The other day I mentioned that I was beginning to read a book on Open Theism titled The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God by Clark Pinnock, et al. So I had someone ask me to explain Open Theism in laymen’s terms. I’ve decided to post my response below (keep in mind that I am a novice on the subject of Open Theism, so I may be way off):
In Open Theism the word “Theism” is a short-hand word for a particular biblical and theological understanding of God. Because Christians believe in God and have a certain understanding of who God is, Christians have a certain “Theism” view.
The key word in Open Theism is “Open.” In traditional theology, going back at least to the Protestant Reformation, Christianity held a closed (as opposed to open) view of God. By closed, I mean that Christians understood God’s sovereignty to have complete foreknowledge of the future. Even for those church groups who traditionally have believed that God granted humanity free-will choice (e.g. United Methodist, Churches of Christ, Assemblies of God), God still has foreknowledge of the free choice people will make.
The Open Theism view holds that God, in his sovereignty, has chosen not only to grant humans free choice to, by way of example, either love him or hate him (btw, I firmly believe the Bible teaches the concept of free-will) but also that God has chosen not to know every decision humans make with their free-will choice. As a result, God’s relationship with humans is more dynamic in that rather than every event in history being pre-ordained, God responds and reacts to the choices humans make.
Open Theism holds this view because is believes that Closed Theism does not tell the entire picture portrayed of God in the Bible. For example, why did God need to repent from making humanity (Gen 6.6) if he already foreknew how wicked people would become? Or…In Genesis 18 when Abraham pleaded for God to change his mind about casting his judgmental wrath on Sodom, God repeatedly told Abraham that if he could find X number of righteous people then he will change his mind? If God foreknew that Abraham would not find any righteous people then this was simply an exercise in futility. However, could it be that God, in his sovereignty, had chosen not to know and instead was responding to Abrahams prayers with a promise to change his mind if Abraham did find such righteous people?
These are just a couple of examples in the Bible that Open Theism points to. I am not trying to defend Open Theism but I am open (no pun intended) to it. I am more concerned with letting the Bible speak and shape our theology rather than letting our preconceived notions of doctrine and dogma force the Bible to say what we want it to say. Both Open Theism and Closed Theism can/could easily become guilty of this.
What I lastly want to point out is that as far as I can tell, Open Theism still believe in the sovereignty of God (despite what some of its critics would claim). They first believe that God’s openness is made by his own sovereign choice to not know all future events. Secondly, Open Theism still believes that God is at work bringing his redemptive objectives to their historical goal. Thus, Open Theism is not the same as Deism (a view that believes God has no control over the world and the historical course it is plotting).
Does that make sense? I hope this helps.
If you’ve done any reading on the subject of Open Theism, I’d love to hear your thoughts.