Reflection on Open 2013


I attended Open 2013: Open Theology & the Church in St. Paul, MN last month. The main speakers were Greg Boyd, Tom Oord, and John Sanders. The conference was held at Woodland Hills Church and hosted by the ReKnew team. I had a great time and wanted to tell you about it.

I flew up early on Thursday and hung out with a couple of old college buddies until the first session that evening. It was nice getting to catch up with my friends, Josh Crain and Samuel Holder.

The conference began that evening with Greg Boyd talking about the History and Hope of Open Theology in the church. Greg talked about the growing attraction of the open view and discussed its historical roots in church history. Q&A followed.

The next day Jessica Kelley gave a very moving message about the recent loss of her 4 year old son, Henry. Jessica shared how the open view made all the difference in her family’s experience of losing Henry to a brain tumor. I was already prepared to cry. I had read Jessica’s story a couple weeks before, and as a new father, I wept through the entire thing.

Unfortunately, there was a mix up and her talk wasn’t recorded. But you can read Jessica’s story over at her blog, Jess in Process. I expect that God is going to continue using Jessica and her family in some spectacular ways (even more so) in the days to come. I even told her myself.  🙂

John Sanders gave the plenary address on Friday evening. He lectured on The Virtues Inherent in Open Theism. John fashioned his message to show that the open view allows for the best portrait of God over other views, especially that of classical theology. Q&A followed.

Tom Oord delivered an interesting informal classroom-styled message on Openness & Moment-by-Moment Relation. He even used the dry-erase board to draw his illustrations. Tom’s talk was stimulating as he made a case for holiness and “perfection” coming through our choosing from the best options among a world of possibilities.

One of my favorite parts of the conference was the table discussions on Friday and Saturday (during the day). I had the privilege of leading and moderating a group. It was encouraging to see and hear from so many people around the country (and globe) that are embracing the open view and learning how it is shaping their lives and ministries.

It’s still unclear if the conference will be annual, or every other year. One thing is for certain, the entire weekend was encouraging and uplifting to all in attendance. There is definitely a movement taking place within the church.

Finally, check out this video reflection of Open 2013.

THANK YOU to all those who put the conference together and had the vision to make it happen. I also want to thank our local congregation for assisting in the expenses of the trip. Thank you, Church at Birnham Woods. And a special thanks to Greg and Shelley Boyd for letting me crash at your house my last night in St. Paul. Your hospitality was a blessing.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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 has over 20 years experience as a pastor and teacher in and outside the church. He currently pastors an Anabaptist congregation in Pennsylvania. View all posts by David D. Flowers

13 responses to “Reflection on Open 2013

  • Barry

    I really enjoyed John’s take on the term we have always heard and believed that “God is love.” And then taking that idea and aligning “God is love” with the “Love is…” list of virtues that describe love, thereby applying these virtues to God. Really awesome!

    I have a problem with John’s take on one of God’s virtues being hope, but in that hope as God hopes for certain outcomes in the lives of humans, He is rendered unknowing of the outcome. That clashes with my idea of God being all-knowing. I’ll have to think on that. There is a non-stopped and hoped for evolution of God’s kingdom and our involvement in it. I don’t think God’s “hoping” (which I do get what John is saying of hope being a virtue of God, and I glom onto that idea) limits His ability to know the minute by minute eternity long evolution of it. Very interesting.

    • Andrew Patrick

      If God did create us with free will, then he cannot truly “know” what we will choose before we exist, can he? Such a thing would be “unknowable” (paradox) … and by definition, you cannot know the unknowable.

      Other examples of “unknowable” (paradox tricks) would be,

      1. Can God make a square circle?
      2. Can God make a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?

      I do not think you could answer “yes” to either of those questions, but would that make God less than almighty and all powerful?

      Would it help to have a couple biblical examples where God says as much that he does not know which way we will choose? Why would he implore us to choose life over death, if he already knew whether we would or we would not?

      Either there is a real choice before us or God is putting up a really big playact illusion of these possibilities.

      • Barry

        Yes, this is where the paradox turns into the oxymoron turns into the antithesis. God created us in His image. In that I think He included many things just shy of godhood within man (we are the created order, and He is God, just to clear that up in my statement). In other words with sometimes giant capacities of emotions, thought, reason, logic. Man is the created order of choices.

        From the moment of salvation to the moment one makes a decision whether or not to steal the pack of gum from the store, man processes through choices constantly in his moment-to-moment existence. It is a reality show drama that plays out daily in every life. The Biblical calls to have faith, and believe and choose reflect the practical reality that man must make decisions with choice and free will. None of these things exclude God’s all-knowingness. God’s all-knowingness doesn’t pit itself against man’s free will and destiny. One doesn’t diminish the other. I don’t see that God’s absolute control over the affairs of man in that He intervenes in those affairs when he sees fit to work a greater purpose violates the free will of which He created man.

        But certainly most of us have experienced moving along in life in our free will, having goals and dreams and pursuing them full steam ahead. And then God suddenly pulls the rug out from under us through His wise all-knowing understanding of the future and nixes our well-free-will-thought-out plans, because there are things that He All-Knows, and His will in fulfillment of those “better” plans trumps ours. So His all-knowingness runs parallel to our free will. Both playing out in an eternal cosmic drama – no disrespect in this description “eternal cosmic drama” as real lives are in the balance.

        See. I told you that I would have both the free-willers and the pre-destiners mad at me at the same time.
        But all in grace. And you know what? This subject is a non-essential.

        • Andrew Patrick

          It is hard to tell from your description, but it seems like you might be confusing God’s ability to make something happen in spite of our free will with a paradoxical “God always knows what we will choose of our free will.”

          I can think of a couple cases where God overrode free will, such as when Nebuchadnezzar became like a beast, when Saul was made to lay down and prophesy, but these are exceptions that prove the rule. God’s typical stance is to “wait and see” what we shall choose.

          Essentially, if God did create creatures with free will, then by definition it is impossible for “what they shall choose” to be part of what can be “100% knowable.” Reasonable predictions are one thing and intervention to steer events differently than we would have chosen are on a different level altogether.

        • Barry

          God created. It is Him that can pull off the unreasonable. He can both operate and cause us to operate within free will, but also be the All-Knowing. It’s what God does, because He is able. This is a level of understanding that cannot be fully captured by us created folk. It’s kinda’ like time. God works in His state of time, and we have ours. They both run side by side. Try to explain that. One could get close, but in the end be left scratching their head. We could do the best we can over trying to justify free will and pre-destination (if that’s the word to use) existing in the same plane. But it’s a hard thing. It’s also a non-essential.

        • Andrew Patrick

          Where did you get (or what do you mean by) “God works in His state of time, and we have ours?” as in … both running side by side? Let’s make sure we don’t veer into philosophy…

          I don’t think that would be hard to explain because I can’t think of anything that would substantiate it to begin with. My explanation would be “where did you see that?”

          I think this does approach “essential” because the logical extension of what you call “predestination” is complacency and/or hopelessness.

          The literal meaning of “predestination” means “determined before” but that does not guarantee that the creature fulfills its destination. Arrows are predestined to be shot from a bow to their target, but we all know that not all arrows fulfill their destiny, no?

        • Barry

          Actually, I have always been puzzled at such the division and almost militancy of the stand of both the predestiners and the freewillers. I’ve known and heard both, and there are some on both sides that I dearly love as my fellow Christian. I see the points of both, and I have my own opinion. But such intensity over an honestly non-esential. I think I will bow out of this debate. But I leave all with this… us born-again freewillers and predestiners will be doing the high five at the banquet tablet up there one day. It won’t matter. And after the meal, we will be at the feet of Christ. And one will ask of Him, “Lord, is it free will or predestination?” And I think He will sigh, and in avoiding the discussion He’ll ask, “Wasn’t desert awesome? It’s such a beautiful day.”

  • jesseward

    I hope the conference is annually.

  • Jessica Kelley

    Thanks for the kind words, friend. We’ve been praying for you guys without ceasing! Looking forward to good news about your next steps 🙂

  • Ed Raby Sr

    Wish I could have been there. Has there been any talk of having more conferences around the country? With pastors such as myself, resources can be a problem to getting to such things.

    • David D. Flowers

      Hey Ed, Yes! There is talk of having it another major city the next time around. But we still don’t know when or where yet. Stay tuned to for future details. I do understand about resources. Thanks, bro.

  • Eric Frederick

    David, I found your blog on a google search. As I listened to Greg Boyd’s take on open theology and then his question and answer on the topic, I found that there is a reservation in my heart over it. For a spiritual man, there is a dangerous way in it. In itself it is not necessarily lacking in accuracy, but it is lacking in what I am going to call spiritual substance. One thing is that it is largely theoretical in it’s presentation and not demonstrated clearly as the mind of God. We cannot have spiritual life by living on a word that has proceeded from the mouth of a smart man, but that which proceeds from God. So it may be an empty shell of a thing is what I am saying. Secondly, there is desire for it to be a movement. Austin Sparks points out through the scriptures quite a number of times that movements are cheap and fading. Even a good movement is still a movement if the Lord is not the one doing the moving. I agree with the principle that God gives liberty to His children to find Him and that there should not be a crystalization of doctrine by those that are likened to guardians. That is a very frustrating state of affairs. But all in all beyond that simple point the thing ventures out into theoretical. Thirdly, it is still an “ism”. We should be very careful of “isms” they are not the greatest for spiritual life. They tend to result in death. You may think I am being entirely negative about the thing. The thing is fine and you can believe this thing if you like. I do not expect that my opinion is of much value. I am a firm believer that the Lord has asked us to be very very careful with what we are believing, and the way we are believing because we are being taught in the Lord to become certain of exactly who we are believing in.

    • David D. Flowers

      Eric, I encourage you to check out Greg’s book “God of the Possible” for a case made from Scripture. The fact is that we all embrace some “isms” and other systems of thought along the way of Christ. Some folks are just more honest about it. Thanks for reading, bro!

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