An Arminian Response To John Sanders’s The God Who Risks: A Theology Of Providence -- By: Robert E. Picirilli

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 44:3 (Sep 2001)
Article: An Arminian Response To John Sanders’s The God Who Risks: A Theology Of Providence
Author: Robert E. Picirilli

An Arminian Response To John Sanders’s The God Who Risks:
A Theology Of Providence

Robert E. Picirilli*

[* Robert Picirilli is professor emeritus at Free Will Baptist Bible College, 3606 West End Avenue, P.O. Box 50117, Nashville, TN 37205–0117.]

My purpose is not to present a traditional review of this important and erudite work. 1 Instead, I will respond critically to Sanders’s views, representing as they do a current stage in the continuing development of the “openness theism” of the contemporary neo-Arminian movement. 2

Reformed theologians have been understandably quick to object to the revisionist theism involved. Arminians have been less outspoken, perhaps because their disagreements might seem to be internecine and divisive. 3 As an Arminian 4 I think it is even more important that we respond to this movement with appreciation for what is good about it but with firm resistance to what is not. While I welcome Sanders’s rejection of Calvinism’s view of providence and salvation, I fear that Sanders and his friends may be doing evangelical Arminianism more harm than good.

At the risk of over-simplification, for my purposes Sanders’s work can be treated in terms of three basic propositions:

(1) God is personal and relates to human beings, likewise personal in his image, in an interactive, give-and-take way. Sanders calls this “relational theism,” which he intends to stand in some contrast to classic theism, though the reasons for this involve the next two theses also.

(2) God does not possess foreknowledge in the traditional sense; he knows only the past and present, both exhaustively—a view called “presentism.” Except for the relatively small number of things he has predetermined to do, God’s only “knowledge” of the future is derivative, resulting either from his determination and promises to act in certain ways or from his reading of past and present personalities and events.

(3) Thus conceived, God can make mistakes and “risks” failure of his plans for human beings. This depends on our response to him, not on his foreordaining. Things sometimes turn out differently from what he believes will transpire. The traditional concepts of omnipotence and immutability must therefore also be revised.

While there are many other matters touched on, these are at the heart of the matter and provide a framework for my response.

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