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In this excerpt from my book The Evangelical and The Open Theist, I discuss the complicated relationship between open theism and evangelicalism.

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

What follows is, with minor modifications, an excerpt from my book The Evangelical and The Open Theist.

The interaction between God and man in Scripture has always been of great interest to me. I find the Bible’s depictions of these dynamic encounters of mutual influence striking in their refusal to cohere with our neat theological systems.

Disregarding our desire for an easily comprehensible picture of the divine, devoid of complexity and nuance, these narratives portray a God besieged by a disobedient and insolent people that nevertheless remain the object of his affections. The ability of the human players to influence divine action is particularly thought-provoking.

My Discovery of Open Theism

Standing in contrast to the one-dimensional teachings about God to which I had grown accustomed, I found myself repeatedly drawn to these narratives while completing my theological studies at Ouachita Baptist University. I therefore naturally focused my research on the philosophical and theological debates to which these narratives gave rise.

Studying these matters within an evangelical academic setting made it impossible to avoid the dispute then raging between traditional and open theists. I was fixated and decided to focus my senior thesis on the topic. What follows is the result of my research.

Making My Research Available

It has been seven years since I graduated from Ouachita. I have only now decided to make my research publicly available. As I do so, however, I feel I must preface the work that follows with the following points.

First, I do not claim to be a biblical scholar or theologian. As I write this preface, I am an attorney. Despite having written this book before the completion of my legal studies, its contents nonetheless primarily reflect a lawyer’s mindset.

That is, my interest lies more in the strength of arguments than the merits of one position over another. I believe this became more pronounced during the editing process.

My original purpose in writing this book was to explore whether open theism and evangelicalism are—as many have claimed—mutually exclusive. To do so, I first had to assume the foundational beliefs of evangelicalism. I then had to evaluate the arguments of open theism in their best light.

The purpose of this writing is essential to keep in mind while reading through my work. I must emphasize that its goal is not to establish the open model of God as the correct one. Instead, I seek only to show that its proponents have a legitimate claim to the title “evangelical.”

Stating the Argument

Second, as I suggested above, this book is not a treatise in support of open theism. I am sympathetic to the movement and its attempts to refocus evangelicals on Scripture. I am particularly supportive of efforts to usurp the Reformers and their successors as the definitive authorities in biblical interpretation.

Nevertheless, I eventually came to reject this school of thought. Plainly put, I am not an open theist, and I find its claims presumptuous and unpersuasive.[1]

Indeed, I view with suspicion any theological system makings its first appearance centuries after the apostolic age. (This includes both open theism and Calvinism.)

I hope that modern proponents of traditional theism, with its long and rich theological heritage, will produce more compelling and thoughtful counterarguments against open theism than the frankly embarrassingly superficial works that have thus far littered the theological landscape.

I do not expect John Piper to be John Calvin, but we can do better than the polemics heretofore produced.

Big-Tent Evangelicalism

Nevertheless, my reservations regarding open theism notwithstanding, arguing for compatibility between open theism and evangelical theology is entirely different than affirming the assertions open theology makes. Without an understanding of this book’s real purpose, it will be easy to believe that I am arguing in favor of open theism.

That is simply not the case.

An honest evaluation of another point of view requires us to reflect upon it in its best possible light. We must consider its proponents’ arguments as they make them, not as we would frame them in light of our opposition to their conclusions.

Sadly, too many opponents of open theism have fallen into this trap, setting up straw men and thereby undermining the strength of their own position. This is demagoguery, not debate, and I am loath to see theological discourse reduced to the level of political theater.

Not A Definitive Work on Open Theism

Third, I originally wrote this book as an undergraduate thesis. Its purpose is therefore not to make a significant scholarly contribution to theological studies, as a doctoral dissertation might. Indeed, as I edited this book to strengthen some areas of weakness, I did so through the eyes of an attorney, not a scholar.

Nevertheless, I believe this book presents a fairly comprehensive evaluation of current sources and arguments. I, therefore, think that it should serve as a useful jumping-off point for those wishing to explore the subject further.

Modifications From The Original

Finally, I must note that I have made only minor changes to this work since it originally appeared in the library of Ouachita Baptist University under its original name A Scriptural and Philosophical Evaluation of the Open Model of God as an Ontological Necessity and Its Compatibility with Evangelical Theology.

I made some revisions in light of my removing it from a purely academic environment. The name is the most apparent modification, but other changes appear throughout as well.

For example, I originally wrote this book assuming the audience had a basic understanding of Greek and Hebrew. I edited this book without that assumption.

So, while I retained analysis of the original languages and issues in translation where appropriate, I rewrote these sections with more explanation for those unacquainted with the languages and removed quotes from the original manuscripts. I also fleshed out theological terms and concepts that I previously left unexplained.

Most other changes, however, are relatively minor. I strengthened some arguments I found weak. I also corrected some typographical errors and awkward phrasing present in the original work.

(For those who are interested, Ouachita has made my original thesis available online here.)

An Introduction to Open Theism

While the arguments are somewhat underdeveloped, I believe this short volume effectively and succinctly analyzes the abundance of applicable authorities and arguments currently available.

I hope eventually to rewrite and expand this work in light of the research and study I have conducted since graduating from Ouachita. That, however, will have to wait for another time.

I decided to make this work available now, in its current form. I hope that it can serve as a guide for those who want to dive deeper into the controversy surrounding open theism and its impact on the evangelical community and, indeed, the evangelical understanding of God and his purposes in the world.

(For an introduction to open theism itself, I recommend Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible.)

I hope this work is of value for you in your studies, whether personal or academic.

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If you are interested in reading more, you may purchase my entire book on Amazon.com.


[1] In light of the great depth of theological thought encompassing two millennia of Christian belief and practice, I find the debate surrounding open theism to be particularly superficial. The dispute itself seems to me to be an undeveloped expression of an immature movement. (By immature I mean that, relative to Christianity as a whole, evangelicalism is a recent expression of the faith.)

While the modern appearance of open theism as a developed theological system does not necessarily undermine the answers the movement seeks to offer, it does, in my opinion, undercut the very questions both it and its opponents are asking. I believe we could learn a lot from the Eastern Church’s understanding of mystery. While I believe open theism to provide an adequate if somewhat shallow view of God as he relates to humanity, attempts to describe with certainty the divine essence in terms of theological systems—indeed, in any concrete terms at all—seems to me a foolhardy endeavor.

See Also:

The Evangelical Understanding of Scripture


Jonathan Erdman · December 28, 2018 at 8:11 pm

Hi Garrett. Like you, I studied Open Theism years back, in an evangelical institution, and like you, I initially respected Open Theism but wasn’t completely persuaded. I happened to have a blogging buddy who had a connection with John Sanders, and eventually my research paper on Open Theism wound up on the Open Theism website…I’ve been revisiting Open Theism, nearly fifteen years later, and I find myself more interested in Open Theism, although I am no longer evangelical. I have an interest in doing a bit more writing on the topic, so I’ve been surfing around looking to see what kind of discussions are going on, as regards Open Theism…..Lastly, I think it is a little unfair to say, as you did in this post, “I view with suspicion any theological system makings its first appearance centuries after the apostolic age.” I think this is unfair for a few reason. 1) The apostolic age had no “theological systems.” They had faith, and faith was theological, spiritual, and social. It was holistic, not a rational system that produced volumes of systematic theology, at least not in the sense that we are accustomed to. The scholastics of the medieval era developed systems of rational theological thought, but I’d suggest that prior to the scholastics systematic theology didn’t really exist. Correct me if I’m wrong on this point. 2) The second reason that your charge seems unfair is that Open Theists are basing their system of thought primarily on what the Bible itself says about God, time, choice, and human free will. In other words, the “first appearance” of the openness of God (and the openness of the future) occurs not in the writings of Open Theists but in the writings of the biblical prophets and other writers of scripture. By saying “I view with suspicion any theological system makings its first appearance centuries after the apostolic age,” you imply that Open Theism is a system developed solely from the human imagination, a product of modernity; but in truth, Open Theists are simply taking seriously the very prominent biblical motif of God’s openness, as they see it in scripture. It might be that the Church Fathers were, by and large, committed to a static view of God and of the future, largely influenced by the prevailing philosophies of their age, but I guess it feels a little unfair to suggest that the ideas of Open Theists are making their “first appearance centuries after the apostolic age.” A bit of food for thought…..I appreciate your openness as well as your contribution to the discussion. It’s always refreshing to have an intelligent, informed perspective. Cheers.

Garrett Ham · May 3, 2020 at 9:35 pm

The early Church was putting out great theological works from a fairly early time period. Justin Martyr immediately comes to mind, although admittedly his work was a bit underdeveloped. But the Cappadocian Fathers and Athanasius were producing fairly sophisticated theological works by the fourth century, not to mention Origen in the third.

I concede your point that the apostolic age did not produce many works of systematic theology. I nonetheless maintain my skepticism of a system that centuries of theologians failed to discover in the biblical text.

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