P2 Causal openness (grounded in a multiplicity of causal agents)
P3 Divine epistemic openness (DEO)
P4 Creation ex nihilo (CEN)
Surely we’re done now, right? Unfortunately no.
Let me offer one last unacceptable theistic model which is in no way compatible with ‘open theism’ even though it can affirm P1-4. It’s possible to argue that God is not unqualifiedly benevolent. P1-4 is arguably compatible with divine malevolence. There’s no obvious logical contradiction generated by supposing that a malevolent (unloving, spiteful) deity created ex nihilo, granted us freedom to determine ourselves (and so faces a partly open future), but is not motivated by unconditional love in all that he does. He might just work against us and will our harm within the constraints of P1-4. This is of course utterly incompatible with the intent and vision of the authors of The Openness of God and other open theist authors and philosophers.
But has not Alan Rhoda specifically qualified the sort of ‘broad classical theism’ he has in mind for open theism to rule out such malevolence? Perhaps. In the classical (Anselmian) theism he argues from, God “essentially possesses a maximally excellent compossible set of great-making attributes, including maximal power, knowledge, and goodness.” And must not this ‘goodness’ in question be viewed as the sort of ‘essential unconditional divine benevolence to all’ that open theists have in mind? Arguably yes. But if so, then Alan and we would have to concede that Calvinists are not “classical theists” in the “broad sense” and that would be a hard sell indeed. It’s arguable that such benevolence toward all is the best conceivable great-making property, but is it so obvious as to preclude Calvinists’ from being classical theists? I’ll leave that for another time. In the end, we agree that such unfailing benevolence is definitive of the sort of theism we’re talking about. And since Alan’s interest is to naming those explicit beliefs definitive of open theism, let us make one last explicit qualification:
P5 Divine benevolence (i.e., God unfailingly wills & pursues the final, highest good of all created things).
Sanders is clear that P5 implies a certain divine receptivity to the world. Not only is God ‘receptive’ in the sense that his knowledge of a changing temporal world is derived from that world (in which case God is in some sense “open to” the world). Sanders insists upon a certain ‘relational receptivity’ whereby God permits his purposes and desires for relationship with us to be rejected by us and whereby this rejection (indeed, all creaturely self-determination) is of consequence to God. This is what Sanders takes divine benevolence to mean. And there’s no doubt that Boyd and others agree. God is the unconditional love which both grants our freedom and runs the risks entailed in such freedom and yet pursues us unconditionally and without fail, intent upon our relationship to him as our highest good. This constitutes the ‘risky’ sort of providential venture which Sanders understands open theism to be.
This clarity gives us something to move forward with, and I hope all the debating parties will agree. If we list P1-5 in order of primacy, then “open theism” is defined (at least) as:
– Unconditional divine benevolence
– Creation ex nihilo
– Causal openness (grounded in a multiplicity of causal agents)
– Divine epistemic openness
Now, we may be wrong, but it appears to Dwayne and me that if we’re positing this kind of God (one who loves and relates to the world and its contingencies in unconditional love and who is himself the summum bonum and perfected goodness the participation in which is the highest good of all created things), there are no theistic traditions on the horizon we can see that fit this bill other than Christianity. If there are some other monotheistic faiths out there that affirm P1-5, what are they? If there are none, then what are we arguing about? Christianity is the only existing faith tradition in which all the claims and theological values/convictions of P1-5 are in fact the case. It is arguable that Judaism has the conceptual and religious wherewithal to express itself in such terms, and perhaps Rabbi Harold Kushner would be an example. We’re down with that! But an open theism grounded solely in the Jewish Scriptures simply is the root of the Christian understanding itself. It’s not a fundamentally different faith tradition per se. And if we want to agree that the Mu’tazila (8th—10th century school of thought in Islamic theology) were proto-open theists, cool.
Let me close. Sanders begins his summary of open theism as follows:
“According to openness theology, the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all. In freedom God decided to create beings capable of experiencing his love. In creating us the divine intention was that we would come to experience the triune love and respond to it with love of our own and freely come to collaborate with God towards the achievement of his goals. We believe love is the primary characteristic of God because the triune Godhead has eternally loved even prior to any creation.”
In private correspondence he wouldn’t mind my sharing (because it restates points he’s already published), Greg clarifies:
“I don’t think the ‘open view of the future’ is a distinctly Christian thing. You find it among some pre-Christian and early AD Hellenistic philosophers (Epicureans and several Middle Platonists). And today you find it espoused by many non-Christians. But I do see ‘Open Theism’ as a distinctly Christian thing, for (a) it was birthed by Christians, (b) we have some distinctly Christian reasons for espousing the open view of the future, and (c) we have a distinctly Christian way in which we tweak the openness of the future. Unfortunately, most use ‘open theism’ and ‘the open view of the future’ interchangeably.”
What about the Trinity? Are we going to insist upon it? It’s admittedly difficult to hear trinitarians argue for its exclusion, but I’ll only point out that Sanders doesn’t get six words into his opening definition of “open theism” before mentioning the Trinity, and he couldn’t get through his first paragraph without three mentions of it. Dwayne and I aren’t in a position to resolve it, but “open theism,” even conceived as just a conversation starter, was nevertheless endowed with an intent, vision and a sense of mission biblically informed by the ’94 authors. We may have to live with the tension of having to revisit on a regular basis the distinction between those purely philosophical commitments involved in an “open view of the future” (which anyone might agree to and which only imply trinity and incarnation as Alan says) on the one hand, and that vision of a uniquely Christian fulfillment of this worldview described as “open theism” as envisioned and intended by those who started this conversation under that same name on the other hand. But whatever finally happens in terms of branding and name ownership, Dwayne and I are interested in one thing — an articulation of open theism solely in terms of the Christian gospel and the trinitarian hope it proffers. That’s where we’re coming from.