Open Theism’s Attack On The Atonement -- By: John F. Macarthur, Jr.

Journal: Masters Seminary Journal
Volume: TMSJ 12:1 (Spring 2001)
Article: Open Theism’s Attack On The Atonement
Author: John F. Macarthur, Jr.


Open Theism’s Attack On The Atonementa

John F. MacArthur, Jr.

President and Professor of Pastoral Ministries

Open theism arose in evangelicalism over a decade ago when evangelicals posited a God to whom one can easily relate and who is manageable in place of a God who punishes sinners for their sin. This they did by proposing a model of Christ’s atonement that was not substitutionary. To do so they adopted the model of the 16th-century Socinian heresy, which taught that God could forgive without the payment of a ransom. The biblical doctrine, however, is that Christ’s atonement was substitutionary, a teaching that was not immediately defined in the early church, but which Anselm stated clearly during the 16th century. Open theists on the other hand tend to vacillate between the inadequate positions of Abelard and Grotius in their views of the atonement. Because of their distorted views of the atonement, open theists do not belong in the ranks of evangelicalism.

* * * * *

More than a decade ago a controversial article in Christianity Today heralded the rise of open theism. The article, “Evangelical Megashift,” was written by Robert Brow, a prominent Canadian theologian. Brow described a radical change looming on the evangelical horizon—a “megashift” toward “new-model” thinking, away from classical theism (which Brow labeled “old-model” theology).1 What the article outlined was the very movement that today is known as the “open” view of God, or “open theism.”

Although Brow himself is a vocal advocate of open theism, his 1990 article neither championed nor condemned the megashift. In it, Brow sought merely to describe how the new theology was radically changing the evangelical concept of God by proposing new explanations for biblical concepts such as divine wrath, God’s righteousness, judgment, the atonement—and just about every aspect of evangelical theology.

The Quest for a Manageable Deity

Brow’s article portrayed new-model theology in benign terms. He saw the movement as an attempt to remodel some of the more difficult truths of Scripture by employing new, friendlier paradigms to explain God.

According to Brow, old-model theology casts God in a severe light. In old-model evangelicalism, God is a stern magistrate whose judgment is a harsh and inflexible legal verdict; sin is an offense against His divine law; God’s wrath is the anger of an indignant sovereign; hell is a relentless retribution for sin; and atonement may be ...

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