A Letter to the Editor of Christianity Today

The Christianity Today interview with Royce Gruenler, “God at Risk” (March 5), contained so many errors concerning the openness of God theology that we are forced to wonder whether he really intended to give an accurate and honest account of our views. We hope he did intend this, but if so he failed miserably.

Gruenler says we are “Pelagian.” This is false. We, along with the Eastern Orthodox Church, Wesleyans, and Arminians believe that God grants us the “enabling grace” to come to faith in Christ. No human can initiate salvation as Gruenler claims we believe. It is correct that we affirm that humans have the God-given freewill to reject God’s grace, as do all forms of Arminian theology. But this does not mean that God’s power is somehow limited. God has all the power he has ever had. He is omnipotent and could bring the world to a close at any moment if he chose to do so. Though God lacks no power, he does not always exercise that power. When we wrestle with our children we don’t suddenly lose some of our power–we simply restrain the full exercise of our power. The issue is not about the extent of divine power. Rather, the issue is about the type of beings God decided to create and the sort of covenant God has made with us.

Grunler claims we have only an “aesthetic” view of the atonement. Though it may be true of process thought, it does not come close to accurately depicting what any evangelical openness theologian believes. We challenge Gruenler to cite any openness theologian who limits the work of Christ in this way. Though the openness movement as such is not committed to any particular theory of the atonement, we agree with Gruenler that Jesus’ death and resurrection are the divine means whereby God reconciled all things to himself. Apart from Jesus’ work on our behalf there would be no redemption.

On the problem of evil, we, along with all who use the freewill defense, acknowledge that God is responsible for creating a world where evil could possibly come about. Gruenler seems to think this is a devastating criticism that we have not thought about. Again, he does not seem conversant with our work (nor with any standard Arminian treatment of the topic for that matter). He correctly says that God takes risks in our view and that God has been disappointed by our sin. Gruenler apparently believes that God was not disappointed by human sin-that God actually wanted us to sin! His view entails that God not only ordained Adam’s sin but all the other evils we experience as well. In claiming that we bypass the “biblical” definition of human freedom (by which he means the Calvinistic definition) he identifies the biblical view with theological determinism. We, along with the vast majority of Christians, reject this deterministic theology. In our view, God takes the risk that we will not do everything God wants us to do. Hence, some of God’s desires may go unfulfilled-which is what Scripture says at many points–but this certainly does not put God himself at risk as Gruenler suggests.

Gruenler claims that we deny there can be prophecy. This is also false. Each and every author who has published on openness theology affirms there is prophecy and that the open view is the best explanation for all the types of prophecies found in Scripture. We believe that some of the future is definite and some is indefinite. God does not determine everything about the future, but he does determine whatever he chooses to since he is the sovereign lord of history! When Gruenler criticizes our view of God and time, he seems to assume that God has to be timeless in order to be omnipresent and omniscient. The issue is not about God being limited by the speed of light (something no openness theologian has ever affirmed) or the nature of time itself. Rather, the issue is whether or not God experiences sequence in thoughts and emotions. We believe the Bible teaches that God has emotions (e. g. grief, Gen 6:6) and can change his mind (Jonah 4:2) and these are things a timeless being simply cannot do!

Finally, Gruenler says our God cannot really help humans, but he fails to interact at all with what we have said about the nature of the sort of help the God of openness can and cannot be said to provide. God has all the wisdom and power necessary to help us-God can heal, guide, teach and love us. In contrast to Gruenler’s claims we believe that God is profoundly involved in our lives. Gruenler’s criticism presupposes that only a God who controls every detail-including our own decisions-can help us. We who embrace a partly open view of the future reject this assumption-but so do all non-Calvinist Christians. The idea that God might prefer to have creatures that he does not totally control never seems to occur to Gruenler. For him, if God leaves anything for us to decide for ourselves, then God is not really God and is not worth praising or worshipping. Many evangelical readers will find abrasive this cavalier dismissal of the entire “Arminian” tradition in the pages of Christianity Today.

Criticizing theological positions is a perfectly legitimate enterprise. However, his caricature of our position puts Gruenler at risk of failing to state his opponent’s position in a way acceptable to his opponent. Chris Hall and John Sanders have a forthcoming article in CT (May) that attempts to model honest dialogue between a classical theist and an open theist.

Sincerely,

John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, Greg Boyd, William Hasker, Richard Rice and David Basinger

John Sanders

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

Clark Pinnock

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

David Basinger

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

Richard Rice

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

William Hasker

John E. Sanders is an American theologian who is a professor of religious studies at Hendrix College. He has published on four main topics: (1) open theism, (2) Christian views on the salvation of non-Christians, (3) Christian views on the nature of hell, and (4) applying cognitive linguistics to theology.

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