A better name for open theism would be open-futurism, because it actually isn't a view of God at all. Open theists believe, along with classical theists, that God knows all there is to know. That is, God does not know nonsense. When you ask God, "What color will the number four be eight weeks ago," God has no answer, because there is nothing to know. So open theists and classical theists both affirm God's omniscience. The unique perspective of open theism is that the future (at least, much of the future) is also "not there" to be known. Put simply, open theism is the belief that the future is not written yet.
So whatever conclusions we draw about open theism, we should state from the outset that it is not heresy.
I have referred to myself on and off as an open theist for the past five years or so. It might be fairer to say that I'm sympathetic to the open theist reading of scripture. (Open theism is a perspective that could only arise among conservative evangelicals; it is too biblicist to arise anywhere else.) I find many aspects of the open theist reading to be compelling, but I am left with some concerns as well.
- Bias. Open theists very rightly observe that classical theists read scripture through a biased, "Hellenized" perspective. The classical perspective relies on imported notions of what must constitute divinity, for example. Open theists argue that this is what drives classical theists to disregard those passages of scripture which present God as changing his mind or discovering new things. The classical theologians have a philosophical (more or less Platonic) position that directs their interpretation of scripture. I think this is a valid observation. But open theism makes a concerning move at this point in the discussion. The open theists then say that we must come to the text without any philosophical assumptions and simply read it for what it says. While is it refreshingly postliberal to hear evangelicals encourage us to actually allow the text to guide our imagination and interpretation, this strikes me as somewhat naive in practice.
- Freedom. Open theism purports to be the only theology that accounts for human freedom. It takes the Arminian understanding of human freedom for granted, and then critiques Arminianism itself as being unable to account for such a notion. It seems to be working, as the recently published Why I Am Not A Calvinist by two professors from Asbury Theological Seminary points overwhelmingly at open theism as the most plausible form of Arminian theology, and the sharpest critique of Reformed thought. They may be right. But open theism is concerning exactly to the degree that it assumes a libertarian understanding of human freedom. That is, freedom is understood as freedom from outside interference or restraint. But should human freedom be understood this way? Augustine saw the possibility of a libertarian freedom, but deemed it insufficient next to a "positive" form of freedom: "I am free insofar as I am able to achieve the good." In this view, freedom isn't the ability to choose (that's just undirected bondage), but the ability to choose well and choose rightly. What is important isn't independence at all, but dependence upon and participation in God. Perhaps open theists read scripture in such a way as to idealize a form of freedom that is actually inimical to friendship with God. Perhaps open theism (like modern liberalism) makes an idol of human autonomy.
- Apology. I have found no account of open theism that was not presented in apologetic terms. Open theism, it seems, is only stumbled upon in the pastoral search for an answer to the question of suffering and evil. Greg Boyd even provides an appendix in God of the Possible for applying open theism in pastoral counseling scenarios. But isn't it possible that our need to provide satisfactory answers to this question simply replaces the aforementioned philosophical commitments, and becomes the bias through which we read scripture? Stanley Hauerwas has long argued that "when Christianity is assumed to be an 'answer' that makes the world intelligible, it reflects an accommodated church committed to assuring Christians that the way things are is the way things have to be." Such answers, according to Hauerwas, turn Christianity into an explanation, when it should rather be an adventure, teaching us how to go on without knowing the answers. The concern is that open theism is a way of piecing the Bible together specifically to let God off the hook - rather than letting us take up Christ's cross.
- Politics. It is difficult not to read the open theism controversy in light of the broader usage of the term 'freedom.' James K. A. Smith observes that freedom formed the theological backbone of George Bush's second inaugural address. It "harnessed the language of freedom as the guiding principle of America's democratic missionary calling, and regularly linked this to a theological principle that freedom is the 'gift of the Almighty' to every human being." Again, this rhetoric relies on a negative understanding of freedom, as freedom from external restraint. There is no concern for the freedom "to worship the right God rightly," as Augustine has it in City of God. It is concerning to me that open theism seems to be bulwarked along the same party lines as modern liberalism. As Smith, again, argues, "such a reduction of freedom plays right into the hands of capitalism's valuing of choice for its own sake, with no concern for telos or choosing well."
In summary, my concern is that open theism has rejected antique metaphysical assumptions, only to take up modern liberal ones. Where Plato skewed our reading of scripture four hundred years ago, Locke and Rousseau skew it today. Perhaps it is no accident that Greg Boyd articulates open theism alongside his radical pietism that says, "Vote however you want, just don't call it Christian." They both fit perfectly with the agenda of liberalism, reducing Christian practice to interior, apolitical faith.
The reason I am concerned is that I love Greg Boyd, heart and mind, and I do find the open theist reading of scripture quite compelling. I am only concerned what may lay behind it.
What do you think? Are these valid concerns? At what points have open theists already addressed the ideas presented here? What concerns do you have with open (or classical) theism?