By Gorski, Eric
The Christian Century , Vol. 118, No. 34
Taking a stand in line with their conservative core, members of the Evangelical Theological Society have approved a resolution rejecting "open theism"--the belief that God does not fully know the future because people have been given the freedom to help shape it through their decisions.
The society was far from united, however, on how to deal with the small number of scholars in their ranks who advocate open theism, which has been called heretical by some and enlightening by others. The issue dominated discussion at the society's 53rd annual meeting in mid-November at Colorado Springs.
The resolution, approved by roughly 70 percent of the 360 society members who cast ballots on November 16, states, "We believe the Bible clearly teaches that God has complete, accurate and infallible knowledge of all events past, present and future, including all future decisions and actions of free moral agents." About 18 percent of voting members opposed it and another 11 percent abstained.
Resolution supporters characterized it as a "snapshot" of the society's opinion that would be used to guide future decisions. Critics called the vote a precursor to excluding open theists. Still others complained the movement was far too new for members to take a stand on it. Wayne Grudem, a member of the society's executive committee, which wrote the resolution, called it a "gentle nudge" for open theists either to change their minds or "seriously consider leaving." Grudem, who teaches at Phoenix Theological Seminary, and others say open theism undermines the central evangelical belief of biblical inerrancy.
Open theism, also called free-will theism, was introduced to a broader public in 1994 with the publication of The Openness of God by five evangelical scholars, including its editor, Clark Pinnock. The book's back-cover self-description says God desires "responsive relationships" with his creatures. "While it rejects process theology, the book asserts that such classical doctrines as God's immutability, impassability and foreknowledge demand reconsideration."
Dozens of books and articles on this issue--pro and con--have appeared since then. The issue caused a rift in the 900-congregation Baptist General Conference, which in 1999 narrowly rejected a motion challenging open theism. Open theism has found some favor with Pentecostals who view it in terms of a spirited give-and-take with God.
John Sanders, a leading proponent of open theism and professor at Huntington (Indiana) College, has written that "God does not control everything that happens. …