This was a fascinating read. The authors attempt to make a clear distinction between a biblical portrayal of God’s relationship with the world and the influence of Greek philosophy upon Christian theology, specifically in regard to God’s experience of things like time, change, emotion, and knowledge.
[all while rejecting the over-correction that is called “process theology”]
They conclude that God has granted a measure of true freedom to creation and genuinely experiences the future as it occurs, instead of existing somewhere outside of time and possessing deterministic foreknowledge of everything that will happen.
Still, they affirm that God is omni-capable and reserves the right and power to intervene at any point in the free history of nature and humanity.
For them, God experiences real emotions: real surprise, joy, anger, and delight in God’s multi-faceted creation. Evil isn’t in God’s plan and, though God’s overall purposes for creation will come to pass, creatures have significant freedom to choose or not-choose to respond to those purposes. When God says things like “I regret I made them” (Gen 6:6) these aren’t anthropomorphisms, but genuine emotions; when God tested Abraham to see whether he would be faithful, God was actually waiting to see what Abraham would do, etc. etc.
Instead of using neo-platonism (an historically influential Greek philosophy) to divide Scripture, they opt for other, more faithful ways of reading. They craft in this book a varied and compelling approach to open theism — providing arguments which will require another post (or podcast episode!) to discuss in detail.
If their conclusions about God are correct (or at least more plausible than alternatives), then I think free-will theism stands to invigorate Christian faith, prayer, Scripture reading, personal agency, and responsibility in significant ways.
In short, this kind of theology seems to restore to me my human dignity.
Though Kurt Vonnegut was an atheist and has nothing to do with this book, I couldn’t help but think of Breakfast of Champions as I read Clark Pinnock’s chapter:
When God gave creatures freedom, he [sic] gave them an open future, a future in a degree to be shaped by their decisions, not a future already determined in its every detail. We do not limit God by saying that he can be surprised by what his creatures do. It would be a serious limitation if God could not experience surprise and delight. The world would be a boring place without anything unexpected ever happening (The Openness of God, 123).
In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut wrote about a fictional character who wrote a fictional book about a fictional planet, man, and creator:
The book was in the form of a long letter from The Creator of the Universe to the experimental creature. The Creator congratulated the creature and apologized for all the discomfort he had endured. The Creator invited him to a banquet in his honor in the Empire Room of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, where a black robot named Sammy Davis, Jr., would sing and dance. And the experimental creature wasn’t killed after the banquet. He was transferred to a virgin planet instead. Living cells were sliced from the palms of his hands, while he was unconscious. The operation didn’t hurt at all. And then the cells were stirred into a soupy sea on the virgin planet. They would evolve into ever more complicated life forms as the eons went by. Whatever shapes they assumed, they would have free will. Trout didn’t give the experimental creature a proper name. He simply called him The Man. On the virgin planet, The Man was Adam and the sea was Eve. The Man often sauntered by the sea. Sometimes he waded in his Eve. Sometimes he swam in her, but she was too soupy for an invigorating swim. She made her Adam feel sleepy and sticky afterwards, so he would dive into an icy stream that had just jumped off a mountain. He screamed when he dived into the icy water, screamed again when he came up for air. He bloodied his shins and laughed about it when he scrambled up rocks to get out of the water. He panted and laughed some more, and he thought of something amazing to yell. The Creator never knew what he was going to yell, since The Creator had no control over him. The Man himself got to decide what he was going to do next—and why. After a dip one day, for instance, The Man yelled this: “Cheese!” Another time he yelled, “Wouldn’t you really rather drive a Buick” (Breakfast of Champions, 139).
Of course, the authors of The Openness of God would not say that God never exercises control over us, just that God restrains God’s own self and rarely acts unilaterally, that human freedom is real, and the future is open.