In the second and third posts of our opening series, we’d like to briefly describe the history of our attraction to Orthodoxy and what we find appealing about it. We don’t want folks to get the idea that we’re only ever going to discuss open theism in terms of its points of agreement or disagreement with Orthodoxy. Those points of comparison and contrast are a unique passion of ours, yes. But we still have all the same interests in open theism generally that other open theists have. (Image from here.)
Starting out we thought it would be best to explain what is unique about this site — our interest in Orthodoxy and our conviction that there are some Orthodox doctrines and aspects of Orthodox spirituality which open theists have as a rule rejected but which (we think) do not threaten the convictions and values at the heart of open theism. On the contrary, our own vision and experience of God has been deepened through a careful appropriation of key Orthodox doctrines usually dismissed by open theism as part of the baggage of “classical theism.”
As we’ve already admitted, we don’t at all pretend we are admissibly Orthodox. For us it’s been about following the arguments where they lead and trying to get at as honest and healing an experience and expression of the gospel as we can. And what we’re finding is that there’s a healing and wholeness in aspects of Orthodoxy that open theists have till now insisted were incompatible with open theism but which we’ve managed to enjoy as open theists.
So how’d we end up here?
Tom’s up first.
I met Christ as a teenager and was discipled in an Evangelical tradition (Pentecostalism) that had (and still has) no appreciation for or awareness of Orthodoxy or the Fathers. If ‘tradition’ ever came up in the conversation, it stood for what was wrong with the Church between the Apostles and the Reformers, when earlier believers abandoned and corrupted the gospel of the New Testament Church. The Fathers were stuffy old men who were concerned only with maintaining ecclesial power or keeping the Word of God out of the hands of parishoners. The excesses of Luther’s Catholicism were uniformly attributed to the entire history of the Church back to St. John’s dying breath at the close of the Apostolic age. It was pretty much all shot full of ecclesial abuse and theological corruption.
This attitude didn’t change when I attended Bible School at my tradition’s oldest theological institution—Central Bible College. From the beginning to the end of my bachelor studies in Bible/Theology, I was never required to read anything older than the Reformation. That’s when the Church began. No Aquinas, no Augustine, none of the Cappadocians, no Origen, no Athanasius, and no Cyril of Alexandria. No one of the Creeds was ever mentioned in a theology class.
When I became an open theist in the late ‘90s I understood why this general disregard, even disdain, for the Fathers was a good thing—Hellenism! Greek philosophy seduced the early Church. Its leaders (native Greek speakers raised in Hellenism’s philosophical straightjacket) were virtually intoxicated with the philosophical assumptions and worldview of secular Greek philosophy. The Reformers recovered key essential doctrines from this 1,500 year failed marriage. But it wasn’t until open theism emerged that the fullness of God’s relational nature and love shone brightest.
I eventually took my first steps toward an interest in Orthodoxy when I read—you better sit down for this—Greg Boyd’s doctoral work Trinity and Process (Princeton Theological Seminary, 1992) on Process philosopher and theologian Charles Hartshorne (pronounced “hearts-horn”). In this best kept secret of open theist/process studies, Greg critiqued Hartshorne’s Process theology and laid out what he felt combined the best of both Process and — remain seated please — Orthodox Christianity. We’ll have plenty of time to unpack the arguments of Trinity and Process and to discuss just what it was Greg was attempting to do. But it was while reading through Trinity and Process that I first thought, “This sounds like some of the stuff open theists have rejected regarding God, but here Greg is offering a revised version of those classical doctrines. This makes sense. I wonder if…” and I haven’t stopped.
I later found Tom Hopko’s PhD dissertation (Fordham 1982) critiquing Process theology in light of Orthodoxy. I couldn’t count, to my surprise, the number of times Hopko agreed with Process criticisms of “classical theism.” And Thomas Hopko is an Orthodox priest and theologian, formerly Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in NY. What did Hopko believe as an Orthodox theologian if he was agreeing with Process theology’s criticisms of classical theism?
A third and almost violent nudge toward Orthodoxy was David Bentley Hart’s little book The Doors of the Sea (1985) wherein he expressed every sentiment I had come to appreciate open theism for regarding divine love, human freedom, and a risky providence in the face of the problem of evil. That was when I first thought, “I wonder if we open theists could learn something from a conversation with Orthodoxy.”
Later there was Paul Gavrilyuk’s The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought and some time spent with him, John Sanders’ response to Gavrilyuk’s book, some of the Fathers themselves, an ongoing email conversation with the very generous Fr John Behr of St. Vladimir’s, and other influences. We’ll get to it all in good time. But overall, Greg Boyd’s Trinity and Process continues to be for me the best middle ground position between ‘classical’ and Process theisms.
Dwayne is up next.