According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Open Theism for Dummies, Parts 1-2

 
 

Guest Post: Open Theism for Dummies – Part One – What is the Open View of God?

 
by Tom Belt, guest post
August 29, 2012
 
I’m going to risk a very brief explanation of open theism in laymen’s terms. The advantage of a brief explanation is that it requires us to find the core, defining claim of the open view in contrast to positions that often get attributed to it but which aren’t essential per se. In this post I’d like to focus on the core, defining claim of open theism and in the next discuss three supporting convictions that all open theists hold to. Now, the disadvantage of using popular lay terms is that they tend to be imprecise while philosophical terms can be extremely precise, and with brief explanations we need precision. So we’ll have to make use of just a couple technical terms, but they’re easily understood along the way.

PART 1
 
The defining claim of open theism states that the future is epistemically open for God so far as it is in fact causally open; and epistemically closed for God so far as it is in fact causally closed. Now, that’s a mouthful, so let’s take it a step at a time. Some things about the future are presently ‘settled’. That is, given everything at present that has anything to do with influencing or bringing about the future, some things about the future are presently determined to be. You might say they’re inevitable given the present moment. That’s what’s meant by saying the future is causally closed. The causes and influences that presently exist limit future to a single possibility.
 
 
To say the future is causally open on the other hand is to deny that what occurs is inevitable or in some way determined by the past. That is, it’s to say that some event “might” happen and that it “might not” happen. A good way to think of this is to imagine the future in terms of a tree that branches out as you move up the trunk. We’re essentially saying there are a number of ways the future could turn out given the present moment. With a closed future we face a single branch or path that the future can take whereas with an open future we face a branching of possibilities. Lastly, it’s important to remember that open theists think the future is partly open and partly closed, not entirely one or the other.
 
Saying the future is partly (causally) open and partly (causally) closed isn’t very controversial. In fact, many non-open theists would thus far agree with me. The controversial, defining claim that open theists make is to say God’s knowledge of the future reflects the truth of the future’s being closed or open, whatever the case might be. So when we (and the Bible) describe the open future in terms of what “might” and “might not” be, our language doesn’t just describe what we don’t know about the future, as if we have to say it “might” turn out this way or that way because we don’t know the truth about the one path it will in fact take. Open theists attribute this “might” and “might not” to the way the world really is and how God knows it.
 
So to say the future is epistemically closed for God in some respect is to say God’s knowledge of how the future will turn out is also ‘settled’. For some (e.g., Calvinists), the future is exhaustively closed, so there’s only one determined route the future takes because God determines all things and determined that one route our world is to take. In this case God knows the future exclusively in terms of what “will” or “will not” occur. There aren’t any “might’s” and “might not’s” so far as the future is concerned. But for open theists who don’t think God determines everything and who think human beings exercise a certain freedom to choose (a freedom that’s incompatible with its determined by God), the question is: How does God know the open future? And here is where open theists make their unique claim mentioned above—where the future is in fact open, God knows it as open, and where the future is in fact closed (or settled), God knows it as closed. It’s really that simple. So for open theists the established belief that God eternally has a snap-shot or a single blueprint of exactly how the world’s history unfolds is false.
 
Is what we’re calling God’s epistemic openness (his knowledge of the open future in terms of what “might” and “might not” be) incompatible with divine omniscience? No, not if omniscience means God knows all truths, which is the established understanding of omniscience. The question is: What is the truth about an open future? Open theists differ on which theory of truth and semantics (which can be mind-numbing to study) they think best answers this question. One popular view (the one I hold to) claims that statements of what “will” occur where the future is in fact open are all false, for it is false to say of what “might not” occur that it “will” occur and equally false to say of what “might” occur that it “will not” occur. So on this view “might and might not” expresses the truth about the open future, the truth that an omniscient God would know. The thing to remember is that for non-open theist believers, God’s knowledge of the truth is expressed exclusively in terms of what “will” and “will not” occur. That’s the settled view that open theists challenge by arguing that God’s knowledge of the future should also include statements of the “might and might not” sort if in fact the future is open. For us, open theism is the only way to maintain that the future is in fact open and God is in fact omniscient.
 
In my first post I focused open theism’s defining claim: the future is both “partly closed” and “partly open” and God’s knowledge of it is accordingly closed or open. And I suggested that to say God knows what is closed about the future is to say God knows what “will” or “will not” occur while to say that God knows what is open about the future is to say he knows what “might and might not” occur. Both types of statement express the truth about the way the world is. In the end, God isn’t presiding over the unfolding of a blueprint eternally known to him and whose contents contain the world’s one pathway from creation to consummation.

PART 2

In this post I’d like to share three core convictions which open theists share. These convictions express what open theists believe about God’s purpose in creating, how God acts in the world providentially, why there is evil, how biblical prophecies are understood, what prayer is and how it works, and what trusting God looks like in a risk-filled world.
 
Love with respect to divine purpose
 
First, it’s no exaggeration to say that at the heart of open theists’ understanding of God is the belief that he is love. We might say that all the distinct attributes of God we discuss (truthfulness, justice, holiness, etc.) are just the ‘differentiated truth of love’. Like the colors of light that are split into an observable order when dispersed through a prism, so the attributes of God are essentially just the observable acts of a single reality at work in the world and that reality is ‘love’. The triune God is essentially (and apart from any created order whatsoever) the eternal act of self-giving-and-receiving love the fullness of which is the fullness of God’s own necessary being and existence, and it’s this God who has purposed us to know and reflect his love in the fullness of all our created capacities.
 
Freedom with respect to creation
 
Secondly, our "being persons who love unfailingly" is not something that even God could have created—poof—from the get-go. As created beings, we have to ‘become’ loving, and we become so through the free and responsible exercise of our will. So with a view to our becoming persons who love unfailingly, God endowed us with the capacity to determine ourselves through responsible choice. And not only must we be free in this required sense, but many of us argue that the material, created order must also be in some sense free and self-determining to be an appropriate stage upon which our choices play themselves out.
 
Risk with respect to providence
 
By “providence” we mean God’s administration and maintenance of the universe in the achieving of his purposes. And this is where things get complicated because many will agree that God is love and that because God has purposed us for loving relations he gave us the capacity to decide whether or not we will enter into such relations. But open theists embrace a third conviction they believe follows from these first two, namely, that in endowing us with this freedom God takes a certain ‘risk’, namely, that we would misuse our freedom and corrupt ourselves in ways God neither intended nor decreed. Traditional views of providence are ‘risk-free’ in the sense that whatever evils occur they are precisely what God decided must occur in order to bring about the good God is after.
 
It is reimagining the world to be in some respects a ‘risky’ venture (risky even for God in terms of his always getting the outcomes he wants) which is perhaps the thing that makes open theism most unlike the traditional understanding of God we Protestants grew up with. It means essentially that God doesn’t always get what God wants and that it’s not the case that every particular evil represents the ‘necessary means’ to some specific good that God is after.
 
Once we accept that our universe is a sometimes risky place of intersecting and often competing divine, angelic, and human wills where much of the good God desires to achieve is by God’s own loving plans is conditional upon our partnering with God, we gain a new and sobering appreciation of all those acts of devotion and obedience that we are called by God to engage in—prayer, missions, counseling, etc.
 
We can never comprehend how all these relevant factors combine on each occasion to determine outcomes. But we can enjoy profound assurances.
 
First, we may know that God always does all God can do given his purposes and the context in which the world finds itself to maximize good and minimize evil. A second assurance is knowing that however grave may be our suffering, God is resourceful enough to redeem our circumstances when we cooperate with him (Rm. 8.28-29). A third assurance we possess is knowing that those who trust God with the well-being of their souls cannot possibly be disappointed whatever else may occur in this life, and in the end no present evil will be worth comparing to our final state.
 
Let me end with a few suggestions. There’s no better way to study open theism than along the lines of three sorts of evidence: (i) biblical/theological, (ii) philosophical, and (iii) existential/practical:
 
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Tom Belt and his wife Anita live in Minneapolis, MN where he is Spiritual Life Pastor at Emmanuel Christian Center. Among other things he directs their Recovery Ministries. They were Assemblies of God missionaries in the Middle East for over 20 years. Tom has also been a frequent adjunct instructor in Bible/Theology and has his MTh from the University of Wales.
 
 
 

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