Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God's Openness
Clark H. Pinnock
Baker Academic, 224 pages, $19.99
Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy
Gregory A. Boyd
InterVarsity, 456 pages, $25
As the Evangelical Theological Society debates the orthodoxy of openness theology (CT, January, p. 24), Most Moved Mover and Satan and the Problem of Evil are working out the finer theological points of "theodicy" (the problem of evil), the nature and extent of God's foreknowledge, and issues regarding the doctrine of God itself.
Openness theologians are convinced that if human beings are to exercise meaningful freedom—a basic requirement for love to be expressed and received—there must be aspects of the future, those entailing the free choices of rational beings, that God does not know exhaustively.
In 1994 Clark H. Pinnock and four other scholars published The Openness of God, one of the foundational books of the openness movement. In Most Moved Mover, Pinnock (retired professor of systematic theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario) reviews the controversy that has surrounded the movement, responds to some critics of openness, and describes what he considers weaknesses in classical Christian theology's understanding of God's nature and knowledge.
Augustine, for instance, "was wrong to have said that God does not grieve over the suffering of the world; Anselm was wrong to have said that God does not experience compassion; Calvin was wrong to have said that biblical figures that convey such things are mere accommodations to finite understanding." The classical view, Pinnock believes, has been too deeply influenced by "pagan assumptions about God's nature," such as God's immutability, timelessness, and impassibility.
In response to the classical model, Pinnock offers a model of God as "most moved mover," a God whom he describes as "compassionate, suffering, and victorious love." Instead of "attributing to God qualities that undermine God's own self-disclosure," Pinnock encourages his readers to understand biblical metaphors as "reality-depicting descriptions of the living God, whose very being is self-giving love."
Pinnock's "most moved mover" is deeply relational, a trinity of divine love in communion, and hence desires to enter into personal relationships with his creation, "not because he needs to … but because he wants to since relationality is an essential aspect of God." God is not coercive or manipulative. To force human beings into a relationship, however much God desires to be in relationship with us, would violate his own nature.
It is here that Pinnock's proposal becomes more controversial. Because of God's deeply relational nature, God has chosen to relate to the world not only as its sovereign Lord, but also in a relation of dependence. "God affects the world, but is also affected by the world. God is sovereign, but he has also given power to creatures."
God's dependence extends even to his knowledge of the future. "Though God knows all there is to know about the world, there are aspects about the future that even God does not know. Though unchangeable with respect to his character and the steadfastness of his purposes, God changes in the light of what happens by interacting with the world." If so, God's relationship to creation is "temporal and not totally different from ours." God relates to creation "within the structures of time."
Indeed, Pinnock contends that "there is temporal succession in God's thinking; he remembers the past, interacts with the present and anticipates the future." If God's intensely personal relationship to creation is to be preserved, there are aspects of the future—particularly regarding the free choices of personal creatures—that God cannot know in advance. To maintain freedom, both divine and human, God has purposely chosen to limit his knowledge. God is deeply moved by his creation, but can do so only by relating to creation within time. "At least since creation, the divine life has been temporally ordered. God is inside, not outside, time. He is involved in the thick of, and is not above, the flow of history."
Gregory Boyd Tackles Theodicy
Gregory Boyd is the preaching pastor at Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., and the author of God of the Possible and Across the Spectrum, among several books. Satan and the Problem of Evil is the second volume of a multi-volume attempt—God at War (IVP, 1997) was the first—to construct an openness theodicy. Boyd seeks coherent answers to the questions all theodicies face: Where does evil come from? If God is the sovereign Creator, is he not ultimately responsible for evil? Do God's sovereignty and control extend to every act of evil and suffering? What of Satan and the demonic realm? In what way does the reality of the demonic relate to sin, evil, and suffering?
Boyd develops a number of key theses in his attempt to make coherent philosophical sense of the "warfare worldview" of the Bible. For instance, why would God choose to create personal beings, both angelic and human, knowing they would be capable of producing evil on such a massive scale? Boyd's answer is that love must be freely chosen and entails the risk of rejection: "God could not have created a world in which creatures possess a measure of self-determining freedom without risking some loss."
God could have chosen to create a universe where self-determining freedom did not exist, but for the sake of love and love's requirements, he has instead elected to create an environment in which love can flourish.
One does not need to accept the openness model to be thankful to Boyd for deepening our awareness of the broader supernatural context of life lived between the times. The contemporary church lives in a war zone, and much of the suffering and evil that human beings experience becomes more coherent when viewed against the dark backdrop of Satan's continuing attempt to disrupt God's redemptive purposes.
Is God Embodied?
Openness theology is naturally controversial, as it challenges evangelicals to reconsider the definition of God's sovereignty. Adding to that controversy, though, is the hermeneutic that these theologians bring to biblical texts.
For instance, think of God's response to the repentance of the Ninevites in the Book of Jonah. "When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it" (3:10, NRSV). Openness theologians such as Boyd insist that we read such texts "straightforwardly"—assuming that God did not know how the Ninevites were going to respond to Jonah's preaching. If God had known "with certainty that Nineveh was going to repent," Boyd writes, "then his prophecy that the city would be destroyed in forty days seems disingenuous—it does not express a real intention."
But if we consistently take biblical texts at "face value," where will we end up? For instance, Pinnock draws our attention to the many Old Testament texts that portray God as having a body. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel see God on Mount Sinai. Under God's "feet" they see "something like a pavement of sapphire stone." Despite seeing God, these men do not perish. Other texts describe Moses speaking "face to face" with God, "as one speaks to a friend" (Ex. 33:11). Later in the same chapter (v. 23), Moses is described as allowed to see God's "back" but not his face.
Pinnock writes: "Human beings are said to be embodied creatures created in the image of God. Is there perhaps something in God that corresponds with embodiment? Having a body is certainly not a negative thing because it makes it possible for us to be agents. Perhaps God's agency would be easier to envisage if he were in some way corporeal. Add to that the fact that in the theophanies of the Old Testament, God encounters humans in the form of a man."
We are only a few steps away, it seems, from the assertion that God possesses a body of sorts, spiritual though it may be.
A Continuing Debate
Not all openness theologians would agree with Boyd and Pinnock, but their ruminations, for good or ill, are consistent with an openness hermeneutic, a method of biblical interpretation that consistently opts for the literal or "face value" meaning of biblical texts. Those of us who disagree with the openness proposal must take the openness hermeneutic seriously and provide a more convincing and coherent explanation of Scripture than the openness theologians themselves provide.
The openness model must continue to be tested philosophically and theologically. For example, must exhaustive divine foreknowledge eliminate human freedom? Not at all. Christian philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, and David Hunt have offered coherent alternatives to the openness model of knowledge and freedom that deserve more careful attention and study.
As Nicholas Wolterstorff has commented, openness theologians have given a sound tug to the sweater sleeve of theological positions accepted for hundreds if not thousands of years. It should surprise no one if the sweater begins to unravel as openness theologians continue to develop their theology. I discussed some of my own concerns in "Does God Know Your Next Move?" (CT, May 21, 2001).
Yet, while some theologians and exegetes appear ready to cut off discussion of the openness model, certain aspects of the openness model must be debated vigorously. For example, has classical Christian theology been as deeply tainted by pagan philosophy as Pinnock maintains? Does God's intensely personal nature, a characteristic affirmed by both openness and classical theologians, demand that God limit his knowledge of the future along the lines advocated by Pinnock and Boyd? Perhaps most seriously, does the openness hermeneutic's attempt to take biblical passages at "face value" lead inevitably to the embodiment of God and the possibility of divine error?
Further testing of the openness model is surely necessary. Only in the heat of lively, fair, and irenic debate will the model's hairline fractures become clearly visible.
Christopher A. Hall is associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania, and a CT editor at large.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today earlier featured the discussion "Does God Know Your Next Move?" in which Christopher A. Hall and John Sanders debated openness theology. That discussion has been expanded into a new book, Does God Have a Future?: A Debate on Divine Providence.
opentheism.info offers, among other resources, a "frequently asked questions" page about openness theology.
Earlier Christianity Today coverage of the openness theological debate include:
Closing the Door on Open Theists? | ETS to examine whether Clark Pinnock and John Sanders can remain members. (Dec. 23, 2002)
Theologians Decry 'Narrow' Boundaries | 110 evangelical leaders sign joint statement (June 4, 2002)
Only God Is Free | Many discussions about openness theology assume that human freedom and divine freedom are pretty much the same thing. They're not, says Geoffrey Bromiley (Feb. 12, 2002)
Foreknowledge Debate Clouded by "Political Agenda" | Evangelical Theologians differ over excluding Open Theists. (November 19, 2001)
Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy? | A forum on free-will theism, a new paradigm for understanding God. (Jan. 9, 1995, reposted online May 11, 2001)
Truth at Risk | Six leading openness theologians say that many assumptions made about their views are simply wrong. (Apr. 23, 2001)
God at Risk | A former process theologian says a 30-percent God is not worth worshiping. (Mar. 16, 2001)
Did Open Debate Help The Openness Debate? | It's been centuries since Luther nailed his theses to a church door, but the Internet is reintroducing theological debate to the public square. (Feb. 19, 2001)
God vs. God | Two competing theologies vie for the future of evangelicalism (Feb. 7, 2000).
Do Good Fences Make Good Baptists? | The SBC's new Faith and Message brings needed clarity—but maybe at the cost of honest diversity. (Aug. 8, 2000)
The Perils of Left and Right | Evangelical theology is much bigger and richer than our two-party labels. (Aug. 10, 1998)
The Future of Evangelical Theology | Roger Olson argues that a division between traditionalists and reformists threatens to end our theological consensus. (Feb. 9, 1998)
A Pilgrim on the Way | For me, theology is like a rich feast, with many dishes to enjoy and delicacies to taste. (Feb. 9, 1998)
A Theology to Die For | Theologians are not freelance scholars of religion, but trustees of the deposit of faith. (Feb. 9, 1998)
The Real Reformers are Traditionalists | If there is no immune system to resist heresy, there will soon be nothing but the teeming infestation of heresy. (Feb. 9, 1998)
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