Why I am not an Open Theist

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by Roger E. Olson

Someone asked me why I am not an open theist. I respect open theists for their dedication to biblical exegesis and for their determination to emphasize the personal nature of God. I am also attracted to open theism as a solution to the problem of evil (which I, personally, do not think Calvinism can solve. Arminianism does a better job in that it does not say God foreordained or rendered sin and evil certain. The distinction between God’s antecedent will and God’s consequent will is necessary for any good theodicy). Most of the leading open theists are my friends and I would love to be with them on this issue. I have been their defender on many occasions.

However, I have the same problem with open theism as with Calvinism when it comes to theology’s normed norm — tradition. The key Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace were not even thought of until at least Augustine in the fifth century. (And I still believe no Christian suggested limited atonement until the ninth century.)

If open theism were true, it seems to me early church fathers such as Irenaeus, who learned the faith under Polycarp, who learned it under John the Apostle, would have known of it and taught it. I realize this is not a knock-down, drag-out proof against open theism. However, I’m cautious about embracing doctrinal ideas (or even theologoumena — to speak of God — which is what open theism really is) that are so new in terms of church history. I’m also stuck on Jesus’ prediction / prophecy to Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crows. Open theistic explanations just don’t convince me yet.

I don’t see any great need to make up my mind about this in some kind of hard and fast way. In fact, I kind of like thinking about it. As I said before, it really doesn’t make any difference to worship or piety.