For some time now,
scholars of religion and theology have discussed various ideas at the core
of open theology. Many of these ideas are found in ancient Greek
philosophers such as Heraclitus and Plato. Most present-day open
theologians, however, argue that the themes and stories found in the Bible
contain authoritative material for open theology.
Although affirming that their
theological ideas are derived primarily from Christian scripture, open
theologians typically contrast their views with the theological formulations
of St. Augustine, Martin
Luther, John Calvin and many of their heirs. In these classical or
conventional theologies, God is often not open. Rather, these
conventional theologies portray deity as wholly transcendent, a predestiner,
unrelated and wholly nontemporal, and a “sovereign king.” How often
have we heard that “God is outside time?”
In addition to appealing
to scripture, reason, and experience, open theologians draw from a less-emphasized
theological tradition. This tradition is evident in, for example,
the 16th century Christian theologian James Arminius’ rejection of divine
predestination and emphasis upon creaturely freedom. It is found
in the 18th century theologian John Wesley’s emphasis upon love as God’s
primary attribute and a crucial basis for theological formulation.
A growing number of contemporary
Christians find open theology both existentially and intellectually satisfying.
In 1994, a quintet of evangelical scholars published, The
Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding
of God. This work caused, and continues to cause, an uproar
within Christian evangelical circles. Several formal and informal
internet discussions, for instance, reveal that participants discuss open
theology more than any other topic. The issue has been the lead story
in several prominent evangelical journals and magazines, such as Christianity
Today, as well as a feature story in a recent Chronicle
of Higher Education.
Open theologians in evangelical
traditions acknowledge that their thought enjoys some affinities with process
theology. But they are also quick to note important differences.
Because of these similarities and differences, a scholarly conversation
has grown between process theologians and evangelical theologians.
The conversation is challenging both as it pertains to substantive issues
and for what it signifies to critics who identify with more conventional
theological perspectives. Clark Pinnock expresses well these challenges:
Let’s be honest
– there is risk for [both process and openness theists] in this dialogue.
The conservatives will undoubtedly say: “There, we told you so – the open
theists are talking with the process theists! Did we not warn that
they are covert processians who aim to smuggle these process ideas into
evangelical thinking?” And certain liberals and modernists will say:
“Why do you process theists bother with fundamentalists? Why do you
lower yourselves to appear in print together with them? Where is
your self-respect? Are you so desperate to find acceptance in the
mainline?” Together we say to the critics – we will not allow ourselves
to be led by such fears (Searching
for An Adequate God, xii).