Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Process Theology versus Open Theism

It should be clear that I am almost a medieval scholastic in my the-ology. I have no time personally for open theism or process theology. However, I would make a big distinction between the two.

1. Open theism, as I define it, is the idea that while God is omniscient and God is omnipotent and God is distinct from the world, he has of his own will decided not to know the future so that we can have free will. This is an Arminian twist and it is a conservative twist on normal theology.

It is an Arminian response to an argument I consider silly. A certain Calvinist says, "If God knows the future, we cannot have free will." The open theist (in my mind) responds, "What if God chooses not to know the future so that we can be free?"

Remember, I am a medieval scholastic who thinks God sees all time in an eternal present. "You are both silly," says I.

It is conservative because it more or less takes the Old Testament literally. "Where are you Adam?" Poetry, says I. "God chose not to know where Adam was," says the open theist. "Silliness," says I.

I don't think Wesleyan-Arminians should worry much about open theism, even if I think it's silly.

2. Process theology is something quite different. Process theology does not believe that God created matter and does not see it as under his control. Sometimes, process theology sees God's nature and character as something that is in a process of change along with the universe.

Let's be clear. Wesleyans believe that God does not choose to direct everything that happens in the world. But Wesleyans believe that God is in control of the universe.

Wesleyans believe that God chooses influence over determination, but process theology usually holds that God cannot determine. That he can only influence.

A Wesleyan can easily believe that God created using evolution, but a process theologian believes that evolution is/was not under God's control or supervision. Indeed, a process thinker believes that God himself is evolving in some ways.

3. So there you have it. Schenck's perspective on these things. Open theism is silly but generally harmless. I would not support a Wesleyan college or university hiring a process theologian.

18 comments:

Ken Schenck said...

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that open theists don't believe the future exists and thus that there is nothing for God to know yet.

matthew said...

Yes, that would be more accurate. It's really just a disagreement about the relationship b/w God and time.

Anonymous said...

Both perspectives really put limits on the divine. If God is omni-xxxxx, God is so much more expansive than determinism, influence, and free will.

Those labels put God in a human-sized box.

Dwayne Brothers said...

I am a little surprised to hear you call it "silly", since some pretty knowledgeable theologians fall into this category. And it looks like some of your comments are over-generalizations since not all open theists believe things exactly the same. I would be interested in hearing more as to why you give it no credence in its attempt to answer difficult questions such as God/time, influence/determinism, sovereignty/freewill, and the presence of evil.

Ken Schenck said...

I could be wrong Dwayne, and you can tell that I am so dismissive of open theism personally that I have read precious little about it.

My dismissiveness rests more or less on one thing. It seems to me that open theism starts by taking seriously the Calvinist insistence that foreknowledge implies determinism. Since I have always mocked this Calvinist claim, you can understand why I mock this Arminian response.

Who among us knows the nature of time well enough to spout such bold claims to have mastered it?

Ken Schenck said...

I might also say that, having undergone a faith crisis after seminary, I'm not sure what reason I would have to believe in a god who is not God. If these theologians are correct, it seems like their god is little more than a tenderhearted man. He cares a lot for us but can't really do a whole lot. Their god seems a "fall back" god--since we can't get the full God, we'll take half-off.

Lucas Gentry said...

I was having a conversation about Open Theism with a friend of mine this week (while doing construction work, strangely enough), and it kept falling back on that one point: that Open Theism postulates that "If God knows the future, free will can not exist". If that statement is not true, however, (like apparently both of us believe it is not), then there is no dichotomy in saying that I make my choices, yet God already knows what choices I will make.

Randy Dewing said...

I do see a distinction between God choosing not to know some things (the future) and God not knowing what is unknowable (perhaps a future that does not exist or a decision that has not been made). The former seems silly to me. The latter seems more serious (has broader implication). While God may remain omniscient without knowing the unknowable, this view of time is certainly limiting.

Another silly thing is Randy attempting off-the-cuff theology...so, I'll stop there.

Ken Schenck said...

If I ever understand relativity and quantum mechanics, maybe I'll write a book on God. :-)

Alethinon61 said...

I would suggest that you set aside your contempt and actually read what well-respected Open Theists have written, because I don't recognize their views much in your characterization.

A good place to start would be Gregory Boyd's "God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction t5o the Open View of God". It's an easy read, and after you've spent an afternoon with Boyd you'll recognize that he favors the open view because it allows one to embrace all of the Bible's testimony to God's knowledge.

Ken Schenck said...

Yet this is the deeply ironic situation. If the Bible is incarnated truth, which it is, and if the aspects of the biblical text on which open theists latch are part of the worldviews of the ancient cultures of the Bible, rather than the "transcendent," then open theism becomes as silly an application of Scripture as prayer bonnets.

Dwayne Brothers said...

Thanks Ken for your response to my quick comments. I have read quite a bit in open theism. Less in pure process theology, because it makes my head hurt :) And seriously, I am still not sure what to make of all of it.

Your comments still seem a little caricatured. I don't think most open theists I have read start where you say they start, by accepting the Calvinist claim that foreknowledge implies determinism. Maybe I am wrong about that - but it doesn't seem to be the case with my exposure to them. I think their arguments and much more intricate and complex. Complex enough, as I said, that I still am not sure how I feel about it.....

Tim said...

There are various kinds of Open Theists. Many wouldn't say that God has decided not to know the future. Rather they would say (and I include myself in that category) is that most of the future is not logically knowable. It is akin to saying the following - 'God doesn't know the colour of my daughters hair'. But if God is omniscient, He must you say! But I don't have a daughter. So it is not logically knowable to know the colour of my non-existent daughter's hair. Most of the future fits into the same category. God knows all of the future as it is. It is not logically possible to know it. Some of the future is open to the free choices of free will beings (and He doesn't know what actual choices will be made until they are actually made). That part of the future can be categorized and maybe this or maybe that possibilities. Other parts of the future He knows in advance in fixed terms eg those things that He has made up His mind in advance to bring about eg the second coming of Christ.

Ken Schenck said...

I don't mean you any personal disrespect since I don't know you. This is just my sense of the position in general. Are there are any open theists who believe this on the basis of relativity or physics? I doubt it. To base it on Scripture seems hermeneutically naive to me. To hold to it to get out of the Calvinist objection to free will seems unnecessary. Is it because God feels more like our buddy if he's learning things along with us? Sentimental but it seems to reduce God. I just don't see any reason to believe in it.

Tim said...

Hi Ken,

An idea can be right or wrong regardless of the motivation behind the person who holds it. Atributing a certain motivation to people who are Open Theists is presumptious - and impossible. What the discussion should be about is - is it right? Does it line up with scripture?

One can debate about whether Columbus had specific motivations in thinking the world was round eg access to trade routes etc. But that is beside the point. It is round! So best to leave aside guessing the motives.

"Sentimental but it seems to reduce God" - How does Open Theism reduce God in any way. And isn't it more important to have an accurate idea than a 'Big' idea? If there are 400 trees in a forest - and one man says there are 800 trees and another says there are 400 trees. Is the latter man 'Reducing the forest?'. No they are simply stating it as it is.

Biblically naive? It seems to make the best sense out of scripture that I have seen so far.

Tim said...

Hi Ken,

Sorry if the last comments seemed combative. They weren't intended that way. I was just trying to state that a position stands or falls on its own merits and that trying to talk about the motivations for holding the view is beside the point. "To hold to it to get out of the Calvinist objection to free will seems unnecessary. Is it because God feels more like our buddy if he's learning things along with us? Sentimental but it seems to reduce God."

When you say unnecessary it sounds like you think that someone crafted Open Theism just to get out of Calvinism. Could it not just be that it made more sense logically and scripturally?

Ken Schenck said...

No problem. :-)

Ryan Ramsey said...

Dr. Schenck,

I really enjoyed the approach you took for this piece. Thanks for simplifying it for those just trying to get a general idea of what process theology is. I enjoy your humor as well, keep it up!