Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Open View

I got asked about the Open View in a previous comment, so I though I might explain it and elaborate further than I've done before about why I believe it.

The Open View (aka Open Theism, aka presentism etc) is a paradigm about God's relationship with and interaction with the world. It holds primarily that God is in a dynamic relationship with the world rather than a static one. It asserts God is actively and intrinsically involved in the story. God does not sit in eternity, watching all creation play itself out like a pre-recorded video whose contents God already knows. Rather God has goals He wants to achieve in the world, but the purposes and plans by which He tries to achieve them are open to change and revision in response to changing circumstances. God, like a master chess player, responds to the moves of His opponents with the appropriate actions. God can forsee all the possible moves His opponent might make, but will dynamically change His own actions in response to the new situation in order to best fulfill His overall goals.

The Open View's primary aim is to uphold the love of God, the dynamicness of God, the meaningfulness of human relationships with Him, and the truth of human free will. The fundamental intellectual/doctrinal proposition of the Open View is that the future is not fixed, the future does not "exist" in any meaningful way, it is not preset, it is not predetermined, it can be truly changed by humans and God. The Open View says that God does not know everything about the future because the future isn't fixed and so there is nothing to know. (Some Open Viewers say instead that the future is potentially knowable by God, but that He voluntarily relinquishes His knowledge of it for our benefit in order to facilitate free will, I do not hold this so I will ignore this version)

God can still know some things about the future - like any king, God can decide "I'm going to do X tommorrow" and do it. God can know that X will happen in the future if He decides to make X happen in the future, and being all-powerful He can do this. In fact, God could dictate the entire future if He so desired and thus have complete knowledge of it. But it is the thesis of the Open View that God does not desire to do this because God desires us to have the free will to love Him or not love Him, to work with Him or not work with Him. In any human relationship the joy comes from the interaction of two free entities who can really affect and influence each other, a relationship with a robot is not relationship at all. God can affect humans and humans can affect God, because God chooses to enter into a relationship with humanity.

God can know other things too about the future - having complete knowledge of physical law, He can predict where Jupiter will be in 10 years time with better accuracy than any astronomer, and having complete knowledge of human hearts and minds he can predict your future actions in any given situation better than even you can. God knows what is possible, what is probable, and what is certain. He knows how He Himself should best act to make more likely desired results, He can predict the future based on propability, or He can decree it based on divine fiat, or He can leave it completely open to human choice.

That is the open view - that the future is "open" to change, it is not closed, not fixed, not immutable, but rather God and man work together in a dynamic relationship toward a better future. God has goals which are fixed, but plans which are revisable. As circumstances change, so God alters how He is interacting with the world in such a way as to best acheive His goals. The glory of God is that He is so great He can acheive that which He wants to achieve through all things. God is not so powerless that He cannot cope if one atom goes the wrong way. Though things may go awry, and people may oppose His plans, God can adapt, change and so work out His goals, working for good with those who love him, those He calls according to His purposes, working out His ultimate plans to glorify creation and bring it all back unto Himself. God's sovereign glory is shown in the fact that though all the creation itself opposes Him, still He can lovingly call it back to Himself, and though all evil takes the board against Him still He can adapt His plans to evil's every move and win no matter what comes. He lets evil do its worst and beats it still.

There are several reasons I strongly advocate the open view:

1) It is strongly evidenced in the Bible, and I am convinced it is the most biblical view of the various positions on God's foreknowledge. The moment I started taking the open view seriously was when I read a debate on whether the open view was biblical in which the open viewer absolutely thrashed his competent opponent. In the Bible we find numerous references to God changing his mind, wishing He'd acted differently, giving conditional prophesies, admitting He hadn't anticipated the current state of affairs, not finding out things until after they happen etc. By contrast there are very few verses that could be thought to imply that God completely knows a fixed future and they are comparatively easy to understand differently.

2) The open view helps answer such questions as "why did God create the individual people if he knew they would suffer eternally?" and enlightens us futher as to the problem of why there is evil in the world and how God is battling against it.

3) It fits in beautifully with the Eastern Orthodox/Christus Victor paradigm of God's redemption of mankind from the devil, the dynamic deification of man from all evil. If an inanimate object is "perfect" then it is changeless - a diamond might be said to be a perfect and flawless diamond. But life is inherently changing, it is inherently dynamic. So if life is said to reach perfection, then it becomes difficult to maintain that perfection can be an unchanging state - otherwise perfect life would not be life, it would be death. Rather perfect life is something that is constantly changing while remaining the same - the deified man who is ever being changed from glory to glory, God whose mercies are renewed every morning. The understanding of perfection that seems to be advocated in the doctrine of deification is one of dynamic perfection, not static perfection, a constant change and continual renewal. And so, if we are to say that God is perfect, we must mean that God is Himself ever changing from glory to glory, that He is not some static timeless entity but that He is ever being remanifested anew through all time and beyond in renewed splendour.

4) The open view is a powerful, compelling and moving story of God's interaction with man. It is intellectually fulfilling and emotionally forceful.


Two reasons I am unhappy about the Open View are:

A) It's not the standard view held by the Eastern Orthodox, who strongly advocate the position that God sits in eternity and knows all of time. Orthodox tend to be unhappy with even the suggestion that the open view might be applied to the energies, nevermind the essence of God. (Orthodox theology distinguishes between that which God is in Himself - His Essence, and the relational aspect of God, that which God is as He relates to the creation - His Energies)

B) At lot of the Fathers quite clearly advocated doctrines that the open view would oppose - that God has complete knowledge of the future and that God is not in any way affected by humanity. However on the other hand, some Fathers did not (I intend to research more in the future to what degree the Open View can legitimately claim representation in the Fathers). The Fathers who were more influenced by Greek philosophy seem to have accepted more the platonic doctrines regarding God's complete knowledge of the future and his impassibility. But Calcidius (a Christian writer of the late 4th century) definitely was an open viewer, in his commentary on Plato's "On Fate" he asserts that contrary to Plato the Christian doctrine about the future is that the future is dependent upon free will and God can only know the various contingencies. I think Irenaeus and Athanasius (who are relatively uninfluenced by Greek philosophy) might be open viewers but I'll need to look at their writings more carefully.


So there you have it Karl, I'm a heretic and that's why! ;) And, furthermore, I'm doing the protestant trick of mining the Fathers to support my own heresy too... I'm open to being convinced that the Open View is wrong and the the traditional view is right, but I just don't think it is. The traditional Orthodox view on foreknowledge seems to boil down to pan-standard arminianism or Molinism depending of how you interpret it, neither of which I like.
If you want to know more about the Open View there is quite a good site here.

8 Comments:

Blogger Karl Thienes said...

"So there you have it Karl, I'm a heretic and that's why!"

I figured that "Open View" was another name for Open Theism but I wasn't sure.

All I can say at this point is that a) yes, Open Theism is heretical and b) this novel and uniquely Protestant teaching isn't neccesary because the paradox of free will and God's omniscience doesn't need to be "solved"--neither truth is sacrificed in the Church.

But I appreciate where you are coming from here...

16/11/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

A few quibbles...
I do question to what extent it is valid to regard Open Theism as officially a heresy. Given it has been ignored for most of church history it's not suprising that it's never been condemned directly. Certainly it is informally a heresy, if by heresy we merely mean that which would deny part of the accepted and received tradition of the church. But if you can find any canons that directly contradict/condemn it I would be interested in seeing them. It seems to me a matter of interpretation as to how you apply various councils to the subject... I have had it alledged to me that Open Theism implies Arianism - which I found somewhat amusing.

And I have to dissent with the suggestion that it is novel. Something advocated in the 4th century is not novel, save in the sense that it has been repopularised in the 20th. Futher, in as far as it is a solution to the problem of evil it is not novel: Theologians have been trying to explain the presence of evil and God's relationship to it since time immemorial and as such the open view simply stands as a revisited way of tackling an old problem.

And finally, it's not strictly protestant: One of its major advocates in the 20th century has been the Eastern Orthodox philosopher Richard Swinburne.

17/11/04  
Blogger Karl Thienes said...

"I do question to what extent it is valid to regard Open Theism as officially a heresy..."

Good point. In fact, it isn't an "official" heresy because the questions it tries to answer don't even make sense from an Orthodox pov. Thus, it has never needed to be "formally" condemned.

It is like asking what the color blue tastes like--you can come up with some nifty and compelling answers...but the question itself is based on false premises.

This is the real problem with Open Theism (and most of post-Reformational western Christian thought, btw)

"Something advocated in the 4th century is not novel..."

But it wasn't advocated or advanced as the Church's dogma--Open Theism's proponents are merely reading their own unique theories back into the texts of the 4th century. Again, if one is steeped in the life of the Church as a whole and not merely looking for a proof-text, one would see that Open Theism was never even considered a "theologumena" never mind Church teaching.

"I have had it alledged to me that Open Theism implies Arianism..."

I wouldn't go that far. I think it simply is a misunderstanding of distinction between Essence and Energy (as well as positing a false dichotomy between God's sovereignty and the human being's free will)

The question I have is: What doctrine/truth is Open Theism trying to save or preserve? And how has the Orthodox Church failed to preserve this truth in its own life and teaching and experience?

17/11/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

In fact, it isn't an "official" heresy because the questions it tries to answer don't even make sense from an Orthodox pov.

I don't agree. Firstly, it addresses issues that need to be addressed no matter whether one is Orthodox or Western. The presence of evil in the world and the way in which God acts with it, the nature of the relationship between God and the created order, the questions that arise about God's certain knowledge of the eternal suffering of individuals... these are all issues that need to be dealt with.
Secondly, I do not agree that it doesn't make sense from an Orthodox point of view - it fits very soundly into the Orthodox paradigm: frankly if I knew everything else about Orthodox theology and didn't know their view of God's foreknowledge and impassibility I would have predicted that they held the open view because it seems more consistent with the rest of Orthodox theology than the traditional view is. Perhaps this is just my limited knowledge of Orthodox theology, perhaps I would think differently if I understood certain things that I don't currently, perhaps I will change my mind in the future, but currently that's the way I see it.

But it wasn't advocated or advanced as the Church's dogma--Open Theism's proponents are merely reading their own unique theories back into the texts of the 4th century.

Well in this case it's me that's doing the reading rather than any generic proponent of open theism, and let me assure you that I know better than to find ideas where they aren't and am always careful in my analysis of any text to the point of agnosticism. In this case I did wonder for a while, but I am now fairly sure the open view is being advocated in Calcidus' On Fate.

I think the problem is that there was never any major debate on the subject of God's foreknowledge. Writers didn't bother to come out and say directly "I believe X", because nobody was making it an issue. Christians just adopted their own views on the subject and slowly one view simply became the standard one.

What doctrine/truth is Open Theism trying to save or preserve?

The dynamicness of God, His personhood, the truth of human experienial connection with the divine, the possibility of divine activity in the world, the freedom of God. In a very true way it is out to defend the same truths as the Orthodox have aways been trying to defend. It's not really supposed to be a solution to the soverignty vs free will debate (I agree that such a debate is fundamentally Western and misguided). What it seeks to address is more
A) The possibility of, and meaningfulness of divine human experiential connection; and
B) The logical consistency of the idea that God can interact with the created order.

I didn't mention (B) much in my post, but there seems to me to be a large problem with the idea of an eternal God affecting a temporal world. If God has complete knowledge from eternity of the state of the universe from beginning to end (ie Arminianistic foreknowledge), then He can't seem to change the world - otherwise His knowledge would have been false. Perhaps He in fact can change the world, and has knowledge of how precisely He will act to change it and what its final state will be, but then He does not seem to be free. Or perhaps God can change the world as much as He likes and His knowledge is simply knowledge of the current state of the world rather than of His own future actions, but then this is just Molinism. The Orthodox ideas appear to boil down to Arminianistic foreknowledge or Molinism, depending on which way you interpret them. I think Arminianistic foreknowledge is disproveable by uncontroversial logical argument, and I find Molinism (aka Middle Knowledge) to be highly problematic and think the understanding of "personhood" involved is incorrect and foreign to Orthodoxy. It may be that there is something fundamental I do not understand about the Orthodox view on foreknowledge, so I welcome correction or clarification if you think you have a clearer understanding of it.

And how has the Orthodox Church failed to preserve this truth in its own life and teaching and experience?

The truths have been fully preserved in the Orthodox life and experience and many of its teachings. It is merely the teachings on foreknowledge and impassibility which I take issue with and feel they do not fit properly with what the rest of the Orthodox tradition holds.

17/11/04  
Blogger Karl Thienes said...

"these are all issues that need to be dealt with...."

True. I guess I didn't make myself very clear. What I meant was that, while the issues OT deals with are relevant, the way in which it tries to deal with them is based on a series of dichotomies and philosophical categories that aren't mutually exclusive in Orthodox thought.

"Christians just adopted their own views on the subject and slowly one view simply became the standard one."

This is the way it is with all of the Church's teachings. They are confirmed, over time and with the Holy Spirit's guiding, by those who in communion with God. The fact that most of what Open Theism tries to assert a) uses categories of thought that the Orthodox never dichotomized to begin with and b) has never been accepted as apostolic by the Church in previous ages means that it probably isn't true teaching--at least not fully.

"A) The possibility of, and meaningfulness of divine human experiential connection; and
B) The logical consistency of the idea that God can interact with the created order."

I suppose my question is more specific: I don't see how Orthodox teaching, w/o Open Theism's propositions, is insufficient here. For example you state that "there seems to me to be a large problem with the idea of an eternal God affecting a temporal world" but I'm curious where this problem crops up in Orthodoxy. ISTM, this problem is unique to the Arminian vs. Calivinism debate.

"It is merely the teachings on foreknowledge and impassibility which I take issue with..."

St. John of Damascus articulates the Orthodox understanding well in chapter 25 "On Free Will and Predestination"

http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/exact_freewill.aspx

But I really think you'd enjoy studying the Orthodox understanding of Essence and Energies (starting with the writings of St. Gregory Palamas). That's the key, IMO.

18/11/04  
Blogger incognito said...

Andrew, I'm surprised you didn't mention about prophesy - it would be good to hear your explaination about that in accordance with the OV.

After studying relevant Scriptures, I too found the OV quite compelling - for similar reasons as Andrew. It seems to solve many of the problems I see with other I ideas. It even seems sensible to me (with possible exception of prophesy, but we'll see what Andrew says).

Ultimately, I find the OV empowering and motivating to actually make a difference in the world. That has to be a good thing. In my view, OV or traditional ideas are not central to Christianity anyway, they are more to try and understand God. Of course, our understanding God will always be far from complete.

18/11/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

Karl, you are not going to like this... but as I was reading your link of St John I thought "this sounds familiar"... to Calcidius.

Read the passage I quote in this link from the open viewer Calcidius, and then read the following two paragraph by St John:

"We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things. For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them. For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue. So that predetermination is the work of the divine command based on fore-knowledge. But on the other hand God predetermines those things which are not within our power in accordance with His prescience. For already God in His prescience has prejudged all things in accordance with His goodness and justice.

Bear in mind, too, that virtue is a gift from God implanted in our nature, and that He Himself is the source and cause of all good, and without His co-operation and help we cannot will or do any good thing, But we have it in our power either to abide in virtue and follow God, Who calls us into ways of virtue, or to stray from paths of virtue, which is to dwell in wickedness, and to follow the devil who summons but cannot compel us. For wickedness is nothing else than the withdrawal of goodness, just as darkness is nothing else than the withdrawal of light While then we abide in the natural state we abide in virtue, but when we deviate from the natural state, that is from virtue, we come into an unnatural state and dwell in wickedness."

There seems to be an uncanny resemblance to me. Maybe I just see what I want to see? I am not asserting that St John does hold the open view, only that the text does not necessitate being read as the traditional view. This is a problem I have encountered in the past when looking at the Father's view on foreknowledge... what they say is often not precise enough to make fully clear what their view actually is.

What I meant was that, while the issues OT deals with are relevant, the way in which it tries to deal with them is based on a series of dichotomies and philosophical categories that aren't mutually exclusive in Orthodox thought.

Karl, most OTs aren't familiar with Orthodoxy, they're protestants, so of course they're going to deal with it in categories that aren't mutually exclusive in Orthodox thought. I, however, am familiar with Orthodoxy. Have I, in my arguments for it here, used any unOrthodox categories? If so, I am curious as to what.

But I really think you'd enjoy studying the Orthodox understanding of Essence and Energies (starting with the writings of St. Gregory Palamas).

I know what Essence and Engergies are and what their purpose is in theology, and though I have not yet read Palamas I have a fair idea about the sorts of things he says... I will try to find time to read him somewhere in the near future.

"there seems to me to be a large problem with the idea of an eternal God affecting a temporal world"

I'll deal with that in a new post.

18/11/04  
Blogger Andrew said...

Reuben,

I didn't elaborate on prophesy, because I saw no need to since we have discussed it before.

Yes, I think it is quite important that the open view is not important... ie to hold the open view rather than the traditional view of foreknowledge is not really that important in the great scheme of things, it is not a central part of Christianity, it is simply trying to understand God more.

18/11/04  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home