I have been asked whether I accept open theism or process theology. The fact is that I accept extreme uncertainty about the way God relates to space and time, but that I think the process theologians come closer to the way the Bible story seems to read while traditional theism seems to come closer to the assertions Bible writers make about God.
In a way it’s much like my view on the Calvinist-Arminian divide. I think there is scripture on both sides, with the Bible writers moving forward without much concern for resolving the tension between sovereign control and the true free will of creatures, both of which are affirmed in scripture, I believe. God thus remains both outside of time and yet interactive within it; both in control of all that takes place, yet impacted by events chosen by people.
It seems to me that one cannot read the story of God’s action in this world in scripture without seeing the evidence of interaction. If nothing else, Jeremiah 18, to which I refer frequently in my Eschatology series, which explicitly says that God will speak in one way, yet if the people involved change their minds, God will change his. God repents.
Now I’ve heard plenty of ways of explaining this, but none of them feel “settled” to me, so I won’t use the word “heretic” anywhere on the spectrum. Well, I rarely use that word other than with intended humor in any case. I’ve been dubbed Henry the Heretic, (usually) in a friendly way!
Let me summarize these views on God’s relationship to time broadly:
- Calvinism – God is sovereign over all and predetermines all that takes place. There are, in fact, a spectrum of views on the details, but this is an intended (over)simplification.
- Arminianism – God foresees all, and predestines as he foresees. There are a variety again of ways of seeing the details. This view, along with Calvinism, preserves omniscience in the sense of God knowing every details of what will take place from start to finish, from the end to the beginning.
- Open Theism – God could know all of time, but has created space-time, and us in it, in such a way that he does not. In other words, he limits his own knowledge and therefore can interact with us. There are again quite a number of ways of expressing or explaining this relationship. I owe this one to a conversation with Dr. Richard Rice, author of The Openness of God (no longer in print, reprinted as God’s Foreknowledge and Man’s Freewill), but I am relaying the gist by memory, not quoting any of Dr. Rice’s work.
- Process Theology – God is inextricably linked with creation and is not so much in control as we might like to think. Free will is, as I understand it, an integral part of everything and God does, in fact respond. For a bit more detail I’d refer you to Bruce Epperly, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, which I publish.
My personal position remains in the open theism camp, with a very strong sprinkling of “I don’t really know” thrown in. It’s just that for me those things short of open theism do not adequately express the view of God that the overarching Bible story expresses, while process theology seems to be a bridge too far for me. But as you can see by the fact that I cite a book I edited and published, not to mention requested from the author as a source on process theology, I hardly regard it as the dangerous heresy that many do.
In fact, one of the things I have become more and more convinced of as I work as a publisher is that people’s actions are not very directly related to their doctrines. I once would have thought that Calvinists would not be that involved in missions, because God has predestined everyone. Yet they carry out missions with vigor. I might have expected Arminians to be less likely than others to “blame God” for every little thing that happens, yet they do precisely that. Both Arminians and Calvinists will talk about their prayers changing the course of hurricanes, surely something at least as predetermined as a human life.
“Orthodox” theologians, by which in this one quoted instance I mean both Arminians and Calvinists, as they both assert full sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, and free will, doubt that process theologians will pray, and certainly, if they pray, will not expect God to act. Yes they do, as do open theists.
In fact, if we observed behavior, we would likely find ourselves dividing Christians very differently from the way we do with regard to doctrine. I hope, in this case, to have done some distinguishing without further division!