The Emergence of Open Theology
In 1994, a quintet of Evangelical scholars – David Basinger, William Hasker, Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, and John Sanders – published The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. This work has caused – and continues to cause – an uproar within Evangelical circles.
This uproar exposed the reality that many Evangelical Christians are influenced more by the theology of Reformers such as John Calvin and Martin Luther than has been often recognized. The theological voices championed by mainstream Evangelical groups have often explicitly or implicitly identified themselves with a non-open, non-relational view of God.
The uproar also revealed that a large and growing number of Evangelical Christians are looking for theological alternatives that better fit their reading of the Bible and deepest Christian intuitions. Open theology provides a potentially more satisfying alternative.
Open theology has both expanded and matured since 1994. It has become a well-spring for both theological renewal and controversy. Many significant biblical, theological, and philosophical scholars now openly embrace Open theology or at least recognize strong affinities between Open theism and their own work.
While important differences of opinion exist among Open theists, the similarities among them are also striking. Here are core themes affirmed by the majority, if not all, Open theists:
God’s primary characteristic is love.
Theology involves humble speculation about who God truly is and what God really does.
Creatures – at least humans – are genuinely free to make choices pertaining to their salvation.
God experiences others in some way analogous to how creatures experience others.
Both creatures and God are relational beings, which means that both God and creatures are affected by others in give-and-take relationships.
God’s experience changes, yet God’s nature or essence is unchanging.
God created all nondivine things.
God takes calculated risks, because God is not all-controlling.
Creatures are called to act in loving ways that please God and make the world a better place.
The future is open; it is not predetermined or fully known by God.
God’s expectations about the future are often partly dependent upon creaturely actions.
Although everlasting, God experiences time in a way analogous to how creatures experience time.
These are brief statements, of course, and they do not address theological nuances that matter to Open theology scholars. But these statements are sufficiently narrow to distinguish Open theology from alternative theological options. And they are sufficiently broad to allow for differences among those who embrace the Open theology label.
I am optimistic about the future of Open theology. My optimism ultimately rests, however, on grace. I believe our loving God is, as John Wesley put it, “strongly and sweetly” calling and empowering us to live lives of love. In doing so, we participate in God’s loving reign. Open theology provides conceptual tools to make sense of these truths.I believe God is, as John Wesley put it, “strongly and sweetly” calling and empowering us to live lives of love. We participate in God’s loving reign. Open theology provides conceptual tools to make sense of these truths. Click To Tweet