Open Theism – Fact or Fallacy?

I read a term today I’d never heard of before – upon reading its definition, I should have heard of it. Why? Because as a millennial Christian, its the form of faith presented most often to me. It is Open Theism. Although its a newbie to me, I thought I’d flag it here for a couple of reasons: 1) I believe we ought to know what we believe and 2) we ought to think about the contradictions it presents us with.

By means of a super-short introduction to the term, I once again turn to the font of all well-referenced and researched wisdom – Wikipedia.

“Open theism says that since God and humans are free, God’s knowledge is dynamic and God’s providence flexible. While several versions of traditional theism picture God’s knowledge of the future as a singular, fixed trajectory, open theism sees it as a plurality of branching possibilities, with some possibilities becoming settled as time moves forward.Thus, the future as well as God’s knowledge of it is open (hence “open” theism).” Read more about it here.

Theologians have flagged a few problems with this. One is that classical theism paints us a picture of God fully determining the future. This is the predestination doctrine, if you like.

Other theologians believe that God gives us free choice, but His omniscience means that He already knows the future and what choices we make.

Enter Open Theism. Open theists hold that: “These versions of classical theism are out of sync with: 1. the biblical concept of God and 2. the biblical understanding of divine and creaturely freedom and/or result in incoherence. Open Theists tend to emphasize that God’s most fundamental character trait is love, and that this trait is unchangeable. They also (in contrast to traditional theism) tend to hold that the biblical portrait is of a God deeply moved by creation, experiencing a variety of feelings in response to it.” (Once again. Thanks Wikipedia.)

It seems to be a doctrine I was raised with, which is funny given its relative newness to the theological world. Apparently it was Richard Rice who pioneered the Open Theism train of thought in 1980 with his book “The Openness of God.” Since then,  many a modern theologian has published on the matter.

It raises a question or two, and its conclusion seems to be one that both atheists and open theists agree on. That is the traditional characteristics of God don’t make sense. If He is omniscient, seeing all whether past present or future, He can’t be omnipotent and all-good. If so, He couldn’t see evil and still let it happen.

So that’s one big ouch for the doctrine, and I have to say its an uncomfortable moment when you read an atheist argument and go “Hmmm. Fair point.”

There are three other problems I see with Open Theism. They are the issues of predestination, prayer and what we do with free will if God can just re-write the future.

Super quickly, because this so wasn’t going to be a full expose, just a quick post:

  1. To decide whether or not Open Theism is a doctrine you subscribe to, you need to decide whether or not you believe in predestination. Now, this isn’t a cornerstone doctrine to me, so I’ve never really examined it. If we believe in predestination, then there is no true free choice. What were the two trees in the garden? Why would God put them there if He already knew the outcome? Now the issue of predestination is one that could easily be argued from both sides. I always thought I agreed with it, but that was until I realised the following.
  2. If we believe in predestination, then what is the role of prayer? I *think* it was CS Lewis who said “Prayer doesn’t change God. It changes me.” So perhaps he was a predestinationalist. I read that quote and I sort of agree with him. But then what of the whole, NAR (New Apostolic Reformation) and Faith Movement’s emphasis on spiritual warfare? If we believe that prayer changes things, then we mustn’t truly believe in predestination. One has us thinking that the role of prayer is to change us. The other has us thinking that the role of prayer is to change God. If the latter, then what of the immutability of God (that is that He cannot change?)
  3. If God can re-write the future, what are the consequences of free will? Open Theism emphasises the love of God above all. It holds that He is very moved by creation and is moved in various ways. Then couldn’t we do anything with our free will and then simply turn around and say “Yep. Sorry. Good to go with your best plan now.” The modern church, or at least the branch of it that I’ve been exposed to the most, talks a lot about destiny. “Destiny” seems to imply predestination. Predestination clashes with Open Theism in that Open Theism offers up multiple possible trajectories that ones life can take, thus burning the predestination theme to the ground.

This is one of those rare posts where I’m putting out more questions than answers. I’m not sure where I come down on this whole Open Theism thing. I posted it because, well, I haven’t posted for a while and its what I’m thinking about today. Those three points at the end will be things I’m thinking on.

If we put every doctrine that sounds appealing into our proverbial back-pack of beliefs, then we can end up with an inconsistent faith. Perhaps it takes a lifetime and beyond to fully understand God, and perhaps there are no right answers to these things. But perhaps its a good thing to think about. If we are about predestination, then we need to surrender to the will of God and just coast through life taking it all as it comes. I guess there’s a peace in that. If we aren’t, then we need to delve further into the why and how of prayer, and understand there’s a certain responsibility in how we pray.

Anyway! Thats my brain dump for today. Hope ya’ll have a fabulous weekend.
Kit K.

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