The Practical Advantages of Open Theism

Two caveats to start this post. For one, this is secondary to my belief in open theism. My belief comes not from these advantages but from Scripture – see my Biblical Arguments for Open Theism. Second, this is not a core belief of Christianity. Most of the day-to-day decisions of our lives will be the same whether we are Calvinist, Arminian, or Open Theist. But there are some significant practical differences so it is still worth talking about. So what are some of these practical things? It solves the problem of evil, it provides meaning to prayer, it aligns with our natural instincts about choice, and more which you’ll have to keep reading to find out.

The Clarity of God’s Word

See back on my previous post, but I’d like to emphasize that the biblical arguments for open theism are plentiful. Taking the classical theist position means that you need some seriously creative hermeneutics to decide which texts to take seriously and which to ignore. Well, maybe it isn’t that creative, because it is more about aligning with Greek philosophy so classical theists take seriously those texts that agree with Plato and ignore the ones that don’t. But that poses a problem for Christian theology, especially evangelical theology that claims to be based in the Bible. Open Theism allows you to take the Bible seriously without resorting to ignoring some parts or dismissing them as God lying.

The God of Love

We regularly affirm that God is love. Yet the classical theism position actually undermines this in a way. We end up with a distant God, hanging out in the clouds knowing precisely what will happen (and for the Calvinist it is because we didn’t have a choice in the first place). Since this God doesn’t really relate to us – the answers to our prayers have already been decided, and whether we will come to Jesus is already known – then it makes it hard to actually take initiative to relate to this God. And if we aren’t relating, it is hard to call him a God of love.

The Revolution of God

The classical theist position encourages resignation. God knows exactly what will happen anyway. He is the one who actually knows reality, not us. Possibilities are not real since God knows what will happen. Therefore whatever happens happens, because it will anyway. We end up resigning not to fight against things that really aren’t how things should be, and Satan wins.

Solving the Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil goes like this: if God is all-powerful and all loving, then why is there evil? The answer is simple from an open theist position: God is not the only one making decisions. There is also at the very least a lot of human beings, and a lot of Christians including myself would also say that angels and demons are also influential.

There’s a prime example of a story that Greg Boyd has used a few times. A young woman had always had a passion to be a missionary to a certain country. I forget which one so I’m just going to say Nicaragua for no particular reason. She prayed for years that when she went to school she would meet a guy who had the same passion. She went to school, and quickly met the man of her dreams and most importantly prayers. It wasn’t just the passion for Nicaragua that united them, but they were the perfect couple. Even when he proposed after a long courtship period, she waited in her response to pray for a more direct answer from God that this was the right guy. All of their church community agreed, too – there was no denying that God had answered her prayer. They got married, but it wasn’t long before she found out he was cheating on her. She forgave him, they moved on, but a couple of years later she found out he hadn’t stopped and the other woman was now pregnant and he decided he was leaving her for his mistress.

The Calvinist answer says that God predetermined this, and would use a “labour pains theology” to say that obviously God did this to help her grow. Except that now she hated God for doing this to her, and she hated her ex-husband, and she had lost her passion for Nicaragua. What good came of it? Well, Calvinists would have to keep saying that obviously there is something, no matter how much the evidence says otherwise. If this was supported by Scripture, I’d accept it, but it’s not and it is very harmful. The other common answer to this woman would be that obviously she didn’t hear God right when she dated and then married this guy. But everything was lined up – she got exactly the kind of guy she prayed for, the church agreed, she even waited after the proposal before saying yes to double-check as if the rest wasn’t enough. If that isn’t clear enough, then it must be impossible to hear God correctly.

Boyd has told this story and how this woman came to him, faith shattered and life a mess, and an open theist perspective helped her recover her faith. Maybe God didn’t set her up because maybe there was an open decision on the part of the husband. He chose stupidly. That is not God’s fault for setting up the marriage nor is it the woman’s fault for accepting it. It is the husband’s fault for cheating on her.

Solving the Problem of Prayer

I’m surprised how rarely the problem of prayer comes up. With the classical theologian approach, prayer is unable to change anything. God already knows what is going to happen. You asking for something else to happen is not going to matter. For Calvinists, God knows what is going to happen because he has predetermined it, in which case there is nothing to be gained from praying. For Arminians, God already knows what he and everyone else is going to do, so you still aren’t really changing the future because it was already set even before you prayed. Classical theologians thus try to say that the point of prayer is the process – you grow through the process of asking for something even if it doesn’t change anything. While I agree that the process is also very important, I’m not sure I accept the idea that we grow by doing something that doesn’t change anything. Open theism, on the other hand, argues for a real relationship because God can – although of course doesn’t always – listen to us and actually change things. Besides, there are a lot of Scriptural examples where God has expressed his intent, somebody prays, and God changes his mind. Prayer is real, and we have a moral responsibility to exercise our spiritual influence for the expansion of God’s kingdom.

We Already Act Like It’s True

I found this one really interesting but I had never thought about it. We already act like open theism is true in our day-to-day life. We assume that some things are out of our control – that they are already settled. We assume that some other things are open to us to choose, and we assume that our choices will change things. When we say that the future is absolutely settled, we are forced to say that our choices are illusions. Usually we end up rejecting this possibility but just living with the illogical tension. Others follow through on the logic and resign to the fact that their choices don’t matter. Open theism, aside from allowing us to align with Scripture, allows us to align with what we already instinctively believe anyway: some things are settled and we can’t change, but some things are open and depend on our choices.

Science

I’m not a physicist so I don’t completely understand this, but I know that there is something called the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Science points us to the idea that there are possibilities with various degrees of certainty. It points to the idea of openness. Unlike Einstein’s theories and Newton’s before him, not everything can be boiled down to some convenient rules. There’s always some possibility for something else. If we believe that God is also revealed through nature, as virtually every Christian throughout history has believed, then this is a solid supporting argument.

We’ve now seen that our own instincts line up with science and most importantly line up with Scripture. On the other side, classical theism is supported by Greek philosophy but is opposed to science and our own instincts. I’m personally quite ok with discarding Greek philosophy in the face of Scripture, science, and human nature.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.