The Future of Open Theism
From Antecedents to Opportunities
- ISBN: 9780830852864
- Published By: InterVarsity Press
- Published: April 2020
In The Future of Open Theism: From Antecedents to Opportunities, Richard Rice revisits the early formulations and development of open theism, and then offers some suggestions for the future direction of the movement. The book seeks to reinvigorate discussion and engagement with open theism, which came to prominence (at least in its current form) nearly thirty years ago. Open theism affirms that God, whose divine personal character is relational, has sovereignly chosen to create a world with significantly free agents who can respond positively to God or reject God’s plans for them. God, therefore, gives liberty to human beings in such a way that God accepts the future as open and creates a world that is dynamic in the unfolding of events. God has willingly limited knowledge of future worldly acts and allows these acts to impact the creator.
The content is divided into two parts. Part 1 (chapters 1-5) is descriptive and explores the origins and development of open theism while Part 2 (chapters 6-11) is prescriptive and analyzes how open theism can address specific Christian doctrinal themes. The book begins by reflecting on the reception of the 1994 symposium volume The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press). Rice is among the group of contributors (Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger) who asserted the “open” nature of God’s relationship with his creation. Each member of the aforementioned group affirms that God’s essential nature is love and, therefore, God seeks a personal relationship with his creatures that results in his being genuinely affected by their actions and decisions (1). Both God and creatures contribute to the course of future events, which means God experiences them in a temporal manner. Open theists believe that because God grants humans libertarian freedom in how they respond to him, God risks the possibility that a person will pursue a path contrary to his design for them. Openness theology believes this form of theism to be a more accurate biblical portrayal of God’s relationship to the world.
Open theists adopt a complex view of God. While benefiting from some insights found in the process model of God, open theists deny that God is dependent on the world, and maintain that God remains unchanging in his existence and character. God’s plans, however, can be thwarted. This means God’s concrete experience of human decisions and events is open and changing, but God still possesses the wisdom and power to guide history toward God’s intended eschatological goal. If God’s plan A takes an unexpected turn, the creator is ready to implement plan B.
Rice acknowledges that there are subtle theological differences among open theists in how each views God’s relationship with the world. Some open theists accept the concept of creation ex nihilo, while others maintain there was never a time God was without a world. Some believe God occasionally intervenes in creaturely events, while others maintain that God never overrides human decisions and actions. Some hold that God’s life is one of everlasting temporality, while others believe God’s temporal experience began at creation (101-102).
Most proponents of openness principles were once identified with evangelicalism. However, the majority of leading evangelical theologians and philosophers (including two of the most prominent, Bruce Ware and William Lane Craig) have strongly opposed the ideas found in open theism and have spoken and published extensively against the movement (51-71). Traditionalists maintain that the open approach to divine sovereignty is outside the “boundaries” of evangelical orthodoxy. They believe open theism’s denial of divine exhaustive foreknowledge nullifies hundreds of the Bible’s prophecies concerning the future and implies that God’s wisdom is imperfect. Further, traditionalists maintain that open theism implies that God can be mistaken and unable to predict the future. Attempts for further theological dialogue between open theists and traditional Evangelicals is now minimal.
The author uses the second part of the text to address in a condensed and systematic fashion how open theism relates to the doctrines of God, humanity, salvation, the church, and last things (eschatology). The challenge to open theism is this: Does such a view of God’s temporality limit what God is able to accomplish and overcome? Rice prefers open theists avoid using “limit” language in favor of employing terminology that emphasizes the richness of the divine experience of joy, delight, disappointment, etc. in God’s interaction with creatures (133-34). Rice affirms that God remains sovereign over the development and outcomes of human decisions. Nevertheless, as noted earlier, God grants human beings libertarian freedom in order that God might maximize relationality with human beings. Therefore, in order to preserve this relationality God chooses, in most instances, not to reshape the outcome of the free will decisions made by the human (161).
Rice’s text is an invaluable resource for understanding the development of open theism and its fundamental tenets. He is among those most qualified to write on the subject since he was part of the group who inaugurated this theological movement. The author admits open theism continues to develop and raise additional questions in its engagement with various Christian doctrines (123). A well-integrated theology of openness has not yet been produced. But reading this work is worth the effort for any scholar, student, or layperson interested in open theism.
William T. Chandler is the pastor of Rock Haven Baptist Church in Brandenburg, Kentucky.William T. ChandlerDate Of Review:June 17, 2022