Future of Open Theism

The Future of Open Theism by Richard Rice (2020) is a wonderful book. The first part covers its development and reception. Rice does a terrific job of surveying the history of this idea, including forerunners such as McCabe and Olson. He explains how the book, The Openness of God, came about and summarizes the books that followed by Pinnock, Sanders, and Boyd. He then covers the major criticisms and controversies in the Evangelical Theological Society and in some denominations. Chapter Four discusses philosophical issues and highlights two areas where open theists differ: (1) are statements about future events true or false? and (2) the degree of risk that God took when creating this world—was it possible that no humans would love God? (Boyd downplays the risk while Hasker and Sanders think it was real). Chapter Five looks at three other issues about which there is variety among open theists. First, natural evil. He discusses Boyd’s warfare theodicy which transforms problems in nature into moral evil due to spiritual beings and Hasker’s natural-order theodicy which sees earthquakes and the like as essential to the development of life forms. Second, whether God created ex nihilo. Third, whether God can unilaterally act in world events. On this issue, Pinnock, Boyd, Hasker, Sanders, and Rice say God does while Oord disagrees. Rice explains Oord’s “essential kenosis” model and then lays out the chief criticisms of this approach.

Part two explores open theism in relation to six theological topics. Chapter Six makes the case that open theists should never say God is “limited” in power or knowledge. The next chapter connects open theism’s emphasis on divine relationality with recent work on the Trinity. Chapter Eight covers assorted issues surrounding the nature of human “freedom” and our part in divine salvation. Chapter Nine covers Christology and focusses on the ministry of Jesus and what he sought to accomplish. Chapter Ten argues that the church should be an inclusive community that reflects the ministry of Jesus. In this regard, he criticizes Western individualism. The final chapter on eschatology includes topics such as the nature of eternal life and whether God’s purposes are guaranteed to come about.

Rice believes open theism is part of paradigm shift in modern theology that has deeply shaped contemporary Christianity. He thinks open theists need to continue developing the model, applying it to Christian ethics and theology.

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.

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