2.09.2011

Response to Open Theism

Here is my response to Clark Pinnock's book, 'Most Moved Mover.'

So here goes with Pinnock, I actually like much of what he has to say, but have some difficulties with him as well. Although, in comparison with the wide world of theology, I have less of a bone to pick with him than I do with most. For starters, he affirms the relationality of God, and the premium He places on love and freely given submission, as opposed to law-abiding obedience. He also highlights both the authority given to humanity on the earth under God, and the desire for partnership in God's kingdom project...

The first point of disagreement is minor, I think he is unclear in what exactly he claims about God's attributes. Depending on just what he means by his terms then either he is (or is not) imbalanced in his approach to God, but the greater difficulties lie in the starting point (asking theological questions instead of asking textual questions) and in the method (systematizing scripture instead of narrating it). Finally, he has avoided engagement with many conversation partners that he must engage to show the veracity of his conceptual framework.

Attributes:

He affirms the terms 'omniscient and omnipotent' but denies 'sovereignty and foreknowledge.'

To me that seems a little odd. The words he affirms seem even stronger than (and inclusive of) the terms he denies. I need to hear clarification on this.

Imbalance:

He seems (depending on what exactly he means with the previous terms) to go too far afield from what seems a balanced reading of the texts. It seems obvious that his dialogue partners are the Calvinists and that he is essentially offering a counter-point to their theology. In doing so, however, he seems to make the same mistake that they do. The Open Theistic denial of God's sovereignty (just like the Calvinist's denial of creaturely freewill) is to cut the ties between two truths that scripture seems to have bound together. I believe that the tension that comes from holding to two seemingly opposite truths is actually a healthy tension.

Starting Point:

It seems that his starting point, and methods, are a category mistake. As though God meant to give us a list of theological questions with their corresponding answers, but then accidentally gave us a collection of poems, narratives, personal letters, and ancient public health codes. (Sorry, tongue in cheek there!)

His starting point is essentially to ask questions about the nature of God. It seems rather he should be asking questions about the nature of scripture. In taking scripture seriously we would be paying more attention to the substance of the text itself; giving just as much time and effort to understanding the questions scripture is asking, as the answers it is offering. If the starting point is scripture itself, I think he would ask some different questions that would lead to some subtly different answers. Although, I must say, I see his answers as much closer to the correct ones as others who ask the same kind of questions he asks. (I think the Calvinists ask the same questions he asks, but give very different answers.)

Methods:

This ties directly into the last point. Instead of approaching scripture on its own terms he takes the systematic approach. I think this is not exactly wrong-headed, and it certainly has its helpful place, but a much better approach would be the narrative one (in fact, at the end of the day, I think the narrative approach gives us much of the same picture of God and faith that he offers without some of the difficulties that arise from his book.)

Intentional Polarization:

This ties in to the first point. He has really only engaged with the Calvinists, which allows no real nuance to be developed in his thought. He needs to engage with Orthodox and Roman Catholic thought, Kingdom theology, the Wesleyan/Holiness tradition, and then he will be forced to clarify...

5 comments:

steven hamilton said...

I've always struggled with systematizing and systematic theology. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with it. It just doesn't resonate like narrative theology or even biblical theology.

Rae said...

Do you have a page number for your claim Pinnock denies sovereignty and foreknowledge?

I would defend Pinnock that he is redefining sovereignty and foreknowledge, because the original definitions found is classical systematic theology are, in his mind, inaccurate.

Foreknowledge and sovereignty are words found in scripture so no one in the discussion is going to deny their existence.

Steve S. said...

Perhaps he is merely redefining the terms. I think, however, he does overreach by claiming what God doesn't know and God doesn't control. I don't have a ton of time to look for quotes, but he says on p 48 'God's foreknowledge it seems, is not exhaustive in detail.'

I guess I don't even feel that denying omniscience or omnipotence is problematic, so long as it is speculative. I think that is my real problem with him. He doesn't say, 'it's possible that God chooses not to know the future,' he says flat out, 'God doesn't know the future.' It seems like an odd claim to make!

To our perspective it may seem irreconcilable to hold to both complete unmitigated sovereignty AND creaturely freewill, but I have heard valid arguments for simultaneously holding onto both. The same for foreknowledge. (I have never understood how knowing what someone does could be equated to controlling what someone does...)

But all of it comes down to this.

If he is affirming omniscience and omnipotence, then he is really only offering an old theological concept with a new name, albeit with a few minor tweaks aimed at ruffling the feathers of the Calvinist's. Calvinist's of course, are a relative minority in the Church, unless you limit your scope to evangelical's in North America, a pretty drastic limitation of the church!

I see him as asking the wrong questions and getting the right answers. As opposed to the Calvinist's who, in my opinion, ask the same wrong questions but get wrong answers! I think he would be better giving over the whole project he is on and engaging in a new one. I think he should be asking different questions...

Rae said...

He is not offering an old theological concept with a new name.
He is offering a significant correction. He has suffered to offer it, and so have others.
He and others have written many books and they engage with all sorts of people, even the process theologians whose views are on the other side of the field altogether.
As for sounding dogmatic, it is hard to get the right tone in every sentence of thousands of pages of literature, speaking with people whose arguments seem misguided and who are also being dogmatic because their views are acceptable to systematic theology.
There may be some failure there. I for one appreciate what some of these Bible teachers have done to correct a little issue Augustine probably got wrong, among so many things he got right, 1600 years ago.

Steve S. said...

Hey Rae,

I guess, at the end of the day, you and I just disagree...

What you call correction I call error. I would be more than willing to look at scripture and discuss theology with you, but short of doing that, we have to just agree to disagree.

As for his engagement with others besides Calvinists, I will trust your word. I have only read this particular book, and found the lack of engagement with a broader theological spectrum to be a significant deficiency with the argument he was making there. Perhaps he makes a better argument elsewhere. I am certainly willing to hear it, from either you or him...

As for dogmatism... I don't recall ever using the word, nor thinking it. Quite the opposite, in fact. He seems to be quite generous in tone, and quite correct in most of what he says.

Again, I have no problem with the fact that he challenges established notions of theology. I don't even have a problem with him suggesting the possibility of other ways of conceiving foreknowledge. I just think he is wrong to deny foreknowledge outright without offering any explanation for it, nor dealing with the manifold defenses of it from so many (non-Western) streams of the Church.

That is one of my fundamental critiques. For all he critiques Western theologians for embracing Western pagan theological concepts, he never engages with any non-Western theological traditions!