An Open Theism Theodicy

Gregory Boyd on the Problem of Evil

Where is God when a seven-year-old child is kidnapped, viciously raped, and her decapitated body is left in a plastic bag beside a cold riverbed?[1] Gregory Boyd believes that evil “cannot be captured in abstract definitions”[2] but must be known in concrete experiences, like that of seven-year-old Greta, before any serious answers may be given to the problem of evil—lest “abstractions… distract us from that immediate reality [of evil] and reduce evil to a statistic,” as suggested by Jeffery Burton Russell.[3]

Traditionally, classical theism has largely conditioned her adherents to accept that God, who is omnipotent, must allow Greta’s brutal murder for some good purpose and that Christians should accept this as being a part of God’s secret plan—often expressed in the popular cliché: “There is a reason for everything.”

Gregory Boyd, who previously taught theology at Bethel College in St. Paul Minnesota, where he is now a pastor of Woodland Hills Church, has in the last decade, encroached upon many long-held doctrines and traditions that Christians, particularly in America, hold dear.

His book, Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church (Zondervan 2006) is an example of his willingness to confront issues within cultural Christianity.

Boyd is a strong proponent of “open theism,” perhaps the most controversial of his challenges directed at classical theism. It is within Boyd’s open view of God’s sovereignty that he finds satisfactory solutions for the problem of evil and the way by which he constructs his “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.”[4]

The purpose of this article is to give reasonable consideration of the theodicy espoused by Gregory Boyd. The theodicy of Gregory Boyd will be appraised as a sensitive engagement of the issues pertaining to the problem of evil as it relates to the Christian life, showing the strengths of contemporary open theism, and thereby arguing for a respected position within evangelicalism.

This article will begin by briefly examining classical theism and will then direct full attention to the open theism of Gregory Boyd. How then does Boyd’s doctrine of God deal with the problem of evil and suffering in the world? What practical implications might his view have on Christians living in the present, as well as their hope for the future?

Finally, in what ways do Boyd’s theodicy enhance our understanding of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ?[5]

THE CLASSICAL DOCTRINE OF GOD

A Synopsis of Classical Theism

What does “classical theism” mean? Classical theism generally describes the way the Christian theological tradition handles the doctrine of God.[6] In other words, it describes the traditional or “classic” way in which Christians have answered the question, “Who is God?” or “What is God like?” Classical theists focus on certain attributes of God and build a systematic theology from what they have decided about God’s attributes.

For the sake of this article, it is only necessary that a few of those attributes be briefly addressed.[7]

According to classical theism, God is “immutable” and “impassible.” Immutability says that God is unchanging in nature. However, the tradition has gone as far as God being inert and unmoved. Impassibility, an attribute often closely associated with the former, suggests that God does not experience true sorrow, sadness, or pain. Therefore, any emotions attributed to God are purely metaphorical.

Classical theism also upholds the belief that God is “omnipotent” and “omniscient.” These attributes have been historically central to the Christian doctrine of God. Omnipotence says that God is “all powerful” and capable, within the limits of his attributes, of doing whatever he pleases. Omniscience means that God is “all knowing” and that there is nothing beyond his knowledge; this would include God’s foreknowing all things in the future.

It should be noted that these attributes have been largely expounded upon and articulated in Hellenic philosophical terminology, and more popularly defined by the likes of Augustine, Aquinas, and John Calvin.[8]

Rethinking Classical Theism

There are a growing number of evangelical theologians who are finding themselves dissatisfied with classical theism, and they propose an alternative to the traditional doctrine of God.[9] This controversial movement, and contemporary trend in the doctrine of God, has been dubbed “open theism”—a term coined by Richard Rice in his 1980 book, The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will.[10]

Open theism calls into question the way in which the divine attributes have been traditionally defined. Language about God in the Scripture, according to open theists, is not always intended to be anthropological or metaphorical. If God is “immutable” and never changes, then how, for example, is God sorry that he made humankind (Gen. 6:5)? How does God change his mind (Exod. 32:14)? And what about the incarnation (Jn. 1:14)?

Clark Pinnock, a major proponent of open theism, says, “God is unchanging in nature and essence but not in experience, knowledge and action.”[11] Open theists also call for a redefining of God’s sovereignty and his foreknowledge; if God already knows the future exhaustively, and the future is predetermined, then free will is merely an illusion.

Finally, open theists say that if God is in complete control of the cosmos, as proposed by classical theism, then he must be behind evil. Therefore, God could have done something about seven-year old Greta, but simply chose to “allow” it for his good purposes.

Open theists suggest that maybe it is time for evangelicals to rethink classical theism and realign their views with Scripture.

THE OPEN THEISM OF GREGORY BOYD

Free Will, Foreknowledge, & the Problem of Evil

Gregory Boyd believes that true freedom is incompatible with determinism.[12] The belief that God can foreknow all things, and that man can at the same time operate out of free will, is logically incoherent. This is a major point of contention for open theists. For Boyd, the future is partly open and full of possibilities. Only the past can be known exhaustively—for the past is gone, the present is ongoing, and the future is yet to come.

If the relational Triune God is love, then the very nature of love involves a certain level of risk.[13] Classical theists believe that this undermines God’s sovereignty.[14] Boyd argues, a God “who knows all possibilities, experiences novelty, and is willing to engage in an appropriate level of risk is more exalted than a God who faces an eternally settled future.”[15] And Boyd believes that this is the God presented in the Bible.

According to Boyd, God knows the future as “unsettled possibilities” (e.g. Gen. 23:12; Jer. 3:6-7; 2 Pet. 3:12) and “settled certainties” (e.g. Gen. 15:13-15; Matt. 24:1-32; Eph. 1:3-10) where God invites human beings, made in his image, to join him as agents of new creation.[16] God perfectly anticipates the actions of free creatures and knows all that is knowable about the future. Boyd says, it’s really about the nature of the future.

In this way God is truly immanent and operates within his creation according to its laws and nature. Since God’s knowledge is perfect in knowing possibilities, as if they were all certainties, he will forever be a step ahead of his creatures. However, those creatures are always given an “appropriate degree of freedom” to operate within creation and shape the future.[17]

Boyd believes the cross best speaks to the open view of the future, God’s sovereignty, and how God has judged evil once and for all in the death of Jesus:

The cross refutes the traditional notion that omnipotence means God always gets his way. Rather, the cross reveals God’s omnipotence as a power that empowers others—to the point of giving others the ability, if they so choose, to nail him to the cross. The cross reveals that God’s omnipotence is displayed in self-sacrificial love, not sheer might. God conquers sin and the devil not by a sovereign decree but by a wise and humble submission to crucifixion. In doing this, the cross reveals that God’s omnipotence is not primarily about control but about his compelling love. God conquers evil and wins the heart of people by self-sacrificial love, not by coercive force.[18]

Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 NIV). According to Boyd, this presupposes that God’s will is not always done. Therefore, in Boyd’s view, genuine free will affords mankind the choice to align with God’s good intentions for creation and say, “not my will be done, but thine” or otherwise join the forces of evil that fight against God.

Boyd is convinced that there is a real war being waged between human and angelic agents of free will. He rejects what he calls the “blueprint worldview” where God ordains everything that comes to pass—which in the end makes God responsible for evil.[19]

Therefore, he says, “The blueprint worldview intensifies the problem of evil, and it is rooted in fundamental philosophical assumptions that are highly questionable.”[20] Instead, Boyd offers the “warfare worldview” as a way of making sense of the problem of evil within the doctrine of God. He calls it his “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.”

A Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy

Gregory Boyd says, “This intellectual problem of evil constitutes the single most difficult challenge to classical-philosophical Christian theism.” He continues, “Indeed, it is not overstating the case to claim that no single theological problem has occupied more intellectual energy, time, and ink than this one.”[21]

As Clark Pinnock has pointed out, modern atheism is largely due to philosophical distortions that have entered into the doctrine of God.[22] Boyd is determined to clear up these distortions with his “philosophical theology” set forth in his book, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy.[23] Boyd says:

I call it a trinitarian warfare theodicy for two reasons. First, I want clearly to distinguish the warfare worldview I espouse and defend from the warfare worldview that most other cultures in history have in some form espoused. The biblical warfare worldview is unique in that it has at its foundation the belief in a triune Creator God who is all-powerful and all-good. This is why the trinitarian warfare worldview is unique: it must reconcile the reality of spiritual war with the belief in an all-powerful and all-good God.[24]

Boyd says he is motivated by his encounter with Scripture, not philosophy.[25] However, because his theodicy is a work in philosophical theology, Boyd says that reason will play a more dominant role than it would in a biblical theology. He states, “Scriptural revelation goes beyond reason, but I do not believe it ever goes against reason.”[26]

Boyd explains his methodology:

The method I employ to arrive at the six theses that constitute the core of the trinitarian warfare worldview is based on Wesley’s methodological quadrangle of Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition as the criteria for theological truth.[27]

These six theses form the core of his position and perspective:

  1. Love must be freely chosen. This entails that creatures possessing the capacity to love, must also have self-determining freedom.
  2. Love involves risk. There is no way God could have created beings with self-determining freedom without suffering some losses.
  3. Love and freedom mean that creatures are to some degree “morally responsible for one another.”
  4. The ability an agent has to do good is roughly proportionate to the ability that creature has to do evil.
  5. Freedom must be, within limits, irrevocable. For Boyd, this explains why God cannot always prevent evil or interfere in human affairs.
  6. The capacity to choose love is not endless. Human beings are finite and their choices only extend so far. This means that self-determined creatures have a limited capacity to accept or reject God’s purposes.[28]

Boyd says that the final theses, “renders intelligible why God must genuinely war against rebellious creatures at the present time, though he is certain to overcome them in the future.”[29] In fact, Boyd believes that the entire narrative of Scripture is the telling of one great spiritual war.

In his book, God At War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict, Boyd first laid out the framework for his warfare worldview.[30] He examined both the Old and New Testaments in order to prove that behind the scenes of human history there has been an ongoing battle of cosmic forces. Satan and his angels began a war against the God of heaven some time in the primordial past and brought their rebellion to earth.[31]

What began in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-15), continued through the trials of Job (1:6-12), warred against the prayers of Daniel (10:1-21), and demonized the man along the Sea of Galilee (Mk. 5:1-20), was finally confronted by Jesus with spiritual and physical “acts of war.”

According to Boyd, even “natural evils” (e.g. earthquakes, floods, birth defects, mental illness etc.) are a result of these evil powers and they should be attributed to Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2) and his fallen angels that have turned against God.[32]

Boyd believes that every evil act or event is a result of free agents choosing to oppose God’s will. Whether that is humans or angels, all evil comes to us because of acts of defiance against God.[33]

Boyd says, “Evil is a mystery, but it is not a mystery concerning Yahweh’s character… the mystery of evil is not located in the heart of God but in the heart of humanity and in the hidden world between humans and God.”[34] God is not to blame for evil in his world.

Boyd contends that the early Christians were well aware of this spiritual war and it constituted “the only ‘problem of evil’ they knew or cared about.” It was a matter of aligning their lives with God’s will in Jesus. Boyd says, “It was a problem solved by spiritual activism, not by intellectual contemplation and pious resignation.”[35] The early believers were urged to join the angelic forces of God, in spiritual battle, with spiritual armor, through prayer (Eph. 6:10-18).

As Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12 NIV).

There was no need for the early Christians to ponder “why bad things happen to good people,” because they were ever mindful of the war that rages on until Christ comes to establish his kingdom forever on the earth (Rev. 20-21). They were at war with evil—fighting with weapons not of this world (2 Cor. 10:4)! They resonated with the words of Paul: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom. 16:20).

Practical Implications

So what then can be said about seven-year old Greta who was abducted and raped before being brutally murdered? Where was God in this wretched evil?

In this light we must conclude that it is at least as true to say that God could not prevent Greta’s abduction as it is to say that God chose not to prevent it.  God chose not to prevent this abduction in the sense that he alone chose to create the kind of risky world where this kind of evil could happen. Moreover, because God made this choice, he now could not guarantee that this evil would be prevented. Where free agents are involved, God’s omnipotent will can at times be thwarted (Lk. 7:30).[36]

Gregory Boyd’s “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” does more than somehow let God off the hook for evil. His theodicy implies that both humans and angels are in a real war with God. Therefore, human and angelic actions really do matter in this world. Free agents can choose to join the Lord in works of the kingdom to resist evil and “speed his coming” (2 Peter 3:8-13) in the world, or capitulate to evil through actions that are antithetical to the new heaven and earth.

Boyd says, “If we believe that possibilities are not real, we will be more inclined to accept things that we could, and should, revolt against.”[37] Boyd calls for a proactive stance toward evil.

How then should Christians revolt? Boyd suggests that followers of Christ ought to understand prayer as “morally responsible behavior” in confronting evil in the world.[38] He believes that many Christians do not pray passionately against evil because somewhere deep down they don’t believe it can make any real difference.

People often pray out of obligation without any sense of urgency.[39] Boyd is convinced that if Christians get their minds right about what’s really going on, they will then see God opposed to all evil and join him in that opposition.

Embracing this “open” warfare worldview may not entirely solve the problem of evil, but Boyd believes that “it offers a more plausible way out of the dilemma of assuming God has a purpose for allowing particular evils.”[40] It is then necessary to reject the blueprint worldview.

Jesus taught his followers to align themselves with the Father’s will in prayer in order that he might have his way in them and the world (Matt. 6:10). Prayer joins heaven and earth. It moves people, angels, and all of creation to action against evil in order that God’s forces advance in the universe.

So when evil momentarily gets the upper hand, Boyd reminds Christians that God’s power is so great that he can use evil for the good of those who are concerned with kingdom alignment (Rom. 8:28). God weeps for Greta and others like her that have suffered at the hands of Satan. God is not sitting idly by doing nothing—and neither should his people.

It is plain that Boyd’s theodicy is a serious treatment of spiritual warfare. It implies that Christian living really does matter for kingdom’s sake. Boyd’s theodicy also reminds believers that God is for his people, always. He comes alongside his people and suffers with them (Heb. 4:15-16).

The cross of Christ reminds God’s people that he has himself experienced the full weight of evil. The resurrection says that God has conquered and that he is recreating the world in Jesus. Sin and death are on the way out. Boyd’s warfare worldview assures believers of God’s certain triumph, but in the meantime, there is a real battle being fought in heaven and earth.

Most importantly, Christians are reminded that Jesus reveals the God of Scripture. Jesus shows us that God is not behind evil, but instead, he stands utterly opposed to it. Boyd suggests that this also means that believers should see Jesus’ own actions as God’s way of rebuking evil.[41]

Where there is hate, let there be love. Where there is darkness, let there be light. Where there is unrest, let there be peace. And where there exists the most horrendous evils in the world, let God’s people overcome that evil with the good of Christ—for he has given us the victory.

CONCLUSION—A PLEA FOR OPEN DIALOGUE WITHIN EVANGELICALISM

Clark Pinnock has said, “No doctrine can be more important than the doctrine of God.”[42] Pinnock stands as a great testimony to evangelicals of what semper reformanda truly means. As an evangelical, he knew what it was like to be on a theological journey of discovery.

Pinnock (1937-2010) went from being a fundamentalist to ending his days as a respected open theist. He was familiar with the turmoil that comes from having his views challenged and making adjustments when needed.

Pinnock said:

After the initial anxiety of rethinking, one will find God again in a fresh way around the next bend in the reflective road. Rather than worry about our discomfort, perhaps we should be concerned about God’s reputation. Does it not concern us that God’s name is often dishonored because of poor theologies of God? How can we expect Christians to delight in God or outsiders to seek God if we portray God in biblically flawed, rationally suspect and existentially repugnant ways? We cannot expect it.[43]

As long as men let their guiding light be Christ and the Scriptures, how can another brother or sister stifle the growth and discovery of perceived truths? It goes to the heart of what it means to be an evangelical. There is room for open theists at the table of Christian orthodoxy.[44]

The challenge facing classical theism is not one that undermines biblical Christianity. Open theism is no doubt a perceived threat to classical theists, but this is because there are fundamental philosophical nuances between the two positions.[45]

After having examined the theodicy of Gregory Boyd, it should be clear that the conclusions he has drawn are biblically founded and Christ honoring. Who can deny open theists a place in serious evangelical discussion and debate?

May evangelicalism be enriched by the contributions of open theists.

D.D. Flowers, 2010.

Listen to Gregory Boyd give an intro lecture on open theism. Listen to Gregory Boyd at Altar Video Magazine.


[1] Gregory A. Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 214-215.

[2] Boyd, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 34.

[3] Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Prince of Darkness (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), 257.

[4] Boyd sets forth his “Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy” in his book, Satan and the Problem of Evil. His open theism theodicy will be discussed in detail later in the third section of this article, The Open Theism of Gregory Boyd.

[5] As an open theist, Gregory Boyd is especially concerned with evil and what God is doing about it. Therefore, this article will focus primarily on his “open” perspective to the problem of evil. He has made a great effort to address his concerns with classical theism and present his theodicy as the “warfare worldview” in the following books: God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997); Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001); Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

[6] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 53.

[7] For a full discussion, see Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 78-97; and Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 156-184.

[8] Robert M. Grant, The Early Christian Doctrine of God (Charlottesville, VA: Univ. of Virginia, 1966), 12; also Charles Hartshorne and W. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God, 2nd ed. (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2000).

[9] Richard Rice, God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1985); John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998); William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989); David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1986); and Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000); also R. Nash’s, The Concept of God: An Exploration of Contemporary Difficulties with the Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983).

[10] The book was so controversial that publication was halted. Due to the efforts of Clark Pinnock, the book was later republished as, God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1985).

[11] Clark Pinnock, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 118.

[12] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 419. Boyd says, “compatibilism and the problem of evil are inextricably connected” (p.61).

[13] Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998).

[14] As John Piper argues in his book: Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003); also in Millard Erickson’s, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003).

[15] Boyd, God of the Possible, 15.

[16] Ibid., 16. Boyd says, “I see no way to know for certain what is and is not open” (p. 146).

[17] Ibid., 68.

[18] Ibid., 49.

[19] Boyd, Is God to Blame?, 41.

[20] Ibid., 55.

[21] Boyd, God At War, 43.

[22] Pinnock, The Openness of God, 102.

[23] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 18.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Boyd, God of the Possible, 12-13.

[26] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 21.

[27] Ibid., 20

[28] Ibid., 24.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Boyd, God At War.

[31] Ibid., 93-113. Boyd entertains the “gap theory” or what he calls the “restoration theory.” This theory proposes that there was a cosmic battle between Genesis 1:1-2; see Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), 121-122.

[32] Ibid., 206. Boyd says that we can’t possibly know the exact cause of every evil act or event, but it is safe to assume that the activity belongs to Satan and his forces of evil that continue to rebel against their Creator.

[33] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 49.

[34] Boyd, God At War, 149.

[35] Ibid., 283.

[36] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 215.

[37] Boyd, God of the Possible, 93.

[38] Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil, 229.

[39] Boyd, God of the Possible, 95. Boyd believes the blueprint worldview propagates this idea.

[40] Ibid., 99.

[41] Boyd, Is God to Blame?, 72.

[42] Pinnock, The Openness of God, 102.

[43] Ibid., 104.

[44] Clark Pinnock, “There is room for us: a reply to Bruce Ware.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 213-219. * Other notable open theists include: Adrio Konig, Jürgen Moltmann, Thomas Finger, Terence Fretheim, Keith Ward, John Goldingay, Kenneth Archer, Winkie Pratney, and H. Berkhof.

[45] See, Gregory Boyd, “Christian love and academic dialogue: a reply to Bruce Ware.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45, no. 2 (June 1, 2002): 233-243.

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About David D. Flowers

David received a B.A. in Religion from East Texas Baptist University and a M.T.S. in Biblical Studies from Houston Graduate School of Theology. David was in student ministry for 7 years, taught Biblical Studies & Latin at The Woodlands Christian Academy for 5 years, and now pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Virginia. View all posts by David D. Flowers

28 responses to “An Open Theism Theodicy

  • Erik Anderson

    Thanks again for posting this informative and straightforward outline of open theism . . . I heard a lot of one sided debates happening when Greg was a professor at Bethel University and after hearing a succinct presentation of the position I was won over. I suspect this blog will have others rethinking their positions or at least allowing open theists to have a voice. Keep it up!!

  • tommyab

    I more and more tend to be much more impressed by a God that can act as Joseph described: Gen 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”…… a God that can make good things out of evil things, rather than a God that has a plan and allow the evil. A God that is still the creator, who is the one who has the power to resurrect where death has made its bad work.

    I am not able to say to someone who suffer: “you know… it was God’s plan” (… seems more to be a Job’s friend answer). I have the gut-feeling and the intuition, and it seems to me that it’s more biblical and christian to say: “you know… that evil you are going through is horrible… we’re in the midst of a war… but God can do very good things even in this nightmare, and even if he don’t, he sees you, ” (I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. – Psalms 31)

    faith, it seems to me, is not needed if all is planned. The only thing that is needed is to believe that all is planned,… but maybe not be right…

  • Bill Benninghoff

    Excellent article David. Gregory Boyd raises excellent points that need to be studied and discussed within both academic and church circles. Thanks for having the courage to post this. As someone mentioned earlier, some will have a knee-jerk reaction and reject this completely, but those who are not afraid to examine our present theology in light of the Scripture will find that this theory has substantial scriptural support. I have found the fact that Jesus asked us to pray that the Father’s will be done on earth to be a very interesting request given many of our popular theologies that would suggest there is no need to pray for that. I believe that everything that happens on earth is not necessarily the will of our Father in heaven. The open theism view helps me to understand Scripture better and also presents a higher and more complete understanding of God Himself.

  • James Bass

    Obviously, not all who oppose the concepts presented by Open Theists are Knee-Jerkers. I was exposed to this in 2002 through Bruce Ware’s short treatise against the basic concepts promoted by Boyd,Pinnock and others. Although I understand that one should not form opinions or conclusions on biblical and theological views only from a reading of those who oppose them, I didn’t explore this any further until very recently.

    I have read through much of Boyd’s works, “God of the Possible” and “Is God to Blame?”, and will continue to read a few other of his titles I’ve picked up. Through this reading and continuing study of the scriptures that are brought to its defense, I do understand the primary thesis of the view. However, I have come to consider this conceptualization of God, Man and Reality inconsistent with the scriptures and ultimately damaging to faith.

    Far from being a knee-jerk, I have arrived at this reluctantly and with a sense of sadness.
    Dear brothers and sisters will come to frame their views regarding their walk of faith and their most intimate dealings with God on a very sub-biblical belief system.

    Some of these brothers and sisters are also some of my cloeset friends. What they may come to see as the only clear, reasonable, biblical and healthy understanding of these things, I can only see as a path leading to a dangerous, downward slope.

    Yes, I know I didn’t present a reasoned case in this post. Not interested in a battle, just an honest display of a saddened heart by a brother with a concerned spirit. -jb

    • David D. Flowers

      James, thanks for taking the time to read the article. I’m sure you understand what I meant by the “knee-jerk” reaction most folks give to this. I didn’t mean this in any derogatory way. You even admitted that you first read from an opponent of open theism and formed your first opinions from them. That’s exactly what I meant.

      It is good to know that you have recently read books by these authors. Nonetheless, it is inescapable that your first encounter with the issue has shaped some of your feelings toward it. I felt this way in the beginning, and I had only heard about it under the breath of fundies. Disagreeing is one thing (you may do that), but saying that your friends are headed down a “dangerous, downward slope” seems, at least to me, that you haven’t had many conversations with your close friends about it. I suspect this because many, who hold to some form of “open theism,” will say that their view of God’s sovereignty is much wider than your own, and that they have been brought closer to the Lord in numerous ways after having discovered it. If that slope leads down, down where? (I’ve heard that sort of talk directed at house churchers as well.)

      As far as I can tell, “open” folks have only been enriched by their fresh interpretations of Scripture. You are certainly free to disagree. However, I would be slow to have a “saddened heart” and a “concerned spirit,” at this point in the discussion, as that seems to be reacting to doctrinal issues like the old deacon board. :-)

      Most importantly, we have come into Christ, I believe, in a new way. I could be wrong about that. But I do know, how we handle these issues will likely be the true measure of that claim. I hope that you will be interested in an honest dialogue… more than an honest display of your sadness. Thanks, brother.

  • john morris

    David, once again I am amazed at the topic and timing of your post. Your post have often mirrored my own seeking. My own “new” journey began a couple of years ago, when I realized how off course the whole institutional church system had gotten, and how the pastor/laity divide had been so accept into the church. If the traditional understanding of these critical foundational issues had gotten so far of course, then what else may also be?

    These “revelations” have caused me to be more questioning of so many more “truth’s” that I (and so many others) have just simply accepted as being foundational to our faith. It has been a fantastic journey,path, course, whatever you want to call it. I have grown tremendously over the last years, and I am so thankful to my Lord for his patience in dealing with me.

    Your blog has played an important part in my life, with that journey, and I wanted to thank you for that. I will be having coffee this week, we another brother who also has been instrumental in my own journey, I think you know him, his name is Milt Rodriguez, if you like I will pass along your greetings.

    Keep up the good fight, your brother in Christ, John Morris.

    • David D. Flowers

      John, I have received a true blessing from your encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to express your heart. It is a journey, isn’t it? And we should never be afraid to follow the Lord wherever he leads us–always staying open to him (no pun intended). :-)

      Keep pressing on, brother. Yes, please tell Milt hello for me.

  • Marshall

    Curious how Open Theism falls short of its apparent end: unable to quite clear God of evil’s blame; feeble to fully expunge the future from history.

    Greg’s six core theses are malformed?
    1) love does not need be “freely chosen” (outside Roman mytho-philosophy).
    2) risk is a potential, while losses are incurred. [dissimilarity]
    3) our responsibility to one another is complete(-d) in/by Love.
    4) ability of an agent to do good, or evil, remains indefinite (to the mind of man).
    5) freedom does not exist irrevocable for any mortal.
    6) humbly, we have yet to find the limits of love; yet to establish a boundary preventing those in Christ from the will of God.

    un-blaming God by delimiting His power or sovereignty is a common diversion for the human mind over-taxed to the “problem of evil”; while to Almighty God, evil is NOT such a problem as men envision or fear.

    May we not go where passionate prayer against evil displaces “Thy will be done”.

  • Bart Breen

    Hey David,

    Excellent article. Succinct, to the point and very well documented.

    I’ve had many of the knee-jerk reactions toward Open Theism earlier in my life which were pretty much predictable because of my training and associations which made it clear to me where I must fall, before even understanding the position.

    The past 5 years of my journey have in many ways been something of a withdrawal and detoxing of many of those positions. You’re spot on when you say that Greek Philosophy is the root of many of the systematic theological positions which you take and find their roots in Anselm and Augustine. At the very least that has convinced me to look hard at many of my understandings and proof-textings from OT passages to support these ideas in the form of a jigsaw puzzle of sorts that starts with the philosophical understanding of “perfect” direct from Plato’s cave. When I read many of the large chunks of full stories and thoughts from the OT, I find that they are in direct opposition to much of those presuppositions that I bring to the Scriptures.

    I have a lot of respect for Boyd. I’ve read several of his works, even while I have that inbred sense of having to be careful because “he’s one of those …”

    You can imagine some of the early conflict that came from reading and coming to the conclusion that Boyd hits the mark more often than not and while this will alarm some from my past associations, a lot of what he said to me just “felt” right.

    Now, that I’ve had time away and begun to detach from some of these concepts beaten into me earlier in life (that’s another story) I find I’m less impressed by “labels” that tell me in advance what to think of someone and what they have to say, and more inclined to read what they say with a mind and spirit open. It doesn’t mean there aren’t many things I might disagree with or put on the shelf until I’m later able to interact with things. But one of the things I’ve come away with is that many people I was closed to earlier are now ones who challenge me the most and help me to see where these presupposed beliefs are coming from and where they in fact rely more upon the after-the-fact proof texting than a simple biblical theology that attempts to suspend my philosophical and cultural inclinations and just read the OT in a frame of mind that desires to understand what the original writer and audience understood from it and then bring that back to my context. The other way, while very comfortable, was the tail wagging dog and it’s good to be freed from it.

    So more to the point, not only should Boyd and Open Theists be welcome at the table, I’m to a point where not only will I admit them, but if they’ll put in a good word for some in the past who told me to ignore them, I’ll even reconsider what they have to say too … assuming they’ll come to the table and not just sulk in the outskirts.

    Keep up the good work! I enjoy your writing and thinking, my friend.

    Blessings,

    bart

  • Aaron

    David,
    Great article! You address a lot of key issues. Of course God not always get His will. God does not want anyone to perish and wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). However, unless you believe in universal salvation, you know that is not the case. As John Sanders points out, immutability and impassibility are routed much deeper in Greek philosophy and Plato than they are the Scripture.
    Every model of the Doctrine of God has issues. Openness, Calvinism, Arminianism, etc. There is Scriptural support and opposition for any set of beliefs. In spite of the difficulties, Openness seems to make most sense to me, and seems to be probably the most Biblical.
    Good Job David.

  • David D. Flowers

    I agree, Aaron. Thanks for reading, bro!

  • David

    Sounds like gnosticism.

  • Ron Friesen

    I was one of Pinnock’s students when I attended Regent College, Vancouver, B.C. Thank you for including a tribute to Clark in this article. There are two ways to deal with the problem of evil: redefine God or redefine evil. Boyd’s approach is the former; David Bentley Hart is a modern representative of the later. It would be interesting to see a debate between Boyd and Hart.

  • CALEB

    So, God didn’t “know” that Jesus was going to the cross BEFORE it actually happened? Psalms 22 and Isaiah 53 were just “coincidental” writings that occurred several hundred YEARS before Christ died?

    Really?

    • David D. Flowers

      No, Caleb. It’s not like that at all. Open theists, like Boyd, believe that some things are certain and other things are open. As I said in the footnotes, Boyd doesn’t believe that we can be entirely sure of what is certain and what is open in the future. The beautiful thing about this view is that it brings a great deal of more meaning to the fact that Christ crucified was indeed a guarantee and a certainty for mankind. In freedom the universe makes way for God the Father to reveal the Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, prophecies in hindsight reflect definite certainties in the mind of God. This can’t be denied.

      Please keep an “open” ear to Boyd’s perspective before jumping to conclusions. It really is awe-inspiring. If you’re truly interested, please read Boyd’s book, “God of the Possible.” It’s a great intro to this perspective of God’s engagement with a free world where his sovereignty looks like the cross, not a huge bicep coming out of heaven.

  • Gioia Morris

    Dear David
    Thanks for this great post – so much to think about and ponder in the spirit…
    The questions of evil and suffering has haunted me for years – as long as I can remember really – I have never come to a place where I could say I was comfortable with anyone’s answers.

    My own theological beliefs have changed tremendously over the last few years to the point where I don’t think that the person I was a few years ago would be willing to have fellowship with the person I am today and that’s a humbling reality to me now and somewhat embarrassing.

    What it has taught me though is to realize that all of us who are known by Him are on a journey of discovering Truth – none of us is completely right – ever… none of our theologies are completely right – our human minds are not capable of completely comprehending His greatness. We are all on a journey towards the ultimate revelation of His truth that will be completely visible and revealed once heaven and earth are joined for eternity.

    Oh I can’t wait for that day – in the meantime I am comforted by Rom. 11:33 “How unsearchable are His judgments and his ways past finding out”

    I’ve also come to learn that we must interact and listen to those that adhere to theologies that differ from our own. If we limit ourselves to our safe and comfortable theological sources we will limit the sharpening process of the “one another” that is rooted in Love.

    I have to admit that some of the open theism makes me a little uncomfortable but that is good I believe – it challenges me to think deep and I understand today more than ever that my theology will continue to be shaped and changed as I go on living in this reality and so it should.

    I am thankful today for brothers like you David who continue to challenge me and my beliefs in ways that I never would have conceived of on my own. We need one another more than ever – let’s all continue to listen to one another and accept one another in Love!
    Peace and Love to all!

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Gioia,
      You have been a great encouragement to me. Thank you for reading. Most of all, thank you for being transparent and faithful to following Christ wherever he leads as you (as we) search the “unsearchable” riches of God’s love. The joy is in the searching.

      Your Brother,
      David

  • Rob

    Hi David,

    I am new to your blog (via a link from Greg Boyd’s site at reknew.org, in fact) and new to the whole idea of open theism. I’ve been a Christian in pentecostal churches for 27 years. Only in the last three to five years have I begun to find some of the doctrines and positions that are uncritically and unthinkingly accepted in that milieu sadly lacking. I am very much in the process of beginning to explore open theism; unfortunately, researching the subject on the web immediately brings up a swarm of negative reactions, many of which are hostile to the point of incivility. So it was truly refreshing to find your mature and balanced assessment set out so clearly.

    I am, of course, aware that the path to heterodoxy is wide and that the human heart has an almost unlimited capacity for self-deception. So it is with great care, fear and trembling that I begin to challenge some of the beliefs I have unquestioningly held. But I am guided by the conviction that God is able to prevent those who diligently seek Him from straying from the path of truth.

    It seems like “God of the Possible” is a must-read and I am going to have to add it my lengthening reading list!

    Blessings to you.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Rob, following the Lord has its moments of intense intellectual struggles and cross-country treks through the unknown and unfamiliar. Keep pressing on in the Lord in spirit, mind, and body. Blessings on your journey. Thanks for reading.

  • Jose

    Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after
    I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr…

    Well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say excellent blog!

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