32
In saying this, Miley recognised the importance of the work of the Methodist theologian and philosopher Lorenzo Dow McCabe. 33 Although Miley himself did not embrace what was becoming known, primarily through McCabe’s teaching and writing, as the divine nescience of future contingencies, he was very aware of, and even sympathetic to, this understanding. He noted that ideas of divine nescience had already been put forth in the sixteenth century among the Socinians and among some Remonstrants (Dutch followers of Arminius), though not Arminius himself, but praised McCabe’s articulation as both powerful and persuasive. 34 He wrote that this ‘doctrine itself has more recently been treated with a definiteness and thoroughness and supported with a force of argument which are quite new,’ and he confessed that ‘it is much easier to pronounce the arguments of Dr. McCabe a nullity than to answer them in a process of lucid and conclusive logic.’ 35
McCabe’s influence spread through both his students and writings. 36 During the late 1800s, the pages of the Methodist Quarterly Review and other more local periodicals regularly set forth either McCabe’s ideas or reactions to them. 37 He published three books. The first, on the subject of sanctification, was followed by two more lengthy treatments of his ideas concerning divine foreknowledge, which he generally termed ‘prescience’, and nescience of future contingencies. 38 At the time of his death, he was planning two further books: one expounding a new theory of the atonement which he had worked out, believing it superior to any others then known, and another setting forth his ethical theory.
Open theists refer primarily to the two books published on divine nescience. One of McCabe’s colleagues noted that his ideas about this doctrine were perceived as novel by many American clergy, while they were already fairly well known in both Germany and England. He claimed that the professor’s thinking in the area of divine nescience was ‘the product of his absolutely original investigations into the teachings of the Bible, and of the unbiased human reason,’ and that he was motivated by ‘daring but devout attempts to place our Arminian theology on an impregnable basis’ to embark on ‘a new and brave departure from the beaten path in the agonizing struggle of men to make God just, as well as the justifier of the sinner.’ 39 Such a claim is rendered somewhat plausible by the fact that due to perennial problems with his eyesight, McCabe was never a prolific reader.
Samuel W. Williams wrote that McCabe wanted his books to form ‘a complete refutation of the Calvinistic doctrine of decrees.’ 40 He traced the genesis of McCabe’s thinking about divine nescience to ‘a hint of the subject given him by Professor [F. S.] Hoyt,’ following which ‘he carried on independently.’ 41 McCabe confirmed this relationship in a tribute in the preface to his book on foreknowledge, where he also claimed that his motives were simply to further the search for truth and resolution in the unresolved problems between absolute divine foreknowledge and human freedom. 42 McCabe also quoted someone (perhaps Daniel Curry) who he regarded as ‘[o]ne of the ablest thinkers American Methodism has yet produced [as saying]: “The denial of absolute foreknowledge is the essential compliment of the Methodist theology, without which its philosophical incompleteness is defenseless against the logical consistency of Calvinism.”‘ 43 McCabe clearly viewed his directions as refinements of Arminian belief.
McCabe expressed disappointment in Bledsoe’s work on theodicy, saying that it was just a restatement of existing Arminian theology and did not resolve the problematic issues of reconciling an absolute divine foreknowledge and human freedom. 44 He regarded as equally tragic the resignation and despair indicated by those who could not find a way to resolve this dilemma inherent in Arminianism. McCabe’s Arminian and Wesleyan approach to theology, together with his literal biblical hermeneutics, dominated the development of his beliefs about the definition of divine omniscience and limits to, but not complete elimination of, God’s foreknowledge.
Miley realised that there were problems in reconciling both Calvinistic and traditional Arminian beliefs about God’s knowledge with the belief in God as personal being. He went so far as to write that ‘[i]f the ministries of providence in the free agency of God … be not consistent with his foreknowledge, the foreknowledge cannot be true,’ and ‘[i]f there must be for us an alternative between the prescience of God, on the one hand, and his true personal agency in the ministries of providence, on the other, the former doctrine must be yielded, while we cleave to the latter, because it embodies the living reality of the divine moral government.’ 45 Likewise I. W. Wiley wrote in 1881 that there were many things about God and God’s relationship to creation which were yet problematic, and that these things could be resolved either by Calvinistic determinism or Arminian simple free will, nor through some ‘eclecticism which would combine parts of both.’ 46 While he preferred the Arminian approach, he confessed that ‘Arminianism has not freed [people] from all difficulties, and especially [not] from those very serious embarrassments which … [grew] out of the doctrine of the divine foreknowledge of contingent or volitional events.’ 47 McCabe declared that the ‘surrender of prescience [was] indispensable to the respectability of Arminianism.’ 48
Open theists are not simply ‘McCabites’. The theological phraseology of McCabe’s era sounds somewhat stiff and rigid to most people today. Open theists have, therefore, generally chosen alternative terms, and they recognise limitations in his work. They also, however, express a debt of gratitude for McCabe’s systematic exposition of the doctrine of divine nescience as helpful in formulating and articulating the ideas of open theism, especially limited foreknowledge and current omniscience.
During, and immediately after, his lifetime, McCabe’s ideas were subjected to heated debate, criticism, ridicule and rejection by some, and warmly welcomed and appreciated by others. 49 Nevertheless, he was acknowledged as remaining solidly within the bounds of Arminian and Wesleyan orthodoxy as understood in his historical and cultural context. Fellow professors and former students bore witness to McCabe’s commitment to a verbal theory of biblical inspiration bordering on dictation. 50 One former student wrote that ‘[h]e was so extremely orthodox that he was inclined to believe all the discrepancies of the Word of God to be the direct dictation of the Spirit!’ 51
In terms very similar to those used by open theists, McCabe argued that absolute divine prescience is contraindicated by the biblical writers. He noted as ‘remarkable how constantly it is implied, or assumed, in the Scriptures, that God does not foreknow the choices of free beings while acting under the law of liberty,’ and that ‘there are numerous passages in which is clearly found the assumption of the incapacity or inability of omniscience to foreknow … the choices of beings endowed with the power of original volition and action, unless it should be through a violation of the law of human freedom.’ 52
Clearly, there are occasions when God can and does override normal operating principles of creaturely freedom to accomplish certain ends which God has determined to bring about. 53 For example, he contended that some biblical prophecies are to be understood in this light, for ‘God in prophecy … overrides the law of liberty, just as he overrides the law of material forces in miracles.’ 54 He stressed that the human person is so constituted, that his will can be brought under the law of cause and effect, by bringing overpowering influences to act upon reason and his sensibilities. 55 Those circumstances are, however, understood to be exceptions to the normal operations of both God and human beings, and in them choices cease to be free. Choices under such circumstances cannot have a moral or responsible component for the chooser. 56
McCabe described human beings as ‘free moral agents … co-creators, co-causes, co-originators’ with God, and noted that ‘the Scriptures represent man as having … the power of taking the absolute initiative,’ such that if people are ‘not … free being[s] there can be for [them] neither right, wrong, justice, moral philosophy, or moral government.’ 57 As in the claims of open theists, therefore, absolute divine prescience is incompatible with the nature of human freedom and choice, as well as with responsibility and moral accountability.
McCabe argued further that such prescience of future free volitions is inherently contradictory and therefore impossible. Since future choices have no actual existence, they cannot be said to be actually known. To speak of knowing what is quite literally nothing is meaningless and absurd. 58 Concerning contingencies, he wrote, that ‘only from that moment … a contingency becomes a knowable thing. Up to the point of some free being originating its conception and determining to actualise it, it is pure unreality …. If … a thing [is] unknowable, it is no reflection upon Omniscience to affirm its incapacity to know it.’ 59 McCabe clearly understood that denial of absolute prescience was not a denial of omniscience. He noted that ‘knowledge of a nothing is self-contradictory, and [a human] free choice before [someone] made it is a nothing.’ 60
Writing about the same time as McCabe, Joel S. Hayes produced a volume on the foreknowledge of God in which he interacted with critics of the emerging doctrine of divine nescience. He argued that there is no biblical evidence that necessitates God’s absolute foreknowledge, but rather that God ‘does not state that he knows more than he has foreordained.’ 61
Like McCabe, he goes beyond simple defense of free will, however, arguing that ‘God, though infinite in power and wisdom, did not and could not know before man was created whether he would sin or not’ and that ‘having created man a moral agent … he could not prevent his sinning; nor could he before having created him, not knowing who would sin and who would not, have put any other moral being in his place with expectation of better results.’ 62 Nescience of future actions of moral agents is, therefore, inherent in, and necessary to, genuine human freedom. 63 Absolute divine foreknowledge is an idea incompatible with true human freedom, for ‘to foreknow a free volition is a contradiction.’ 64
Both McCabe and Hayes spoke of God knowing and using probabilities. Hayes differed from McCabe in defining foreknowledge primarily in terms of ‘moral certainty’ – an understanding which relies on the concept of probabilities as the basis for a kind of virtual certainty about the actions of human beings as a class rather than about individuals or the free choices of individuals. 65
McCabe’s understanding of the relationship between God’s prescience and probabilities more closely resembles that of most open theists. He wrote that
God could … estimate approximately what are likely to be the choices of free agents in the early future. And this estimate of probabilities may be so nearly indubitable, in many cases, as to resemble prescience itself. 66
He agreed with President Tappan that ‘[o]ur calculation of future choices … can never be attended with absolute certainty, because the will, being contingent, has the power of disappointing calculations which are made upon the longest observed uniformity.’ 67 Furthermore, ‘[a] contingent thing must be a pure origination by a being possessing power to select and originate one out of many. But this is possible only on the hypothesis that the future is now undetermined, unfixed, and, therefore, uncertain in the universe of contingencies.’ 68 In a similar way, ‘[a]lteration, in the nature of things, necessitates subjective uncertainty in the divine mind,’ and therefore ‘[t]he state of omniscience is … a state of uncertainty as to which … alternates will certainly come to pass.’ 69 In short, the future must be at least partly open. 70
The concept of risk is implied in such a statement. Though not specifically developed in detail by McCabe – he termed this a ‘pure adventure’ – or his contemporaries, the idea that God risks disappointment in endowing creatures with genuine freedom, since such freedom implies ability to choose against God and against God’s will. 71 He wrote that God created human beings ‘clothed with the august endowments of liberty, and an ability to disappoint [God's] desires and expectations and defeat his purposes.’ 72 Understood in this context, God’s ‘sovereignty … is a sovereignty over sovereigns, not a sovereignty over mere machines or passive instruments, under the reign of mechanical philosophy.’ 73 As among open theists, however, this does not imply that God is ultimately unable to accomplish those things which are divinely appointed. McCabe was quite clear in believing that ‘[t]he Scriptures indicate that God has two kinds of plans relative to this world and its inhabitants, – one sovereign, the other contingent,’ and that God’s ‘sovereign plans are determined upon absolutely’ and ‘will be accomplished by one set of means or by another, ordinary or extraordinary.’ 74 God may even determine ‘in his mind the identical agent through whom [some sovereign purpose] shall finally be brought about.’ 75 In other words, the future is both partly open and partly closed.
In this context McCabe, in words echoed almost verbatim by open theists, asserted that God is both wise and resourceful enough to handle any situations and contingent developments which arise from undetermined freedom among humans. 76 Furthermore, God can do so while acting within the realm of present knowledge, without the necessity of prescience. 77 He asserted that ‘God is fully able to meet any and every emergency, no matter how great, how sudden, or how complicated, that can arise anywhere in infinite space or endless duration.’ 78 After all, he asked, ‘[i]s not God omniscient in respect to all knowable things, to all free choices as soon as they are put forth? …. Those attributes of Jehovah [sic] could overcome all difficulties and provide for all hazards, and turn to best account all developments that may be made in all the boundless universe and throughout eternity.’ 79 McCabe delighted in demonstrating that ‘[n]escience presents … the sovereignty of God with most impressive magnificence as he goes forth over the boundless universe overcoming all difficulties, and arresting, as far as possible, all evils which are inevitable in the government of beings whose choices originate in the depths of their own free-wills.’ 80 Such resourcefulness would be highly valued among human beings and would actually be more praiseworthy and glorious in the divine being than would insistence upon an omniscience which included absolute prescience. 81
Along with this, McCabe consistently argued that there would be no real advantages to either God or creation for God to possess unlimited prescience. Not only does God not need such prescience to perfectly rule in divine providence, but God would actually be hindered by having this kind of foreknowledge. God could do nothing to change what God foreknew would happen, since what is foreknown cannot, by definition, be changed. 82
This kind of omniscience would also rule out any form of actual change within God. McCabe contended that ‘universal prescience … is positively inconsistent with [God's] character and office as the moral governor of the moral universe,’ for
[a] real trial, a trial that is not a mere delusive semblance, requires that God’s feelings and his conduct toward an accountable spirit should be constantly changing and varying with the ever varying volitions which that spirit puts forth in the exercise of his endowment of freedom. But this can only be possible on the supposition of God’s nonprescience of those volitions. To affirm that God’s feelings, purposes, and conduct can change just as the free volitions of the subject do actually change, when he has perfect foreknowledge of all the future volitions of that free subject, is to assert a manifest impossibility. 83
Contained within this pericope are safeguards for authentic mutuality in the divine-human relationship, the capacity of God (contra classical understandings of the attributes of impassibility and immutability – related notions that God does not experience emotional or any other changes) to actually feel experientially rather than just know about emotions cognitively and to change in some ways by experiencing the sequentiality of time. 84 In this context, McCabe quotes Isaak August Dorner’s claim that ‘[i]n the world … God must live as historical life, a life that is conditioned by man’s use of freedom.’ 85 God’s eternality is, therefore, not conceived in terms of ‘timelessness’ or some Boethian ‘eternal now’ but in terms of endless duration, without beginning or end. 86
In like manner, nescience is essential if God is to be understood in personal terms or as entering into personal relationships with humans. Absolute prescience would rob God of every attribute essential to personal being. God would not be free because God could never choose, do, think or act in any other way than God does act, otherwise the divine prescience would be false, which it cannot by definition be. In fact, God would be immobilised – unable to think, choose, initiate, act, react, or interact – like the idols which were so often the object of divine wrath. Ultimately, God’s omniscience would conflict with God’s omnipotence, since, as McCabe asserted, ‘if God is not able to form a conception that he never thought of, then he has never in all the eternity past possessed the power to form any new conception, and then, consequently, all his conceptions must be eternal; and if eternal they were never originated, and God, therefore, has never been able to form a new conception, or to originate and determine any one thing.’ 87 This, however, would represent an intolerable situation. 88 It would also, he contended, contradict apostolic witness in Scripture. 89
Like both McCabe and open theists, Hayes declared that genuine human freedom is essential since a ‘doctrine of necessity makes God the only real agent or actor of sin in the universe’ because otherwise ‘the creatures which he has made [are] merely passive instruments in his hands to accomplish his purposes. 90 God would ultimately be responsible for evil, and a satisfactory theodicy would be impossible. 91 In contrast, however, McCabe located ‘the origin of sin in the human will’ and declared that ‘[t]he simple and single choice of a free will was the absolute incipiency of moral evil into the moral universe.’ 92 However, ‘no considerations, no ends, no final causes, could ever justify God, before an intelligent universe, in violating absolute rectitude, or in overriding freedom in free agents, or in outraging benevolence, either in planning wickedness, or in desiring its inception, or in creating individual souls who he foresaw would certainly be wicked and miserable and everlasting blotches upon his moral universe.’ 93 In contrast, ‘divine nescience brings beauty, quietness, profit, and assurance forever into the great theodicean [sic] problem.’ 94
Concerning the future state of the reprobate, McCabe is less willing than open theists to abrogate the doctrine of eternally conscious separation in hell. He does, however, advocate the idea that ‘[t]here must … be a point in probation beyond which the power of alternative choices cannot be continued.’ 95 In other words, the human characteristic of indeterministic freedom is not eternal; it will come to an end. 96 McCabe described something of a psychological or character evolutionary process in which habitual choices, dispositions and behaviours progressively take on a permanent form, giving rise to an immutable character. 97 This works gradually in such a way that ‘[e]very additional volition adds additional weakness to the conscience, darkness to the mind, hardness to the heart and perverseness to the will. In this process the soul finally reaches a state in which it is irredeemably fixed in its awfully shocking depravities,’ ultimately resulting in a condition of ‘being morally petrified.’ 98 Once this condition is reached, a person is lost to God and beyond the reach of God’s love and mercy. 99
McCabe identified other specifically pastoral concerns which would be better addressed in the language of divine nescience than in that of absolute prescience. It better addresses the reality of spiritual warfare, as well as the urgency of evangelism and missions. 100 McCabe lamented that
[m]uch of the indifference, the casting off of personal responsibility, and the non-development of latent spiritual power, that have so sadly characterised and paralyzed the Church, is … chargeable to the belief of the old dogma of universal and absolute prescience. The old view of the divine foreknowledge – involving the fixed certainty of all future events – has ever been most enervating and repressing. It has made pigmies of those who might have been giants, and mere glimmering lights of many pulpits which should have sent a powerful and saving radiance far across the moral darkness of this world. 101
It better fit the nature and efficacy of prayer and thoroughly resolved intellectual objections to that discipline. He quoted Richard Rothe’s phrase: ‘If absolute prescience be true, prayer becomes not only nonsense, but inexcusable.’ 102 Further concerning prayer, McCabe argued that ‘[t]he logical and practical effect of … belief in divine foreknowledge is …. [that one] can never infract or modify that which God infallibly foreknows.’ 103 Real prayer, however, ‘means that God will do for a soul, on condition of its compliance with the duty of prayer, that which he will not do if that condition is not complied with,’ and therefore, ‘[i]f the condition be complied with it effects changes in God, or prayer is a meaningless institution’ 104
It makes Christianity more palatable to those who are not themselves of the Christian faith. In this light, McCabe referred to Albert Barnes agonised confession of his inner turmoil and confusion resulting from his inability to resolve the tensions between prescience and freedom. 105 Neither was he alone, said McCabe, for ‘almost every Christian believer fights a life-long battle with this most obtrusive and harassing dogma,’ and ‘[t]he doctrine of the absolute foreknowledge of God has occasioned more perplexity and intellectual torture than any other in all the departments of theology.’ 106 Accepting divine nescience would resolve the spiritual turmoil experienced nearly universally resulting from the dogmas of absolute omniscience and total prescience.
Miley wrote that ‘[t]he divine nescience of future volitions, if accepted as truth, is not necessarily revolutionary in theology,’ neither for Calvinism (which, he argued, logically allows no authentic contingencies) nor Arminianism, since ‘[e]very vital doctrine would remain the same.’ 107 Furthermore, in contrast to contemporary critics of open theism, he asserted that ‘[i]f the truth of nescience were established or accepted, it would be as little revolutionary within the sphere of practical truth as in that of doctrinal truth,’ and [c]ertainly it could not in the least abate any of the moral forces of Christianity.’ 108 On the contrary there could even be positive results.
Critics of open theism frequently link it with Socinianism or with process theism. Both associations are compatible with the apologetic and theo-political aims of these writers, but they are historically inaccurate and fallacious. While certain tenets of open theism bear resemblance to some aspects of both Socinian and process thought, these resemblances are historically accidental. Some open theists have expressed appreciation for process theology, but they have not identified it as a significant source for the formation of their thinking. They do, however, consistently identify their roots in Arminian and Wesleyan tradition, especially certain developments among Methodists on the American frontier during the late nineteenth century, particularly the thinking of Lorenzo Dow McCabe. Amidst the furious attacks by detractors of open theism these historical roots have strangely been almost entirely neglected. Open theism is, in fact, neither the radical new departure from evangelical orthodoxy nor the embracing of unbiblical heresy it is purported to be. Perhaps recognition of the roots of open theism in a stream of orthodox Christian heritage can begin to rebuild what has been already been broken as a result of contemporary controversies among North American evangelicals, generate a climate in which differences are both recognised and appreciated, and contribute to better equipping people to encounter questions and issues arising from the shift toward postmodernism.
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