I don’t think I’ve written about Open theism or Process Theology on this blog previously, but I have long been a staunch opponent to the views expressed in these paradigms for reason that I may attempt to lay out here in the near future. Today, at the annual meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society, I listened to a paper on Open Theism and whether or not it necessitates an inclusivist view of salvation. In other words, are Open Theists universalists?
I don’t have the power of recollection necessary to do the presenter justice in rehashing the content of the paper, so I won’t try to summarize the argument here. However, I do have one bone to pick with something said in the conclusion. The author stated that it is impossible to posit that a God who has foreknowledge could possibly desire that all people should be saved and yet not intend to save them. Therefore, since Scripture says that God wishes all should be saved, he cannot possible be all-knowing (his knowledge is restricted to determined events), since we also know from Scripture that not all will be saved.
If this sounds like mental gymnastics at work, you are not alone. There are so many problems with the Open Theistic position that I can’t possibly lay them all out here, so let’s begin with the above statement. I believe this statement is grounded on a logical fallacy built upon insufficient definitions of desire and intention, and a deterministic view of foreknowledge.
Let me explain, if I can. It is a logically fallacy to suggest that the act of desiring something necessarily leads to the intention to follow through on said desire. When I raised my objections during the Q & A period following the presentation, I used a somewhat crass, yet effective, (I think) illustration: I desire to eat cake for lunch, but because I am diabetic, I do not intend to act on this desire and eat any cake. In the same way, it is logical to say that a loving God desires that all humans should be saved, and yet because he is also just, does not intend to act on that desire and save all people, since not all will repent of sin and trust in Christ.
The second issue surrounding this topic is the way in which this scholar defined his terms. He suggested that a desire is something which must be acted upon, because to do otherwise would be “foolish” – in essence, it would be wishful thinking. Since God is perfectly wise, it is illogical to suggest that God has desires which he cannot (or will not) fulfill.
I almost don’t know where to begin with this one. First of all, no ordinary person would hold to such a definition of desire, which by its common usage suggests something that has not yet been acted upon, or realized. Scripture continually commands those who follow Christ to put to death the desires of the flesh. If humans are expected to not act on desires, how then can we posit that God is incapable of the same? This is ludicrous.
The third problem with the conclusion of this presentation is the suggestion that foreknowledge is necessarily causal. Under this model, if God knows that something will happen he is in effect causing it to happen. This not only negates the possibility of free agency for human persons (something which, ironically, leads Open Theists to reject God’s exhaustive foreknowledge), but it is simply not logical. That God knows I will make a particular choice does not in any way affect that choice, or cause it to come about. It simply doesn’t make sense, anymore than it makes sense for me to say that because I know the sun will rise in the morning, I will make it do so.
As I said before, the problems with Open Theism and Process Theology are many and varied, but the implications largely come back to one thing. They seek to limit God’s knowledge (and by association power, sovereignty, and goodness) by way of anthropomorphic ascriptions that are both unsupported by Scripture and illogical to anyone willing to think through the full implications.
Of course, when I raised these objections in the session, the ultimate response from the author was simply, “I disagree”. I guess there’s really no arguing with that.
The day following the initial posting of this blog article, the author of the paper in question approached me and told me that he had been thinking about the issues I raised, and that he had misunderstood me (at least in part). He then explained that he thought I was getting at the problem of competing desires. This is not what I was getting at, but since it raised yet another problem with his conclusions, I suggested that was a good starting point for talking about this.
Essentially, the idea of competing desires shows that it is a logically incoherent to suggest that a desire necessitates intention, since it is possible to have conflicting desires. If one has conflicting desires, it is not possible to intend to act of both simultaneously. It creates a paradox.
It was nice to hear the author concede that there are some serious logical flaws to his initial argument, but the bigger problem that hasn’t yet been discussed is that all of this speculation ultimately distracts us from the Great Commision and leads people to doubt whether or not God truly is all-knowing and all-powerful, and whether or not he truly has the power to save all those who call upon the name of his son, Jesus Christ.