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Open theism critiqued in Criswell College journal

DALLAS (BP)–After a year of debate over open theism, what forms will the discussion take next?

The Criswell Theological Review has begun to answer that question, dedicating its recent issue to the conflict and presenting new arguments against open theism.

Open theism, which breaks from historic Christianity, says that God’s knowledge of the future is limited. Open theists say that while God knows all the possible future choices humans may make, He does not know specifically what they will do.

Many Baptists and other evangelicals have criticized open theism, branding it heresy. The issue dominated last year’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, where members voted not to expel two open theists, Clark Pinnock and John Sanders

Criswell Theological Review (CTR) editor Alan Streett calls open theism “the latest controversy to rock the world of evangelicalism.” Streett is professor of evangelism and pastoral ministries at The Criswell College, publisher of CTR.

The journal takes an approach to open theism that is both helpful to those new to the debate and informative for those who have been following the controversy.

It contains interviews with two past presidents of the Evangelical Theological Society, Darrell Bock and Norman Geisler.

The journal also reviews a book by Terrance Tiessen, “Providence and Prayer,” which discusses the various ways theologians, including those in the openness camp, have viewed God’s response to prayer. Furthermore, it ends with a bibliography of openness resources from both sides of the issue.

Another article, “From Bad to Worse: A Portrait of Open Theism as a Theological System,” by A. Boyd Luter and Emily Hunter McGowin, offers a plea for open theists to present the full doctrinal “portrait” of their beliefs for examination by the theological community.

“Thus far, open theism’s explication of its viewpoint has been limited to the realms of theology and angelology [the doctrine of angels], which is comparable to one corner of the entire ‘portrait’ of openness,” Luter and McGowin write. “[A]s a result,” they explain, “no broad examination by evangelical theologians of the implications of open theism in all quarters of a full systematic theology has been possible.”

Luter and McGowin attempt to provide a systematic theology of open theism, pieced together from the various writings of its adherents — including Pinnock and Sanders. Luter and McGowin reconstruct those items they see as “missing” from the full portrait of openness doctrine, presenting, they say, “a broad sketch of how open theism will most likely be played out in the remaining areas of systematic theology.” Thus, in addition to theology and angelology, Luter and McGowin examine eight areas of open theism, from biblical anthropology (the doctrine of man) to eschatology (the doctrine of last things). Their propositions, if correct, indicate a belief at odds with historical Christian thought in every major aspect of historic theology.

The journal also includes two more scholarly articles, authored by Douglas S. Huffman of Northwestern College and Bruce A. Ware, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leader in the fight against open theism. Huffman examines apparent contradictions in open theism and describes at length logical problems in three areas of Openness Theology:

— the way open theists discuss the idea of “future events.”

— the discussion of God’s coercion (and lack of coercion) of human decisions.

— the purported confidence in God’s future victory, despite claiming that even He can not know “the end” with certainty.

Huffman concludes that “open theism appears to have some blatantly self-refuting contradictions.”

“Thus, open theism’s claims do not fit together very well and, so far, the books and papers stuffed into the gaps by open theists have not yet sealed the leaks.”

Ware offers a positive argument for the historic understanding of God’s sovereignty and omniscience. Because open theists claim to present a high view of God’s relationship with His human creatures, Ware specifically provides his own “sketch for a framework for thinking about God-human relations in ways that acknowledge God’s meticulous sovereign governance over all the world he has made, and human moral freedom as working in ways compatible with God’s sovereign control.”

Though Ware says that the openness model is “creative and innovative,” he asserts that “it simply fails as a viable evangelical view.”

“But having said this,” he continues, “open theists have raised questions which have caused theologians in a variety of traditions to consider afresh how they conceive of God’s relationship to the world, to moral agents, and to His people in particular.”

Ware offers several scriptural truths he says “must be brought together for a biblical, coherent, and workable model of divine-human relatedness.” Over and above that relationship presented by open theists, the relationship with a God that is seen as truly sovereign and omniscient better “allows us to submit to God and, at the same time, to be free to be exactly who God has made us to be,” Ware says.
A one-year subscription to the Criswell Theological Review is available for $20 and a two-year subscription is $35. Write to: CTR, 4010 Gaston Ave., Dallas, Texas, 75246.

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  • Ben Hines