Some final thoughts in response to Bruce McCormack’s Ch. 10 re: open theism. Remember that McCormack locates open theism and classical theism as “occupying a shared metaphysical ground” (viz., “essentialism”). Though both open theism and classical theism have valuable contributions to make, in the end neither can adequately express the values of both in a unified concept. The fundamental methodological flaw shared by both was the commitment to incorporate metaphysical conclusions based on a priori philosophical reflection (as opposed to basing one’s doctrine of God exclusively upon the events of Christ’s life, death and resurrection).
This dependency upon philosophical reflection led both open and classical theology into an essentialist ontology wherein the key concepts used to describe God (‘nature’, ‘person’, ‘being’, etc.) were all filled with content before any consideration of God’s concrete self-revealing act in Christ, and so Christ gets accommodated to metaphysics rather than the other way around.
Let us agree for the sake of brevity that “essentialism” is the doctrine that essence precedes existence. I would like to suggest that open theism is not in fact committed to an essentialist ontology even if many or most open theists are essentialists. I see no reason why an open theist could not, for example, agree to McCormack’s/Barth’s “actualism.” What is actualism? It’s not possible to reduce Barth’s doctrine to a summary statement, but for the sake of space we shall have to. As I understand it, Barth’s “actualism” is the doctrine that God is what God does. This can indeed be expressed as meaning God’s essence and his existence are identical, but not in the sense classical theists mean. For Barth God’s existence defines his essence (i.e., God just is, essentially, what God does) and there’s no getting behind what God has done in the event of God’s self-revelation in Christ to speculate on what God is independent of this act (or the determination to act thus).
The question an open theist might ask is why think either that such a methodology (viz., Christ alone reveals God and is thus the exclusive source of truth about God) could not be pursued by an open theist (which we partly addressed in Part 2) or, furthermore, that actualism in principle requires the divine determination of all things? Unless actualism entails the B-series view of time (‘eternalism’ or the ‘block universe’) — which I have not heard anyone argue — there’s no obvious reason why an open theist couldn’t embrace an actualist understanding of God’s existence/essence (God’s being-in-act). It would be interesting to know (from informed Barthians) if, and if so why, actualism entails the divine determination of all creaturely occurrence. Along this line of questioning, Peter Leithart wonders what the implications of actualism are in response to George Hunsinger’s summary of Barth’s actualism (Hunsinger’s How to Read Karl Barth, p. 31). Hunsinger writes:
“Negatively [actualism] means that we human beings have no ahistorical relationship to God, and that we also have no capacity in and of ourselves to enter into fellowship with God. An a historical relationship would be a denial of God’s activity, and an innate capacity for fellowship would be a denial of God’s sovereignty. Positively, therefore, our relationship with God must be understood in active, historical terms, and it must be a relationship given to us strictly from the outside.”
This can be read as implying divine determination of the content and course of history, but such determinism isn’t obviously entailed in belief that God is what God does or that God’s self-revealing act in Christ is the exclusive source of truth about God. On the other hand, there’s nothing in Hunsinger’s summary of Barth’s actualism an open theist couldn’t agree to in principle.
It seems perfectly plausible to suppose that an open theist could work strictly within the methodological commitments McCormack advocates (i.e., that God reveals himself in Christ and not in the deliverances of a priori philosophical reflection) as well as agree that the Son is eternally the Father’s electing act by which God determines to be God-for-us in covenant relation in/through Christ (and no other God) without having to suppose that God’s predetermining will embraces all creaturely occurrence constituting the unfolding of history. Nothing necessary to the open view of the future or God’s knowledge of actual (temporal) realities (in a manner consistent with the future’s being ‘open’) requires an essentialist ontology or prevents an exclusively Christocentric epistemology/methodology. We are of course not advocating for Barth’s actualism or his (theological) epistemology. We’re only arguing that an open theist could adopt these without having to abandon her open theism.