Monday, April 05, 2010

The Modern Calvinists and Openness Theology--The Contemporary Landscape


The debate between Calvinism and Armenianism is an old one. It acutally predates Calvin by over a 1ooo years. In the early church, people talked about Augustinianism v. Pelagianism. In the enlightenment people debated Armenian v. Calvinist Theology. Later, people have described the debate as Wesleyan v. Reformed. However you label it, the theological debate between predestination vs. free-will is as old as any denomination, and a discussion that every generation of Christians share.

Today, two visible groups of church leaders and theologians stand on opposite sides of the issue. Suprisingly, two of the key leaders of each movement are members of the same denomination. Both Greg Boyd and John Piper belong to the Baptist General Conference, and both of them live in the Twin Cities metro area. Both of them have a history of being highly competent academics. As a matter of fact, they are both most strongly associated with Bethel College and Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN. They are both now pastor-scholars (which in and of itself is a welcome development in evangelical lives. Too often theologians and theological study were divorced from local church ministry. Thank God this has changed). Yet on issues of charasmatic issues, women in ministry, and free-will vs. predestination, they could not disagree more.

Although everything I could say could be defined as "oversimplification", I will attempt to paint a picture between the two camps of Openness Theology and The New Reformed Crowd.

Armenian theology and Openness Theology takes seriously the Scripture passages that focus on choice. They believe that God gives people free will to accept Christ or reject him. They also believe that some of God's decisions are "live" or "open". In other words, God does not have the future completely planned. God leaves room in his continuing creation for both changing his mind, and for human decision to have a real impact on individaul lives and the course of creation as a whole. Boyd, in his books on openness theology, points to Scriptures where people prayed and changed God's mind (Such as Moses talking God into not destroying the whole nation of Israel). For the openness theologians, the calls by God throughout Scripture to choose require that God gives us real options for decisions, and does not predestine us toward a certain decision or even at time foreknow the choices we make. In its extreme Openess Theology and Wesleyan theology more generally can degenerate into Process Theology, which posits that God is still growing, learning, and evolving with us.


Calvinist, or Reformed theology holds most strongly to the sovereignty of God. The most famous book written by Piper, grounded in Reformed Theology, is Desiring God. Desiring God is about Christian Hedonism, namely that the most pleasurable life is a life lived for the pleasure of God. John Piper is the oldest and most established of the New Calvinists. Calvinists believe in the inability of man to do anything good, including choose correctly. without that ability being given by God. Also, a Calvinist believes that everything good, including one's individual faith, is a gift given by God. Many Calvinists believe in God's complete predestination (everything is planned by God that happens) and complete foreknowledge (everything that has ever happened God knew about from the beginning of time). Some Calvinists would posit that the space-time continuum is something invented by God in the first place, and something that God is not constrained by as we are. Nearly all openness theologians would say that God lives within time, instead of over and above it.


This has a number of implications in our ordinary lives. Some of these examples include:



  1. Great tragedy. Is it part of God's plan? Is it God's will? OR Is it not something God wanted God planned, or even controlled or knew what was going to happen?

  2. A marriage partner. Is that person divnely planned or designed by God for you? OR Is that person one of many people you can choose to marry?

  3. Eternal Destiny Does God have a purpose and plan for you since the creation of the world? OR Does God hope that you do the right thing and hope you choose to spend eternity with him?

Again, this is a gross oversimplication, but it is enough to begin a conversation and give a brief overview. What are your thoughts and questions?

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