Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience Inerrancy, and Open Theism: An Evaluation

By Wellum, Stephen J. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, June 2002 | Go to article overview
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Divine Sovereignty-Omniscience Inerrancy, and Open Theism: An Evaluation


Wellum, Stephen J., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


When one thinks of the topics that create friction among Christians, the subject of divine sovereignty is probably high on the list. We all have experienced heated discussions over the nature of divine sovereignty, especially as it relates to the issues of divine election and salvation. Many Christian people, even seminary students, have expressed to me time and again that they wish the subject would somehow disappear. But that is hardly likely, since the subject of divine sovereignty is so foundational to one's entire theology and praxis.

In fact, within evangelical theology today, the perennial polemics over divine sovereignty-human freedom are heating up more than ever, given the rise of the view entitled "open theism." At the heart of the open view proposal is a reformulation of the doctrine of divine sovereignty and omniscience that has massive implications for how we think of God and his relation to the world.1 That is why, given the recent trends, it seems unlikely that discussion over the sovereignty-freedom relationship or foreknowledge-- freedom tension will fade into the background. Instead, the subject, because it is so critical, must be revisited once again with a renewed sense of vigor and determination, as we seek to test our proposals, whether new or old, against the standard of God's Word.

The goal of this paper is to do just that, but not in the typical way of evaluating this issue. Often our discussions of divine sovereignty, omniscience-human freedom merely collapse into the age-old Calvinist and Arminian debates over divine election, free will, and the nature of human depravity. No doubt these debates are important, and they must be handled with care and faithfulness to the biblical text. However, what is sometimes lost in these discussions is the fact that one's view of God and his relation to the world has massive implications for one's whole theology, not simply for issues of soteriology. Theology, as J. I. Packer reminds us, is a "seamless robe, a circle within which everything links up with everything else through its common grounding in God."2 Theological doctrines, in other words, are much more organically related than we often realize, and that is why a reformulation in one area of doctrine inevitably affects other areas of our theology. This is important to remember, especially in evaluating old and new proposals regarding the doctrine of God.

In this regard, there are at least two complementary ways to evaluate theological proposals. First, does the proposal in question do justice to all of Scripture? After doing all the hard exegetical work and seeking to relate texts with other texts into a coherent reading of the canon, any theological proposal may be evaluated as to whether it does justice to all of the textual data. But there is also a second and complementary way to evaluate theological proposals. And it is this: Is the proposal, along with its implications and entailments, consistent with other theological doctrines, especially with those doctrines that we consider more central to our theological system? If the answer is yes to both of these ways, then we may be assured that our theological proposal is on track and warranted. However, if our answer is negative on both counts, then it should encourage us to reject the proposal or, at least, rethink it through very carefully before embracing it as a correct view. In this paper, I want to apply the latter option to the theological proposal of open theism. In particular, I want to investigate whether the open theist construal of the divine sovereignty-omniscience and human freedom relationship will be able to support a high view of Scripture as reflected in the doctrine of inerrancy as represented by the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).3 In other words, granting the open theist's construal of divine sovereignty and omniscience, what, then, are the logical entailments of such a position for our belief in the inerrancy of Scripture?

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