'Open Theism' Scholars Retained

By Banks, Adelle | The Christian Century, December 13, 2003 | Go to article overview

'Open Theism' Scholars Retained


Banks, Adelle, The Christian Century


The Evangelical Theological Society has voted to retain two members whose status with the organization had been challenged after they published controversial views supporting open theism--the belief that God can "change his mind," depending on the actions of humans.

The memberships of scholars John Sanders and Clark Pinnock were sustained when the society's members failed to vote by a two-thirds majority for their removal.

Both scholars said they were "relieved" by the voting November 19 during the society's annual meeting in Atlanta attended by more than 600 scholars. Outgoing society president David M. Howard Jr. said the members did not focus on the merits of open theism. Rather, they addressed whether the two men agreed with the group's "doctrinal basis," which consists of two sentences affirming biblical inerrancy and the Trinity.

The society's executive committee had recommended 7-2 that Sanders be removed from membership. A report issued before the meeting said his book The God Who Risks leaves one "with a Bible that one cannot affirm teaches anything about the future except for stating probabilities."

Sanders disagreed. In an interview Sanders discussed an example he cited to the committee--the reference in 2 Kings 20 to King Hezekiah, who was expected to die but then did not after he prayed to God. Sanders also cited the prophet lsaiah, who had previously said he would die, then said he would recover from his illness. "That's the 'open' of open theism,"' said Sanders, a philosophy and religion professor at Huntington College in Huntington, Indiana. "God is open to what we do. What we do makes a difference to what God decides to do."

The secret ballot about Sanders came close to the necessary two-thirds: 62.7 percent voted in favor of expelling him and 37.3 percent said he should remain. Some considered it a warning for scholars like Sanders to rethink some of their arguments. "I said I was close and I got the cigar," he said in the interview.

The executive committee had recommended unanimously that Pinnock's membership be sustained after he made changes in a footnote of his book Most Moved Mover. Pinnock said in an interview that he had not denied inerrancy in that footnote but was declaring that "prophecies can be pretty vague sometimes." The reference was to Paul's statement in 1 Thessalonians about the return of Jesus.

"According to Paul, the second coming seemed to be just around the corner (1 Thess. …

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