I have just come across a book with a title that annoyed me somewhat:
The part that sticks slightly in my throat is "biblical Christianity."
Before I offer a very brief explanation of why that phrase annoys me in this context let me be clear: I am not an open theist. In fact, I am perhaps as far as one can get from open theism short of being a Calvinist. I am very much in the "classical theism" camp so despised by open theists. I consider God to be timeless, spaceless, omnipotent (in a strong sense), omniscient (in a strong sense), unchanging (in a strong sense), simple (non-divisible), and so on. All that wonderful classical stuff :-)
In this sense I am closer to the authors of this book than to open theists.
My problem with the book's sub-title is that it suggests that open theists are not following the teachings of the Bible. However, as many defenders of open theism have rightly pointed out, one can make a very good case that God is often presented in the Bible in precisely the way that open theists talk about God. In other words, one can make a very good case for open theism if one affirms a strong doctrine of sola scriptura.
And as these same defenders of open theism also note, the "biblical Christianity" their critics speak of is in fact a theology developed over several centuries after the writing of Scripture. It is the Bible as read through a certain historically-shaped tradition.
At root, my problem with open theism (and open theists will LOVE this) is not that it is unbiblical (nor unevangelical) but that it is too biblical! By that I mean that it reads the Bible's presentation of God too much apart from the historic doctrine of God developed by orthodox Christianity. (Not fully apart from it because open theists are fully committed to trinitarian theology. If they were not their theology would fall outside Christian orthodoxy.)
I fully acknowledge that ancient Christian theologians drew on resources from Hellenistic philosophy in developing their doctrine but they never did so uncritically. They used such ideas to develop biblical teachings about God and they used biblical ideas to modify Hellenistic ideas. And the doctrine of God that they developed was profound.
I am not making a case for classical theism. That would be a longwinded project involving Scripture, tradition, and reason. But my point is simply that if one affirmed a radical notion of sola scriptura then open theism probably has more going for it as a "biblical view" than Reformed Calvinism (at least, if "biblical view" is conceived of in the simplistic way many evangelicals think of it).
But I do not think that Christian theology — nay, not even evangelical theology — should operate with Scripture read apart from tradition.
Of course, Scripture is the primary (though not the only) authority in Christian theology and the classical doctrine of God is open for discussion. I have no problem with open theists raising such questions and I happily affirm them as creedally orthodox and as Bible-believing evangelicals. But I believe that the basic contours of classical Christian theology are far more robust than many open theists believe and that they still tower above the alternatives.
I think that the classical tradition ought to carry a lot of weight for Christians and while it is open for debate it ought only to be abandoned because of major irresolvable problems.
That tradition offers ways to interpret the biblical texts about God that open theists appeal to. Of course, open theists are aware of this and object that we are reading the Bible through a framework imposed upon it. This is both true and false but that is a post for another day. Let's just say here that the theological framework of classical theism arose from engagement with the text of Scripture, wrestled with in the light of wider philosophical questions.
But, returning to my point, (I have got somewhat lost and tangled up in this hasty post) we need to be fair to open theists and acknowledge that we are reading those texts through a theological tradition and not simply claim to be reading them the "biblical" way.
My view, in a nutshell is this: the Bible can be interpreted in both open theistic and classical theistic ways. The debate between the two alternatives needs, of course, to engage the Bible but it will not be settled on that basis. We cannot just dismiss each other as unbiblical. Thus wider issues in the realm of Christian tradition and reason will have to play a key role.
Perhaps the issue, as I perceive it, is rooted in a more basic Protestant problem of undervaluing tradition. That too is a post for another day.
Aquinas rocks! Long live Augustine, Anselm, and everyone else with a name beginning with A ...