Introduction and a Very Short Bibliography.

Paper prepared for RCUS Ministers’ Retreat, 8/18/2003, Mitchell, SD.

C. W. Powell

Go to Basket of Figs Homepage


These four books, all published by Intervarsity Press, will serve as a starting point for understanding the ”Openness” movement.  At issue, in the opinion of the author of this study, is the orthodox doctrine of God and His attributes of self-existence, immutability, infinity, and simplicity.  These attributes have usually been considered incommunicable, the so-called negative attributes which set Him off as distinct from all that He made.  These are the very things which are self-consciously challenged by the “openness of God” proponents, and stipulated to in their writings.  


Basinger, David.  The Case for Freewill Theism.  Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1996

Beilby, James K and Paul R. Eddy, editors. Divine Foreknowledge, Four Views. Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2001

McGregor-Wright, R. K. No Place for Sovereignty.  What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism.  Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1996

Pinnock, Clark, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger.  The Openness of God. Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 1994


Websites that the author found interesting offered here without little comment, approval or disapproval, but for your discerning consideration.   [This is a very good article by a Roman Catholic theologian.  The links in the article are informative, in my view, especially on the idea of constituent ontology being superior to relation ontology.  Provocative.   His comments on the paucity of real education in the last half of the twentieth century are good, too, especially in relation to divine simplicity.  How can you combat something you are ignorant of?  The blind are leading the blind.]  [John Piper and the “repentance” texts.]  A series of articles supporting openness.  [A sharp dissent from the openness movement from the point of view of Pentecostalism]  [Faculty chapel lectures at Master’s Seminary]   This is an important article that goes to the meaning of eternity as far as God is concerned.  According to the openness movement, time is of the essence of God.  He did not create time and He cannot avoid it.  He thinks and acts in sequences of time.  God is therefore ruled by time.  A person’s view of time is critical to the doctrine of God.   [Another view of time in the Finney tradition.   This and the previous site shows how important the concept of time is in the Openness movement.  They would have an “Open” God by encasing Him in time!!!   To paraphrase Chesterton:  when men “break out,” they never break out into a larger space—they always break out into a narrower one.] [Interview with Michael Horton and Clark Pinnock]


The method I will use in this lecture is to review the book The Openness of God and the views of the authors in the light of the incommunicable attributes of God and certain other important concepts.  Some of the most revealing comments are in the endnotes and they will not be overlooked in this presentation, although it will be impossible to consider all the issues involved.  We will try to look at some of the presuppositions that drive the Openness movement and critique them.


It is again the opinion of this writer that the view of God that is presented by the openness movement is so radically different from the view held by the Fathers, especially by the first six Ecumenical Councils that it is a stretch to think that the Openness Movement and the Fathers are speaking of the same God.


How many know what a tokalasi is?  [I am not sure of the spelling].  For about 40 some years I have been asking that question and have never had an answer until a church history class at New Geneva Seminary, when it was still Knox Seminary, about seven years ago.  There was a couple from South Africa visiting, and the woman knew and got a kick out of it. 


The reason that you could not answer me, was because you are not able to assign any attribute to the word.  What is an attribute?  I would submit the following ideas to try to have a layman’s definition of attribute.  I have two relatives in Colorado Springs, both of them are named Matt.  It sometimes becomes confusing in our family because it may not immediately be apparent which Matt we mean when we use the name, Matt.  Son Matt is the sixth son of C. W. and Penny Powell, born in California in 1974, is married to Andrea, until recently worked for Hewlett Packard, attends seminary, and is an elder at Trinity Covenant Church.  Nephew Matt is married to Susanna,  works as a graphics artist for Pikes Peak Raceway, owns a dog, and is a deacon at Trinity Covenant Church. 


An attribute is something that we attribute or attach to a word in order to identify the concept that the word is code for, making communication possible.  Identification is impossible without the use of attributes.  In language we have names for persons, places, and things; for qualities of persons, places, and things; names for actions, and for qualities of those actions.  We have words that name relationships.  Without the attributes which we attach to these names, communication is impossible.  In fact, the fallacy of ambiguity arises when people assign different attributes to the same name.


Years ago in a third-grade grammar class, I was laboring to explain what a sentence is.  Using a device from an old 19th century grammar book I said, “A sentence is a complete thought.  What is a complete thought?  Well, you have to think about something, and then you must think something about it.”  To illustrate I asked all of the children to think of a cat.  “Do you have a cat in your mind.”  Yes  I then went around the room asking, “What is your cat doing?  What are you thinking about your cat.”   One by one, I got the answers. Drinking milk, lying in the sun, chasing a mouse, being chased by a dog, etc.  Then I got to one little boy.  His answer, “building a road.”   My point was made.  No one can think of a cat without thinking something about the cat, and what you think about the cat includes the definition of the word cat.  It is impossible to think of cat without assigning attributes to the word, unless you are thinking of the word itself, either as a sound or as symbols on a page.  But the word itself as a sound in the air, or the symbols on the page are meaningless without the attributes.   There are a number of definitions of the word “cat” in the dictionary.  A domesticated animal; any of the family of carnivorous, solitary mammals; a whip; a malicious woman; a jazz musician; a guy; a fish; two varieties of boats; tackle used to hoist an anchor; etc.  The definition is in the attributes.  If you change the attributes, you change the meaning of the word.


This is why Paul says in 1 Cor. 14:

8  For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?

9  So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air.

10  There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.

11  Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me.


So it is with the word “god.”  The word is essentially without meaning in modern language.  The only way you can say, for instance, that Islam, Judaism, and Christianity worship the same god is for the word ‘god’ to be without attributes, and therefore without meaning.


Therefore, we want to know what the Openness people mean when they say “God.”  Karl Barth is supposed to have said something like, “You cannot say God by saying Man with a loud voice.”  Are the openness people simply saying “Man” loudly when they say “God.”  If the attributes assigned to God are simply human attributes, then the answer is “yes.”  If so, then it is not a movement within Christianity at all, but a movement within humanism, and should be rejected by all those who love the Lord Jesus for it would involve the worship of a man, and not God.


Further notes.


In some respects the impetus to a whole lot of “new thought” in the modern world stems from the Holocaust.  It was so blatantly evil that many people began to wonder about the kind of world it is that we live in.  Can the concept of God exist in a world with Hitler and his likes?  In some respects the generations following World War II were enamoured with their own importance, as if they had discovered the devil for the first time, that no one had wrestled with evil before. [“Wrestle” is a popular word in modern theology—you don’t understand and you don’t believe.  You don’t accept and you don’t reject: you “wrestle.”   Herod had great “wrestlings” when he ordered the beheading of John the Baptist.  The Rich Young Ruler was “wrestling” when he went away from Christ.  Pilate “wrestled” when he tried to wash the blood off his hands.]


Because of the Holocaust, it was important that Christians show that they didn’t dislike Jews, that the differences between Christianity and Judaism are really insignificant—we worship the same God in fact, and we certainly should not remember the persecution of Christians by the Jews, nor should we believe that Christ is God, for that concept cannot be reconciled with Judaism.  This caused a fundamental reorganization of Christian thought.


Another idea that had to go was the concept of hell.  If the wicked are going to burn in hell in the future, then Christians will be justified in burning them now.  Calvin and Servetus come up again and again in the literature, to show the connection between belief in hell and burning inconvenient people.  In some way there is a convenient amnesia when it comes to all the atheistic tortures, burnings, assassinations, etc, that took place in the 20th centuries in the name of building a new and just earthly kingdom.  The biblical doctrine of hell is much too personal and final.  It forces us to declare ourselves and make decisions.  The modern world believes that God always gives us a second chance, for he is “wrestling” with our faults and failures also.  He has feelings like we do.   It is interesting that in the name of free-will theism, decision making is taken away, replaced by “wrestlings” and “sensitivity.”  It is the sensitive people who “wrestle.”


Another important concept that had to go was the idea of absolute truth, or the knowledge of the one true God.  Here the idea of “wrestling” is important again.  Churches wrestle with Arminianism, with liberalism, with feminism, with process theology, with evolution, with creation, with inerrancy, with homosexuality, with abortion, etc.  We do this “wrestling’ because we do not want to make up our minds.  We want to leave our options open, which is a sign of not wanting to grow up.  After all, the modern male does not want to choose Sally over Stephanie, or Kori or Daphne.  He doesn’t want to be tied down.  The result is perpetual childishness and irresponsibility.


If you say that something is true, you are left with the conclusion that something else is false, and some people will have trouble with that.  So, instead, you “wrestle.”  In this the modern churchman is more Hegelian than Christian, more like children who are tossed like dice before every wind of doctrine.  We are like the Athenians who were constantly wanting to hear some new thing, ever learning, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.   This is another theme that runs through the literature:  Some people have trouble with ______________ [you fill in the blank].  For instance Bassinger claims,


Some Christians not only find it more comforting to assume that some instances of evil are not a preordained part of God’s plan but go so far as to say that they can affirm the existence of God only if they assume that God is at times not directly involved.  See, for instance, Evil in the videotape series Questions of Faith (United Methodist Communications, 1991).  [footnote, page 200]


It is distressing to the modern theologian if people are not comforted, made to feel good.  This desire to accommodate the theological and spiritual laziness of people, so as not to give a hint that we disapprove of their ideas or practices, is common.  If some concept of God is unattractive to people, we must change the concept to something more pleasing, stripping God of this or that attribute if necessary.   Jack will love Susie only if she looks like Priscilla.   We will convert the heathen only if we first become heathen ourselves.  In order for free will to operate effectively, every disagreeable concept must be removed.   Susie might legitimately wonder if she is the one that Jack loves.  Maybe Jack doesn’t love anyone, except some ideal woman that he imagines in his head.


The hermeneutical starting point, it seems to me, for most of these people, is the body of scripture that speaks of God “repenting.”   They reject the idea of anthropomorphism and take the scripture at “face value.”  Hence, God does change His mind.  This means that all of the traditional views of immutability advanced for 2000 years must be challenged.   Richard Rice puts it this way:


So important is the notion of divine repentance in biblical thought that it deserves to be regarded as one of the central themes of Scripture.  It represents “an important interpretive vehicle for understanding the divine activity throughout the canon.”#


The result is a game of theological high card.  “We have more verses that say God repents than you have that say that God does not repent.  We win.”  Deluded people will not bother to examine the overwhelming evidence of Scripture where the idea of God’s immutability is expressed. 


As Dr. Roger Nicole. Visiting Professor of Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida, puts it:


This volume constitutes a frontal attack on the Reformed conception of God as expressed in its confessions of faith and in its orthodox theologians. It also challenges the Lutheran view, particularly Luther's and the Missouri Synod's; the evangelical Arminian position, advocated in multifarious denominations; the traditional Roman Catholic view, notably Augustine's and his followers; the Eastern Orthodox position; not to speak of some non-Christian religions, notably Islam. One could not, therefore, fault the authors for lacking courage, not to speak of audacity.


In the second lecture I will try to defend the biblical doctrine of God and His incommunicable attributes, so that the name God will have the same meaning to us that the Bible assigns to it, and the same meaning that the church has assigned to it throughout its history.  For if we do not worship the same God and the same Christ as the apostles worshipped, then we have no hope in this world or in the world to come, but will be judged with the world.


But now, for the rest of the time we have this hour, we will look at some of the writing of a couple of the main figures in the movement.


Clark Pinnock: Professor Emeritus McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario. [ ]

Richard Rice: Professor of theology at La Sierra University, Riverside, California, as Seventh Day Adventist Outfit.


It’s the latest “answer” to Calvinism.  I guess that Servetus, Arminius, Wesley, New England Theology, Finney, and the Azusa Street Revival couldn’t quite lay it in the dust.  A Southern Oregon College history professor years ago was quoted as saying, “We have to bury Calvinism every generation.”  I suspect that it will be faddish for a while and then transmorph into something similar.


The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD.”  --Jeremiah 23:28


Biblical Support for Openness, by Richard Rice

Quotation: All quotations are from Rice unless otherwise attributed.


[The doctrine of God] deeply affects our understanding of the incarnation, grace, creation, election, sovereignty and salvation.  Preface, page 8

Many Christians experience an inconsistency between their beliefs about the nature of God and their religious practice.  For example, people who believe that God cannot change his mind sometimes pray in ways that would require God to do exactly that.  Preface, page 8

These inharmonious elements are the result of the coupling of biblical ideas about God with notions of the divine nature drawn from Greek thought.    Preface, page 8

We do not claim that the open view is the only model with biblical or philosophical support.  The Bible is not unambiguous on the subject….  Preface, page 9

This is why biblical scholars often object to expressions like “the biblical view of” or “according to the Bible.”  They insist that there are biblical views, but no one biblical view.  While it is not true, in spite of what some people claim, that you can make the Bible say anything you want it to say, different passages often seem to support different points of view.  To cite a familiar example, many people do not see how the same God could command Israel on occasion to utterly destroy it foes (Josh 6:17; I Sam. 15:2-3) and through Jesus instruct us to love our enemies (Mt. 5:44).  Footnote 7 on page 177

One idea of God and his relation to the world has dominated the church’s perspective, among thinking and general believers alike, and it prevails in the attitudes of most Christians today.  Page. 11

Two models of God in particular are the most influential that people commonly carry around in their minds.  We may think of God primarily as an aloof monarch, removed from the contingencies of the world, unchangeable in every aspect of his being, as an all-determining and irresistible power, aware of everything that will ever happen and never taking risks.  Or we may understand God as a caring parent with qualities of love and responsiveness, generosity and sensitivity, openness and vulnerability, a person (rather than a metaphysical principle) who experiences the world, responds to what happens, relates to us and interacts dynamically with humans.  These correspond to the differences Sanders has noted between the God of Greek philosophy and the God of the Bible.  God is sovereign in both models, but the mode of his sovereignty differs.  –Pinnock

Modern thinking has more room for a God who is personal (even tri-personal) than it does for a God as absolute substance.  We ought to be grateful for those features of modern culture which make it easier to recover the biblical witness.    –Pinnock, Page 107

As a political aside, what would we think of those who contend that total control is praiseworthy as a mode of government?  --Pinnock, Page 124


Love is the most important quality we attribute to God, and love is more than care and commitment; it involves being sensitive and responsive as well….  God’s relation to the world [is] dynamic rather than static…  Not only does he influence [the creatures], but they also exert an influence on him.  As a result, the curse of history is not the product of divine action alone. God’s will is not the ultimate explanation for everything that happens; human decisions and actions make an important contribution too.  Page 15, 16

Love is the essence of the divine reality, the basic source from which all of God’s attributes arise.  This means that the assertion God is love incorporates all there is to say about God.  Page 21

Love is the concrete reality that unifies all of the attributes of God.  A doctrine of God that is faithful to the Bible must show that all of God’s characteristics derive from love.  Page 22

The Bible indicates that God is deeply sensitive to the ones he loves.  Page 22

(The book of Hosea) tracks a succession of intense feelings, from jealousy and anger to hope and joy.  God’s response to Israel runs the same gamut of emotion a betrayed husband would feel…Page 23

Rice quotes Tikva Frymer-Kensky in In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth.  “The dialogue between humankind and God as ‘the essential insight of monotheism.”  “Through this imagery [the poetic writings of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Hosea, etc] the people of Israel are enabled to feel God’s agony.”   She also asserts that “the reactivity of God” that we see in his powerful emotions for Israel is essential to monotheism, and shows that the one God grants human beings a central role in determining the course of history.  God is the ultimate power in reality, but God’s activity consists in large measure in responding to human decisions and actions.  What he actually decides to do depends directly on the actions of human beings.   Pages 25,26    Footnote, page 178

God does not stand outside the range of human suffering and sorrow.  He is personally involved in, even stirred by, the conduct and fate of man.  Page 26

God is not the only actor on the stage of history.  Other agents, too, play a role.  Creatures who bear the image of God are capable of deciding and acting, and God takes their decisions and actions into account as he determines what course to follow.  To a significant extent, then, God’s actions are reactions—different ways he response to what others do as he pursues his ultimate purposes.  For the most part, the fulfillment of God’s will represents a genuine achievement rather than a foregone conclusion.  Page 38

God identified himself to Moses in the wilderness, “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14).  In a move widely deplored by biblical and systematic theologians today, Scholastic thinkers interpreted this as a metaphysical statement and applied it to God’s being or existence.  God thus says to Moses, “I am the self-existent one.”  It is more in harmony with the biblical view [!!] to see this as expressing God’s freedom to act and as relating God’s identity to his action, since it occurs at an important moment in salvation history=--just prior to God’s dramatic deliverance of his people from Egypt.  Thus, according to Worfhart Pannenberg, it asserts that God “will show himself in his historical acts.”  In effect, God says, “I will be there for you.”  Or, to risk putting it too colloquially, “I am the one you can always count on.”  At any rate, the text points to the dynamic quality of God’s activity rather than to the static quality of the divine nature.  Page 49


Scripture tells us that God formulates plans and purposes and that he occasionally changes his mind…. God repents.  Page 26.

[Concerning Moses’ prayer for Israel:]  Moses genuinely influenced God’s final decision.  At the outset, the future of the Israelites is really up in the air.  God’s initial outburst shows that he is deeply hurt by the people’s behavior and inclined to reject them, but his decision is not final and, in effect, he invites Moses to “contribute something to the divine deliberation.”  Moses’ vigorous entrance into the discussion shows that “God is not the only one who has something important to say.” He appeals to God’s reasonableness and reputation, and reminds God of his own promise. In response, God immediately changes his mind: he “repented of the evil” he planned to do.  Fretheim concludes that this passage reveals God as “one who is open to change.  God will move from decisions made, from courses charted, in view of the ongoing interaction with those affected.  God treats the relationship with the people with an integrity that is responsive to what they do and say”  “this means that there is genuine openness to the future on God’s part.”   Page 29

These incidents indicate that human intercession can influence God’s actions.  They show that god’s intentions are not absolute and invariant; he does not unilaterally and irrevocably decide what to do.  When God deliberates, he evidently takes a variety of things into account, including human attitudes and responses.  Once he formulates his plans, they are still open to revision.  This appears to be true of even the most emphatic assurances on God’s part.  [Emphasis mine, cwp.]   Page 29

What happens to nations is not something that God alone decides and then imposes on them.  Instead, what God decides to do depends on what the people decide to do.  [Concerning Jeremiah 18, the famous figure of the potter and the potter’s wheel]  Page 32

[Concerning Balaam’s oracle and 1Sam. 15:29].  Close inspection reveals that they are exceptions that prove the rule that he can repent when he chooses. …  The word repent in both cases  is used synonymously with the word lie.  The  point is not that God never changes, but that God never says one thing while fully intending to do something else.  Only in this limited sense of the word does God not “repent.”  Unlike human beings, God will not say one thing and then arbitrarily do another.  Second, these statements pertain to specific promises that God declares he will stand by forever; they do not posit a general principle. Third, the assurance that god will not repent presupposes the general possibility that God can repent when he chooses.  God does not repent in certain cases, not because it is impossible or inconceivable for him to do so, nor because he never does so; he does not repent simply because he chooses not to do so.  Fourth, it is noteworthy— “striking” one scholar exclaims –that one of the very chapters that asserts that God does not repent (1 Sam 15) contains two statements that he does repent vv11,35).  So the scope of this denial obviously is very limited.  It is not a statement of general principle. Page 32, 3

So important is the notion of divine repentance in biblical thought that it deserves to be regarded as one of the central themes of Scripture.  It represents “an important interpretive vehicle for the understanding of the divine activity throughout the canon.  Page 34

[Concerning anthropomorphisms].  If human beings and God have nothing whatever in common, if we have utterly no mutual experience, then we have no way of talking and thinking about God and there is no possibility of a personal relationship with him.  Page 35

God’s life is social and dynamic.  This is divine activity.  God does things.  In fact, the Bible identifies God primarily by describing his actions.  …we should note that the very concept of an act involves change.  An action makes a difference.  It brings about something that would not otherwise exist.  In the case of specific acts, it brings about something that did not previous exist.  To say that God acts, therefore, means that it makes sense to use the words before and after when we talk about him.  Page 36

The Bible clearly supports a concept of divine changelessness.  In certain respects God never varies, he is always the same.  The notion that god is changeless is perfectly compatible with the open view of God.  In fact, it is just as important to this position as to the conventional alternative.  The difference between them is not that one views God as changeless while the other doesn’t.  The difference is that everything about God must be changeless for the traditional view, whereas the open view sees God as both changeless and changeable.


We can attribute both change and changelessness to God if we apply them to different aspects of his being. God’s existence, God’s nature and God’s character are just as changeless as he could possibly be.  These aspects of divinity are completely unaffected by anything else.  God would be God no matter what happened in the world. Indeed, God would be god whether the creaturely world existed or not.  Page 48

The reason that God is open to change in some respects is the fact that in other respects he never changes.  It is God’s nature to love, to love without measure and without interruption.  And precisely because this is God’s essential nature, he must be sensitive and responsive to the creaturely world.  Everything that happens in it has an effect on him.  Because God’s love never changes, God’s experience must change.    In other words, it is part of God’s unchanging nature to change.  Page 49

[Speaking of  a watch that keeps perfect time, but changes from 6:05 to 6:12 in the course of seven minutes.  So there are changes that are neither for the better nor for the worse, and the change in the watch is such a change.  It is, in fact, an example of change that is consistent with and/or required by a constant state of excellence.   –Hasker, Pages 132-3


God makes decisions and then he acts.  He decides before he acts, he acts after he decides.  This is so simple that it sounds trivial, but it points to a fundamental truth about God. Not only does he bring about change, but in a significant sense [Emphasis mine] God himself experiences change.  After God acts, the universe is different.  The concept of divine action thus involves divine temporality.  Time is real for God.  Page 37

[Concerning Is. 46:9-11]  “I am God, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purposes shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention.’ …I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it” (NASV)  These verses seem to indicate that divine purpose and divine enactment are not one indistinguishable event, but distinct moments in God’s experience.  God announces his plans; then he acts to implement his plans.  Moreover, God acts from time to time throughout the course of human history, not just at the beginning.  So the drama of history is not an exorable outworking of a process instituted at the beginning of time, but a series of events.  Page 37

God hoped that Saul would be a good king.  When Saul disappointed him, God turned elsewhere.  Page 37

God sets goals for creation and redemption and realizes them ad hoc in history.  If Plan A fails, God is ready with Plan B.  – Pinnock, Page 113

It is hard to form any idea of what timelessness might mean, since all of our thinking is temporally conditioned.  A timeless being could not make plans and carry them out.  Second, it creates problems for biblical history, which portrays God as One who projects plans, experiences the flow of temporal passage and faces the future as not completely settled.    –Pinnock, page 120

The God of the Bible is not timeless.  His eternity means that there has never been a never will be a time when God does not exist.  –Pinnock, page 121


The Trinity points to a relational ontology in which God is more like a dynamic event than a simple substance and is essentially relational, ecstatic and alive.  God exists as diverse persons united in a communion of love and freedom, God is the perfection of love and communion, the very antithesis of self-sufficiency.       Pinnock, Page 108

Although the doctrine of simplicity was not dealt with directly in the writings I examined, there are implications for the doctrine in many of the quotations above.

On the Incarnation and the Atonement

The familiar word incarnation expresses the idea that Jesus is the definitive revelation of God.  According to the central claim of Christian faith—“the Word became flesh” (John 1:14)  --this particular human life was the most important means God has ever used to reveal himself.  The fundamental claim here is not simply that God revealed himself in Jesus, but that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ as nowhere else.  N this specific human life, as never before or since, nor  anywhere else in the sphere of creaturely existence, God expresses his innermost reality.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Accordingly, from a Christian standpoint it is appropriate to say not only that Jesus is God, but that God is Jesus.  For Christians, Jesus defines the reality of God. Page 39

It would therefore seem that God, like us, is personal existence.  If so, then God enjoys relationships, has feelings, makes decisions, formulates plans and acts to fulfill them.  Naturally, we may not use the “humanity” of God as a pretext for unbridled speculation, but it clearly points to important similarities between our experience and his.  Page 40

[Concerning Isaiah 53 and I Pet. 2:21-2]  Through this remarkable portrayal we see the sovereign of the universe as one who reaches to the depths of human need with tenderness and compassion, one who appreciates human sorrows to the fullest.  Page 40

Whereas traditional theism seeks to safeguard God’s transcendence by denying divine sensitivity, the open view of God does so by maintaining that his sensitivity and love and infinitely greater than our own.   This is the sort of difference that lies behind the familiar prophetic exclamation, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways….As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9).  This is not general affirmation of divine inscrutability, in spite of the use theologians often make of it.  It refers specifically to God’s willingness to forgive, in contrast to our typical reluctance to do so.  “:Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts, “ states the preceding verse.  “Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Is. 55:7).  Page 43

The fact that Jesus’ life most clearly revealed the nature and character of God has important implications for the Bible’s use of anthropological language.  When the Scriptures compare God with humanity, the clearest  parallels are not between God and fallen human beings, but between God and our essential humanity, specifically Jesus Christ.  To draw from König’s work again, when the biblical writers deny that God is like human beings, sinful humanity is typically the point of comparison.  But when the same writers continue to speak of God in anthropomorphic terms, “it is obvious that it is in another sense that they refer to God as being like man.  Here it is intended that the comparison is between God and man as the image of God, and not between God and man as sinner”  In particular, “the anthropomorphisms in the Bible represent the proclamation about God in terms of the person and work of Christ.”  Not only what Jesus taught about God, then, but the way he manifested God in his treatment of people, in particular the undeserving and unwanted, provides powerful indications that God is deeply sensitive and responsive to human experience.   Page 43

[Quoting 2Cor 5:18-20]  This text underscores the central New Testament truth that God is always the subject, and never the object, or reconciliation.  He is the agent, not the recipient of reconciliation.  The apostle’s call, therefore, is not for sinful human beings to reconcile God, but to be reconciled to God, to accept the reconciliation that God feely offers.  Clearly, then, the cross was God’s action. He was working in Christ to accomplish our reconciliation.  Appreciating this fact, many Christina scholars now perceive the suffering of Calvary not a something Jesus offers to God on human behalf, still less as something God inflicts on Jesus (instead of on human beings), but as the activity of God himself….God was in Christ, himself enduring the agony that Christ underwent.  As Kenneth Leech puts it, “It is necessary to see God in the pain and the dying.  There must have been a Calvary in the heart of god before it could have been planted on that hill outside…Jerusalem.  Page 45

If God was indeed in Christ, then the most significant experience Jesus endured was something God endured as well.  The cross is nothing less than the suffering of God himself.  Page 46

Prophecy and Foreknowledge and Predestination

A prophecy may express God’s intention to do something in the future irrespective of creaturely decision.  If God’s will is the only condition required for something to happen, if human cooperation is not involved, then God can unilaterally guarantee its fulfillment, and he can announce it ahead of time.  [He cites examples.]  Page 51

A prophecy may also express God’s knowledge that something will happen because the necessary conditions for it have been fulfilled and nothing could conceivable prevent it.  By the time God foretold Pharaoh’s behavior to Moses, the ruler’s character may have been so rigid that it was entirely predictable.  God understood him well enough to know exactly what his reaction to certain situations would be.”]  Page 51

A prophecy may also express what God intends to do if certain conditions obtain.  [Examples are those of prophecies against Jerusalem, Nineveh, etc. if they do not repent.]  Page 51

The problem with the traditional view on this point is that there is no if from God’s perspective.  If God knows the future exhaustively, then conditional prophecies lose their integrity.  They do not express a genuine divine intention.  They are nothing more than hypothetical assertions that God fully knows will never be realized….  It was simply a ploy that produced the desired result.  Page 52

The [open view of God sees] God sometimes acting on his own within the world, but more often interacting with creatures whose behavior is not entirely predictable—not even by him. Page 53

The bible asserts that God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”… Yet it appears that not all will be saved.    Then, God’s will does not guarantee the outcome he desires. Page 55

[With regard to prophecies about individual behavior, such as Pharaoh, Judas, Peter]  Was their occurrence …in evitable?  Not necessarily.  It is logically possible that they represent conditional prophecies. In the case of Peter’s denial this seems especially likely, since Jesus had prayed that his faith would not fail….  Page 55

The fact that God foreknows or predestines something does not guarantee that it will happen, the fact that God determines a part of history does not mean that he determines all of history, and the fact that God extends a specific call to certain people does not mean that he similarly calls all people.  Page 56

First, although certain things did (and do) happen in harmony with divine predestination, this does not mean that these events could not possible have failed to occur.  As we have seen, the Bible clearly indicates that God has often experienced disappointment and frustration. Page 56

Second, it may be true that God occasionally acts by fiat and directly causes something to happen. Yet even if he determines one event, it does not necessarily follow that he determines all events….  He requires our cooperation.  Page 56

Third, the concept of calling does not imply that God directly decides the eternal destiny of each human being.  In fact, we misunderstand the biblical notion of calling, or election, if we think it applies either primarily to individuals or primarily to ultimate human destiny.  Throughout the Bible divine election typically represents a corporate call to service.  It applies to groups rather than to individuals, and it involves a role in God’s saving work in the present world rather than in the future life (although this may be an extension of the former).  There were specific alls to individuals, of course. Page 57

The popular belief in God’s total omniscience is not so much a biblical idea as an old tradition.  –Pinnock, Page 122

God does not go in for power tactics.  –Pinnock, page 114

God created a dynamic world and enjoys getting to know it.  –Pinnock, Page 124

Conclusion by Rice

If we shift our angle of vision in light of some powerful biblical themes, a quite different portrait of God emerges.  A number of important ideas converge in the view that god’s experience is open and that his relation to the creaturely world is one of dynamic interaction.  The most fundamental of them is divine love, God’s unswerving commitment to the welfare of his creatures and his profound sensitivity to their experiences.  We find the clearest manifestation of this love in the life and ministry of Jesus, the Word become flesh who shares our human lot with us.  We also see it throughout the history of creation and salvation that preoccupies the writers of the Bible.  We see it in the biblical accounts of God’s inner life—in his actions, decisions and, perhaps most vividly, in his feelings.


Various passages reveal a God who is deeply involved in human experience.  The failings of his human children disappoint him and their sufferings bring him grief, but he seeks their companionship and rejoices when they return his love.  These passages also reveal a God who is active within human history, patiently pursuing his objectives for his creatures, while taking into account their decisions and actions.  They show that God adjusts and alters his plans to accommodate changes in human behavior.


The view of God proposed in this book thus rests on a broad spectrum of biblical evidence.  A host of biblical themes support the openness of God.  Page 58.


Hebrews 6:17-18


Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath:

That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:

Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

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# Unless otherwise attributed, all quotations in this paper are from The Openness of God.   Rice quotes Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984).  This hermeneutic is pervasive throughout the movement.  It appears to be taken without any proof that it is a valid hermeneutic, just that it is the “natural” reading of the passages that speak of divine repentance.