Theology for the Long Haul

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

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

I appreciate your thoughtful responses to various issues that have entered our discussion and your kindness in discussing them, which is so needed in sharing about theology. Your clarifications are helpful (e.g., placing open theism within the Wesleyan-Arminian camp). Personally, I can relate more to Wesleyan language and categories (informed as it is by some of the Greek fathers and aspects of the Catholic heritage preserved in the Anglicanism of Wesley's day) than to Reformed ones, but I wanted to get a sense of where you locate your own position.

As you can probably tell, our approaches converge and diverge on a number of points. We agree on the inability of language to fully capture or describe the infinite mystery of God. We also agree on the importance of understanding God as loving, "all powerful," and "all knowing." Our positions may be diverging some in the areas of theological method and epistemology.

From my perspective, some language and theological concepts are more able to transcend the normal limits of human language because they flows out of the consensus and discernment of the broader Christian churches (e.g., classical language for the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, etc.). It would seem that other competing language (eg., Ebionite, Arian, Docetist, Monophisite, Nestorian, etc.) should not be seen as of equal validity and value to the language of ecumenical consensus (please note that I am not charging any Christians in the Open Theist camp of holding these view or falling into a similar category).

If some language (and broader linguistic frameworks) is invested with more confidence and authority by the churches than other language we must begin to factor this into our theological method. Continuity and discontinuity in relation to the broader Christian tradition must be considered alongside Scripture, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, reason, etc. You may agree with nearly everything I have just written so let me get to the point. The reason that I am not more enthusiastic about the approach of Open Theism (as I understand it right now) is because I perceive it to be moving away from the ecumenical, consensual understanding of God’s nature articulated in major patristic, medieval, and reformation traditions. It appears to move beyond defining love in the traditional categories of divine initiative and human response to articulating a view of God’s ontology as changing.

It seems to me that in the divine mystery of God’s being, He is capable of authentic love with human beings without experiencing ontological change. Sure in the incarnation, the Son was united to a human nature, which can change (as all human natures can), but to suggest that God in His divine nature must be open to change in order to have authentic relationship (like some process theologians and supporters of panentheism suggest) is a departure from the ecumenical consensus. It was because of this point that I brought out the reality of analogy. Analogies are good and helpful, but in this case I was worried that Open Theism was drawing on the human view of love and relationship (which must be open to change in order to be authentic) and applying it to God without accounting for the vast difference between His nature and our own (though I realize Christ shares our nature now [but without sin] while also having His divine nature). If nothing else, I would like to hear your thoughts on this one point of my response in relation to analogy.

After saying all of this, I don’t mean to be too critical of Open Theism. There are wonderful insights in this tradition about receiving and appreciating God’s love and relational interest in us. I think that many Christian traditions bring gifts and unique insights to the universal Church. Some things should be retained and others discerned, refined, and critiqued. Your point about unity in diversity is excellent! We all need each other and one another’s gifts and insights! We should not confuse our human traditions or our own distinct languages and terminologies with the gospel! We must use discernment though and seek to embody that great dialect of truth and love that Paul mentions to us (Eph. 4:15). What are your thoughts? I’m enjoying our discussion so please write back if you like.

Posted by Jacob, who regularly blogs at Inter Christianos.

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