A Beautiful Nuance of Anabaptist Thought: Open Theism: Postscript

Since my original post, there has been a damaging development in the Open Theism movement. Since two of my fellow MennoNerds have already addressed the matter, I decided to do the same but within the parameters that I have set for my blog.

The main issue is that factions have developed, in other words everyone desires their own brand of Open Theism. I am not going to even bother with outlining the various models that have popped up over the years I am going to sketchily address what an Open Theism looks like from a proto-Anabaptist perspective. That is I am going to present which “brand” the Swiss Brethren, Hutterites and Pilgram Marpeck would advocate if they were familiar with the concept and embraced it.

Previously I demonstrated that the initial Anabaptists were biblicists or what we would classify as inerrantists regarding their view of the Bible as seen in my blog post Anabaptists: Inerrantists and Biblicists.  There I quoted Werner O. Packull who is classified as “a specialist in the Radical Reformation.” He testifies:

Accordingly to scholarly consensus, the Swiss Anabaptists were radical biblicists who broke with Ulrich Zwingli because he reneged on the principle of sola scriptura when political push came to shove on practical reform issues. Harold Bender put it bluntly when he wrote that “the Anabaptists were biblicists and it was the biblical fountains alone that they drank.” Bender exaggerated…But the label biblicist was justified not only because of the unflinching appeal to the Scriptures as final authority, but also because the Swiss Anabaptists declared their loyalty to the principle that only what was explicitly commanded in Scripture or demonstrated by its examples should be normative for the Christian congregation.[1]

In this area, we need to look to the Magisterial Reformers and their form of Biblicism because as mentioned above the Swiss Anabaptists inherited their Biblicism from Zwingli. Richard E. Burnett in The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth quotes from Barth’s Göttingen Dogmatics to describe the nature of the Biblicism of the Reformers. He informs us that it:

consists of a “biblical attitude, that of the prophets and apostles,” the attitude of a witness, “the attitude that put the Scriptures in the canon and called their text holy, the attitude not of spectators or reporters or thinkers, but of people who come down from the absolute presupposition, the Deus dixit, with all the irresistible momentum of a boulder rolling down a mountain side . . . Biblicism is not identical with faith and obedience. It is a rule of thought . . . resulting from them.[2]

Here Barth mentions “the Deus dixit” this phrase is taken from the Latin that denotes “God has spoken”. This affirmation and precondition is something a Christian must make when approaching sacred scripture; they must believe that in the case of the Bible God spoke without question, no explaining away the areas that disagree with one’s own theology or deferring to humans when their invented theories are contrary to the words of the Bible.

Rudimentary Open Theism

Open Theism or the Open View of God “expresses two basic convictions: 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.”[3] This entails the relationship between God and creation to take on a different nature. Open Theists view “God’s relation to the world in dynamic rather than static terms . . . [this] means that God interacts with his creatures . . . he influence them, but they also exert an influence on him.”[4] This premise has monumental consequences concerning how one views reality for it delineates “the course 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. Thus history is the combined result of what God and his creatures decide to do.”[5]

What this entails is that out of love God has created a free universe where God stoops down as it were and walks alongside His creation in real time. In place of “perceiving the entire course of human existence in one timeless moment, God comes to know events as they take place. He learns something from what transpires.”[6]  In light of this, one can say that God learns. The term “learn” can convey a series of things yet “God does not have to be pictured as learning absolutely new knowledge, that is, he came to know something which was absolutely new to him.”[7]

Take for instance at Genesis chapter 22 where the narrative of the sacrifice of Isaac. Here God tests Abraham by commanding to sacrifice his son Isaac. The readers are told “Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son” (Genesis 22:9-10). Then “the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (Genesis 22:11-12). The text presents God as saying, “now I know”, statements such as this on the part of God:

can be viewed as God’s knowledge of which choice Abraham would make out of the possible choices Abraham could make. Abraham could disobey the command of God. When God claims that he now knows that Abraham will obey, he is not learning that humans can obey (as if that were something he did not know before), but that this human has chosen to obey rather than disobey, both of which God knew as possibilities beforehand. In this way, God can be viewed as gaining knowledge of which choice a person will make, without literally adding new information to the body of knowledge he has eternally possessed (Isaiah 40:14).[8]

Open Theism “regards God as receptive to new experiences and as flexible in the way he works toward his objectives in the world.”[9] The Open View of God, which can also be christened “Free-will Theism”.  Free-will Theism teaches that God has bestowed on humanity libertarian free will. He:

has granted us significant moral freedom of choice (action). It is significant in that our freedom consists of the ability to do more than simply pick among menu items or TV shows. It is extended to the most important life choices—marriage partners, schools, friends, our relationship with God. It is considered moral freedom in that God allows us to choose between “good” and “evil,” that is, to choose between what is compatible and what is incompatible with the actualization of God’s creative goals.[10]

Free-will was one of the characteristics of Anabaptist belief, as I said before they wrestled with the tension of acknowledging that it was evident and plain that scripture taught free-will but also recognizing God’s sovereignty and knowledge of the future. Some tried to address it while others did not even bother to broach the issue in any thought out presentation. I believe that a simple Biblical Open Theism founded on the belief in inerrancy does away with this tension and achieves all the goals that the proto-Anabaptists sought to achieve.


[1] Werner O. Packull, Hutterite Beginnings: Communitarian Experiments During the Reformation (Baltimore, Md. ; London: Johns Hopkins University press, 1995), 15-6.

[2] Richard Burnett, ed., The Westminster Handbook to Karl Barth (n.p.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 19-20.

[3] Clark H. Pinnock et al., “Biblical Support for a New Perspective,” in The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 15.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 15-6.

[6] Ibid., 16.

[7] Michael R. Saia, Does God Know the Future? A Biblical Investigation of Foreknowledge and Free Will (Fairfax, Va.: Xulon Press, 2002), 306.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Clark H. Pinnock et al., The Openness of God, 16.

[10] David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 33.


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