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Open Theism-The Doctrine of God Under Assault-By Mark Rathel

Posted by nazarenepsalm113 on July 6, 2009

How do advocates of open theism explain the novelty of their viewpoint in light of millennia of Christian history? Open theists charge that the classical view of God’s attributes, particularly divine foreknowledge, unchangeableness and timeless nature, owe more to Greek philosophy than biblical revelation. Once the early church established the tradition, succeeding generations of Christians blindly read Scripture through the lens of this philosophical-based tradition.

A blanket accusation of the early theologians’ indebtedness to Greek philosophy unfairly slams Greek philosophy and the response of early Christian theologians to their intellectual cultural. First, Greek philosophy was not a monolithic system. In response to their charge that Greek philosophy shaped the formulation of the traditional understanding of God, I ask the open theists “which Greek philosophy?” Early Greek philosophy included naturalism, agnosticism, atheism, pantheism and hints of monotheism.

Second, in reality, much of Greek philosophic theism contradicted the worldview of early Christians. For example, Plato denied the possibility of an incarnation, advocated that God has no relations with mankind, denied that God has the capacity to love, and maintained that God is uninterested in history. Aristotle’s God was unaware of the existence of any other being. The Divine Being of Neo-Platonism lacked personhood; in this pantheistic system the universe exists as a result of emanation rather than creation. The core teachings of Greek philosophy about the Divine Being, therefore, oppose the personal, loving, Trinitarian God of the early Christian creeds. All forms of Greek philosophy denied the goodness of matter and viewed the concept of resurrection as revolting.

Third, open theists overstate the influence of Greek philosophy on early Christian theologians. In analyzing the publications of the advocates of open theism, they cite secondary sources, rather than primary sources, as evidence of the influence of Greek philosophy on the formation of the Christian doctrine of God. In contrast, esteemed Yale professor Jaroslav Pelikan classified the claim that classical doctrine developed out of Greek philosophy as a distortion. Indeed, according to Pelikan, the development of the church’s doctrine was a process of dehellenization, that is, a process of removing Greek metaphysics. Pelikan did acknowledge the influence of philosophy upon early theologians – the theology of the heretics. For example, Arius rejected Neo-Platonism due to the influence of Neo-Platonic thought.  

Open theists criticize the classical doctrine of God as a development of pagan philosophy. Yet, many open theists seem blind to the indebtedness of open theism to process philosophy.

Process philosophy developed in the United States in the twentieth century. Alfred North Whitehead of Harvard University and Charles Hartshorne of the Universities of Chicago and Texas served as the guiding lights. Clark Pinnock esteems the anti-trinitarian Whitehead highly; he even identifies Whitehead as a Christian. Therefore, while Pinnock acknowledges the influence of Whitehead upon him, he can claim that a “pagan” philosophy did not influence him in a manner similar to his claim that “pagan” philosophy influenced early Christian theologians. 

Open theism properly rejects process philosophy’s denial of creation, the trinity, and interdependence of God and the universe. God in process thought is di-polar: transcendent as well as limited, eternal as well as contingent. The world is God’s body; thus, God and the world are mutually dependent. God and all reality are in the process of development. God continually synthesizes new experiences and develops toward greater perfection. God is a supreme “omnipassive” relativist. The future, therefore, is free and open.

Gregory Boyd, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Charles Hartshorne, explains open theism in terms of a dance in which God and creation join. In Boyd’s illustration, God is dipolar, structure and freedom comprise the polarities. Creation, rather than man, is in the image of God. The created order exhibits the same polarities of structure and freedom as God. Boyd claims, “The future is partly open as well as partly settled.” A relativist God waits for man to create the future.

If they were alive today, Whitehead and Hartshorne would rejoice at their influence on evangelicals.

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