But if he is not in control?

I have put up a few posts that have referred to Open Theology that suggested God not being in control. It has provoked a few comments and even an email or two so thought maybe I should explore it a little further in a post. I have always leaned toward what is known as Open Theology where the future is not fixed and that it is not known in an absolute sense by God. Arminianism holds to a future that is known and Calvninism a future that is fixed. The divergence is really over how foreknowledge and predestination interrelate. For Calvinism foreknowledge is because of predestination. God has set something in motion, the outworking is according to his will and divine purpose therefore foreknowledge follows as an absolute. Arminianism reverses those. God knows the future and so what is predestined is according to what he foreknows. If we add to that the possibility of God being outside of time suggesting that he sees the end and the beginning simultaneously. Outside of time gives me immense issues (so Greek and not Hebraic) as it means that everything that has taken place, is taking place and has not yet taken place is now at one given ‘moment’ taking place in God’s experience. Really? The God who thinks, responds, reacts, ‘repents’, waits to see what we will do is not presented as an ‘outside of time’ One. We can resort to those descriptions of God as being anthropomorphic (though I am not convinced by that) or that there are aspects of God we do not understand, and insist that we cannot say ‘man’ (sic) with a loud voice and result with the word ‘God’ – as Barth said. Yet this God is knowable so we cannot simply make him the wholly other to us.

I was first introduced to Open Theology through YWAM and one of their main teachers in their discipleship schools, Gordon Olson, then came the writings of Clark Pinnock, James Sanders, Greg Boyd and others. Perhaps then for me the book Uncontrolling Love by Thomas Jay Oord was one of the best I have read on it. Open Theology challenges the supposed core historic given that God is in control. Comforting as that is at a personal level, it opens up a huge charge against God in the face of natural calamities, human abuse and the tragedy of suffering. God in total control is a comfort to me when I don’t know which way to turn, and probably is of comfort for those displaced from their nation en route to the ‘safety’ of Europe, but for those whose ‘boat’ has just deflated on the Mediterranean and they cannot swim and there is no rescue at hand I am not sure they are comforted that what they are about to experience is the will of God.

At least the Arminian position is easier to sit with, though if God is all powerful and he knew certain events would happen why no intervention? For the Calvinist (and the Muslim) where the will of God is being fulfilled it is genuinely hugely more difficult to explain, other than resorting to the category of ‘mystery’.

Uncontrolling love does not mean:

  • everything is out of control. A parent or guardian who does not control their children in an absolute sense does not mean that without control all children run amok. Values and an inner conscience bring some measure of self-control.
  • that God is without power and can do nothing! However, it does put a far greater emphasis on the effect of prayer.
  • that God does not know us. He knows us better than anyone else ever could. He has been present with us from conception.
  • that he does not have a purpose for our lives. It does not mean that he cannot speeak prophetically to us about events yet to come (and bear in mind that prophecy is conditional).

Uncontrolling love begins with ‘God is love’ and that love is releasing, he travels with us, works for our good with whatever room we gives to him. It means that the tragedies in the world are tragedies to us and to him – there is no ‘mystery at work’ for some higher purpose, though God will work through all things and there can come incredible redemptive results. The redemptive results do not witness to how there was a higher purpose but to the everlasting, unchanging, redemptive love of God. Witness Joseph to see a God at work. Betrayed and sold into slavery, but at the end he more or less states ‘you did not do this, but God did it!’. I suggest that he is responding with a heartfelt emotionally healed statement rather than a theologically nuanced response!

Uncontrolling love means that to use the term ‘omnipotence’ in the sense that God can do anything (but does not seem to!) is meaningless. It is not to suggest that there are limitations to the power of God, but that love determines where that power is shown and that love is uncontrolling.

Uncontrolling love means that God looks for partnership (prayer / availability / faith) to intervene. The heavens ‘belong’ to God but the earth is in the hands of humanity (Ps. 115:16). This is the pattern from the beginning, with humanity as the stewards for God on earth. The situation is further compounded with the partnership between humanity and the fallen powers. To destroy the works of the devil as a human was the task set before the Son of Man. His mission was to see on earth as in heaven and he gave that prayer to the disciples.

To pray let your kingdom come, is to acknowledge that the manifest extent of God’s rule does not include creation. Creation itself sees it this way as it waits for a manifestation of the children of God. Hence prayer is vital. When we pray we do not know all that is involved. There are factors at times beyond ‘God come do this’ that we might not be aware of, yet it is that prayer and desire that releases the hand of God.

Unanswered prayer…!!!!!!! Sometimes it is that we were misguided and not clean in our motives, but there are times when prayer is not answered as we desired. Maybe we did not discern the resistance and remove it… and maybe a whole bunch of reasons that we don’t know why. Praying for healing and the result being premature death is a challenge. Scripture faces those things head on. Premature death is in Scripture and it is not expressed as the ‘will’ of God. One reason is the divisions and jealousies in the body of Christ – and it is not always the guilty ones who die!! Paul rebukes the Corinthians – ‘and some of you have died’ – no need to rebuke them if the guilty have already died. They seem still to be alive hence the rebuke.

For sure there are things we do not see clearly. There are disappointments in prayer, yet I do not see how we simply categorise all of them as the will of God. In and through all of them if we remain faithful he will pull through a higher purpose. He certainly works that way for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

The most positive aspect I find in the Open Theology field is that of partnering with heaven, of opening up a future that is good and healthy. I see nothing in it that minimises God, rather the opposite. A God who is never defeated, never depressed, always loving, always creatively calling, always longing for the partnership we can offer. There is no future that will take him by surprise, all possibilities and every permutation of it he knows. We are the ones who can create space for him, just as many throughout Scripture have before us.

However we work all this out God has us in his hands. ‘Cast all your anxiety on him for he cares for you… Be anxious about nothing, but in everything with thanksgiving make your requests known to him.’ So not controlling does not mean things are out of control and God can do nothing. He is with us and loves to hear us dialogue with him so that he can do those redemptive acts that do not cross the line of control. (The very real acts of judgement I consider have to nuance that limitation and there is an element to which judgement is an inbuilt result of behaviour.) He knows us intimately – from the mother’s womb and has been present throughout and will be.


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5 thoughts on “But if he is not in control?

  1. Hi Martin, first just to say I have no dog in this fight as neither a follower of Open Theology or a Calvinist.

    This paragraph of yours interested me though:

    “The most positive aspect I find in the Open Theology field is that of partnering with heaven, of opening up a future that is good and healthy. I see nothing in it that minimises God, rather the opposite. A God who is never defeated, never depressed, always loving, always creatively calling, always longing for the partnership we can offer. There is no future that will take him by surprise, all possibilities and every permutation of it he knows. We are the ones who can create space for him, just as many throughout Scripture have before us.”

    Is true Open Theology really consistent with “A God who is never defeated”? Surely an open future has to leave room for the defeat of God’s plans otherwise it is not truly open? similarly, “there is no future that will take him by surprise”

    Perhaps a “soft interpretaion” of an Open theological position (which you seem to hold?) is not too far from a soft interpretaion of a Calvinist position which is to say that God is in full control and unsurprised at the Macro level but can be surprised/pleased/disappointed at the Micro level.

    Perhaps you can know the end from the beginning and not know every bump in the road along the way.



    1. Thanks Nigel. Always value your input.

      You are a brave man to suggest that Open Theology and Calvinism were close… Many a person has been burned at the stake for such a suggestion!!

      Power / predestined etc. is a sure way to win and never be defeated. It is the kind of ‘win’ that comes through that that Open Theology would wish to challenge. Of course such an approach has a ‘low’ view of humanity – sinful by nature / totally depraved. And a ‘high’ view of God as the wholly other. There are of course softer ways to go with that and one way is to end in the Universalist school, and although Barth never affirmed that position it is easy to get there from his approach.

      Open Theology holds love at the centre and ‘love wins’ (not read the book but a good title!). History seems to bear witness to that – and my eschatology of ‘victory’ is that we have to provide the material for the age to come. He builds it with what we provide. So the victorious nature I am looking for is manifest then, but I really want as much as we can get now!! Open Theology has to hold to a higher view of humanity than Calvinism – God’s appeal is love, so there has to be something there of God’s image still to be appealed to.

      The middle ground (once seen as the opposite end) is Arminianism. I suspect that many who are evangelical are more in that camp than in Arminianism.

      Back in the day when I studied some of this (from memory) we were taught that historical theology had a spectrum from Augustiniasm through Pelagianism with the middle ground being semi-Pelagianism and semi-Augustinianism.

      And of course we all operate fairly pragmatically for sure! Even those who believe only the elect can get saved want to throw a wide net. Those who are stronger on free will look for a God move (initiative).

    1. And thanks for the youtube link…

      Of course the only aspect I am not fully educated in (as if) is those areas of physics. I am open to all kinds of possibilities… and certainly am very happy to have the Bible ‘updated’ in the light of scientific evidence – so I already no longer believe the sun goes round the moon…

      I think though we have to add time not simply as a physical measurement, speed of light etc., relativity (which I think only relates to past time not future time) but also as a constituent part of personality. The past not being the same as the future, and God also waiting for a future to take place. His hope = our hope.

  2. Only possibility that it has already happened if God is outside of time. But (or me / the truth of course!!!!!!!!!) such a view would mean that the parousia has already taken place, the cross of Christ is continuing etc… in terms of God’s experience. God also awaits a future. Our hope is his hope.

    The above paragraph I have reviewed and placed under the ‘Martin Perspective’ column, and not under ‘the truth, and nothing but the truth’ column!!

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