of Openness Theologians
The Openness of God, Part 2
In our previous
article we stated that the Openness of God theology was causing
a great stir in the Evangelical Church. In the present article we
will note the views of the Openness theologians, especially how
they interpret the text of Scripture.
It is our
settled conviction that what is at stake in this controversy is
nothing less than our understanding of the doctrine of God. The
Openness theologians are convinced that the picture of God given
by Classical theology is not the one found in Scripture. These individuals
are convinced that the God of the Bible has been taken hostage by
Greek philosophy. As a result they believe that many people cannot
relate to a God who apparently is without emotion and seemingly
indifferent to the needs of people. They believe the Bible describes
a God who expresses emotions including sorrow, anger, and, at times,
even repents of His actions.
view of God is one that emphasizes God's transcendence or separation
from His creation. God's transcendence means that He is infinitely
different from any aspect of creation. There is an absolute difference
between God and man. As a result of this great distance between
God and man, the Openness theologians believe that modern man finds
it difficult to believe that God is interested in him. When this
stoical God is assigned the attributes of unlimited power and knowledge,
any meaningful relationship with man becomes even more difficult.
theologians, to counter this disengagement between God and man,
emphasize what is known as the immanence, or nearness, of God. Immanence
means that God always operates within the realm of understanding
grasped by man. Thus it is possible for man to understand and identify
with God. Rather than being aloof and remote, God is near and caring.
of God has been reflected in a theological paradigm that portrays
God as a loving Father welcoming the wandering child back into the
family. For too long, according to the Openness theologians, God
has been portrayed as the judge in a courtroom who dispenses justice
but not mercy.
view, it is this God, portrayed as the loving Father, who is needed
in the times that we find ourselves. People who have experienced
the grief of loss and separation can find consolation and identification
with such a God.
It is but
one step further to portray such a loving, caring God as One who
identifies with His children on the journey of life. People, who
face perplexing situations, are often at a loss as what action to
take when they are confused, hurt, and things do not turn out as
hoped or expected. It is comforting to find that our God shares
these same experiences with us. The Openness model portrays such
a God. Are we disappointed when things turn out badly? So is God.
Note what is said in Genesis 6:5-6... "And God saw that the
wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination
of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented
the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved
him at his heart." As this verse appears to say, God also knows
disappointment and failure. He also has done things that He wished
that He had never done. This is the type of God that broken-hearted
and disappointed people need to know. God shares in their experiences.
theologians are quick to emphasize that these actions of God are
voluntary. No greater power or force has caused Him to act in this
way. This is a self-limitation that enables man to gain a greater
understanding of God. God not only knows our frame, but also He
volunteers to share these life experiences with us. Because the
future is as unknown to God as it is to us, we can identify more
readily with God in our every day experiences.
theologians list biblical passages, including the one cited, to
sustain their claims concerning God. The Scriptures, they say, speak
of God's repenting or changing His mind concerning His actions.
For example, in Exodus 32 where the children of Israel sinned by
making a golden calf, God threatened to destroy the people. Moses
interceded for them by asking God to repent of His threatening.
Exodus 32:12b, "Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent
of this evil against they people." What was the response of
the Lord to this prayer of Moses? Genesis 32:14, "And the Lord
repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
theologians cite this passage to reaffirm their belief that God
does indeed change his mind and repents of His actions in response
to intercessory prayer. What is the use of intercessory prayer if
God's actions have already been determined from eternity?
additional verses cited by the Openness theologians to support their
view of God. However, the ones cited give us the view of a God who
repents, does not know the future, and who takes risks.
As we consider
their view, it is important to understand how they arrived at such
a position. Their view of God is something that is relatively new.
For centuries, the Classical view of God as sovereign over His creation
was prominent. The Classical view of God portrayed Him as all-powerful
and knowing. His sovereignty was pictured as a comfort and shelter
to His people rather than something that kept them at arms' length.
view of God has its origin from the way that Scripture is interpreted.
Rules of interpretation, taken from the Bible itself, are used to
draw out the author's intended meaning. This is known as Hermeneutics,
the method used to understand what the author meant when he wrote
or spoke. However, behind the hermeneutical system is an understanding
of human language and how it operates.
of language is that it expresses exactly what reality is. This is
called univocal language. There is one meaning that applies
both to God and man. In other words, the meaning is identical for
God and man. Another type of language, called analogical,
states there is not the same exact meaning for God and man. While
this can become quite complicated, its basic meaning is simple.
to man by using language. God created human language so that He
might communicate with man. However, there is an infinite qualitative
difference between God and man. God is uncreated; He is self-existent.
Man is created and dependent. However, God graciously communicates
to man in a manner that man can truly understand what God is revealing.
This does not mean that God has reduced Himself to the limitations
of man nor does it mean that man is elevated to equal status with
God. If all language were univocal, this would be the result. However,
the majority of Bible scholars believe that communication between
God and man is achieved by the use of analogical language that preserves
the differences between God and man.
the Openness theologians dispute this. They accuse the Classical
theologians of having two motifs or themes in dealing with statements
regarding God. When God says that He does not change or that He
is all knowing, Openness theologians accuse Classical theologians
of speaking about God using a motif of future determinism
or as God truly is. This would be a use of univocal
language; it describes God as He really is. However, when Classical
theologians cite Scriptures that speak of God repenting or not knowing
the future, they interpret these statements by the motif of
future openness or as God appears to be. Classical
theologians are accused of resorting to analogical language when
it suits their purposes to deny God's changeableness.
Openness theologians accuse Classical theologians of interpreting
God's actions by different types of language to sustain their position
that God does not change. The Openness theologians believe that
this is not only bad hermeneutics but fundamentally dishonest.
when the Openness theologians make this accusation, they fail to
consider the absolute difference between God and man. They minimize
God's transcendence to enhance His identification with His people.
In reality, all language about God is to some extent analogical
because only God can truly speak exhaustively about Himself.
God is transcendent, this does not mean that He is indifferent to
human needs. Openness theologians are correct in stating that a
God Who remains indifferent to the human condition is not the Biblical
one. However, the Openness theologians misunderstand what the early
Greek theologians meant by God's impassiveness. God's impassiveness
meant that His joy could not be destroyed by human action and not
that He is totally indifferent to the condition of man. The Scriptures
tell us that He is moved with our afflictions. The true meaning
of God's impassiveness is that He remains God regardless of what
man does. Before the omnipotence of a mighty God, the blusterings
of finite man are nothing.
not mean that God is indifferent to human needs. Man experiences
grief and misery because of his sin. God did not remain indifferent
to man's sin but He determined to do something about it. John 3:16,
probably the most familiar verse in the entire Bible, tells us that
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. God gave
His Son to die on the cross for the sins that man had committed.
There can be no greater demonstration of God's love.
is the ultimate rebuttal to the claims of the Openness theologians.
Christ did not die to make God love us; God loved us and sent His
Son. Not only did God save man from the penalty of his sin, He is
constantly working out salvation in his life. Having saved man,
God does not abandon him. Note what Isaiah, the Evangelical prophet,
wrote hundreds of years before the coming of the Lord, "For
thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose
name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also
that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of
the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
reading of Isaiah forty to sixty-six reinforces the biblical portrayal
of a God who is both transcendent and immanent. He is the One who
is sovereign, who knows the end from the beginning, but He is also
a God who draws near to help and comfort.
theologians say that the adoption of their view of God will reinforce
the liberty of choice that enhances man's understanding of himself,
will make life more exciting when we recognize that God also shares
our limited knowledge, and make prayer more meaningful because it
will bring about real change.
it is necessary that we have a biblical view of ourselves as well
as of God. Although we may have regenerate hearts, we must remember
that we are finite and sinful. Only God has the correct view of
Himself. He has given us that picture in His Word. Yes, there are
biblical passages that are difficult to interpret. The exact shade
of meaning may evade our grasp. However, the Bible states clearly
that God is sovereign over all His creation. God knows all about
our condition. He is exactly the kind of God that we need. To adopt
the view espoused by the Openness theologians means that we would
lose God Himself. There are many things that we can afford to lose,
but we cannot afford to lose God.