How Open Theism Led Me to Reformed Theology

Distortions of the doctrine of God’s immutability and mobility abound.  Chiefly in our time there is one heresy that has been at the forefront of the distortion of this doctrine and it is called ‘process theology.’

Process theology (or known by its sister heresy ‘Open theism’) states this: process and change are essential aspects of genuine existence, therefore if God is to genuinely exist, He must experience process and change as well. Can you see the holes in this already? The first man (we know of) who taught this was Charles Hartshorne (1897). His teaching is still around today and is held and spread by a few men: Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders. These men teach that God learns, grows in wisdom, and thus does not know the future. More so, because universe changes second by second God is affected by these changes and as each second comes into being God becomes something other than what He was.

The errors are immediately seen in such a view of God, for it denies all the traditional or classical doctrines of God we hold dear. And they don’t mind that at all. John Sanders contributed to a book that had this title ‘The Openness of God – A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God.’ Reader beware, 99% of the time when someone challenges a ‘traditional’ view of God they end up teaching heresy. This brings up another pressing point that reveals a glaring error of process thinkers.  Why is it that we are so bent on seeking out some kind of ‘new’ theology when we such a rich deposit of truth left for us in the historic truth that has stood for ages? We are far too disposed to reach after novelty. We want to be cool and hip and when we evaluate our ‘coolness’ above the pursuit of doctrinal clarity, we forsake faithfulness to God. This is not good.

As a young believer, and philosophy major in college, I met John Sanders once. He was interviewing for the position of ‘department head’ in the philosophy program of which I was a student at Valdosta State University. Part of his interview was interaction with students, so he agreed to sit down with a few students. I chose to be at that meeting, and of all 70 students in the major, only 2-3 of us showed up! So there I was, sitting before John Sanders. Of course at that time in my life I didn’t know a lick about open theism, process theology, or even reformed theology, but from hearing him speak and answer my questions about the nature of the Bible and the ins and outs of the gospel message, it became clear that, though I couldn’t describe it, I did not like this man’s teachings…at all.

This led a marvelous event. Open theism grew popular on campus, and I grew more and more distasteful of it. I had learned from my discussions with John Sanders that while I did not like process theology he did not like a thing called ‘classical’ theology. I figured if he didn’t like it, I probably would! So I began to research classical theology and guess what? I fell in love. Classical theology upheld the Bible, God’s glory, man’s dead sinful state, and the sovereign grace of God needed for salvation. It was historic, summarized in most of the creeds and confessions of the Church, and I found that it was still very active in our day. I began digging into Scripture more voracious than ever while reading men like John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, R.C. Sproul, John Calvin, Martin Luther, and the like. Eventually, though I didn’t know it at the time, I had become a calvinist by embracing classical theology, which is also called reformed theology, which is really a term to describe ‘Biblical’ theology. The wave of open theism calmed down on campus a little while later, and through it God had created a small community of reformed believers, of which I was a part.

So I guess after all this, I owe John Sanders, one of the leading heretics of open theism a huge THANK YOU. Thank you John, wherever you are, God used such false teaching in my life to reveal the truth to me, and I’m forever grateful.

10 thoughts on “How Open Theism Led Me to Reformed Theology

  1. Pardon me to the open theists. But . . . are you SERIOUS? GOD has to learn the future as it happens because he doesn’t know the future he rules or the choices human will make? I don’t mean to be disrespectful to adherents, but open theism is a joke.

    1. Indeed it is! I think the open theist is so caught afraid of God’s bigness in the Biblical (classical) view, that they’ve lessened God’s character to make it more in the image of man. Yeah, you’re right, it’s an awful view to hold. Most of the guys I knew who held it are no longer believers today. Sad…

      1. Any size god can play chests against himself and win. God created thrones, dominions, principalities, powers, and authorities, Col. 1:16; etc. not hoarding but delegating some power (including creativity), so that God retains NOT ALL BUT MUCH power. Then Man abused their power and fought against the God who made them. Yet the Son humbling Himself and becoming flesh; the Father pouring wrath on the Son; the Son becoming sin for us; the Holy Spirit justifying the Son. Goodness is the foundation of power (Ps. 89:14), and Jesus gave evil men power over Him at the cross. Their power meant nothing. His goodness meant everything, for His innocent suffering paid for their sins. Sorry, Adam, open theists are not looking for a smaller god.

  2. What Calvinists fail to realize is that goodness is greater that power, in fact it is the foundation of power (Ps. 89:14), and Jesus gave evil men power over Him at the cross. Their power meant nothing. His goodness meant everything, for His innocent suffering paid for their sins, your sins, and mine. Open theists are not looking for a smaller, less powerful, God. Calvinist have bent common sense to make a god as powerful as possible, yet the God of the Bible is still much bigger because He is good.

    1. Thanks for your comment,
      I have a question for you: do you believe Calvinists deny the goodness of God?

      1. Yes. The god of Calvinism is selfish and capricious. He hordes all power and glory for himself (as I have been told by Calvinists) and he arbitrarily chooses who will go to heaven and who will go to hell (as I have been told by Calvinists). I have read it and heard it too many times for it not to be true

      2. I’m sorry to hear this. It is Biblically true that God reserves all glory for Himself, He is God after all. And yes God does elect all who will go and not go to heaven, but arbitrarily? No, because of our sin, it’s a wonder that God has allowed any of us to be saved. It seems like to me, that you’ve heard from many angry Calvinists, and have rejected their doctrine because you didn’t like them. My advice? Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.

  3. My sister-in-law and husband are of the reformed persuasion. They emailed us a chapter of Arthur Pink’s, The Sovereignty of God. In fairness to them, I thought I would read the whole book and ordered a copy from a Reformed publishing house online. It took a while for me to realize the my copy had only 11 or Pink’s original 12 chapters. This reformed publisher, and I don’t have the book in front of me or I’d tell you who it was, completely left out the chapter, The Sovereignty of God in Reprobation. The chapter brought to conclusion the philosophy that nothing happens that God does not predestined, and frankly it weren’t pretty. It was capricious, arbitrary, and self-serving.

    – Rom. 9:4 “…Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law…” Yes, God shares His glory. And as far as His power, Christ’s selflessness (Phil. 2:5-8) indisputably exalts Him. And look at the sad tradeoff. Raw omnipotence swaps the unselfishness of God for the philosophical error that God hordes all power. From the perspective of the plot of the Bible, we see two things. The entire war between good and evil plainly reveals God’s delegation of power. And the Latin concept of utter omnipotence diminishes the understanding of God’s glory, for the last shall be first, and the least is the greatest, and God Himself delegates power and becomes the servant of all.

    1. I’m deeply concerned that many things you think you’re attacking about Reformed Theology are in fact just basic Protestant distinctives.

      1. Adam, I haven’t attacked anything. I have defended open theism (the belief that the future is not settled) against your misrepresentation that people who believe that are afraid of God’s bigness and interested in making Him in their own image. We know that the future is open because we serve a living God, and change is a necessary part of life. Time and again I talk to Calvinists who defend their beliefs without Scripture. I am very aware of their “proof texts,” but those are not what they rely on. They make arguments similar to yours, and claim that open theism is not orthodox. Big deal. Doctrines are not providential. Sometimes they are little more than dogmas past down by authoritarian leadership. God did not write the Bible to pedagogues who decipher the hidden meaning for the sheeple. God gave His Word for all who believe. My suggestion would be to shift your focus from basic Protestant distinctives to the clear reading of Scripture.

        Even amongst Calvinists Immutability, for instance, is trending away from orthodoxy:

        The doctrine of immutability, imported into Christianity, is the Greek conception that God is utterly unchangeable. But now even Calvinists are considering a reformulation of that teaching. Centuries of a cold philosophical conception of a non-relational God has had unintended consequences including a chilling effect even on human relationships, where even the church historically did little until recently to advance deep relationships between father and son, husband and wife, etc. Yet in reality, nothing is more important than relationship, even within the Godhead. And the force of that reality has exposed immutability as the philosophical barrier to all relationship.

        Calvinist Bruce Ware of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a popular anti-openness author, published a Reformulation of the Doctrine of the Immutability of God in 1986. His “reformulation” states that “Scripture does not lead us to think of God as unchangeable in every respect (absolute immutability)… [but] God is changeable in relationship with his creation, particularly with human and angelic moral creatures…” (Ware, God’s Lesser Glory, 2000, p. 73). Open theists take Ware’s reformulation as an indicator of the vital force of “the contemporary open theism movement” (p. 31, which Ware predates to his 1986 article). For we are reviving the understanding of God as actually experiencing relationship with His creatures. After centuries of the traditional attributes promoting a stagnant God even in regards to believers, Ware’s reformulation is squarely in the direction of Openness! Openness puts at the center of doctrine the truth that God is relational. And relationship requires actual two-way experience. Whereas the traditional doctrine of immutability followed the Greeks, through Augustine, in denying any change whatsoever to God, which depicted Him more like a cold stone idol than like the God of Scripture. However the Living Truth is now being resurrected in our minds, as the power of relationship takes on the Body of Christ by force.

        God is immutable, that is, unchanging (Mal. 3:6; Ps. 102:27; Heb. 1:12; 13:8; James 1:17), not absolutely but in His goodness. “The goodness of God endures continually” (Ps. 52:1), because of His commitment to righteousness (Jer. 9:24; Ps. 33:5). Thus His counsel (His will) is immutably good (Heb. 6:17-18), and unlike the Greek gods, we can therefore depend upon Him, because He is not arbitrary, biased, partial, or capricious. But He is not generally unchangeable. God’s “relational mutability” (Ware, p. 73) did not come into existence with mankind, but co-exists with the eternally relational persons of the Trinity.

        Ware implies that the persons of the Trinity would change less from interaction with one another than with their “moral creatures.” But Ware’s arbitrary constraint overlooks the infinite, eternal, and vital aspects of the divine relationship. However, because the Bible is God’s record of His love for man, therefore most of the scriptural evidence we have of His mutability comes in His interaction with His creation. God the Son was not always a man. He “became flesh” (John 1:14). Became is a change word. The Incarnation is not just a figure of speech, and it shows that God can undergo infinite change. And it was not His flesh which “became flesh;” nor did His humanness empty itself to become man. The change was to Himself as God the Son, becoming something greater still. For He must increase! The Father “laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6) and Christ has “become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). The Father does not eternally pour out wrath on His Son. The cross was a singularity, and no other event will ever reach that level of exceptional change.

        Change is a necessary part of life. And since thirty times God is called the “Living God,” He must be able to change. The definitions for living, alive and life repeatedly use words such as active, moving, animation, growth, response, vitality. Life requires change, stone idols do not. Thus it is the epitome of putting God in a box to deny Him infinite change.

        Calvinists, Augustinians before them, and the Greeks before them, allowed the philosophical notion of absolute immutability to rob man’s understanding of God as warm and relational. This error fed the harsh representation of God that led to centuries of a stagnant Christianity represented by cold basilicas, and led to theologians who were more comfortable studying Sophocles than Solomon, and led historically to the obligatory training of theologians in the Classics (pagan Greek philosophy). When the schoolboy begins with a mistake on a math problem, he will end with the wrong answer. The error of utter immutability is such a central doctrinal error that Christians must consciously back up, and reformulate not only immutability, but all our doctrine which logically proceeded from that humanist philosophical error. So we welcome Bruce Ware, the anti-openness author, in His effort to reformulate immutability, in a big step toward the Open View. For Calvinists wrongly claim that sovereignty is at the heart of their theology (and I will address sovereignty after presenting the Open View Attributes). In actuality, the pagan notion of utter immutability has been at the heart of Augustinian and Calvinist doctrine these many centuries. And the Openness push (along with the general force of Christian history) to recover God as relational, is now making inroads into Calvinism, and there is a crack in the dike. And people are spilling through, and sometimes whole congregations. Ware’s reformulation implicitly admits the harm done to Christianity way back when theologians imported the pagan version of utter immutability into our theology, an error which undermined our understanding of the Living God as relational.

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