Exhausted open theists tend to their wounded

triageYesterday was the first day of Spring and things couldn’t be gloomier for many of us open theists. Besides my struggles with how open theism is developing, TC Moore has also expressed his own frustrations, and I certainly appreciate what he has to say, though I’d like the opportunity to correct one thing he laments regarding Dwayne and me. After describing having encountered a fundamentalist strain within open theism, TC expresses some frustration with Dwayne and me as well:

“The next [faction] to demand their views be accepted by all Open theists were those who affirm the early Creeds of the church in addition to the Bible as authoritative. All this time I thought Open theists wanted to be a ‘big tent’, they actually wanted to be an exclusive club!”

Dwayne and I are the principle (maybe the only) ones in view here. And I’m sorry TC sees it this way, but I can appreciate where he’s coming from. He’s devoted as much time and energy as anyone I know into encouraging and organizing open theists for dialogue and conversation. And he’s been making these investments with the belief that open theism is in fact what he understood it to be, and also with a dream for what it was to become. I imagine others are as grateful as I am for all TC’s done to unite and bring us together. Last April’s OPEN Conference in St. Paul would never have occurred without TC. I’ve also put in a few hours over the years talking, writing, connecting, encouraging and debating in the hopes that open theism as I understood it to be would grow and expand. The surprise of this past week for TC and Dwayne and me is that we’ve just discovered that we’ve been working and hoping for two different dreams, two different open theisms.

Be that as it may, his comments about Dwayne and me are false. Dwayne and I have never demanded that our views be accepted by all open theists. In fact, we’ve never demanded anyone to believe anything. We only make demands of ourselves. We always assumed open theism was what we thought it was. And recently we’ve been arguing what that understanding was, namely, that open theism from the beginning was both essentially Christian (and trinitarian), neither of which TC says he’s ever thought open theism entailed. Now, whatever else we have done in attempting to persuade others our understanding is closer to the truth, we’ve not demanded it of anyone. Under pain of what would we demand such a thing? What threat could we make to enforce our will upon all open theists? The thought is absurd.

We're OpenAs for the Creeds, Dwayne and I are wholeheartedly Nicene (we’re trinitarians who believe Christ is God incarnate) and Chalcedonian, which for the purposes of this conversation just means we’re not kenoticists. (We don’t think God gave up anything to take up being a man.) But we’ve nowhere ever demanded that open theism include no kenoticists. We don’t agree with kenoticism, and we entirely integrate our openness with our agreement on the Creeds, but we don’t have any pretensions about open theists all agreeing with Chalcedon against kenoticism. We’ve taken Greg Boyd to tasks for his kenoticism, sure, but not because we think it’s a betrayal of open theism. We only ever challenged his kenoticism because he sells it on the market as a fuller more consistent version of his published views in Trinity & Process and because, frankly, he is very influential. A lot of people will imbibe what he says uncritically, and we don’t want his readers thinking for one moment that open theism entails kenoticism (which Greg has effectively said). If it weren’t for Dwayne and me driving everybody insane with our rants, most everyone would drink Greg’s Kool-Aid and associate open theism with kenoticism.

That aside, we have always believed that open theism was minimally Christian, and intended by the ’94 authors to be so. This, and nothing more, is TC’s beef with us. For this crime we plead guilty. And we plead guilty also to believing that Christianity minimally involves belief in the trinity and divine incarnation (which I believe TC agrees with). That doesn’t seem too outrageously beholden to the Creeds to me.

We may be wrong in believing open theism to have been originally understood by the ’94 authors as non-negotiably Christian (i.e., trinitarian and incarnational), but we don’t go around anathematizing people out of open theism if they disagree. It would be nice if the patriarchs of the movement would speak up and say something about all this to the movement they gave birth to, but I think TC and we understand that at this point that wouldn’t achieve much. Whatever open theism was intended by them to be, it’s not that today, and neither Dwayne nor I “demand” otherwise. Incidentally, I don’t think now the ’94 authors intended anything more than to write a book and go back to their jobs. I don’t think they intended to start a renewal movement in anything like what we think open theism is or ought to be today.

As for “big tents,” we have one. It’s called the gospel. I know TC agrees that’s the main deal. But saying it may mean something to us it doesn’t mean to TC. The gospel — what it simply means and what it profoundly offers — is all the tent I need. I don’t want that to be a cliche. For Dwayne and me it really is the beginning and end and middle of how we try to see things. If some movement’s theme or some particular view, like what we thought open theism was, can embody or articulate the gospel in better terms for today, then count us in. But if open theism is just an interfaith monotheistic tent of dialogue, I’m happy for it and wish it well. We just want TC to know that we’re not uninterested in a generic open theism because it’s too large a tent. We’re uninterested because it’s too small a tent.

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7 comments on “Exhausted open theists tend to their wounded

  1. T. C. Moore says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for making me a celebrity. I’ll try not to let the fame go to my head.

    Demands are interesting things (aren’t they?)… When a person reads a demand, and calls it a demand, the demander often says ‘I wasn’t making a demand.’ But a demand that isn’t a demand is called a ‘request’ or a ‘suggestion’—and a request or a suggestion can be turned down without consequence. In this case, if your insistence that trinitarianism is an essential tenet of Open theism was merely a suggestion, and not a demand, then the insistence would be inappropriate. For you, either Open theism is trinitarian or it is worthless. That’s your consequence. You’d prefer the whole thing go away than to include non-trinitarians. To make a suggestion or a request, then insist that that request or suggestion be accepted, transforms it into a demand. But I understand the impulse not to want to seem demanding. But you simply can’t have it both ways: You can’t insist your suggestion be accepted AND not seem demanding. It doesn’t work that way.

    Shalom brother Tom.

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    • tgbelt says:

      TC: If your insistence that trinitarianism is an essential tenet of Open theism was merely a suggestion, and not a demand, then…

      Tom: It was an ‘argument for’ viewing open theism a certain way, and my reasons didn’t stem from personal theological convictions but from what I perceived to be the original intent of the OOG authors.

      But you won’t accept that. You won’t let me define my meaning. Even after I assure you that my meaning and intent are not what you say, you still want me to have demanded this or that of open theists. You may not believe in pulling triggers TC, but rhetorically you’re no pacifist.

      TC: For you, either Open theism is trinitarian or it is worthless. That’s your consequence. You’d prefer the whole thing go away than to include non-trinitarians.

      Tom: That’s absolutely not true, TC. If I didn’t think better of you (something that helps when it comes to relating to others you disagree with), I’d say you were intentionally lying. But that can’t be the case. This is TC talking. So all I can say is that I’m sorry beyond words to think you believe this, or that (more painful still) you want to believe it in spite of my telling you it’s not true.

      If we take Alan’s word, open theism isn’t trinitarian or even Christian, and your understanding of what open theism has been all along is right and mine is wrong. You attach a felt sense of victory and defeat to either outcome. I don’t. And you don’t understand that, which is why you imagine I’d find an interfaith generic open theism worthless. Perhaps that’s because you’d find a uniquely Christian open theism worthless.

      But in any case, I don’t think open theism (understood to be an interfaith dialogue of sorts) is worthless. And I don’t hope it “goes away.” I’ve only ever repeatedly said to you and others: If open theism is ____ (fill in the blank), I wish it well sincerely and truly. I wish it well even as an interfaith-ecumenical affirmation or as a purely philosophical venture. I wish it well. I wish you well. I wish you truly felt the same.

      TC: To make a suggestion or a request, then insist that that request or suggestion be accepted, transforms it into a demand.

      Tom: I never insisted that anything I said be accepted. But YOU consistently related to me that way.

      I honestly feel compassion for you, TC. I hope you figure it out and season well.

      TC: Shalom brother Tom.

      Tom: Coming at the end of what you’ve here posted? It’s hard to believe. But I’ll choose to believe you mean it in spite of there being no indication of it in anything else you’ve said to me. Love hopes all things.

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  2. Rob Parris says:

    There is nothing “demanding” about vigorously representing your own views. I’ve engaged with Tom and Dwayne for a number of years on opentheismboard.org I have some differences with them, but lots of areas of agreement as well. Dwayne and I especially have locked horns on a number of occasions (Tom takes a more peacemaker role). We have all vigorously challenged one another’s views. But I have know the love and grace of these men, while locked in the heat of argument. Iron sharpens iron, which may appear a violent way of getting a sharp blade…but I am ever grateful to them both for the sharpening.

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  3. Jeff says:

    I wonder if T.C. is thinking along lines like the following:

    I think lots of folks find it counter-explanatory to say EITHER that God requires (voluntary choices, i.e.) where nothing is given by Him OR that God grants benefits in an arbitrarily-discriminatory way. Concerning the former, most of us find it counter-explanatory to say that God predestines SOME folks to suffering independently of anything He has given to us by which we can positively affect the quantities and kinds of suffering we experience (note, some suffering is discernibly instructive and therefore satisfaction-oriented by its very nature; much isn’t, though). Concerning the latter, most of us find it counter-explanatory to say that God gives benefits to some and not to others independently of anything He has ever given to either by which to make better choices.

    Consequently, theists who think theism has to do with good philosophy find a theistic world-view that allows for openness (i.e., bona-fide libertarianly-free human and divine choices) to be the only world-view that can explain our experience consistently with our categories and the criteria (parsimony, explanatory breadth, etc) that are commonly believed to render hypothetical explanations (and therefore their predictions) sufficiently-warranted to apply when making voluntary choices.

    Theists of the latter type, when trying to debate with those they disagree with, see no practical value in arguing in terms of a theism that can’t explain our experience in a humanly-warranted way. Why would such a theism be of relevance to a dialogue between those with who they disagree if both parties of the dialogue at least agree that the very purpose of dialogue is to increase the number of folks who think in the most WARRANTED way and therefore make better choices? IOW, is it plausible that most folks actually believe that making decisions based on the predictions of LESS-warranted explanations will produce the best consequences most often? And why would we debate over beliefs that have no practical implications? Why waste the time?

    Clearly what we mean by a theistic, open world-view applies to a broader view of divine explanations than a view that is constrained by post NT creeds. Indeed, it’s not clear that the mono-substantial trinity and the two-mind view of the Logos explain anything. With respect to the former, it’s hard to find one to commit to a divine person being a being, an attribute, or anything else humans have a category for. With respect to the latter, whatever a person is, it can seemingly have contradictory beliefs if the Logos supposedly knew more than the “Jesus-mind” did while “Jesus” was aware of his relatively extreme limits of knowledge.

    So here we are with a descriptive phrase, “open theism,” that works well for a philosophical explanatory framework. T.C. may see its value for this and therefore have no problem with its current use. The only practical aspect of “open theism,” even if hitched with Nicene and Chalcedon, has no discernible dependency on Nicene and Chalcedon. Why not let philosophy use it for its practical HUMAN value, then? Is God really more interested in us believing that which is neither intuitive nor warrantedly-explanatory (and therefore possibly predictive) than believing what IS practical? Alternatively, does God benefit some and not others in an arbitrarily-discriminatory way (this is what it means for theists to say that non-HUMANLY-intuitive, non-explanatory beliefs–i.e., beliefs that are not plausible in any HUMAN sense of that word–have divinely-endowed VALUE)?

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  4. […] fend for themselves without vital resources necessary for discipleship in churches. With folks like Tom Belt, I want there for be renewal for churches in the United States, with Open Theism as ONE of the […]

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