Classical Theism vs Open Theism

I was once comfortable taking in the Classical Theism view where God is seen as sovereign, transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient. I was at home with this view and never sort of questioned them. I was, in what it seemed that time, in a comfort zone. God was boxed in those terms, even if they implied a reality much larger than a box.

Not until a tragic accident that involved the passing of a dear youth member and friend that, the Classic theistic view somewhat crumbled. Some people were telling or at least implying that God is the author of life and if that is true, my friend’s death was somewhat authored by God. As I thought about it, far be it that I accepted that frame work for God. If I believed in a God who cared why then would he author a tragic story for my friend like one a novelist would do to his characters.

Enter Open Theism. This is a view which responds to Classic Theism. This view believes that God does not know the future exhaustively, leaving the future open for us to partner with him. Hence this view is a strong argument for the proposal of why prayer is important. Since the future is open and God does not know exhaustively, we partner with God in ways that we somehow can change his mind.

For a period of time, I guess in a subtle manner, my views gravitated towards open theism because it somehow showed a God who can show love to his creation rather than one who has already written about your whole life and somehow you are stuck in that story he wrote whether you like it or not. Somehow classic theism did not really resonate well with a God who is loving. I mean sure you can say that God knows what’s best but there is no room for free will here.

So with all these issues plunging in my mind, it seemed to me that open theism held more sense than a mechanical, detached sovereign God.

But with that, if God is too open how then is he sovereign? If God is unchanging how then why would he thus change his mind? Some things still does not resonate. Somehow open theism seemed a reaction against some form of radical or misguided understanding of God being uncaring and leaving no room for free will. So again, it seems we hit a brick wall at which view can be trustworthy in explaining God.

During the theology class I took last week, listening to the lecture and thinking through classic theism and open theism, both have their grounds of arguments. So where should we strike a balance between them. There are no clear cut answers but I seem to resonate with the notion of combining the two views together looking at it from Jesus’ suffering perspective.

In Jesus’ life, coming to the end of his ministry, in the garden of, he prayed if it was possible to avoid the way of the cross even at the point of telling his disciples beforehand that he was to undergo suffering, death and then resurrection. In that depiction, Jesus could have disbanded the pursuit of going to the cross and be crucified but he knew also the will of God. But the will of God for Jesus, although prophesying that he will suffer and die did not paint graphic pictures of the nature of his death. God is seen as the author but not in the way a novelist does things. God is in control not in the way of a master puppet but in the way that his servant obeys his command and way.

Jesus’ obedience was not something that was forced but something that he willingly undertook in response to the compelling love that the Father has bestowed upon him.

Here in the suffering and death of Jesus depicts both the sovereign act of God as well as the ‘open’ story to be completed. They are not divorced, but meshed. The sovereign God at work in humanity is always the meshing of sovereign and human dimension of viewing God. Somehow to gravitate to an extreme form of classic theism denies the mystery of Jesus’ humanity and to gravitate to the extreme in the open theism camp leaves out the overall plan of God in knowing the future. Again the mystery of the incarnation somehow forms a marrying of the two views in a mysterious way.

5 thoughts on “Classical Theism vs Open Theism

  1. I’ve also been thinking the same things.

    But is it truly necessary to combine these two mindsets? Why don’t we instead let the Bible speak for itself in whatever context it is?

    It is true that the doctrine of immutability contradicts open theism, but is immutability a Biblical doctrine?

    It is true that the reformed definition of sovereignty also contradicts open theism, but is their definition Biblical? So far as I’m concerned, God is sovereign in that He does whatever He wants to do. For example–He could allow man to make choices and still be sovereign.

    1. Nathan,
      I think you raised some good questions there. In a way I do think it is necessary to merge the two views because God is sovereign as well as he gives free will to humans as well. From my pointy of view, trying to merge them, in accordance to the biblical witness, even with the limited understanding and ways of explaining, is what I find most faithful (interpretation wise that is) at the moment.

      Somehow I do resonate with the questions and perspective that you raise. In a general level, we do not need to explain that God is sovereign or gives free will to humans. But sometimes the issue of explaining comes when proper understanding warrants our answers to be displayed.

      But on these issues I still remain open to how one explains their tension.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s