Hellenistic Or Hebrew? Open Theism And Reformed Theological Method -- By: Michael S. Horton

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:2 (Jun 2002)
Article: Hellenistic Or Hebrew? Open Theism And Reformed Theological Method
Author: Michael S. Horton


Hellenistic Or Hebrew?
Open Theism And Reformed Theological Method

Michael S. Horton*

* Michael Horton is associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, 1725 Bear Valley Parkway, Escondido, CA 92027.

The goal of this paper is to contrast Reformed theological method with that of open theism, in an effort to demonstrate that it is here, at the beginning, where the two theologies diverge. We will attempt this by briefly analyzing the assumption that classical theology is “Hellenistic” rather than biblical, marking out the key features of Reformed method, and comparing and contrasting this method with open theism. We will limit our scope to John Sanders’s The God Who Risks and Clark Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover.1

I. Hellenistic Or Hebrew?

The late nineteenth-century historical theologian Adolf von Harnack advanced his thesis that nearly everything we regard as Christian “orthodoxy”—“the Catholic element”—is in fact the result of “the acute Hellenization of the church.”2 Harnack could apparently relativize every period but his own, as the earliest and therefore most authentic elements of Christianity were curiously well-suited to the dynamic, Hegelian worldview of fin-de-sicle intellectual life in Germany.

But long before Harnack, the Socinians, according to Genevan theologian Francis Turretin, reproached classical theism on the same basis,

namely, that “the whole doctrine is metaphysical” rather than biblical.3 In response, Turretin writes, “The necessity of the immutability we ascribe to God does not infer Stoic fate,” since it neither imposes an internal necessity upon God nor interferes “with the liberty and contingency of things.”4 With Hegel’s ghost looking over his shoulder, Harnack argued that traditional theism represented a static Stoic worldview, while the apocalyptic religion of the early Jewish and Christian believers reflected values strikingly familiar in modern society: individualism, enthusiasm, and a direct, unmediated experience with God.5

This thesis has underwritten a century of modern theology, not only in neo-Protestantism, but in neo-orthodoxy and in the version of the “biblical theology” movement identified especially with G. E. Wright. According to Wright, the God of systematic theology was the deity of static o...

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