Diagnosing our disagreements

Open theism at 20—pathology and treatment.
I confess that I’ve struggled with a bit of — what’s the word? — ill will, maybe even resentment, toward the 1994 pioneers of open theism (authors of The Openness of God) as I’ve watched open theism fragment into the several contrary visions our previous post refers to: fundamentalists who want to own the term, mainstream trinitarians who feel open theism ought to be identified as at least Christian and trinitarian, and others who see open theism as an interfaith theology intended to promote human freedom and indeterminacy among monotheists in general. Throw into that mix others of a more process inclined cosmology who nevertheless self-identify as open theists.

We suggested in our last post that part of what characterizes, perhaps even explains, this fragmentation today is the absence of leadership. From my perspective at least, Clark Pinnock, even if unintentionally, was a kind of theological center of gravity around which the developing conversation called “open theism” revolved and took shape. The center of gravity, it seems to me, was at the very least Christian and trinitarian. Pinnock crossed a lot of lines to engage other communities, including process theists and even Mormons, asking how we’re really different and how we’re alike. I don’t object to this kind of dialogue. Love it. But some seem to think that open theism simply is this dialogue. Others of us see open theism as a distinctly Christian theology in dialogue with others. There’s difference. Today open theism has no distinctly Christian theological center of gravity. That is what some of us are objecting too. Presently, however, the most we can say for sure is that open theism’s center of gravity is ‘monotheism’ — generically understood. (Come to think of it, though, why should a polytheist who believes in this openness and integrates it into his entire pantheon not be called an “open theist”?).

My feeling for some time has been that Clark Pinnock and the other 1994 authors bear the responsibility for pastoring/parenting this thing. After all, The Openness of God was a full-throttled launch of a fundamentally new paradigm. My assumption was that they had also agreed to stick with the results, that is, pastor this conversation to make sure it moved and matured theologically in a direction consistent with their original vision. But since Pinnock’s death none of the 1994 authors has stepped forward in this way. That bothered me for some time, perhaps in large part because I put a lot of hope into it. It seems to me that positions which are broad enough to be considered ‘shared interfaith beliefs’ typically don’t generate a lot of reformational heat.

But for whatever reason, pastoring the movement born out of the conversation they began wasn’t part of the agenda for the remaining ’94 authors. That’s OK. And maybe I’m over-analyzing things. If so, then open theism really is just an interfaith platform for discussing human freedom and indeterminacy within monotheism. Cool. I wish that project well. It’s not something I see myself investing a lot of energy in, but if that’s where open theism is going, that’s where it’s going. Where do we go from here? I honestly don’t know.

(Picture here.)

5 comments on “Diagnosing our disagreements

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Tom, may I suggest that the fragmentation and diversification of which you are speaking is simply an inevitable result of the absence of dogmatic magisterium. It doesn’t matter whether the movement had had stronger leadership. Committed to the sola scriptura approach, every reader will entertain different readings and theological possibilities.


    • tgbelt says:

      Good point Fr Aidan. I think ‘sola scriptura’ as it’s viewed popularly by evangelicals today will always make fragmentation a possibility. I was hoping that something of the spirit of Tom Torrance might emerge and a deeper respect for past conciliar agreements would lead the way.


  2. Is John Sanders not assuming the role of a “leader/pastor” of the current “affairs”? That’s what I thought.


  3. tgbelt says:

    Unfortunately no, Catalin. None of the ’94 authors (for whatever reason) has taken a real pastoral/leadership role. I may be completely unreasonable for us to expect it. Still, whether it was to be expected of them or not, it’s not being the case is partly to account for why open theism is floundering at the popular level the way it is (however peacefully it might be discussed in seminary classrooms).


  4. Paul Anleitner says:

    To me, open theism is more an ontological challenge to Augustine’s left over Manichaeism than a comprehensive systematic theology like Calvinism . Its the most viable solution to the Riddle of Epicurus within Christian theism, providing the foundation for a more superior ontological (and cosmological) framework than what Calvin or Arminius provided.
    All of the classic openness texts (with this being only 20 years old, I guess thats like saying Pearl Jam is classic rock!) challenge the ontological presuppositions passed on to us from the Greeks and Augustine. To open more minds up to the possibility that the answers to the questions those texts present may be in fact found in the open view of the future, then I imagine many of those openness trailblazers may be thinking that the battle is more philosophical than theological.

    Does that make sense?

    This may be a chicken vs egg debate, but I’d contend our culturally engrained philosophical views affect our exegesis and theology more than the other way around.

    So if we hope to have an atheist who is utterly turned off by the misrepresentation of God’s character and nature presented to him by a determinist see the beauty of God’s character and nature revealed in the meta-narrative of scripture, would we be able to help him if he is not convinced that an open view of the future is actually a viable philosophical alternative to the determinism found in both naturalism and classical theism?

    If the exegetical options for Random Verse 3:16 are only a) b) c) and an open view isn’t even on the list of options for most seminary students, and most seminary students are getting more theologically influenced through academia than actual pastors, then maybe those guys you’re thinking of just concluded thats how the game is played and conceded to play by its rules?

    Doesn’t mean you have to though!


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