Friday, May 18, 2018

The gods of open theism

There are roughly two different kinds of open theism based on two different starting-points or epistemological orientations. On the one hand there's philosophical open theism; on the other hand there's exegetical open theism.

Some people ground open theism primarily in philosophical considerations like the nature of the future and/or the nature of human freedom. These can be interrelated.

Other people ground open theism primarily in a kind of face-value hermeneutic that minimizes anthropomorphic readings of Scripture.

However, this generates a point of tension in open theism. In my experience, philosophical open theists posit that God knows all possibilities. Hence, God can't be surprised by anything. 

But that collides with exegetical open theism, which appeals to prooftexts in which God expresses surprise, regret, disappointment, even furious frustration at how things turned out. 

If we take open theist hermeneutics as our starting-point, then there's no justification to posit that God knows all possibilities. For the God who emerges from Scripture on open theist hermeneutics is psychologically humanoid. A figure like Zeus or Odin. A God who's not only in the dark regarding the future, but has to make things up as he goes along because he didn't even have contingency plans at the ready. Depending on their starting-point or epistemological orientation, open theism presents two different Gods. Divergent concepts of God. One is more recognizably pagan while the other is more abstract. 

This is ironic because one of the selling-points for atheism is the claim that classical theism is an artificial overlay on Scripture that filters Scripture through an alien interpretive grid. Yet there's a parallel clash between exegetical open theism and philosophical open theism. Philosophical open theism has its own extrinsic screen.

So consistent open theists need to pick one version and stick with it, since the two versions don't mesh. Preferably, they should just ditch open theism altogether. 


  1. So how do you understand such passages as 1 Sam 15:35b "[A]nd the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel."?

    What meaning is the text conveying? If God did not actually "regret" that He made Saul king of Israel, what are we to take from the passage?

    1. That's similar to 1 Sam 15:11. If we take it literally, then Yahweh made a mistake the first time around. That's a pagan view of God. Keep in mind that the very same chapter makes the opposite claim: "the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret" (v29). But they can't both be literally true.

      I think vv11,35 are anthropomorphic ways of expressing divine disapproval, which explain what happens next.

    2. 1) It may be that 1 Sam 15:11 is not a literal truth. If so, it must be a figurative truth. That may be, but what is the figurative truth? I do not think the figurative truth is "God planned out all these details to the most minute detail."

      2) It does not necessarily follow that expressing regret means God "made a mistake." If a parent agrees to allow a child to go on a school field trip and the child gets in trouble, did the parent make a mistake in letting them go?

      3) I admit the contrast between verse 11 and 29 is perplexing. But I note that v. 11 is the word of the Lord and v. 29 is the word of Samuel. Also, 11 is more direct than 29. Samuel says will not and should not have regret instead of does not or cannot. 11 is pretty simply "I regret."