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:
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.