No Moore tug of war

Some months ago after extended debate, there seemed to be a consensus regarding what open theism pretty much stood for nearly two decades after the publishing of The Openness of God. At that time open theist Philosopher Alan Rhoda suggested a few key, central beliefs that propel this ship (perhaps ‘barge’ is better). We summarized them at the time here as follows:

P1 Monotheism.
P2 A causally open future grounded in a multiplicity of self-determining agents.
P3 Divine epistemic openness regarding the causally open future.
P4 CEN (creation ex nihilo).

John Sanders then mentioned that divine “vulnerability” was an essential. And for some time now the question of a P5 regarding divine (im)passibility has been front and center. Alan referred to this debate and offered some constructive thinking. At the heart of the question over (im)passibility are other key questions each one of which can easily generate its own full-length conversation:

  • What the nature of God’s aesthetic experience is.
  • How the two key terms employed in the debate (‘passible’ and ‘impassible’) are contextually defined and whether there are communities/contexts in which either term might be the more appropriate term to use in a qualified sense or, on the other hand, whether these terms possess a single fixed, unqualified meaning.
  • How the insights of modern psychology regarding emotion(al intelligence) might help inform the debate and provide new ways of approaching traditional questions.
  • How open theists might approach the hermeneutical questions (re: anthropomorphism) involved in those passages that describe God in strongly passibilist terms and strongly fulfilled, undisturbed terms (the latter systemically ignored in pro-open theist literature).
  • What means, mechanisms and/or authorities open theists have at their disposal to adjudicate theological differences and identify adiaphora.

On the one hand, there’s no question that impassibility understood in actus purus terms as absolute divine immutability is out of the question. There’s no way open theism even gets off the ground within such a view. But just how open God is to ‘affective determination’ by us? How are we to understand what ‘difference’ we make to God or what ‘meaning’ we have for God in terms of ‘effects’ we occasion in God? And what qualifications is an open theist free to make about God’s essential aesthetic disposition? These are more complex questions that were not (at least not obviously) a part of The Openness of God (1994) and which no open theist work other than Boyd’s PhD dissertation Trinity & Process (1992) remotely treats. John Sanders points out that ‘impassibility’ in 1994’s Openness of God refers exclusively to the classical understanding of God’s absolute immutability as actus purus, and in his revised edition of The God Who Risks he qualifies a more diverse range of possible understandings which the term ‘impassible’ might legitimately have. That at least is a fruitful avenue for discussion.

We all appreciate the need for boundaries. There is no boundary-less faith or worldview. On the one hand, for example, some are uncomfortable with the attempt to blur the lines between Process and open theism, a blurring which in Nazarene scholar Tom Oord’s recent opinion is expected to increase over time making the distinction between the two increasingly difficult to maintain. I can appreciate ‘soft’ lines too. And yet worldviews inevitably have some definite, defining shape to their content. Greg Boyd comes to mind as someone who is concerned to clarify those same lines, arguing that Process theism is “hostile to the Christian faith.” I don’t pretend there are any easy answers to the ‘boundaries’ question, but where open theism is concerned it’s a question Dwayne and I no longer wish to engage. We’re finished playing tug of war over ‘defining’ open theism. What is it anyhow? A ‘movement’? A conversation with fixed boundaries that polices itself to identify violators who don’t advocate the party line on precise issues? An open conversation that’s more motivated by where it’s going theologically than where it’s been? It’s looking more and more as if nobody knows or is qualified to render a verdict on questions like these.

This means Dwayne and I are officially disavowing all group labels and names related to this debate. You guys (whoever you are) figure it out and let us know sooner or later. Any who are so inclined and want to do so can identify us as ‘open theists’ only inasmuch as we affirm P1-P4 above. That’s it. If there are open theists for whom P1-P4 are not enough, feel free to identify us as you see fit or not at all. If our vision of God essentially as immeasurable and unimprovable triune delight is incompatible with your vision of God within ‘open theism’, you should do what your conscience dictates and refrain from considering us open theists. Fine by us.

Regarding a P5 expressing a position on divine ‘vulnerability’, there’s not a chance in hell we’re going to reduce divinity in its essence to:

  • what can be exhausted by the embodied, finite constraints of a zygote (as modern kenoticists must do),
  • the tragic deconstruction of the essential triune identities,
  • the dissolution of the essential experienced oneness of the Father, Son and Spirit, or
  • a passibilism which defines God’s aesthetic fullness as the ever fluctuating difference of an equation: reasons to cry or get “pissed off” minus reasons to rejoice and be glad = how happy God is.

If any of those is essential to open theism, then Sayonara. Whatever sense we affirm God’s being ‘affected’ by us aesthetically, for now it’ll be in terms analogous to examples we’ve rehearsed here many times and which we derive in large part from Boyd’s Trinity & Process. That’s where we are. If an Open Theism general council or a TC Moore led Gestapo manage to produce a position on divine passibilism that can’t abide us, then we’ll bid you all a final good-bye and wish you well. In the meantime, anyone interested in what we’re up to here is invited to listen in, contribute, debate and share respectfully without having ever to wonder or ask whether this or that ‘qualifies’ as open theism. We are no longer advocating our view on God’s well-being as compatible or incompatible with anything called open theism. That’s simply no longer our concern.

(Picture here.)

11 comments on “No Moore tug of war

  1. Don’t know much about this tug of war you’ve been in, but I don’t get why you would give a couple of representatives of Open Theism such authority that you relinquish the title altogether because your views differ from theirs. Look, I am an Open Theist, and while I don’t work out God’s being ad intra the way you do (and the way you believe I used to!), and while we have different Christologies, this is just a matter of working out the logical consequences of the open view, not about the position itself. So I have no problem whatsoever saying you’re in the “Open” camp. And I’m sure there are many others who feel the same way. So, seems to me your disavowal is completely unnecessary. Please reconsider it, okay bro?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read Greg’s comment above, and I agree with him. I’ve had some good exchanges with TC on this set of issues too.

    I don’t see any reason you need to dispense with the open theist label. What I see you doing is wrestling with intratrinitarian concerns as they pertain to aesthetics and God’s happiness. Such intratrinitarian musings aren’t particularly interesting to me personally, but I have no problem with you or anyone else doing that. Besides as you say in your post, you’re not dismissing all passibility claims whatsoever (you reject actus purus, for instance).

    Regarding the four statements at the conclusion you make about P5, I’m trying to identify people who fit those four. I haven’t been following your debates, but I can’t think of anyone. Do you have anyone in particular in mind?

    The most robust concern among the four, in my view, seems to be the fourth. But as I see it, the real concern is not an increase or decrease in God’s happiness per se (assuming we’re talking about God’s happiness as affected by creatures). The real problem is in measuring that increase or decrease. I see the measuring issue as analogous to a problem with ethical utilitarianism: Just about everyone thinks we ought to act for the common good, but when it comes to doing the calculating and measuring, the difficulties are manifold. And so it should be when we take relationality seriously, both relationity in the world or in God.

    If you’re simply talking about whether God’s happiness within the essential Trinity increases or decreases, I see no reason why we should say it would decrease. After all, I assume the members of the Trinity would never sin against one another, so there would be no reason for their happiness to decrease. Where you may have some real problems, however, is if you affirm Rahner’s rule that essential Trinity is the economic Trinity, and vice versa. If Rahner’s right, then your aesthetic Intratrinitarian impassibility is only an abstract concept and not an actual reality for God.

    For what it’s worth,

    Tom O


    • tgbelt says:

      Thanks Greg and TomO for your comments. Appreciate them, and we appreciate you both. It’s good to hear somebody is talking with TC on these issues too. We hope for the best.

      TomO: Regarding the four statements at the conclusion you make about P5, I’m trying to identify people who fit those four. I haven’t been following your debates, but I can’t think of anyone. Do you have anyone in particular in mind?

      Tom: Greg and TC, being immediately at hand, come to mind. But virtually all open theists who are passibilists/kenoticists and who take a Moltmannian view on the event of the Cross would be committed to the points I described: the absolute cessation of the experienced oneness between Father and Son, the dissolution of the Son’s filial relation as a result of the Father’s rejection of him, etc. Greg’s been most explicit on these. And as for the fouth point there, there’s their understanding of divine passibilism in extremely strong terms (TC’s if God isn’t “pissed off” at injustice then he’s not worthy of worship, or Greg’s finding it morally objectionable for God to be happy while Zosia is having her eyes plucked out). It’s the understanding of passibilism in either of the two scenarios I describe here. True, Greg hasn’t been arguing, as TC has, that our disagreements over these locate us naturally outside open theism. We’re just tired of the tug of war with TC. If there are open theists who don’t want TC’s view on what counts as open theism to become the norm, it’s time for them to engage him. We’re done.


  3. formerlyjeff says:

    Tom: Regarding a P5 expressing a position on divine ‘vulnerability’, there’s not a chance in hades we’re going to reduce divinity in its essence to:

    what can be exhausted by the embodied, finite constraints of a zygote (as modern kenoticists must do)

    J: I don’t even know what “exhausted by the embodied, finite constraints” even means for the non-material if 3-dimensionality isn’t an attribute of the non-material. It seems you’re saying that passibilists and/or kenoticists tend to believe that Jesus in toto just was (is?) 3-dimensionally-extended in space. I’ve never met a theist who claimed to believe that.

    It seems to me that the average onto-theist (those Hart says have “folk” religion) believes that teleological agents are not 3-D-extended (or at least don’t seem to be in terms of any discernible evidence) and that fundamental particles (i.e., what is commonly called “matter”) are 3-D-extended.

    The only sense in which I could attribute “whereness” to a teleological agent is in the sense of “where” it feels a feeling relative to “where” it seems to be experiencing something else, like thinking or feeling some other feeling. I seem to feel in different places relative to where my thoughts seem to “occur.” And that’s all the “whereness” that I can apply to myself. But the feelings are just as much my feelings as are the thoughts are my thoughts regardless of how far “apart” they seem to be at the same time.

    I don’t conceive of any of the posited fundamental particles of what I call my body being “me” or even a subset of “me.” Because I believe it’s intelligible to say that I can animate a completely different body some day and still be the very same “me.”

    In other words, your language doesn’t seem to be applicable to most onto-theists’ thinking on the subject whether applied to divine or non-divine existents, however much we all lean on non-literal language in our idiomatic use of language when speaking non-philosophically.


    • tgbelt says:

      Jeff: I don’t even know what “exhausted by the embodied, finite constraints” even means for the non-material if 3-dimensionality isn’t an attribute of the non-material. It seems you’re saying that passibilists and/or kenoticists tend to believe that Jesus in toto just was (is?) 3-dimensionally-extended in space. I’ve never met a theist who claimed to believe that.

      Tom: I know many who claim precisely that the Incarnate Son is reduced in his existence/experience to the finite constraints of his incarnate state, virtually every Christian theist I know personally and hundreds whom I’ve read. It is the standard evangelical Christology of the Incarnation as far as I can tell, Greg’s included.

      What is meant by “exhausted by the embodied, finite constraints”? Just that the divine Son/Logos “becomes” flesh (i.e., that zygote) where “becomes” means essentially “turns into.” The Logos enjoys no ongoing, conscious personal experience ‘transcendent’ of his incarnate state, no personal existence/experience outside his embodied context — just like with us. Thus, there’s no more to the Logos, once incarnate, than there is to the constraints of the incarnate state.

      I’m not making it up.

      What exactly it means for the Logos to ‘become’ flesh in this sense is something you’d have to ask a kenoticist.



      • formerlyjeff says:

        To say “becomes” flesh means “turns into” flesh is hard to conceive of. It seems that we’re limited to 3 possibilities:

        1) Our flesh is either a non-composite, 3-D-extended substance, or
        2) Our flesh is a composite of 3-D-extended particles at any given time, but the specific set particles that our flesh consists of changes continually due to physiological processes, or
        3) Our flesh has nothing to do with 3-D-extendedness as per either 1) or 2).

        3) is consistent with a George Berkeley style idealism, which renders incarnation something other than the normal western view of “embodiment.” I’ve never met an avowed adherent of idealism, though I’m sure there are some. And neither 1) nor 2) seem to be what non-materialists mean by “I,” “me,” etc.

        But with regard to Jesus’ experiences seeming to him to be related spatially to the volume circumscribed by his skin, that would make sense of incarnation in terms of 1) or 2). But it doesn’t mean that he, as the “I-” or “me-” first-person experiencer of his experiences, turned into flesh from something other than flesh. And yes, I realize that this is plausibly taken to mean that Jesus’ experience was like ours in that sense. But it’s not easy to see how a material composite, as opposed to a human spirit (not to be equated with a human self), accounts for that experiential constraint.

        In other words, there may have been (be?) a spatial confining of Jesus’ “whereness” aspect of his experiences, post-incarnation. But whether such could be caused by mere matter or a mere material composite is not at all obvious. So I’m thinking they’re using language too loosely rather than seriously thinking either:

        1) Jesus literally turned into matter or continually turned into new material composites,
        2) matter, either singularly or compositely, can act as a sufficient cause in constraining the spatial “bounds” of the “whereness” aspect of a teleological agent’s experience.

        IOW, I suspect that at worst case they’d contradict themselves if pinned down on the matter. And I’d infer they don’t really mean to say 1) or 2), if so. But if you know Greg’s email address, I would really like to know what he or any other kenoticist claims to believe with respect to 1) and 2) above.If they agree with either, I’m “all wet.” 🙂


      • tgbelt says:

        I think you’re over-complicating things. I doubt kenoticists all agree on what “matter” really is or share the same answer to the mind/body problem. Some are dualists. Some aren’t. Dudn’t matter.

        The relevant point is just that whatever are the finite constraints of created being, those become the exclusive mode of the Incarnate Logos’s existence/experience such that the Logos has no personal existence/experience outside that context (that exceeds or transcends that context). Again, it’s their view, not mine. But they do make these claims. I’m not fabricating them. If you want to debate them or rescue them, go for it. 😀 You can start with C. Stephen Evans at Baylor. You’re in Texas!


  4. formerlyjeff says:

    Well, I’m not in Texas, but close. 🙂

    But regarding “defense” of positions: There’s nothing in scripture, to my knowledge, that says even the Father experiences a “whereness” of feelings, knowings, etc at every point of infinite 3-D space, let alone at the same time. Nor does it explain anything to say that’s so. And by that I mean simply this: Let P1 be the proposition that the Father experiences a feeling, knowing, or etc at every point in infinitely-extended 3-D space at every point of time. Now what other propositions could we add to P1 such that we could explain even one event that isn’t explicable without P1 in the first place?

    Granted, you could say that an Anselmian approach requires that we posit as much as isn’t contradictory of God that we could call a “great” property. But what’s great about having a sense of felt “whereness” at every point of infinitely-extended 3-D space? I don’t see how that’s obviously “great” in the same sense that we say being benevolent is “great.” Because the latter sense of “great” seemingly includes “admirable” whereas the latter seems to have only a quantitative sense of “great.”

    And I think this is why the Anselmian approach doesn’t amount to a single, clear intuition. And that’s why it’s hard to think of it as a truly human intuition. Even Alan has admitted to a willingness to adjust the greatness properties. And that seems to mean there’s nothing obvious and definitive about what is meant by a greatest possible being; especially if God isn’t a being in the first place.

    But then we still have a type of theism that actually explains the world and some aspect of world events theistically consistently with human categories. And with that kind of theism, the spatially finite constraints of experienced “whereness” isn’t a problem at all. One can know about things beyond one’s experienced “whereness.” We do it all the time, supposedly. And there’s nothing I’m aware of that implies that a God who can create by thinking “let there be …” is constrained as to where he causes effects merely because his experienced sense of “whereness” is limited. I don’t know how to show that.

    So I don’t see how that type of theism needs defending. It works in the way it’s posited to work — it explains events theistically. So long as it satisfies inductive criteria like breadth of explanation/prediction or parsimony against its explanatory/predictive opponents, it is defensible in that sense. And the only sense in which I have a clue what it means to defend an Anselmian approach to theism is to show that it’s truly a human intuition. But I have no idea how to do that.

    An a-rational approach, like that of Hart etal, also seems indefensible if by defensible we mean rationally defensible. The minute a theistic view is rationally defensible as explanatory or predictive of events, it automatically falls into the so-called “demiurge” theism Hart rejects, though such a theism has nothing to do with the ancient greek philosophical idea of the demiurge that I’ve read about; e.g. the following (

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    “In the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy, the demiurge (/ˈdɛmiˌɜrdʒ/) is an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. The term was subsequently adopted by the Gnostics. Although a fashioner, the demiurge is not necessarily the same as the creator figure in the familiar monotheistic sense…

    …In the various branches of the Neoplatonic school (third century onwards), the demiurge is the fashioner of the real, perceptible world after the model of the Ideas, but (in most Neoplatonic systems) is still not itself “the One”. In the arch-dualist ideology of the various Gnostic systems, the material universe is evil, while the non-material world is good. Accordingly, the demiurge is malevolent, as linked to the material world.

    …The first and highest aspect of God is described by Plato as the One, the source, or the Monad. This is the Good above the Demiurge, and manifests through the work of the Demiurge.”

    Note, per the philosophic tradition described above, a demiurge is not what most (or any) kenoticists mean by the term “God.” Kenoticists don’t typically (or ever) posit a “ONE” that is any sense “higher” than the creator of the universe.

    But I’m not the one to defend any other kenoticist’s view than my own. I disagree with all others just as they disagree with mine. 🙂


    • tgbelt says:

      Ha! I keep thinking you’re in Texas. Sorry!

      I’m not tracking, Jeff. You said you had never even met a theist who believed the incarnation meant the kenotic reduction of divinity (via emptying of divine attributes incompatible with embodied human existence) to the constraints of an embodied mode of human existence. That’s all I jumped in to address; not to debate them, just to say their view isn’t ours.


  5. […] series of reflections on what should be welcomed into the tenets is here, here, here and here.) I’m open to these suggestions, and none of them are far from the core Alan specified.    […]


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