Open Theism: “What is this? A new teaching? —and with authority!” (Mk 1:27) -- By: Clark H. Pinnock

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 34:0 (NA 2002)
Article: Open Theism: “What is this? A new teaching? —and with authority!” (Mk 1:27)
Author: Clark H. Pinnock

Open Theism: “What is this? A new teaching?
—and with authority!” (Mk 1:27)

Clark H. Pinnock

Clark H. Pinnock (PhD, Manchester University) is the recently retired Professor of systematic Theology at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and was ATS’s Fall Lecturer for 2002.


Open theism is a controversial theological topic among North American evangelicals. People are becoming aware of it and debates are swirling around it. At the heart of it lies a vision of a relational God and what makes it controversial is the feature of “current divine omniscience.” Our aim, when we presented the model in 1994, was to bring evangelicals up to speed on the issues and to encourage them to appreciate God’s beauty more in relational and personal rather than abstract and deterministic terms. We knew scholars who held to the model already and hoped that others might be drawn to it, if it were explained. We hoped it might become a source of theological renewal among us or (at least) a catalyst for ongoing reflection.1

The model goes by other names than open theism. We chose this term because “openness” was an attractive and unused metaphor which evoked the notion of God’s open heart toward his creatures. It suggests the vision that we have of God’s glory which is characterized by voluntarily self-limitation and self-sacrificing and which extols a divine power that delights more in nurturing than in subjugating creatures. Inventing a term like this (however) has made open theism a “local theology,” that is, a theology developed by certain people in a certain place (by evangelicals within the North American evangelical coalition and pitched toward that audience). The downside of naming it openness is that it distances us from others who have the same convictions but use other language for it. We named it openness to give evangelicals a clear run at it as something fresh (the word made fresh!) but we left the impression (a wrong impression) that we were peddling novelties which we are not. This in turn energized the opposition against us.

The proposal has spawned vigorous polemics and put a strain on the evangelical social space. Lines are being drawn in the sand and people are being pressed to decide whether they think open theism is tolerable as a legitimate evangelical option or whether it has to be purged from our ranks as a corrupting influence. It is testing our ability to get along with each other. One is taken aback by the way in which normally sound thinkers go ballistic and denounce open theism in inflammatory ways. It is reminiscent of the way in which Arminius (an early free will theist) ...

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