I am greatly enjoying the stimulating lecture series this week at Whitley College by theologian Clark Pinnock. Clark has just completed his new book, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (The Didsbury Lectures). He is one of the evangelical tradition’s most creative theologians and the author of several previous books, including A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality Of Jesus Christ In A World Of Religions. He is an advocate of a theological movement called an ‘open-view of God’, which he describes briefly as:
“The open view of God takes seriously the fact that God is personal. God is not a metaphysical iceberg but a loving God who interacts with us in a dynamic fashion.”
There is considerable controversy surrounding this view, and when asked what aspect of open theism causes the biggest problems to evangelicals and other traditional theists, he says:
“Traditional evangelical theists go ballistic mostly over the view that aspects of the future, being unsettled, are not wholly known even to God. It does not mean that God is ignorant of something he ought to know, but that many things in the future are only possible and not yet actual. Therefore, he knows them correctly as possible and not actual.”
He believes God’s ‘omniscience’ can be better understood as God knowing everything that can be known, but that some things are not yet knowable. Calvinists hate this idea, thinking that it diminishes God. In fact Calvinism diminishes God by making him a prisoner of his own foreknowledge. If something is determined ‘before the foundation of the world’ then even God cannot change it. But the open-view allows God to be free to limit himself by choice when he chose to create people who have freedom to choose. God’s glory and power is so great that he is able to take this risk of humans upsetting his plans. And, as Pinnock says, “If at some future date God chooses to act like a Calvinist, he can even do that!”
On what effect it has on the way we should structure, lead and do church, he says:
“A lot of people are drawn to the open view of God precisely because of its practical implications. Augustinian and Thomistic traditionalists face a future which is wholly settled and whatever will be will be. The open view on the other hand has God asking us as partners to shape the future with him in our prayers and actions. Vital Christians believe this and operate on the basis of the open model, even if they don’t admit to holding it. How else can you live?”
When asked what he will do next he said:
“I am talking to God about it. Neither of us knows yet – certainly I don’t. Seriously, I will look for other areas of evangelical thought which are pathological and try to do some reforming work.”
While I have really just scratched the surface of what Pinnock teaches here, I believe these ideas should be taken very seriously, and will help to guide us towards a more authentic evangelical Christianity which will not alienate a postmodern generation, any more than the church has already alienated them, that is! I think we’ll hear more of this. On Friday he is teaching from his book on the Holy Spirit, Flame of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit.
Clark Pinnock’s journey from fundamentalism through to renewal and open-view theology is similar to my own theological pilgrimage, which encourages me greatly. I’m not the only one who is thought to be wierd and glad to be so.