Openness And Inerrancy: Can They Be Compatible? -- By: Jason A. Nicholls

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:4 (Dec 2002)
Article: Openness And Inerrancy: Can They Be Compatible?
Author: Jason A. Nicholls


Openness And Inerrancy:
Can They Be Compatible?

Jason A. Nicholls*

* Jason A. Nicholls is lecturer in theology at Marquette University, P.O. Box 1881, Milwaukee, WI 53201.

I. Introduction

To some observers, the resolution concerning divine foreknowledge passed at the 2001 ETS Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs might seem rather harmless. “We believe the Bible clearly teaches that God has complete, accurate, and infallible knowledge of all events past, present, and future, including all future decisions and actions of free moral agents.”1 It undoubtedly reflects the society’s majority viewpoint. Yet this vote comes on the heels of several years of discussion and debate, albeit rather limited until recently, on the question of whether the position known as the openness of God is compatible with evangelical theology.2 In fact, some are interpreting the results of this vote as the first step down the road toward outright dismissing advocates of the open view from the ETS. Scholars such as Wayne Grudem have admitted as much by characterizing the vote as a “gentle nudge” for open theists to exit the society.3 But exactly why would critics of the openness view want to see this theological position expelled from the society, and why have its proponents come under such intense fire?

Essentially, many are contending that open theism is incompatible with evangelical theology—or, to put it another way in light of the theme of the 2001 meeting—it is alleged to have crossed an evangelical “boundary.”

Precisely which boundary has been violated? Negotiating a clear answer to this question is no easy matter, since delimiting such evangelical “boundaries” is a task replete with its own challenges. Indeed, such an endeavor— defining evangelical boundaries—too often disintegrates into a tricky debate as different evangelicals have contrasting opinions on what constitutes even the most basic of evangelical boundaries.4 Yet the critics of open theism have, for the most part, leveled a rather unified and concise attack against it by alleging that openness theology is incompatible with the doctrine of biblical inerrancy.5 Given the ETS’s basic doctrinal statement, this accusation is momentous. All society members must affirm (1) that “[t]he Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs”; and (2) that “God is ...

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