|The Openness of God|
Clark H. Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker
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That Greek philosophy at least partially influenced Christianity is generally accepted, since it formed the foundation of the culture the first Christians lived in. Many of the early church fathers even appropriated Greek philosophy in their attempts to evangelize the pagan world they found themselves in. But was the Greek influence good or bad? The question is not new; Tertullian asked, in the second century AD, "What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What has the Academy to do with the Church?"
This book is an attempt to show that the Greek influence was, as Tertullian felt, dangerous. Why dangerous? Because, according to the authors, the Greek concepts of what God was like and how he interacted with humans were fatally flawed, and have resulted in a Christian theology which has pagan notions of perfection at its core. These concepts include immutability, impassibility, and omniscience (particularly in terms of foreknowledge of all future events).
The authors begin with the contention that God has granted humans a significant degree of freedom, and that He chooses to enter into a genuine relationship with them. They defend this position biblically, historically, theologically and philosophically, offering a well-balanced, comprehensive look at several familiar issues from a different, and they claim, more biblical viewpoint.
The unique interplay of the five authors in this book makes it a fascinating read. Richard Rice makes a compelling biblical case for open theism, while John Sanders takes a look at just how Greek our Christian theology is, and why contemporary theologians are generally unwilling to accept the validity of open theism. Clark Pinnock offers what can be termed a systematic theology of God's openness and William Hasker offers a cogent philosophical defense of open theism. David Basinger then offers some practical implications of open theism, and compares them to the implications of both traditional classical theism and process theology.
You may not agree with the authors of this volume, but the discussion itself about these major issues is vitally important. Learn why each of these five authors came to believe in open theism, and what it means in their lives.
|From the preface|
This book presents an understanding of God's nature and relationship with his creatures, which we call the openness of God. In broad strokes, it takes the following form. God, in grace, grants humans significant freedom to cooperate or work against God's will for their lives, and he enters into dynamic, give-and-take relationships with us. The Christian life involves a genuine interaction between God and human beings. We respond to God's gracious initiatives and God responds to our responses…and on it goes. God takes risks in this give-and-take relationship, yet he is endlessly resourceful and competent in working toward his ultimate goals. Sometimes God alone decides how to accomplish these goals. On other occasions, God works with human decisions, adapting his own plans to fit the changing situation. God does not control everything that happens. Rather, he is open to receiving input from his creatures. In loving dialogue, God invites us to participate with him to bring the future into being.
This view resonates deeply with the traditional Christian devotional life. Biblical personalism is widespread among believers, for it allows for a real relationship with God. When we address God in prayer we commonly believe that we are entering into a genuine dialogue and that the future is not settled. Yet traditional theology has had a difficult time allowing for such dialogue. We need a theology that is biblically faithful and intellectually consistent, and that reinforces, rather than makes problematic, our relational experience with God. The view of God presented in this book may seem new to those outside scholarly circles, where it is well known. But if we remember that it presents in a systematic way what most Christians already practice in their devotional lives, then it will not seem strange at all.
The authors came to the view of God reflected in this book from various directions. Some were challenged by certain texts of Scripture that did not fit with the accepted understanding of the divine nature. Others sought to make sense of petitioning a God who was said to know already what we were going to ask, what he was going to do about it and how we would respond. Still others were forced to reconsider classical theism in the light of recent philosophical criticisms. Despite these diverse paths, we have all arrived at the perspective we call the open view of God.
We decided to present this model in book form for several reasons. First, no doctrine is more central than the nature of God. It deeply affects our understanding of the incarnation, grace, creation, election, sovereignty and salvation. Moreover, the doctrine of God is full of implications for daily living. One's view of God has direct impact on practices such as prayer, evangelism, seeking divine guidance and responding to suffering.
|Second, many Christians experience an inconsistency between their beliefs about the nature of God and their religious practice. For example, people who believe that God cannot change his mind sometimes pray in ways that would require God to do exactly that. And Christians who make use of the free will defense for the problem of evil sometimes ask God to get them a job or spouse, or keep them from being harmed, implying that God should override the free will of others in order to achieve these ends. We hope to present an understanding of God that alleviates many of these tensions.|
These inharmonious elements are the result of the coupling of biblical ideas about God with notions of the divine nature drawn from Greek thought. The inevitable encounter between biblical and classical thought in the early church generated many significant insights and helped Christianity evangelize pagan thought and culture. Along with the good, however, came a certain theological virus that infected the Christian doctrine of God, making it ill and creating the sorts of problems mentioned above. The virus so permeates Christian theology that some have come to take the illness for granted, attributing it to divine mystery, while others remain unaware of the infection altogether. This book, we hope, will be a needed antibiotic to aid the healing process, bringing about a healthier doctrine of God.
Third, we believe that the open view of God needs to be appraised by a broader public, one beyond the confines of professional theologians and philosophers. Contemporary Christian thought is witnessing something of a renaissance on the doctrine of God. A fair number of today's most prominent theologians and philosophers are affirming the openness of God. A new wave of critical reappraisal and competent reconstruction of the doctrine of God is sweeping over the intellectual landscape. Unfortunately, these reflections are generally tucked away in technical journals and books and so remain out of the reach of many who are interested. It is our conviction that a book-length treatment of the model is needed to provide a clear presentation of and call attention to this exciting understanding of God.
Last of all, proponents of two other views of God, classical theists and process theologians, both sometimes speak as though they have the only two models of God. This book presents an understanding of God that is distinctively different from each of them. Many people are looking for an alternative vision but have difficulty formulating one. We hope this work will benefit such seekers.
|Though the model proposed has affinities to the classical view of God, we see sufficient problems in the traditional understanding to warrant a different paradigm. We do not claim that the open view is the only model with biblical or philosophical support. The Bible is not unambiguous on the subject and the various conceptions of God each have received thorough philosophical defenses. We do claim, however, that the open view is a superior paradigm in light of the relevant biblical, theological, philosophical and practical material. At the same time, we do not believe that this view is capable of "proof" in any hard sense. We know that our arguments are open to question, and we welcome the discussion we hope they will generate. We also recognize that this articulation of the openness of God is not the final word on the topic. Much more needs to be said in explaining and defending this particular view of God. This book raises numerous issues for future research projects, and we invite others to join us in exploring the paradigm.|
Finally, a word about the composition of the book. Though there are five authors, the book is designed to read like a monograph. Like a five-course dinner prepared by five chefs, each author was asked to write a specific section. Each prepared a particular chapter while keeping in mind how it contributed to the whole. After an author completed a draft of his chapter, he sent it to the other four for comments and suggestions. The spirited and enjoyable interchange that ensued greatly improved each chapter and resulted in views on which we all generally agree. The issues on which we are not of one mind are duly noted.
Richard Rice begins by exploring the biblical materials that support the openness of God. John Sanders then asks why traditional theology does not interpret this biblical material in the same way as the open view. Next, Clark Pinnock presents a theological perspective on the open view of God, followed by William Hasker's philosophical defense of the model. David Basinger concludes by spelling out some of the practical implications of the open view and comparing them with the implications of other models.