In 2007, Eastern Nazarene College hosted the Open Theology and Science Conference and Azusa Pacific University hosted the event in 2008. From the 2007 conference and with continued interest from those attending in 2008, Tom Oord put together Creation Made Free: Open Theology and Engaging Science (Pickwick Publications, 2009). When Tom solicited readers to review the publication, I jumped at the chance - mostly because I have regrettably been unable to attend either conference.
Now, granted, this is not an introduction to Open Theism proper (though Oord does a good job of highlighting the basics in the introduction). There are better books for that - ranging from introductory (here) to scholarly (here and here). Richard Rice sums up the purpose of this book well in chapter 11: “Open Theism may now have reached a ‘post apologetic’ phase of its development, and Open Theists can turn their attention from their critics’ subsiding complaints to the welcome task of mining the constructive potential of their ideas” (p. 197, emphasis mine). For those in the Open Theist circle, this is a big deal. For the past two decades, Open Theists have been playing defense against the onslaught of criticism from more conservative branches of evangelicalism. This has made the opportunity to dialogue with the other end of the spectrum – Process theologians – much more appealing. But as Rice says, the zeal to “debunk” Open Theism is finally subsiding. And this is solely due to the tenacity of its main proponents and Open Theism’s acceptance on a popular level, mostly due to its ability to answer practical concerns in theology. The Open view is theologically sound. This compilation of essays reflects this new-found freedom to move on to “mining constructive potential ideas,” specifically in the area of science and creation.
The book is organized into four parts: Creation and Cosmology, Evolution, God’s Knowledge and Scientific Theory, and the impact of Open Theism upon anthropological issues. In the first part, Karen Strand Winslow deals with the creation account in Genesis and with the contextual issues surrounding the Hebrew terms for ”land,” “sky,” and “day.” She points out something simple but profound: our present reading of the creation account is loaded with the modern context of scientific discovery that was unavailable to ancient writers. In other words, telescopes and satellites were not part of the Genesis narrative, though we “read them in” when attempting to derive a “scientific” understanding of creation from the Bible (p. 27). Thomas Jay Oord follows with an essay using the kenotic love of God to derive a doctrine of creation for Open Theism. He draws from the anthropic principle and a cyclical universe model. Oord also ties in theodicy based on kenotic love and freedom at a quantum level. Michael Lodahl tackles the challenging subject of Islamic theology and Open Theism. Anna Case-Winters does an excellent job of exploring the role of the presence of God in the world. Rather than opting for a standard panentheistic role of Spirit in associating God with his creation, Case-Winters focuses on the incarnation as God’s way of existing “within” the creation (p. 71). However, Case-Winters uses this perspective to show why there’s no need for God to “risk” supernaturalism and ”external interventionism…can be avoided” in the natural order (pp. 73, 87). In doing so, she comes close to reaffirming the Newtonian closed system that Quantum mechanics has so quickly undermined.
In part two, Open Theists interact with evolutionary theory. Clark Pinnock supports the notion that evolutionary theory “poses no threat to faith.” Unfortunately, Pinnock falls back on apophatic explanations for specifics in the creative process: “we cannot pin God down in the details. If we could, God would be just another force in the world” (p. 106). In one of my favorite essays, Craig Boyd wrestles with the terms “good” and “perfect” in creation theology. After surveying the impact of Augustine, Boyd aptly supports the Irenaean choice of “good” in that it allows God to “play” within the created order (which fits well with both Open Theism and quantum mechanics). Greg Boyd further expounds on the Cosmic Warfare model from his God at War, specifically the ministry of Jesus and the Genesis account.
Part three deals with knowledge, omniscience, and science. Alan Rhoda writes a masterful essay in which he expands the analogy of the “chess master” to one of game theory – a more flexible and resourceful model that is in keeping with Open Theism’s view of free-will. As Rhoda states, “changing preferences changes the game,” therefore Open theism posits not one model of divine providence but rather models (p. 168). Alan Padgett compares Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to human activity which is “free, indeterminate and unpredictable” (p. 185). However, Padgett opts for a more classical view of omniscience stating that though God may take risks, they are essentially non-risks since ultimately God will consummate creation eschatologically. Though I appreciate Padgett’s position, it feels as though he is side-stepping the issue on semantical grounds. Part four addresses human issues in Open Theology. Richard Rice surveys psychological advances in understanding forgiveness and explains the importance of forgiveness in the Openness model. The futuristic potential found within the process of forgiveness makes it highly compatible with the Open view. John Sanders explores linguistics and its relation to an experiential religious model. Finally, Dean Blevins surveys the potential of Open Theism in discussing personal religious experience as a goal of spirituality.
Though the essays are solid (with a few home runs in there), the triumph of Creation Made Free is in its existence. It’s one of the recent publications concerning Open Theism that is free of polemical constraints. Scholars are merely assessing the validity of Open Theism in an interdisciplinary fashion without having to constantly defend their claims in the process. In that setting, Open Theism is bound to make strides in the science-religion dialogue. I look forward to many more “post apologetic” writings in the future.