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
  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.
Cheers
Kit K.

These, the Hill’s I’ll Die On

Afternoon, from my sunny corner of the world. I had planned on my next blog piece being on the late, great Billy Graham, but its taking me longer than planned to formulate my thoughts on the tougher aspects of the piece. So I’m side-stepping that one for a moment. It occurred to me that before I go examining all the finer points of faith and doctrine (my current, nerdy fascination, but I’m owning it because I love this stuff), its a good thing to put out there what the non-negotiables are for me.

Christianity has varied streams. So many denominations, movements, and phases have made up, and continue to make up, the church worldwide. Some of them are pure, wonderful and a delight to be part of. Others, there in our imperfect history, are a little darker.

In this mixed bunch, there are a lot of big and small doctrines that are fun to examine, look at and talk over. Some of them are straight forward. There are others that I simply don’t know what I think about. (I.e. Predestination. The case for and the case against both seem strong. Eeek! The book of Revelation and end times theory = scary!) Still fun to examine I guess, but a little trickier for me.

But there are some things that you can’t shake me on and I reckon they’re a great starting point as I go on this journey (along with those reading! A far bigger number than I expected on month one – thanks/wow).

These are the hills I’ll die on, if you like. I’m not even going to attempt to explain them in one blog post, because each topic is huge. But these are the things that make me a Christian, the things upon which I believe most if not all of us can agree.

  1. The Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. 
  2. Jesus as the son of God
  3. The Holy Spirit as our helper and counsellor
  4. Jesus death and resurrection for the atonement of sins and reconciliation with God
  5. Full emersion water baptism
  6. Baptism in the Holy Spirit
  7. Salvation by grace through faith and not of works
  8. Salvation by repentance from sin, and only through Jesus Christ
  9. Eternal life(i.e. life after death, and its two big divisions there. That both start with H. And one is scarier than the other)
  10. God as the ultimate judge

These are my big ticket items – the non-negotiables. There are some where I think it’s ok to agree-to-disagree. For example, praying in tongues. Some people believe every Christian should do it and do it a lot. Others believe it should only happen by inspiration and with interpretation. Both theories have strong biblical roots.

Why examine the rest? Because of 1 Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.” 

That sounds kinda heavy to me. So I’d rather not “give heed to the doctrines of demons.” I  don’t, for one second, think God demands perfection of us. If He did, Jesus wouldn’t have stood in our place as the ultimate sacrifice. I believe there are things in the Bible that could be argued biblically from two different vantage points and both could sound true. For those things, I don’t think anyone risks eternal damnation if their interpretation differs from that of another Christian.

But I do believe that a responsible faith is one that is deeply personal, well-examined, and well-informed. I do believe that there is a way to live out faith in the modern era in a way that is compassionate to the broken world around us while still being right in the eyes of God. I’ll screw up. So will you. We all will. But if we dedicate ourselves to a life of getting to know God better, then our world will be a better place.

I’ll be back next week with the Billy Graham post – what he’d do differently and why we should listen.

Thanks for reading! Have a fab weekend.

Kit K

Preface: This blog is not about you

You could call this the “rules of engagement” for following this blog, I suppose. Really, it’s just an introduction to me, to how I think, and to the blog I’ve always wanted to write but have been a bit too scared to start.

I’m sure you’ve all recognised or at least witnessed a problem with modern communication. Perhaps it’s fruit of the social media age, or perhaps a result of the lost art of debate, but everyone just takes things so personally. Gone are the days where we could kick ideas around, debate them, be wrong, be right, be convinced, be open-minded or leave with the same idea we arrived with.

Instead, we wade into debates, morph into keyboard warriors and unwittingly hurt the humans on the receiving end of our short-answer “wisdom.” (Not you of course. Because this blog isn’t about you, remember). Often, this opinion flinging lacks context. Many times it lacks research. Far too many times, it lacks compassion.

This blog isn’t a place for that. It’s a place to kick ideas around. It is so because of the next point I feel strongly about.

Christianity is diverse. There are many doctrines and streams. We must know what we believe and why. If we don’t, we can be taken for a ride. We can be fooled. We can be dangerous.

I once heard someone say “Everyone has a philosophy. Even if you say ‘I don’t have a philosophy’ that is your philosophy.” We don’t have a choice about whether or not we have one. We only have a choice regarding how we develop it: consciously or haphazardly.

I’d almost always known what faith meant to me. But it was only very recently I started to examine what my particular brand of Christianity was, and what doctrines it was made up of. I’ll be honest; some of the doctrines that had slipped into my belief system didn’t actually line up with my read of the Bible, or my deep-seated belief about who God is.

Those things weren’t serving me well, and I wonder if I could contribute to the world in a completely positive way if my service came out of some of those ideas.

I look around at the church in general, and I see a lot of haphazard philosophies of faith. It’s not healthy. It’s not serving the world well. At best, this can be innocuous — just a weird idea or two. At worst, it can lead people up the garden path, plant potentially harmful ideas, or even justify covering up that which should be exposed and stopped (Exhibit A: the unfolding of the Australian Royal Commission into institutional abuse. Heartbreaking).

I’m not saying everything I talk about on this blog will be revelatory or even on the money. Sometimes it will be just things worth thinking about. Sometimes it will be just thoughts I’m examining – fully formed or not so much.

Here’s the thing: Truth is truth from all angles. We shouldn’t fear turning it over and over and examining it. Because if we turn it over and examine it and find, to our horror, that it wasn’t true — why keep it in our backpack of beliefs? Why continue devoted to the falsehood?

If it is truth, then how exciting it is to look further and further into why it is, and how it can make the world a better place!

But like I said, this blog isn’t about you. If you read something here that you disagree with — cool. Feel free to kick it around with me. Just don’t come at it from a keyboard warrior angle. This is about ideas, about finding the best way to live out a relevant faith, and about exploring the complexity of Christianity.

Of course, I’ll also be publishing some fiction here on the blog. Some of it is thoroughly Christian fiction. Some of it won’t have any elements of faith in it. (I am not a big fan of preachy fiction). I’ve got a couple of short stories that simply explore an idea…or that had to be written for uni! So I thought “Heck why not put them up here?”

I’m quite excited about some of the topics I’ll be exploring here, including “things you aren’t supposed to ask as Christians.”

I’ve never been keen on causing controversy. But some of these topics have been burning in my brain for upwards of 5 years. Perhaps it’s less something I want to write, and more something I need to write.

Thanks for joining me on the journey. I hope you find something that gets your brain going. If not, I hope you find some free fiction you enjoy.

Coming in the following weeks:

– Billy Graham: Why we need to listen to what he’d have done differently.

– Benny Hinn: Thoughts on the prosperity gospel

– Issys and Ariadne: a little piece of short fiction exploring the idea of eternity. Zero basis in fact!

Over and out,

Kit K.

Coming Soon…

Hola bloggerati,

Hey…how are you? I’m Kit. I’m an author and ghostwriter by trade, and I’ve had a bit of a branding problem. You see, I write supernatural fiction and I’m also a ghostwriter who specialises in chiropractic, functional neurology and neuroscience. Two very different niches there. So after much ado, I’ve decided to adopt a pseudonym so that Google doesn’t confuse the heck out of anyone who wants to find a ghostwriter.

In the weeks to come I’ll be designing this website properly, then launching it with some short fiction, and a serial release of some of my long-form work. I’ll also be blogging about some issues close to my heart — things relating to Christianity in the modern era, how we stay relevant in an increasingly humanistic world, etc.

I’m excited! This is a blog that will possibly be more courageous than previous blogging efforts. It’s taken me years to work up the courage to put my thoughts out there but here I am! I hope you like what you read.

Well…what you will read when I get started.

Thanks for stopping by. This space is going to get a whole lot more interesting. I promise.

Over and out.

Kit K.