Does Open Theism make God so Human that it ignores Jesus?

Open theism

I became acquainted with the Open Theist position by reading Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views.  Gregory Boyd who presents the open theist’s position, came across to me as something novel.While discussions about the Open View normally revolve around John Sanders’ opinions, Gregory Boyd represents a different take on what is alternatively called “openness theology.” Boyd thinks explains the God of Open Theism only partially determines the future and at times does not even no it. Such was a far cry from the predetermining Calvinism and TULIP that I am used to.

As it turns out, open theists state there are situations where God allows events to occur solely determined by human freewill. To non-Calvinist, this may not seem that radical, yet the issue is that Open Theist view of God takes the idea to the max. David Hunt explains, “Open theists inventively equate true freewill to a lack of divine foreknowledge” (DF pg. 53). What he means by this, is that Openness Theologians think “free-will” if God even has any knowledge whatsoever of how things will turn out is not really free.

But I question if this “openness of God,” is not just a way to try to humanize a God who had his own way of humanizing himself. That is, the God of Predestination became human! The God who risk is not the God who doesn’t know, but the God who risk the cross!

Nothing New under the Sun

Saint Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus from Saint Irenaeus Church Lyons, No Known Restricitions, Image courtesy of Wikipedia commons

Now something being new to me or David Hunt, does not mean it is new to a Church with 2000 years of history and debates.

Early church leader Irenaeus (c.130-202a.d.), had opponents whom took a similar position. Against them he wrote words to the effect that “if the father of the universe were subservient to necessity and subject to [Chance], although displeased at the things that happen, He would do nothing apart from fate and necessity like the Homeric Jupiter, who says: ‘And I gave it thee willing, but with unwilling mind.”(Montgonery)

That’s a pretty serious charge and perhaps why Irenaeus and the church after home moved in a different direction. Does God give blessings, etc. that will be miss-used because he does not see the outcome? Is he tricked? And is this the kind of thing Open View actually ascribes to?

Open Theism per Gregory Boyd

There are a few prominent open theist, yet Boyd’s views in the book are an acceptable representation of this growing movement. It is not totally fair to make one person representative of a school; Boyd is no slouch. He represents a core “persona” of the school, and that is why the editor of the stereotypical “four-views” book chose him.

Down to brass tacks.

Open theist deny that God is sovereign in the typical sense theologians normally mean it. Gregory Boyd, in keeping with the discussion so far, strongly believes that if God always knew what creatures would do before they do it… their freewill would be illusory (DF 53).

George Boyd’s major positions

  1. God is a God who allows. Boyd’s God allows most events to occur solely determined by human freewill.
  2. freewill renders individuals un-knowable. He bases his claim on a use of quantum theory (yes/ no at the same time) and his stringent view of freewill (David Hunt, DF pg. 53)
  3. God choose ignorance to allow free will.
  4. Boyd concedes that there are special cases where God intervenes directly.
  5. There are daily external limiters to freewill such as natural ability or in the natural world.
Cylinder Vessel with Maize God Dancers and Dwarf
Cylinder Vessel with Maize God Dancers and Dwarf
Maya, AD 650-850, image courtesy of LCMA, link to source in image

Why Open Theism?

Boyd  builds his case by citing numerous scriptural anthropomorphisms. Such describe God as being repentant, amazed, and expressing feelings or showing reactions. Boyd feels that Open Theism, where God will repent, is amazed, etc. is the only honest way to read such references.

Yet, I and others think the real reason for positing open theism was to reformulate God as more approachable and loving (Kärkkäinen 187-190).

It is an achieved goal in some select cases. Boyd’s God can truly suffer disappointment from evil, and because he really feels pain, he can better relate to his creatures. As a sufferer from evil himself, Boyd’s  God neither participates in or uses evil. He only reacts to it (DF46)

In respect to freedom to approach God, Boyd positively affirms a need for prayer in-order for God to have a relationship with us as he cannot read minds, etc. Even more, prayer for Boyd makes a real difference. It guides and informs God’s actions, completing his knowledge so he can defeat evil. Open theism does much to make humans instrumental in the creation of God’s kingdom on earth.

But does it really achieve its stated goal?

Boyd stipulates that God is repentant, amazed, changes and feels real pain in relation to his creatures. If this is supposed to make him easier to relate to, it is not very compelling.

Does it really help if God, who is honestly unaffected, feels pain or discomfort while he fails us or feels bad for punishing us?

Satan and Death with Sin Intervening
Satan and Death with Sin Intervening
John Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Fussli) (Switzerland, Zurich, active England, 1741-1825), Courtesy of LACMA, https://collections.lacma.org/node/233050

In fact, it kinda makes God nihilistic. Boyd allows for a God who sometimes acts upon the human will, but for some reason sees human will as so valuable… that he allows free wills of victims to be denied in favor of abusers wills. Open theist can see situations were God will not intervene to protect a person lest the aggressor’s freewill be violated (DF pg 20, 53). What about the victims wills?

In the same vein, Boyd claims for his system the it completely separates God from human evil in causality or complacency. (DF 45-47). Yet, by removing God from the causality of the world so completely, Boyd creates a conflict when God does intervene. Gen 50:20, “And as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.” becomes a hard sentiment to place.

In Boyd’s metaphysics, God either intervened making them betray their brother, canceling his claim of freedom for evil. Or, Joseph is mistaken for God did not “mean” freely willed human actions to do anything.

Boyd leaves only the possibility God that made a good outcome possible by adjusting his plan.

(Let me know in the comments what you think here)

Open Theism’s compatibility issues with Trinity and being Christian.

It’s easy to poke at something new, but there are some issues that are relatively serious in Open Theism.

Boyd is in some ways a deist. His open theism is in fact so focused on the relationship between the remote monotheist God-head  and his creation, that his God is hard to fit into Trinitarian models or relate to Christological concerns.

His view of person-hood or liberty is defined by having unknowable free will. So it follows than  that the wills of three persons must not be known to the others or, they are not all three free (monarchism). It makes for some embarrassing positions. The Word must do the Father’s will and be in full relationship with him (but it’s not free so it’s not a “love” relationship). Yet, at the same time in order for Jesus to have a fully human free will the Father is ignorant of Jesus the mans intentions. 

Modalism, Nastorianism, etc. all balled into one. And claiming otherwise risks a Monophysite understanding, denying Jesus the same will as other humans or the converse, claiming that Jesus and his Father have separate divine wills. which heads towards Arianism, making the divinity in Jesus a separate radical free-will possessing deity akin to a demigod.

And this touches none of the fun questions!

With at least two separate wills in Jesus himself, unless an open theist wants to re-open salvation debates, Christ becomes schizophrenic. A human will and the Word as one, yet both can’t know what the other will do or they lose freedom. Imagine not being able to read your own intentions!  

Add the third person in the Holy Spirit, and the building simply collapses.

Simply put, I find no apparent way in which humans could relate to God as a Trinity in Boyd’s system. And even more, I think it denies the Christ.

Open Theism faces the biggest problem in Christ.

Christ Descent into Limbo
The Descent into Limbo; Unknown; Nicaea, Turkey; 13th century, Image Courtesy of Getty Open Project

John Goldingay states in Theological diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament:

[There is a clear formal contradiction…To speak of God changing his mind about an act or regretting it suggests the reality of his interacting with people in the world. People make real decisions which do not necessarily correspond to the will of God…God thus reacts to them as a person reacting to the deeds of other persons… On the other hand, to speak of God not changing his mind, as a human being does, safeguards his faithfulness and consistency…God (so the OT assumes) can foresee not only the consequences of his own actions but also the nature of the responses they will meet with and the nature of other human acts, so that he can in turn formulate his response to these in advance. So the interaction between divine and human decision-making is real]

Balaam when asked why he blessed instead of cursed replied is “…God is not a Human, that He should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind…I received a command to bless; he has blessed. I cannot change it.” (Num, 23:18, 20).  At the same time Jesus can say his followers’ very hairs are numbered. There are other ways to account for the dynamic language of God that do not strip his sovereignty or divinity in a classical sense.

But that’s not even the biggest issue.

The biggest issue is that the Christian God becomes human. If he starts off mutable, what’s the point?

If “G” God gets confused, tricked, and learns… then the incarnation and Jesus’ assumption of human weakness loses a lot of it’s character as something “special.” The lessening of the position of God to something so human, makes the humanity of Jesus a lot less radical.

Closing thought

Tadatsune Entering a Cave with a Torch
Nitta Shirō Tadatsune Entering a Cave with a Torch, image courtesy of LACMA, link in image

If asked what my gut says, my main reaction to Open Thesim is that it is not very Christian.

As a Jewish system without Jesus, it might serve a purpose to “humanize” God.

But in the Christian religion… God kinda already is human. And he is approachable and can be related to because he was fully human, “tempted as we were tempted,” etc.

I think the issue with the Trinity, etc. all come from this core issue.

Open Theism posits God versus man.

But, I am not even satisfied there. The real thing sticking out to me is why would God be so darn obsessed with free-will?

At best, free-will is often just a way to avoid theophanies.

But even the extreme free-will of open theism shows its kinda a fool’s errand.

But again, I come from a tradition that is quite the opposite and I admit I am not sympathetic in the least to this kinda thinking.

I’d like to open the floor on this one. It’s something radical and new. Does the Open Theist position make God seem more approachable? Does it sound like a God you could better believe in? Or as many of the critics hold does it too much diminish God’s glory?

Let me know below!

 

 Bibliography:

Beilby, James K., Paul R. Eddy, and Gregory A. Boyd. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2001. Print.

Goldingay, John. Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. Print

Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2007. Print.

Merali, Zeeya. “Back From the Future.” Science and Technology News, Science Articles | Discover Magazine. Discover Magazine, 26 Aug. 2010. Web. 19 Oct. 2011. .

Montgonery, F.R. The Treatise of Irenæus of Lugdunum Against the Heresies, Vol. 1: A Translation of the Principal, Passages, With Notes and Arguments (Classic Reprint). Charleston, SC: Nabu Press 2010. Print

Sproul, R. C. Chosen by God. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1986. Print.

Stapp, Henry P. Mindful Universe: Quantum Mechanics and the Participating Observer (The Frontiers Collection). Berlin: Springer, 2011. Print.

Post Author

Paul is the founder of Religible.com and a life long Christian with a childhood interest in systematic theology. He holds an M.Div. from Fuller Theological seminary and hopes to use his education to better his fellow man. He also operates an automotive blog, has worked at Google, and has diverse life interest.

reformedmonk – who has written posts on Religible.


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