About Providence, Divine Action and the Church


In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Open Theism: Back on the Agenda?

I’m sure some will say that open theism was never off the agenda, but to be honest, it doesn’t seem to have the same profile as it had, say, a decade ago. But I’ve received notification of a new book, published by the Wipf and Stock imprint, Pickwick Publications, that may excite new attention. Here’s the blurb:

In Evangelism and the Openness of God, Vaughn Baker argues that a dynamic concept of God as articulated in open theism better serves the evangelistic mission of the church than does conventional theology. Open theism affirms an ontology of love as opposed to power, and it focuses on God’s kenosis in creation, allowing for the authentic freedom of creation influenced by divine persuasion. God’s genuine temporal relationship with creation—one that is open, synergist, and non-coercive—provides a new perspective for evangelistic activity. In this volume the author has made a valuable contribution to the integration of new developments in theology and evangelism.

Undoubtedly, many will say that ‘conventional theology’ – whatever that is! – serves the church’s evangelistic mission quite well, but Baker’s book definitely sounds like it’s a useful contribution to the body of literature on evangelism. I’ve never been fully convinced by the type of evangelism, surely heavily influenced by the doctrine of limited atonement, that says, ‘Well, as I don’t know who’s been predestined to eternal life, I’d better preach to all indiscriminately.’ This, to me, suggests that one should hold Calvinistic beliefs but practise Arminianism practice – or, as someone once said to me while I was an undergrad, ‘Preach Arminianly.’ Perhaps Baker’s book will show us how to avoid this tension between belief and practice.

13 comments:

  1. It still sounds like the same old competitive relationship between God and human beings, where if God's agency is efficacious it must compete with human freedom, and if human freedom is efficacious we must limit the divine agency. Here, as in Pelagianism, Arminianism, and process theology, God's grace is not that which fulfills human freedom but takes it away, leaving the choice ultimately up to human beings to actualize the possibilities God makes available so that we can save ourselves! Not good news!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps... But Baker may not actually go down this line, or at least in the usual way.

      Delete
    2. I mean, 'or at least not in the usual way'.

      Delete
    3. Michael, Calvinist do not have a monopoly on the Gospel—regardless of what you've read or heard. Open theists, like all other Arminians, affirm the necessity of grace for regeneration, and do not advocate Pelagianism. By associating Open theists and Arminians with Pelagianism and Process theism you have betrayed either your ignorance of both views, or your intent to knowingly misrepresent them. TULIP is not the Gospel. The Gospel is the in-breaking of God's Kingdom on earth through the incarnation, the life, the ministry, the atoning death, the resurrection, the ascension of King Jesus of Nazareth—and the continued work of his Holy Spirit through the Church. I strongly recommend you read about Open theism and Arminianism from their own proponents, not their Calvinist opponents, so that you can possibly avoid the continual spread of caricatures.

      Delete
  2. Well, I certainly admit that I spoke too loosely! But I am not speaking from the perspective of Calvinism but more from the perspective of Kathryn Tanner who sees a competitive relationship between God and human beings as a result of the modern loss of divine transcendence. But if salvation is conditioned by faith, then is not salvation ultimately in the hands of human beings? Moreover, if you affirm the importance of grace, but reject that it is irresistible in order to make room for the human response, then, is not God diminished in some way so that we may flourish? The implication is that we would become more free the less God's grace is irresistible. The classical position, i.e., Augustine, Thomas, Calvin, Barth, would hold that there is no decision of human beings that is ever apart from God's prior disposition and permission. For me, at least, any talk of God as coercive, already shows that we are no longer speaking of the God of love and of Jesus Christ, but about power which is always right to reject. I am not an Arminian,btw, so I must thank you for your correction.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not familiar with Kathryn Tanner's work, but from your brief description of her views, it appears she misunderstands both transcendence and salvation. Divine transcendence cannot be in competition with divine kenosis, or Jesus Christ could not be the exact representation of the divine being as Scripture teaches. You ask, "But if salvation is conditioned by faith, then is not salvation ultimately in the hands of human beings?" This is a false dichotomy. Salvation is most assuredly conditioned by faith, but not because human beings are in charge, but because the God revealed in Scripture is a covenant-cutting God who requires faith from covenant partners. Salvation is promised to the people who keep faith with God. You also ask, "…if you affirm the importance of grace, but reject that it is irresistible in order to make room for the human response, then, is not God diminished in some way so that we may flourish?" Certainly not! The diminished conception of God is the one that is indistinguishable from Fate. Jesus is a much better picture—the God-Man who empties himself and lays down his life to demonstrate the divine character and nature. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God.

      Delete
  3. Meanwhile of course we now live in a quantum world of instantaneous inter-connectedness, in which everything that is known about every known religion, both still living and long past extinct, is now freely available to anyone with an internet connection.

    Surely that fact alone proves that God was, and still is, open to an almost infinite number of possibilities and permutations. Especially if He/She created all of this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I never said anything about fate, which would again prove my point that the sovereignty of God would include the destruction of human freedom. I am simply referring to the glory of God who is all in all, including all of the classical perfections as well. Kenosis is a great way to express how gives himself to us entirely, as long it is maintained that God does not give himself away, need us in any way, or bring his own being to completion or fulfillment in history, as in some versions of kenosis. It is precisely the fact that God is transcendent that God can reign over salvation history without having God's being actualized in it, that can become incarnate in Jesus Christ without having to do so or losing his triune immanent being to do so. God can also move the human will freely and efficaciously and without violating any sense of human autonomy precisely because God is not a part of the world but exists in and of himself from eternity to eternity as transcendent over the world yet immanent within it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Logical contradictions are not proper objects of divine omnipotence. That is why the rational God of the Bible cannot decree that 2+2=5 or that a triangle has only two sides. In the same way, the choices of human beings cannot be both free and predetermined simultaneously. Moral responsibility rejects this notion, and the law of non-contradiction stands against it. C. S. Lewis put it best when he said, "Nonsense is still nonsense, even if we talk it about God."

      Delete
  5. Michael T Dempsey7 January 2013 at 15:08

    Well if you are using logical contradictions and mathematical principles to determine what we can or cannot say about God, then it is obvious that your thinking is dictated by human thinking, not scripture, not grace, and certainly not the Gospel. This assumes that God is the same as all created reality and that God does not really transcend the world. In fact, God is a part of the world and is subject to its laws as you determine them. This is precisely what I mean by a competitive relationship between God and the world. In order for our understanding of human freedom (as freedom from God) we need to limit the being of God to what we are capable of understanding. As Barth and Augustine would say, what arrogance is concealed in this! What Enlightenment presuppositions of a mechanical universe do you presuppose? How much of the God's great glory would have to be sacrificed to accommodate this understanding, omnipotence, omniscience, providence, and grace are just a start, not to mention the Trinity, because according to human logic 1+1+1 equals 3, not 1. All of these divine perfections and the divine being itself are possible because God is transcendent of the world in the eternity of God's own being. As Thomas says, God is a universal cause, not a particular cause as human beings are. This is not to say that God is irrational, but only that God is beyond (transcendent) of our understanding. We cannot understand how God gives us freedom and autonomy, while God still makes sure that all things happen for the good. We can only believe in it and trust that all things are still in God's hands, even as God grants us and constantly renews us with grace.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You speak of gaining revelation from Scripture, but Scripture leads us to Christ: God's *definitive* self-communication. You overlook Christ to a "transcendent" God who looks nothing like Christ. That is the true arrogance—that you can conceive of a better God than Jesus! Scripture disagrees. Paul tells us that "All the fullness of the Godhead" dwelt in Christ bodily. If the divine nature cannot be definitively seen in Jesus, then there is no Christianity, and you left with your philosophical religion. More true arrogance lies in claiming knowledge by way of ignorance. All your claims to understand the divine are veiled in the false humility of "mystery." The truth is God is not far from any one of us, because God has revealed Godself in Christ. You can continue to worship the Unknown god, but I will worship the God-Man of whom we have seen and heard and have testimony. You say your conception of God is not irrational, yet you rebuff reason as "human thinking." You are obviously confused, and God is not the author of confusion.

      Delete
  6. Dear Terry,
    Sorry for having to write you in the comment section of a post. What follows is clearly off topic. I've tried getting in touch via e-mail, but have not received any response. So this me persevering...

    My name is Nathan Mladin, I am originally from Romania, and currently studying for a PhD in Systematic Theology at Union Theological College, Queen's, Belfast under Stephen N. Williams.
    I have been reading your blog for quite some time now, benefitting immensely from the wealth of resources on providence which you so generously have been sharing with us.
    I have also thoroughly enjoyed your Providence Made Flesh this summer. I was waiting for that kind of argued rejection of divine determinism.
    Compared to you, I declare myself a novice in matters related to the doctrine of providence. I am, however, very keen on the subject and in the past half of a year I have decided to focus my doctoral studies on providence. My research actually focuses on the theatre-theology conversation and seeks to assess the strengths and weaknesses of doing(of) theology by employing a theatrical conceptuality. I look primarily at Hans Urs von Balthasar and Kevin Vanhoozer. More recently, reading your book, some Polkinghorne and some David Fergusson I have begun to see the potential of bringing a theatrical model (interactive theatre, to be more specific) to bear on the doctrine of providence. My aim is to commend a middle way between the radical open-endedness of open theism/ process theology, on the one hand, and determinism and omnicausality, on the other. By no means do I claim to be the first to commend such a middle way, but I may be the first to use theatre in exploring and formulating this possibility.

    Sorry for getting so deep into my research thought world from the very first e-mail. I am excited about the possibility of being in touch with you. I look forward to fruitful exchanges in the future, if you are open to this, of course.
    I'd appreciate to hear your thoughts on my ramblings so far.

    Thanks again for a wonderful site. It truly is a gem.

    Blessings,


    Nathan

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, Nathan - I did receive your email, but I've been snowed under with work for a deadline this week. I'll respond to it later today, hopefully. :)

      Delete