Posts tagged Holy Spirit

Is Open Theism Christian Theism?

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Dr. John Sanders


Introduction: Overview of the issues and summary of Open Theism.


Currently, in North American evangelicalism, there is a controversy regarding the nature of God and divine providence. The 1970’s witnessed the beginning of a prolonged reassessment of certain traditional divine attributes by some prominent evangelical philosophers. They reformulated, or even rejected, attributes such as impassibility and timelessness. In the 1980’s Clark Pinnock and a few evangelical theologians began to publicly criticize some of these same attributes of God. Since the publication of The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God in 1994, the debate has increased in intensity. Some defenders of “evangelical orthodoxy” have sought to discredit this position through the use of caustic rhetoric, labeling the view “Socinianism,” making charges of “heresy,” accusations that we are “creating God in the image of man,” and even a crusade in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Conference to rewrite the doctrinal statement of the denominations in order to exclude this position. 1 Why this strong reaction? What is so dangerous and threatening about this view of the divine nature? A recent editorial in Christianity Today highlighted this controversy and requested that classical theists and open theists begin a constructive dialogue.

To explore these issues and engage in dialogue I will first summarize the nature of God according to the openness perspective. Following this, the accusations against the view will be examined; particularly the charge that it is not “classical theism.” This will lead to a discussion clarifying the definition of classical theism, distinguishing it from other varieties of theism. It is hoped that this will provide a consistent nomenclature for the discussion surrounding the different versions of theism. Finally, I will conclude with a number of observations regarding the debate, most importantly, that Openness is Christian Theism. Hopefully, this paper will help clarify the terminology and the categories so that this debate can move forward in a constructive way.
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Doesn’t speaking of God in relation to other beings make him finite?

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Full Question:


Dear Open Theist respondent,

If I am not mistaken, the Open theist position maintains that God is all-knowledgeable and all-powerful. God literally possesses the greatest amount of knowledge and power compared to all other existent beings. However, these types of knowledge and power always involve the existence of an “other.” For example, for God to know “something,” there must already be “something” for God to know. These terms always presuppose a subject-object relationship which is the basic understanding of finitude.

Since these understandings of knowledge and power are inherently finite, how can the Open theist avoid the charge of finitism? God has knowledge and power like humans do, but to greater extents. However, no matter how great these extents may be, they are still finite in nature. Let me add that this question should also be posed to the Reformed theist. Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

Chris M.


Reply to Chris M.:


It sounds to me as though Chris M. thinks anything that can stand in any relations to other things (such as a subject-object relationship) must be finite. Why suppose that THAT’s the right definition of “finite” (it’s new to me)? To be finite with respect to some positive characteristic is to have less of it than some absolute, infinitely great amount. In any case, I’d think that anything that absolutely can’t stand in relations to anything else could only exist in a universe that contained nothing beside itself. God can’t be related to anything may either lead to pantheism (God is everything type of pantheist) or atheism.

Now I realize that Aristotle’s God is supposed to not stand in subject-object relations to us; and that Aquinas followed Aristotle, I guess, in saying that God isn’t “really related” to creatures, knows about us indirectly, as it were, by contemplating His own essence that somehow mirrors everything else (without this essence itself being related to these other things??!! Wow! Does it just “happen” to reflect them?). But I can’t make anything of this. It sounds like an attempt to get Christian theology into line with Aristotelian orthodoxy. I don’t know why one would feel obliged to stick by this, unless one were Catholic and took very seriously the papal injunctions to follow Thomas on everything…but I have plenty of serious Catholic colleagues, fans of St. Thomas, who have to admit that at some points the reconciliation of Aristotle that Thomas tried to carry off just doesn’t work (and, post-Vatican II, I don’t think Catholic theologians are required to stick this close to St. Thomas on every point; but I could be wrong). This looks to me to be one of the places where the synthesis just doesn’t work.

Dean W. Zimmerman
Department of Philosophy
336 O’Shaughnessy Hall
University of Notre Dame

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God as Most Moved Mover

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This article is reproduced here with the permission of Worship Leader Magazine . It was published by them in their November / December 2000 issue. They thought we might like it, so they sent it along.

Note: Open Theism is not a Pentecostal theology, though Dr. Clark Pinnock, who is a Pentecostal, is often thought of as fathering the movement (I imagine history will record it as such.) In fact, Open Theism is quite cross denominational. Yet, it seems worthy to note that Openness is being received well in Pentecostal circles. One can only assume that the allure of a personal God, a real God of relational give and take are irresistibly attractive to a movement already steeped in such a metaphysic. Or, one might suggest that the movement, having been fired by the passionate flame of Pentecostal experience was picked up by other kinds of thinkers who saw the solid value it offered to all Christians. ~ Joseph S. Holt



God as Most Moved Mover


How the Pentecostal Theology of Experience is Changing Our Understanding of God

by Clark H. Pinnock

FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars. Certainty. Feeling. Joy. Peace. God of Jesus Christ Blaise Pascal Penses

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be distinguished from the god of the philosophers. Blaise Pascal, seventeenth century philosopher, mathematician and mystic, drew this distinction from an encounter which he had with God and which he described simply as “Fire!” From this experience he learned that the God of the biblical revelation was not the god of the intellectuals who had, quite unfortunately, created God out of their own (supposedly) rational musings. From the experience Pascal gained the insight that the true God is not the wholly Other, unyielding, unfeeling and utterly remote, but the living God who acts in history, responds to our prayers, and can be touched by the feelings of our infirmities. Pascal’s encounter with God led him to theological insight as well as transformation. Before that, he had been experientially challenged and blind to God’s deeply personal nature.

Today’s worship revolution, which likewise is experientially enriched, holds promise for theological insight and reform. From my own experience, I have encountered God and learned that he is not an isolated, unrelated, impersonal Being, but a present, interactive, relational Person. I have come to know God as a dialogue partner who values our relationship as much (or more) than I value it myself.

It is an unfortunate reality of our day that theological tradition tends to magnify God’s distance at the expense of his nearness. But an experience of the Holy Spirit brings the intimacy and warm divine-human embrace into view. It takes you in worship beyond just learning about a God who is out there to an encounter with God who is down here in the thick of life. Renewed believers experience real give-and-take and genuine partnership with God where they have a voice in genuine dialogue. We experience God as being involved in their lives and responding to events in their world. When we meet to praise and worship him, we expect God to show up and, when we cry out, we expect God to respond. Increasingly, as we become more and more open to the “already” of salvation, we thirst for more and expect God for the “not yet.”

Of course, it would be wonderful enough if what we are seeing were only the revitalization of believers, even if it had no theological payoff. But, thanks be to God, there is this added dimension as well. We are witnesses to a measure theological reformation as well. After all, reformation is an ongoing process. What I am sensing is a recovery of the dynamic, biblical portrait of God and a better understanding of the divine perfection. And I am sensing this primarily within the Pentecostal movement.
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