Theology for the Long Haul

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jacob Dodson: Response I to "Why I like Open Theism"

I really enjoyed reading Dan’s post and hearing some of his story. His emphasis on love and relationship with God is very good and something that we need to remind ourselves of regularly. I also appreciated how he acknowledges that many Christian traditions deal with these realities in unique ways, arriving at "different conclusions." For me, two fundamental questions come to mind: First, to what extent do our linguistic frameworks for describing the mysteries of God's nature clarify or obscure a right understanding of Him? Second, are there some basic, foundational truths related to this topic that form a type of consensus among many Christian traditions (ancient and modern)?

I like the relational focus that Dan highlighted in describing what draws him to open theism. I would like to hear more however about open theism’s relationship to the broader Christian tradition.
As he hinted at, many within classical and reformation Christian traditions “affirm these truths,” i.e., that God is relational and that God is love. In reading Dan’s post I wondered if he sees open theism as understanding itself primarily outside of the categories of the traditional debate on this issue (Calvin and Augustine vis-à-vis Arminius, Wesley, John Cassian, and other Greek fathers) or in some type of continuity with them? What do representatives of open theism make of traditional explanations (from other Christian traditions) of God’s capacity to love human beings? It seems to me that how these questions are answered will determine the extent to which open theism will enter into the larger Christian tradition or become a passing fad.

Another thing to consider is the problem of language. Sure classical explanations of God’s attributes have their limits due to the imperfections of human language to describe an unlimited, transcendent being like God. This is why many theologians (e.g., Thomas Aquinas in a medieval contact and David Tracy in a modern context) stress the importance of analogy. Is the new language that open theism gives us better than the old language? It may avoid some of the problems encountered by earlier approaches, but what new problems might it present us with? Personally, I’m concerned that in the desire to understand how God can “be in” or “have” relationship with humans we do not make the analogy too strong between God’s capacity for relationship and our own.

Let me give an example of what I mean: God is capable of perfect relationship within His own being (see the language of “being in” from John 17). The Father, Son, and Spirit serve, love, and indwell one another perfectly (Trinitarian perichoresis). We humans are not capable of this with one another because we each have our own distinct being and personhood (thus making mutual indwelling impossible). Analogically however we can mirror perichoresis in the way that we serve one another in love through God’s help. To turn the tables on this example we must also recognize that we cannot fully understand God’s capacity to love us in light of our own capacity to love (ours is subjective and changing) because His own being and nature is not identical to our own (even if we do bear His image). These are a few of my thoughts. What do you think?
Posted by Jacob, who regularly blogs at Inter Christianos.


  1. Jacob, I found your point about the linguistic aspects of a discussion in regards to our views of God's nature and character to be a helpful and often overlooked point.
    We come to a discussion with many of our own definitions for words that may or may not be another's said definition. Love is a good example. Some see love as the absence of negativity or violence. Others (like myself) believe that an aspect of love can be those very things (example being God's act of love in voluntarily crushing His own son). These "ideas behind words" can dramatically change the direction that we take in belief. For example, Dan's belief that God cannot be anything but love leads him to a belief in open theism. My belief same belief that God cannot be anything but love leads me to a view of a God who is deeply sovereign over all things.

  2. Corrie, you have given wonderful examples of the impact of "ideas behind words." The cross certainly does radically redefine how we understand love. It's very helpful how you brought this theme into the discussion. I wonder too what we could say about the incarnation in relation to God's love for us. I almost included something on the incarnation in the original post, but could not find the right "words" for it.

  3. I really appreciated your comments Dan. In responding to them I found I needed more space so I went ahead a wrote an entire new post (see above). If you have time I would love to hear your thoughts on that as well. I am enjoying this discussion!