Openness Theology I

The most recent Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS, June 2002) is pretty much devoted to the Openness Theology debate. Bruce Ware starts the discussion by stating the problems with Openness Theology and then the three big Openness leaders, Pinnock, Sanders and Boyd respond. Sanders’ response is most interesting. In order to maintain his position that Openness Theology is orthodox, he tries to hitch his horse to the Arminian wagon. His tact is that Arminianism is part of Evangelicalism and Ware is just trying to push Calvinism on everyone. It certinaly doesn’t answer the criticisms of the positions but seeks to run for cover.

Still, Sanders tries to answer Ware’s major objections and I just have to comment upon one of his answers. The issue gets a bit complicated but it boils down to this: does God know what every free agent will do throughout all of the future? Openness Theologians say no and classical theists (Calvinist or Armianian) assert that He does. While Openness proponents are trying to put themselves in the Arminian camp, claiming (repeatedly) that an attack on Openness is an attack on Arminianism, Arminians are busy pointing to the difference between them. Sanders cites David Hunt as an example of this and claims that Hunt’s efforts fail. Hunt, in explaining simple foreknowledge, tells this story. Suppose a billionaire decided to give a ton of money to a missions organization if that organization can guess the correct number between 1 and 100 which the billionaire will write down on a certain day. God “previsions” that the billionaire will write down 47 and He informs someone from that agency to select that number. Thus God is in control.

Sanders claims that this won’t work because at the same time God foresees that the billionaire will select 47 he also sees that the missions agency person will select 83 and God cannot then change that or else His foreknowledge would be wrong. What kills me is that Sanders belabors the point that God knows all possible future actions that can come to pass, He just doesn’t know for sure which ones will, and at the same time he misses the fact that amongst the counteractuals God is aware of is the possibility that God could inform the missions agency or change the number on the paper or whatever. In other words, according to Sanders, God’s foreknowledge omits His own actions in time. God can know what every person who will (or might) ever be born might do but unfortunately He cannot know what He Himself will do.

As uncomfortable as I am with simple foreknowledge, I think it is a distinct concept from Sanders view of foreknowledge. To a degree Sanders is correct, some of the difficulties that exist in Openness Theology exist in Arminianism to a much lesser degree. Modern Arminians can work around their problems and the need to make sure that Openness Theology doesn’t hijack them in order to gain legitimacy. Ware is a Calvinist, I wish JETS would have an Arminian publish a critique next.

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