I am an open theist. I never meant for this to happen. It just did.
What is open theism, you say? Well, most opponents will tell you that it has to do with denying God’s omniscience where future events are concerned. But to me, that’s just a byproduct of the real issue: stripping Christianity of static attributes of God that would hinder a relational approach to him. God created humans to interact in a give and take relationship. It’s God’s constant love that allows his will to be accomplished in a cooperative style. For many classical theists, God’s power/control is definitive. For open theists, that power is leveraged for the sake of love: God’s central defining attribute.
My first encounter with open theism came in Robert Picirilli’s Grace, Faith and Free Will – an otherwise excellent book. He used vitriolic language like: “deformed, shallow, and careless ” to describe this newfangled heresy lingering in theological shadows converting the beguiled to “neo-Arminian” beliefs. I have since read words like those of Steve Farrar: “Open Theists are people who edit the Bible like it’s a Microsoft Word document.” Any supporting evidence to this claim in Farrar’s popular parenting book? Nope. Just his opinion, dangling out there in self-appointed authority.
Over the next four posts, I’d like to share how I came to embrace open theism. The first post will deal with the biblical text. The second with pastoral/practical reasons for adopting open theism. Thirdly, I’ll deal with changes in the landscape of science and how that affirms the open view. Finally, I’ll interact with Tim Challies’ article on open theism. I chose his for several reasons: 1) he is a noted blogger, 2) his criticisms of the open view are fairly common ones, 3) he assigns particular motives to the writings of open theists, and 4) Tim, though I’m sure he is a nice person, has built his internet presence on providing “discernment” for the curious. This means, of course, if a belief/worldview doesn’t conform to particular set of doctrinal guidelines, Tim’s gonna do you a favor and tell you it’s not good for you. To be sure, I’m not going to attack or debate Tim’s views – he’s welcome to believe whatever draws him closer to Jesus. I will merely use it as a reference when discussing my journey towards open theism.
Now, just a word about “heresy.” Open theism is not “heresy.” I’ve spent the better part of this decade studying the history of mentalities and anyone who uses the term “heresy” to describe open theism has not done their research. That’s also a quick way to get your comments “unapproved.” Open theism is, however, heterodox. Now, that doesn’t mean “wrong.” It means presently outside of full mainstream acceptance. Any evangelical historian worth their salt will tell you that “orthodox” simply means the “majority opinion” – it doesn’t necessarily mean that the majority opinion is “correct,” though it certainly can. So, many of the “orthodox” opinions we hold today were at one time heterodox, until enough people accepted them. No matter what mainstream religious group you belong to, you can thank your original leaders for being persistent in the face of opposition and charges of heresy from the mainstrean religion of the time. Otherwise, your denomination (or Christianity for that matter) would have been stamped out long ago in the name of “sound doctrine.” What people called “deformed, shallow, and careless ” then, we call “normal” now. The same is true with open theism. Questions of omniscience do not send anyone to hell. We are talking about the religion that took several hundred years to hash out Christ’s divine nature, for Pete’s sake!
This series of posts will not be a polemical treatise - they are autobiographical. You are certainly welcome to interact with them (in fact, I encourage discussion), but please understand that the spiritual journey of a brother in Christ resides within them. Heck, I may even change my mind one day. For the record, that’s okay. I also won’t be spending much time discussing philosophical issues (i.e. panentheism, compatibilism, etc.) though I am willing to address those issues in the comment section as necessary. I hope that this series will answer some questions for those who are curious. My goal is to share my journey and encourage you to take your own. Don’t take my word for it, read authors on both sides with an open (no pun intended) spirit…and then, you and the Holy Spirit can make a decision together.