Over the last couple months, I’ve heard the word pragmatic thrown around to describe open theism and how it has the resources to effectively explain the sovereignty/freewill issue. Some Christians have found open theism to be a pragmatic solution to some of these theological uncertainties. An increased number of people are finding this to be an enlightened approach to a new way of interpreting scripture. Occasionally, some open theists characterize Christians who follow the path of the Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist as uncritically falling in line with the conservative Christians of the past and refuse to treat upcoming unfamiliar ideas with the same respect as they would of traditional theistic ideas. Is this true? Are traditional Christian theists failing to give open theism a fair shake simply because it’s different and unorthodox? To be completely honest, I think it may be a justified criticism.
Why is this? Are we afraid that it has merit or do we recognize a bad idea when we see one? I think it may be a little bit of both. I imagine some are set in their ways and don’t want their beliefs about Christian theism to be untrue after spending their entire Christians lives believing a certain way. Some have heard about open theism and immediately thought the central tenets of open theism were not aligned with scripture. For me, I was in the second camp. However, I didn’t let my surface level understanding keep me from exploring the idea further and allowing the chips to fall where they may. If open theism was the right way to go, then that was where I was going to go. Many are not willing to take this route to exploring Christian theology, which is truly unfortunate. If we are going to have a close relationship with our Lord, we must do our best to be in constant contact with him through all things, even if that means picking up an extra book or two and spending more hours in study.
After countless hours of study, I concluded that my original inclinations of open theism were correct. I did not find open theism to be an accurate reflection of the Biblical message. I did not find the philosophical critiques of the incompatibility between divine foreknowledge and freewill to be persuasive. I wasn’t impressed with the interpretation of scripture that seemed to suggest that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge. Unless the open theist can present more evidence to support their claim that the future is largely open, I will remain a satisfied Molinist for the time being. However, where was this idea coming from that open theism is somehow pragmatic?
How is Open Theism Pragmatic?
Many people try to use open theism as God’s little theological escape-hatch to avoid any possibility of Him being the author of evil (click here to read my post on this topic). Many contend that if God somehow foreknew any evil in advance and permitted it to occur, then somehow God would be the responsible party. For example, if God knew Hitler would be the individual that would ultimately be the cause of the Holocaust, why would God permit such an evil individual to come into existence when his existence would result in the murder of millions of innocent individuals? While I sympathize with why the open theist (or any Christian or unbeliever) would pose this question because I’ve asked it before too, but there is a voluminous amount of scriptures that reconcile the existence of evil with an all-benevolent God. Our main source of information about God is within His inspired Word to us. To dismiss inspired scripture that affirms divine foreknowledge because we’re uncomfortable with the idea that God knew that evils would occur is not pragmatic at all. Since the definition of ‘pragmatic’ is “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations”, how ‘sensible’ and ‘realistic’ is it for the open theist to discard the scripture that strongly affirms what they’re deliberately trying to deny? In fact, this way of approaching scripture is the opposite of pragmatic and is ultimately destructive to the integrity of the message.
Next, some open theists have contended that since the future is open to possibilities, our prayers would somehow have more of an affect on God. Open theist Greg Boyd strongly makes this point when he says that we are ‘co-creators’ with God and emphasizes how we can “partner with Him to bring about the creation that He wants” (Click here to read my post on Boyd’s full comments). Are our prayers and actions more persuasive to God under open theism and is God somehow contingent upon us to bring upon the creation He wants? Does a God who gambles on His creation sound like a more pragmatic and Biblical approach? What if we don’t pray like God expected us to? Would God have to intervene and somehow force His creation to do what He wants in order to accomplish His desired end? Under open theism, the future is not settled in any sense, which would require God to personally intervene if His creation didn’t actualize the exact possibility that He expected in order to make His plan work.
In the years that I’ve been studying scripture and theology, I have never come away with an interpretation that our God is a fallible God or dependent on anyone or anything. The idea that our prayers would be ineffectual if God foreknew what they were is not a sound conclusion and has been effectively addressed and abundantly refuted by scholars too numerous to list in one blog post. The approach I find to be the most convincing is the Molinist approach which maintains that God actualized this world of all possible worlds because He knew that this world would bring the greatest number of followers who would freely choose to participate in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. This approach does not impugn God’s sovereignty in the way that open theism does and accounts for the will of God without resorting to theological determinism (i.e. allows for freewill). For a more exhaustive and satisfying explanation of Molinism, I’d recommend Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, The Only Wise God: The Compatibility of Divine Foreknowledge & Human Freedom, and On Divine Foreknowledge.
The claim that open theism is pragmatic rings hollow due to an inherent incompatibility with scripture. I want to strongly emphasize that my goal is not to divide Christian brothers and sisters and upset people who may be convinced by this brand of theology. I have a close friend who holds to open theism and he has been the one who has influenced my prolonged studies into this matter. I’ve been deeply enriched by my studies of open theism and it has allowed me to grow in my understanding of God by seeing other people’s interpretations of scripture. To fully understand the spectrum of theological approaches, I’ve read about everything from Calvinism to open theism. In order to truly make a judgment for myself, I had to know what was out there. Without my discussions on open theism, I wouldn’t have the same understanding of these matters as I do today.
So, are all people who reject these newer ideas narrow minded? No and I have illustrated my willingness to do the hard work and investigate the matter for myself. However, there are also those who don’t want to learn about other approaches because they’re stuck in their safe little bubble. For all Christians, including open theists, they need to be open to follow the scripture using sound exegetical principles and let the Word lead them to the truth. We’re not all going to agree and that’s fine. We’re all fallible! Lastly, we shouldn’t be trying to cut ourselves off from people of other theological persuasions. Let these differences build us up through further study, conversation, and prayer. At the same time, if there is an approach that genuinely seems unbiblical to a large degree, then we should studiously examine it and judge it on its own merits. Do all these things with love and a prayerful heart!