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Leadership Journal

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Editorial:God vs. God

Two competing theologies vie for the future of evangelicalism.

There is no more boring concept of God than that traditionally presented by philosophical theism. Besides which, who wants to pray to an abstract and uninvolved deity? Certainly, the classic philosophical arguments tend to yield a "maximal Being" rather than the God of the Bible who loves his creatures passionately and hates corruption and oppression. The biblical God is not boring, but is, as Pascal wrote: "Fire! God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. God of Jesus Christ."

At the Evangelical Theological Society's meeting in November, several scholars updated the classical philosophical arguments for God—not as a mere philosophical exercise, but as an attempt to oppose a growing challenge to classic understandings about God. Called "openness of God" theology, the challenge has threatened to split at least one denomination. Openness theology (although it has been influenced by process philosophy) roots its popular appeal in the biblical picture of a God who is passionately loving and bent on rescuing the lost creatures he loves. Such a God, this theology argues, does not exist in changeless perfection outside of time, but must rather take risks by engaging his lost creatures in truly mutual relationships that have no guaranteed outcomes. Thus God does not genuinely know the future, and he actually changes his mind when shifting situations demand it. That picture of God—which has important implications for prayer, for prophecy, and for eschatology—is what these classical scholars were trying to combat.

Clark Pinnock, the Canadian Baptist theologian who pioneered openness theology, issued an important challenge after one of these philosophical papers. "You have just made a very liberal move," Pinnock said. "You have constructed your belief from philosophy first and only second checked it with Scripture." Then Pinnock posed the simple question: "What do you make of the Scriptures that say God changed his mind?"

The response—that such passages are "anthropomorphisms"—begged the question. It does not help the case for classical theism to call something anthropomorphism. That just leads to the further questions of when and how we know something is an anthropomorphism—and, even more importantly, what that anthropomorphism is designed to communicate.This brief exchange, which occurred in a hotel's small meeting room, exemplifies a larger reality, though there certainly are classical theists who are engaging the questions more deeply. As theologians like Pinnock, John Sanders (author of The God Who Risks, 1998), and Greg Boyd (author of God of the Possible, forthcoming in May) popularize the openness argument, they appeal boldly to Scripture and seem to take the biblical high ground. For classical theists to retreat into philosophy is a serious mistake strategically. The primary evangelical impulse when confronted ...

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