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Does God Know Your Next Move?: Christopher A. Hall and John Sanders debate openness theology

“Does God Know Your Next Move?: Christopher A. Hall and John Sanders debate openness theology” Christianity Today (May 21, 2001 and June 11, 2001). Pp. 38-45 (May 21) and 50-56 (June 11).

There is a growing debate in theological circles that is challenging doctrines long held by evangelical Christians. The debate is over something called Openness theology: Is the future completely settled or is it open? Soon, this debate will be affecting what is heard from pulpits, and has had such an influence already.

Although this debate is not new to readers of Christianity Today, these two articles in subsequent issues offer a unique exchange between differing viewpoints. CT’s editors have done a good job finding two correspondents who treat each other with respect and candidness often missing from such discussions.

This openness theology in question goes by many names. Gregory Boyd of Bethel Seminary (St. Paul, MN) prefers to call it “open creationism.” Robert Brow and Clark Pinnock call it “Creative Love Theism.” The basic tenets of this open view theism are developed along these lines: God’s love relationship with creation requires that man have a libertarian free will. If mankind posses a will that can make choices truly independent of or contrary to its nature, than the future must be partially open. God does not therefore have exhaustive, definite foreknowledge because the future would thereby be completely settled and man could not have a will that was completely free. Openness theology is considered a progression in the free-will tradition of Arminius and Wesley.

The format of the discussion between Chris Hall and John Sanders is an E-mail exchange that goes back and forth. John Sanders, author of The God Who Risks (IVP) holds the open view, while Chris Hall, author of Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (IVP), is a classical theist. Their friendliness and mutual respect could well serve as a model of discussion, as the CT editors suggest.

In their conversation, Hall and Sanders address a broad spectrum of theological, pastoral, philosophical, and exegetical concerns. Do our prayers affect God’s decisions? Does God predetermine or even know the future? Is God changed by the choices of free men? If God predetermines all things, does God therefore want every murder, rape and every other evil to occur?

Openness proponents believe they are offering a biblical challenge to the traditional understanding of God. They are challenging many great Christian thinkers throughout history by saying that God is everlasting, but disagreeing over the traditional understanding of eternity and saying that God has constrained Himself to time. While the philosophical issues involved are vast, this debate must ultimately be decided solely on Scripture. As both Chris Hall and John Sanders have demonstrated in this dialogue, there are some immense exegetical issues. How can predictive prophecy work in Scripture if the future is not completely settled? Is eternity a concept carried over from Plato by early church theologians, or is it a biblical teaching?

While this E-mail conversation has probably only raised more questions than resolved, it is noble of Christianity Today to present two sides of an ongoing debate. And, if history is any indication, the debate about man’s free will and God’s sovereign choices is not going away any time soon.

Reviewed by Raul Mock

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Category: Fall 2001, In Depth

About the Author: Raul L. Mock is one of the founders and directors of the Pneuma Foundation and editor of The Pneuma Review. Raul has been part of an Evangelical publishing ministry since 1996, working with Information Services and Supply Chain Management for more than two decades. He and his wife, Erin, have a daughter and twin boys and live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. LinkedIn

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