Should Arminians Consider Open Theists Arminian?: Some Doubts

This comment below was a response to Roger Olson’s blog post, where some interesting issues were raised. I thought I’d share what I wrote in response here.

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Interesting thoughts. I feel I agree with the essential, fundamental underlying sentiment of this blog. But on the issue of Open Theism as a form of Arminianism that us classical Arminians need to embrace a legitimately Arminian… I do not feel inclined to take Open Theism as strictly falling into under Arminian banner per se. Let me explain.

I do feel the Open Theists are less in error than the Calvinists are, and I feel more “at home” with them as fellow Christians than I do with the Calvinists. I’m not saying Calvinists are not Christians. I’m just saying that, to me, given two options A and B — where A = God does not know the future contingent acts of creatures; and B = God is ultimately the cause of all wickedness everywhere (such as in causally predetermining it) — I think A is the more rational-moral-biblical option than B.

Yet there is another issue as well, and it is with this that I primarily have my intuition of disagreement that (at least some if not many, most or all) Open Theists can be said to be legitimately Arminian.

What I take to be a hallmark of Reformed orthodoxy is an individual and church-corporate attitude which believes in and lives in the light of the supremacy of Scripture, and I believe that, as an Evangelical, we ought to take a very high attitude with regard to scripture–its authoritativeness, its truthfulness, its relative perspicuity, and, in life, our serious submission to the teaching and application of that text, and so on and so forth. Now given that classical Arminianism, in my view, falls properly into the Reformed-Evangelical category, therefore it follows that it is essential on the very character of a reformed-Evangelical Arminianism theology that we take a rather high view of and attitude towards scripture in such a way as I have explained. I believe one thing we can learn from the Calvinist Reformed Christians is indeed a somewhat high attitude toward the biblical text in that way: exegesis of the text carefully, and submitting wholeheartedly to what it says, even if that might conflict with my individual intuitions. I believe that is absolutely fantastic.

What gets me about the Open Theists, then, is what in my experience seems to me to be the frankly egregious, un-Evangelical attitude often taken towards the biblical text by these proponents. It is the Open Theists’ *attitude* towards the text — such as in their providing seemingly ad hoc answers to seemingly clear texts expressing divine foreknowledge of agents’ (free) future activities under a rigorous exegesis — is what leads me to want to exclude Open Theists from under the Reformed-Evangelical Arminian banner proper.

I realise this is quite obviously a much wider point than the Calvinism/Arminianism issue per se; it is more a Reformed-Evangelical point in general than anything. I could well imagine an Open Theist holding to: Total Depravity, Corporate Election, Unlimited Atonement, Prevenient Grace and Apostasy, as I do. But what speaks to me most clearly about a person’s heart is their submission and attitude towards the Word of God. I believe a certain submission to that Word is both characteristic and essential to what it means to be a Reformed, Evangelical Arminian. I do not believe many Open Theists like Greg Boyd show the same kind of care or right attitude towards that Word, and therefore do not, in my opinion, share in the joy of being properly Evangelical or Arminian in that regard.

So the argument is: To be Evangelical, one has to have certain attitudes towards the (biblical) text; every Arminian is an Evangelical; so every Arminian has certain attitudes towards the text. Some Open Theist does not have said attitudes towards the text; are therefore not Evangelical; are therefore not, ipso facto, Arminian.

(I don’t mean to say they’re not Evangelical wholesale; maybe ‘evangelicalness’ comes in degrees of ‘more than’/’less than’. I just mean the lack of the relevant attitudes toward scripture would harm their Evangelical case significantly. By saying this I am leaving the door slightly ajar for them yet, even under abhorrent [don’t read too much into that] attitudes towards scripture.)

Now I know some Open Theists will read this and bristle at what I have just said. They will say: “But I am not like that; my pastor is not like that; and the Open Theist scholars I have read and listened to are not like that.” Granted. I don’t mean to indite all Open Theists as having an illegitimately low attitude towards the biblical text. I only mean to speak from my experience, my reading and my listening. But you should at least agree with this conditional statement: If a person is an Evangelical (or a Reformed Evangelical Arminian), then that person will exhibit some set of attitudes {A1, A2, A3 … An} towards Divine Scripture, where that set of attitudes {A1, A2, A3 … An} is some relevant, sufficient number and kind of attitudes, e.g. having a set of humble or submissive character traits and attitudes and willingness to apply the text, or whatever.

So there are my thoughts about the matter. I’m sure more could be said, but that, it seems to me, is enough for now. Thanks for the blog. Keep up the good work, Dr. Olson. Your book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities got me started on this rich, reflective, historical, Arminian journey.

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