Open Theism: Framing the Discussion -- By: Brenda B. Colijn

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 34:0 (NA 2002)
Article: Open Theism: Framing the Discussion
Author: Brenda B. Colijn

Open Theism: Framing the Discussion

Brenda B. Colijn


On November 5–6, 2002, Dr. Clark H. Pinnock delivered the annual Fall Lecture Series at Ashland Theological Seminary. The lecture series achieved everything a theologian could desire from such an event: it raised important theological issues; it encouraged participants to consider the implications of theology for life and devotion; it engaged the whole seminary community; and it required everyone, whatever their perspective, to reflect on their own understanding of God.

Open theism is a controversial issue within evangelicalism. It has been the focus of numerous books and articles, Internet web sites, and the 2001 annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. It has led to thoughtful discussions, lively debates, and, on occasion, personal attacks and denunciations of heresy. How should we as evangelicals approach this issue? In what follows, I will give some background on open theism and attempt to locate it in relationship to Calvinism, classical Arminianism, and process thought. I will address several misconceptions about open theism and conclude with some reflections on how we might proceed.

Open theism is a movement that has grown up within the Arminian wing of evangelicalism. The movement has attracted biblical scholars, theologians, and philosophers; people associated with it include Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Gregory Boyd, and a number of others. It is not a monolithic movement; those involved in it do not agree on every issue. This perspective has been developing for over twenty-five years. Some of its proponents had been involved in developing Arminian responses to Calvinism, resulting in the essay collections Grace Unlimited (1975) and The Grace of God, the Will of Man (1989)1 Exploring the issues that divided Calvinists and Arminians led some of them to become dissatisfied with traditional Arminianism as well.

What happened for some was a collision between evangelical theology and evangelical piety. The doctrine of God as traditionally taught in seminaries seemed inadequate to deal with practical Christian life, particularly with personal tragedies. If God controls everything, how can we say that he is not responsible for the evil and suffering in the world? Why do we pray, if we believe that the future is already settled and prayer can’t change anything? What is the character of the God we worship? Does he govern his creation through coercive power or through the self-denying love we see in Jesus? These questions and others led to the publication in 1994 of The Openness of God, in which several scholars proposed modifying some aspects of the traditional view

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