Nicole & Pinnock ETS Documents:
Nicole & Sanders Documents
I sent copies of this to Bush and the ETS executive committee and others 9-2003
Here is a fine-tuned copy of the first draft I sent to Bush in August 2003. He generously answered with his own response in September 2003 in “B.” Also in “B” I give my immediate response, and I attached to that response two more appendices on Roger Nicole and Timothy George for his perusal that would be mailed with this to the ETS executive committee and a few others.
The future is not absolutely open. Anyone believing in the full and absolute openness of the future certainly cannot believe the Bible or have much confidence in the Christian God of the Bible. And as certainly, that person cannot be in accord with the doctrinal basis of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS).
None of the Open Theism writers I have read incline themselves to such. Certainly not Pinnock or Sanders.
The strength of the “Open” moniker for Open Theism is in the moniker’s attempt to capture God’s relatedness, God’s willingness and desire and ability to genuinely relate to His children, and therein that moniker has strength and simplistic clarity. The major weakness of the “Open” moniker for Open Theism is that the moniker has lead so many to arrive at spurious conclusions.
Nor do many pay heed or read very carefully Open Theism’s champions that the term “Open” was just a title to group the themes so many of them were discerning. Pinnock in his closing chapter of Most Moved Mover deftly notes the “openness” of Open Theism to future growth and refinement. No one in Open Theism to date is claiming that it is a faith denomination.
Pinnock and Sanders and many Open Theists have said many times that some things about the future “are settled” and some “are not settled.” These persons have said clearly that God does settle many things about the future, and I am miffed as to how so many Classical Theists have missed this. Given the state of disarray, perhaps you should re-read or highlight those two sentences. God has settled some things about the future, and Open Theists cannot get any plainer or clearer or more straightforward. It cannot be clearer.
How Senior Professor L. Russ Bush missed the above is beyond me.
L. Russ Bush is a former President of the ETS (1994) and is the Academic Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I was weaned on Bush’s Baptists and the Bible that was a seminal work of extraordinary erudition and scope: the simple title does not do justice to this huge work. Bush is a formidable scholar who carries a calm and confident demeanor. When Bush speaks, one has confidence and senses an extraordinary level of acumen.
Bush’s letter to the ETS members (and others), dated 24 March 2003, is eleven pages of carefully worded support for the expulsion of Pinnock and Sanders with about 6 paragraphs having a direct bearing upon Open Theism. On 12 May 2003, Bush wrote a summary letter (as a former ETS president) to the current ETS President Howard presiding over the Nicole-Pinnock affair; therein, Bush outlined again his support for expulsion based upon what he perceived about Open Theism. In both letters, Bush gives careful attention to being pliable should he be found in error.
When a highly respected theological titan like L. Russ Bush speaks, we can have confidence. He rarely minces words and speaks with erudite authority. So when Bush says the following in his letter to ETS President Howard, Bush is giving an authoritative and definitive statement that many will hear, heed and follow. Period. No need to read Pinnock when Bush speaks the following words, for those knowing Bush’s habits and scrutiny to detail—well, they know Bush will only speak authoritatively on that that he knows to be true. Bush has cultivated and maintained a high level of trust that has earned him the right to speak authoritatively. I know. So when Bush speaks the following, that is the end of reading for any on the fence, for you can depend upon Bush. Referencing his longer 11 page letter of March 2003 to general ETS members, in his May 2003 letter to ETS President Howard, Bush definitively declares that Open Theists cannot claim to believe in the inerrancy of God’s Word for two reasons:
(1) [Open Theists] do not believe that God can speak inerrantly about the actual future because the future is truly and fully open; that means the Bible is not inerrant simply because it is God’s Word; it might be inerrant if God in fact got it right, but we could not know it is always right even if we know it is the authentic word of God, because God simply does not and cannot know everything about the actual future;
(2) Open Theists believe that God can change His mind in such a way that something He has purposed and revealed in Scripture might be significantly changed by God’s own decision; thus God is not utterly trustworthy; He might reveal His will to us but then change His mind in such a way that what He previously revealed would prove to be wrong or false.
That powerful series of statements is formidable. In his previous letter, dated 24 March 2003, Bush recalls how two years prior in Colorado (2001 then?), the ETS gave extensive time to Open Theism as a central item in plenary sessions and in breakout groups. So there is a history of some formal discussions that Bush played a part in and of which I am certainly in the dark.
Doubtlessly, Bush’s own participation in the ETS meetings, wide read scholarship and his own widely traveled theological circuit—doubtless, many sources played a role in Bush’s definitive conclusion stated above. And I am sure he has scanned Sanders’ and Pinnock’s works. Nevertheless and with due respect to Open Theism, Bush did not support himself well in his letters.
It is clear to me, too, that if Open Theism believes in an absolutely open future, then such a belief is contrary to the integrity of Bible, out of step with a solid belief in the inerrancy of the original autographs and certainly in violation of the ETS doctrinal basis.
Pinnock and Sanders did not declare any belief in an absolutely open future for God or in the Bible. This is an extraordinary oversight by Bush, almost beguiling. Quite the opposite, both Pinnock and Sanders have repeatedly affirmed that some things are open and some things are settled. Let me say this again, Pinnock and Sanders have repeatedly affirmed that some things are open and some settled. Furthermore, saying that some things about the future are settled and some are not, that is one thing the Open Theists do say; Bush intimates that the Open Theist God “cannot know everything about the future,” and that can be seen in some Open Theism literature. That is a fine distinction, to be sure, and it is very hard to distinguish between them. The real issue is how genuine joy and sadness can be found in a God who knows “everything about the future,” and that is the question and substance of Open Theism.
Besides the fine points immediately above, it is still very clear that Open Theism forwards that some things about the future are settled. That has been repeatedly said by most Open Theists, and that is one of the major differences between Open Theists and Classical Theists (who do believe that everything about the future is absolutely settled). That is, what Bush actually did is accuse Pinnock (et al) of not believing in the totally settled future. In a round about way, Bush pits Open Theism against Classical Theism like this: the absolute openness of the future is opposite to the absolute settled future of Classical Theism. The only problem is that Open Theism does not believe in an absolutely open future, and as such the entire purpose Bush’s article fails on that crucial and singular error (among other areas).
Bush makes allegations that are clearly false in his letters, and this is so very confusing and disheartening. How Bush missed this is disturbing, unless Bush simply had not read Pinnock and Sanders (which is highly unlikely).
That should totally exonerate Pinnock and Sanders in Bush’s eyes, given that Bush is aware of the exceeding complexities between Calvinist and Arminian versions of compatibilism. Hear ye, hear ye. What more needs to be said? Given the wide and accepted diversity within the ETS, truly, what more needs to be said? Let’s look at the larger picture.
In my mind, since Bush is so very esteemed and carries so much weight with so many, then I think a corrective from Bush would be in order. Bush should send an apology and a correction to all the persons he sent copies of his original 11 page letter to. To whom much is given, much is expected. Bush has reached the near pinnacle of a theologian’s stature and authority in a very significant denominational seminary. Correcting this kind of near theological libel is a moral necessity.
There is much at stake here. If Bush’s mistake and misrepresentation was not an oversight, then his whole letter takes on a very devious light indeed. Let’s think positively of Bush.
There are some comments in Pinnock and Sanders that could have lead Bush to his conclusions about the “absolute openness” of Open Theism. But I suspect it was some superficial scans of Pinnock and Sanders and the accumulating myths and bad jokes and other offbeat comments—and the weak side of the moniker “Open” itself—that lead Bush to his conclusions. Just as with the esteemed Timothy George, a small philosophical error at one point leads to some formidable conclusions at the end of some long chains.
Both Bush and George are very accustomed to piecing together very long chains of reasoning. In the case of Open Theism, it is very reasonable that two small links like “an openness to the future” and “God not knowing exhaustively the future because it is not a reality yet” could lead a thinking person to believe that Open Theism forwards a belief in the absolute openness of the future. That is the short story, the shorter version of the origin of the myth that Open Theism holds to a belief in the absolute openness of the future.
Bush is persuasive. His passionate and detailed 11 page letter of March 2003 gently leads the reader along. Bush moves from several competing theologies, even several polar positions on several issues within the ETS, to the noble history of the ETS’s fidelity to inerrancy and denominational diversity, and past the Gundry affair and to the advent of the Trinitarian clause. This is a tender and well-spoken journey. You can see Bush’s gentle strength and credibility throughout the first 6 pages.
However, Bush is pushing guilt in the first six (6) pages before Bush makes his case. It is a gentle six (6) pages that outlines why expulsion of Pinnock and Sanders is needed and even crucial before Bush gives his six (6) paragraph rationale for the guilt itself. A weak minded person could easily come to see that disagreement with Bush would be equal to a disagreement with Christian honor itself. This too borders on crafty slight of hand and is certainly a rhetorical set up. I say this backfires on Bush when he misrepresents Open Theism, and this increases the force of moral pressure for an apology to Pinnock and Sanders and the great ETS.
After humbly soliciting correction, Bush gives five paragraphs to Open Theism, one paragraph to a funny Open Theist conversation, and a paragraph summing his concern over how the Bible could be inerrant in Open Theism. Bush’s concern questioned how Open Theism could believe in inerrancy:
How could the Bible be inerrant if, at the time of the original revelation, God only knew some of the things He revealed (the future prophecies, for example) as possibilities (about which He might be wrong)? … The Bible does not speak only of things that might happen (possibilities). It speaks of what will happen (the certainties). The death of Christ was by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and yet it is also the result of choices made by wicked men (for which they are morally responsible).
This statement by Bush is his summary conclusion that effectually slays Open Theism, the subject of his previous five paragraphs on Open Theism. It is a paragraph of much truth too, but it just does not reflect Open Theism. Open Theists believe that paragraph too, and so his correction does not actually slay real Open Theism. What Bush’s conclusion actually does is slay the myth that Open Theism believes in the absolute openness of the future—not the real Open Theism of the masters like Pinnock and Sanders.
With a good read of Pinnock and Sanders, we are having trouble with Bush. If this had just been a letter from one scholar to another, well, let the dialogue continue. But Bush’s letters were meant for every one of the 3,600+ members of the mighty ETS; Bush’s letters were meant to carry the weight of a former ETS President and the weight of his authoritative position as Academic VP and Dean of the Faculty of a very significant seminary. This kind of error is grave in itself, and the gravity increases when the error is passed on as a truth; furthermore, gravity increases even more when the error is passed on with a clear purpose to influence thousands in and beyond the great ETS. This is bad propaganda if Bush is not sincerely in error or merely and honestly mistaken. However, if Bush knew these things, this becomes ugly propaganda and needs addressing by Bush and others. We shall see if Bush truly meant to be subject to correction in his letter or whatever he shall do.
In spite of our trouble with Bush’s oversight and the influence this oversight has come to mean, let’s continue to be positively inclined and see if we can discern a positive path to Bush’s grave error.
In Bush’s five paragraphs on Open Theism, there is a very thin line that Bush crosses. It is hard to discern, for much of what Bush says can be readily culled from the many writings of Pinnock, Sanders, Boyd and many others. Clearly, Bush has been listening and these five paragraphs betray much truth about Open Theism, so much more and so much better than what Nicole gave in his six documents and so much better than Frame and Ware.
There is a line that Bush crosses, and I suspect that he crossed it somewhere in the following series of quotes from two of his more substantial paragraphs on Open Theism. The “actual future cannot be known because the future does not yet actually exist” and “some future events depend upon our free choices” and these two (amidst some similar statements by Pinnock, et al, and amidst a lot of hearsay in several theological circles) lead Bush to conclude that Open Theism is a “fascinating philosophical option”; “Since the future is not determined by God or by anything else, it is said to be ‘open,’ and though God knows all the options, the actual future is ‘open’ for God too,” and therefore, the coup de grace in Bush’s conclusion deduces that God Himself “does not know which of the many options will become actualities.” That was difficult to state, but flows rather cleanly from most Open Theism literature with one small variant: it is not exactly true that Open Theists fully believe all of the future is “not determined by God or by anything else.” Not so. So when Bush rightly notes that Open Theism is said to be a version of free-will theism (which it is), Bush makes another small but reasonable jump: where Open Theism is a form of free-will theism, Bush says “the claim is made that free-will is the central element of human history and that free will is only free if it is not determined and not foreknown” (emphases mine).
The quote “the claim is made” is a where Bush appears to deduce a central philosophical observation of Open Theism that is not truly central in Pinnock or Sanders; it appears that this was one of the small jumps made by Bush that inclined him towards thinking that Open Theism actually believed in the absolute openness of the future. Pinnock readily acknowledges libertarian freedom, but not the pure libertarian freedom that Bush indicates, for Pinnock has repeatedly acknowledged God’s own freedom and ability to punctuate the affairs of men as He pleases as well as Pinnock has acknowledged God’s respect for human freedom and disinclination for coercion (where that disinclination to coercion can at times appear a “law” in Open Theist literature rather than a mere disinclination).
These are fine distinctions, but distinctions that need clarification if Bush’s letter is to have any merit at all. And the clarification needs to be rock solid if the expelling purposes of Bush’s letters are to go forward.
Bush does not actually say that Open Theism believes in the absolute openness of the future, but that is the heart of Bush’s inclination to the left of real Open Theism. It is an error that only a scholar could make, but that many novices have attuned themselves to. Even some Open Theists have succumbed to that error of inclination to the left of Pinnock or Sanders. Even a casual reading of Pinnock and Sanders and Boyd will reveal them often saying that the future is partly settled and partly open. One even said that the future is mostly settled. These are the masters, and they readily concede to God’s omniscience and sovereignty within the broader “openness” of God to genuinely relate.
I suspect that another element impacts the inclination: Open Theists generally deny a belief in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. It is in this denial alone that Open Theists come into loggerheads with both the Calvinists and Arminian sides of Classical Theism. For this reason, a lot of baggage is transported from this denial that aids the left inclination of titans like Bush and George away from a true understanding of Open Theism and onto the erroneous belief that Open Theism holds to an absolutely open future.
An absolute openness to the future is part of the theology of Process Theism, and the difference between Process Theism and Open Theism is very clearly detailed by Pinnock and Boyd.
With respect to 2 Kings 20 and Hezekiah, we discussed Hezekiah’s experience using the following basic linear outline in Roger Nicole’s case, and we use the enumeration below to touch upon an issue of foreknowledge pertaining to Bush’s letters. Lined up in succession, we have God coming to Hezekiah warning of imminent death (#1=GH), Hezekiah going to God in prayer for mercy (#2=HG), and we have God coming to Hezekiah with healing and a life extension of fifteen years (#3=GH).
Direction of Initiative
At #1, God informs Hezekiah; at #2, Hezekiah prays; at #3, God heals and extends life. Simple enough.
Belief in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge has been a cornerstone for so long in Classical Theism. Even I want to hold onto to it—kind of still do (call me a neo-Open Theist maybe?). But the higher and more important and more biblically profuse element is God’s genuine relationship (sometimes confused or aligned with or articulated inside of the free-will arguments [related also to the freedom of God arguments]).
Open Theism does not believe in the absolute openness of the future, but it does believe that some of the future is open. The is a crucial difference. From so many biblical texts there are indicators of some amount of openness: just as there was for Hezekiah above in #2, where Hezekiah does sincerely appeal to God’s mercy with a belief that God can respond. That belief in Hezekiah’s heart is played out in #3 where God does indeed respond. Here the distinctions become very fine indeed.
Some want to say that God could truly foreknew #3, and they then have to interpolate some extra verbiage at #1 to make the prophecy at #1 truly conditional (though conditionality is not in the text—Nicole, et al, Classical Theists). Here is a point very fine—not necessarily denying exhaustive foreknowledge—just not considering or focusing or looking closely at foreknowledge (exhaustive or not): Open Theists look to the genuineness of God’s relationship at #1, #2 and #3 with zero interpolation and within the context of the entire Bible.
I speak for myself here. Some things are certainly open and the degree of God’s foreknowledge is as important as the rock solidness of God’s genuineness. I want to hold onto to God exhaustively knowing #3 at the precise time of #1 in Hezekiah’s life. But since the text does not say, so I cannot say one way or another. Maybe Psalm 139 forces exhaustive foreknowledge, for there are convincing arguments to that end. What I can say is that God was genuine at #1, #2 and #3. Most importantly (and very contrary to Nicole), at #1 God did not leave anything open for Hezekiah (he was going to die), and it was not till after #2 (Hezekiah’s prayer) that #3 became an alternative to #1. That is, textually, only after #2 can we truly say that #3 is an alternative and becomes an alternative by the power of the living God.
The error is that Nicole and all Classical Theists want to impute Psalm 139 and God’s exhaustive foreknowledge into Hezekiah’s experience at #1 and change the text’s most basic meaning. Classical Theists want to change the certainty of Hezekiah’s death at #1 into a conditional at the very time of #1 for Hezekiah (based upon our own after-the-fact knowledge of #3). Ironically, then, Classical Theists want to interpolate a degree of “openness” at #1 where there is none. Open Theists like Pinnock only see “openness” where the Scripture gives indication—as with Hezekiah somewhere between #2 and #3 based on what God did in #3.
In sum, Classical Theism wants to add to the text around Hezekiah a series of convolutions to say God did not mean what He said at #1. Open Theism wants to see at #3 God giving Hezekiah a second chance in life. Of course, it is more complicated than that, most especially for the Classical Theist. Ironically, and that complication is precisely the point of contention, where Classical Theists hold onto their more complicated interpolation of the truth of #1, and Open Theists want to determine the truth about God from the truth of #1, #2 and #3 without any interpolation at all.
With all of the other bogus and misinformed myths floating around about Open Theism, it is no small wonder that Open Theism does sound like a cancer. Truly, a piece of theology that very simply and straightforwardly undercuts a clear confidence in God’s ability to keep His promises is a heresy worthy of correction and even Christian vilification.
As with Timothy George’s allusions to Process Theism in theodicy, Bush makes an erroneous connection between the partly open future of Open Theism and the absolutely open future of Process Theism. With these grave mistakes, we have two leading scholars with influence and authority who have both been inclined to the left of the actual burgeoning truth of real Open Theism. Though the “Open” moniker has served many well, the moniker “Open” has not helped right many who have been so inclined to the left, most especially those determined and even fixated upon the fixity of God.
Having said all of that, it appears—just appears—that some of George’s and Bush’s inclinations to the left of true Open Theism have been influenced by their obvious beliefs in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. It seems to me that this is the greater issue for them.
Do we really want to add to the ETS doctrinal basis another line for members to accede to with respect to belief in exhaustive foreknowledge? We have a majority opinion in favor already. Certainly consideration is important. Yet my point in this whole book and in this appendix is not to exclude, but my point is to expound and expand upon the issue of God’s genuineness as a more profusely biblical theme, and a theme more dear to God’s heart.
I myself want to hold onto an exhaustive foreknowledge (my own history aside). And Pinnock’s work is not an attack on exhaustive foreknowledge, not as much as it is an argument for the genuineness of God. That Pinnock (et al) have taken their own theses to a higher level and stepped out is honorable, very honorable; and as Pinnock has done with Open Theism, he and his colleagues have brought some seriously biblical questions to the nature of God’s foreknowledge.
The highest element of biblical integrity—and I have found Pinnock sterling in this area, agreeing with him 100%—the highest issue of biblical integrity rests with God being alive, God being personal to the uttermost. Some Classical Theists may not like Pinnock’s directness, and his statements on God’s openness are strong to the point of Pinnock very carefully noting that “some things are certain and some are not” (knowing as we do that Pinnock knew the stir those words would have in Classical Theist camps). But let’s be very careful and avoid trumping Pinnock for those words alone: look closely at the Bible first, as Pinnock has done, and come up with a better biblical solution or deduction. And Bush, George, Nicole, Ware and Frame have not, not yet, and not by a far margin. Moreover, there is a case building that one or more of them are more in danger of becoming a theological mobster than there is of Pinnock becoming a true heretic.
For God’s sake, it is the biblical depiction that is the issue. And it is clearly the Classical Theists who have the greater circumlocutions. Certainly, it is clear to everyone that the person with the greater circumlocutions around the basic biblical meaning is the person farthest from the meaning of the original texts and farthest from the ETS doctrinal basis. Let’s stick with the basics here. We certainly can read this into Bush’s first six pages and apply this to Bush as well.
Some things are “open” as Pinnock has said. I am in debt to Pinnock for helping me bury my former fixed-settled God of years past, for I had struggled with that for 20+ years. I have been persuaded that God’s genuine real time concern contradicts the obnoxious view of a fixed-settled God. Because I have been troubled by the Classical Theist attacks upon my friends like Pinnock who have become champions of God aliveness, I am more of an Open Theist than a Classical Theist by a far stretch.
Like that really means a lot coming from a prison chaplain instead of an academic VP and the many mighty theological deans who have been assailing Open Theism. I could add some defensive posture here. Perhaps a sneer is appropriate. How should we then live and relate the subtle viciousness of these attacks that have not just attacked, but have done so in such a gravely erroneous manner? If clearly mistaken, then correction and apology absolve—immediately absolve; but we cannot believe that Bush missed the non-absolute openness of Open Theism and the main theme of Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover. “Sneer” becomes an ad hominem euphemism in this light, in a way demanding for justice to appease indignation for the cause of God’s genuineness. These attacks are upon God’s genuineness, attacks upon the very nature of my Abba father.
Moreover, I have seen and have articulated in the above and in the larger portions of this book that a real burden exists for the Classical Theists to more honestly deal with “God’s Openness” and God’s “genuineness” in support of their view of God’s fixity. I say this carefully and with a plea. Classical Theists have given tokens to it, as we have made profuse illustration. Here is a more specific plea. The greater burden is for Classical Theists to stop their continued defense of God’s exhaustive foreknowledge (not stop their belief in it), for we all know most of the substantive issues. The greater burden for the Classical Theist is to stop defending old stuff and stop defaming Pinnock (et al): stop, stop, stop. The greater burden is for Classical Theists to stop defending old junk and to truly get into the ring with some substantial articulations of their own views of just how genuinely God relates to us and just how open God may be to influence by His children.
Of course, Classical Theists could just drop everything and embrace Pinnock and become Open Theists, but we know that will not happen. Classical Theists are diehard believers in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and have a long and proud heritage in their belief in God’s meticulous sovereignty (their pagan heritage excluded [go ahead and giggle]). Nevertheless, for God’s sake let us truly support Pinnock’s right to defend the highest and most profuse biblical theme of God’s genuine real time concern.
Said in another way, some may not like a denial of exhaustive foreknowledge, and I don’t either. But hear ye, hear ye, I am more persuaded now to deny exhaustive foreknowledge than I will ever be persuaded to deny God’s genuine real time presence with me. I shall not deny God’s aliveness. Our sovereign God is alive. Best of all, by the power He used to raise Christ, God will also use to raise me and keep His promises.
The real issue for Bush, George, Nicole and the great ETS is upward mobility in the facilitation of biblical discernment and upward mobility in a high quality of dialogue. See Millard J. Erickson’s fine JETS article, “Evangelical Theological Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century.” I agreed with every word, except that there are some topics that cannot be dealt with absolute dispassion, and I know that Erickson knows that no writer is totally free of passion and absolutely clean in logic (truly Star Trek’s Dr. Spock is truly a myth). I believe there is a place in scholarship to articulate the place for another category of ethical deliberation that demands the personal and even the explication of indignation and unjust politics. Theology goes beyond mental cogitation and deals with the whole person, and as such there is certainly a place for the ad hominem where theology is meant to affect the life and not just the brain, meant to change a life and not just reveal truth, and even as in the case here rectify a gross injustice. With care and concern, there is place for scholarship somewhere between bare bones logical debate and the avoidance of the ad hominem where one must be careful to avoid splinter hunting at the expense of the beam in one’s own eye, on the one hand, and on the other hand there is a place to call for redress and even name the white washed sepulcher.
At times some novel opinions can develop threatening myths that even fool our most accomplished and sophisticated champions. But let us move upward, clarifying and making more clear how our opinions are truly biblical in origin. We can do that when we are able to stay focused and can honorable engage each other and are able to jettison myths as they are exposed.
Herein is Bush’s first response to a rougher draft of the above and some of our dialogue.
Dear Brother Maness,
You have been far too kind in your compliments about my scholarship, and about my supposed influence. Thank you for your words. I do not know to whom your article has gone or is going. One thing you have made clear is how difficult it is to express every nuance correctly when one tries to write on these issues.
I do not have time to address all of the issues you raise. If I might comment briefly only to help clarify.
I do understand that Open Theists do not believe everything is open about the future. As I understand it, they believe God can and does at times over-rule human freedom and can thereby guarantee that some things will happen regardless of free-will issues. To me this is no solution to the problem, however.
If God chooses to override human freedom in some cases (to accomplish His purposes), then the question is why not override in the case of extreme or gratuitous evil. Saying that God does not act because God does not know is far more confusing to me than traditional views that say “we do not understand why God allowed” this or that, but that we have confidence that we will understand it by-and-by (which assumes that God does have a purpose that one day may be revealed).
You are correct that my statements may not have clearly acknowledged that Pinnock does not affirm absolute openness. Your point is well taken. I also affirm a living God who is interacting with us in time.
Here is the bottom line. The ETS statement is that the Bible is God’s word and therefore is inerrant. How can that be if God does not know the actual future in every case. The possible answers are (1) God never speaks about those events that are truly open, and (2) God overrides potentiality to assure directly the actualities about which He does speak. But (1) is an ”after the fact” speculation. How could we ever know if that theory were true? God has spoken in the Bible about many things yet future. Since He does not know the actual future, only the potential future, He would not know He had misspoken until the time came, and thus He could only save His credibility by option (2). Moreover (2) might explain certain prophecies, but it is a metaphysical speculation that is not taught directly in Scripture. How could we know it is true? We could only know after the fact, and thus we could not know now, and thus we would lose the confidence in God’s word that the ETS statement affirms. But what confuses the issue further is the claim by open theists that God changes His mind.
To say that all of God’s warnings of judgment have an implied condition (because God consistently by nature is a merciful and forgiving God) and that judgment can always be avoided if there is true repentance (even if this condition is not explicit), is a conclusion that seems to be logically implied by numerous biblical examples, not the least of which is your illustration of Hezekiah and the case of Jonah, etc.
How often Jesus would have drawn Jerusalem to Himself, but they would not! In other words, God desires all to come to Him even though He knows that all will not come. This is an interactive God, there is real human free agency, there is real human responsibility, but God is not intellectually in the dark about any of these things.
Again, if the Bible is true because it is God’s word, then God must know and speak only the truth about everything He decides to reveal in Scripture, or He must override free agency in order to keep His word true. “Peter, you will deny me” was spoken without any biblical hint that free agency was being overridden in order to bring those denials to pass. Peter was personally responsible for his own actions, yet Jesus knew what would be the case.
I can’t see how biblical inerrancy can survive open theism, even nuanced as you so effectively do. I see it as a denial of one of the clear truths about God, that He knows the end from the beginning. Knowledge is not the same as cause, so His knowledge does not require God to be directly causing all things (moral evil, for example). But to deny His knowledge is to deny something very basic about God.
I think Clark, in particular, has the good motives you attribute to him. He wants to understand certain biblical passages better, and he wants to rescue God from the Greek models of some classical theists, and in all of that I can join him. But I cannot deny God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and still affirm the ETS statement. Perhaps in good conscience you can, but in my view Pinnock has left us. He wants ETS to agree that his view is a live option for inerrantists. I think it is a fascinating philosophical option, but it opens the door for biblical errancy.
I simply can see no way to permit open theism and at the same time preserve the claim of inerrancy based on the mere fact that the Bible is God’s Word. If God is not infallible, His Word will not be infallible. Just wanting a more dynamic God is not a sufficient basis for ignoring the implications of having a God who could be mistaken, or who could be wrong, or who must intervene to assure that His words will come true. God certainly can and will intervene in human affairs as He chooses, but His Word stands eternal in the heavens. Heaven and earth may pass away, but not the Word of God. To argue that God simply does not know the actualities of the future is to draw a conclusion that simply does not seem to follow from the biblical teachings about the God who is distinguished from the idols and false prophets partly because He could foretell the future and they could not.
I pray that God will show me where I am wrong in this reasoning. I wish I could see these matters in a light more generous toward Pinnock. He is a fine scholar who has taught me many truths in the past, and I am sure he will continue to do so in the future. I wish I could persuade him on this one crucial point.
L. Russ Bush, Southeastern Seminary, Wake Forest, NC
Dear Russ, [with a couple of spelling & diction errors corrected]
Thank you so much for your very thoughtful response. I shall be meditating upon it.
I shall be fine-tuning my responses as I lobby for Pinnock (without his permission) as this issue is dear to my heart. Actually, I am preparing two other responses in addition to the response I sent you—Roger Nicole of course, and one for Timothy George.
I might add that I too have had a desire to cling to a belief in God’s exhaustive foreknowledge. But it does not seem to be as biblically important as the doctrine of God’s aliveness (which obviously is in need of refinement). But the implications are profound—if just for me. The genuineness of God’s relationship and the coherence of God’s relations are theologically definitive for me.
I am finishing my book Heart of the Living God in which I will be incorporating the responses [above] into the appendix as I may be able to dialogue with you. I surely do appreciate the time you are giving to this. I have been convinced of the need.
The only person I see who has truly made a theological case for such coherence is William Lane Craig. But I have deep trouble with the Molinist backtracking into the mind of God to sift what has come first (especially given how we have trouble enough sifting own human motives and order of thoughts—how much greater must be God’s thoughts). My brief point on this is that the analogies and metaphors of God the Father must of necessity entail a freshness “to God” in real rejoicing that comes to God in my or your obedience. Otherwise, how at all is God like the Father of the prodigal?
Attached, is a near final draft of the work I have already made copies of (20) that I intend to shoot to members of the executive committee and a few others (including yourself, of course, Pinnock and Sanders, etc.). I intend to incorporate their responses too into the appendixes of these.
Russ—your thoughtfulness is truly appreciated. I might add that in my own rough and tumble struggle in life, Psalm 139 has been my buckler more than any other single passage (there is book there too). If there will be a summary, it will entail this: God may exhaustively foreknow the future, but there has to be something in the “relationship” with Him now in which God Himself feels as fresh and truly joyful or sorrowful. I think God is truly saddened by rape and mutilating murder in the present—that may be happening as we speak somewhere on earth—and saddened in a manner in which God was not saddened yesterday. To me that is the point of Open Theism—God’s genuineness and ability to relate. I add to extend this summary that God is having a “relationship” with the 1st century Christians (like Paul and John) now that God did not have 2,000 years ago precisely because they have 2,000 years experience in glory; and vice versa, God is having a real time relationship with me and you right now that God Himself did not have 1,000 years ago precisely because I myself was not present in my own responsive fullness 1,000 years ago.
The body of my book goes into this in greater detail. Attached are the two other appendices I shall be mailing soon.
Thanks again for your time and whatever you will be able to give to this.
Most sincerely, Mike Maness, Chaplain
Gib Lewis State Prison, Woodville, TX
attachments: copies of Appendix 1 on Roger Nicole and Appendix 2 on Timothy George
From: Stevens, Cindy On Behalf Of Bush, Russ
Sent: Friday, September 19, 2003 10:11 AM
Mike, I fully understand the desire to transform the biblical God into a modern person with passion and with strong emotions, one who within Himself feels fresh and alive and truly joyful or sorrowful or saddened or perhaps who feels anger or longing. I can also understand the supposed relational benefits of the temporalized God you describe in your email response. These are all motivations that have led to proposals of “open theism.” It then becomes logical to suggest that God changes His mind, and the logical basis for justifying such a notion would be to suggest that God was presented with some new information, previously unknown, that causes Him to reconsider His position on some matter. This is a very human God indeed.
You seemingly believe that the choices are between exhaustive foreknowledge and genuine relationships. You have chosen the latter as the non-negotiable affirmation. I would simply observe that in a reality as you envision it, there will always be an inequality of relationships due to time. There will always be more for God to learn; and he might even change His mind about the future of those relationships in light of that new information. I don’t see how open theism can avoid this conclusion, and thus we lose the assurance of the trustworthiness of God’s Word to us. If God knows the end from the beginning, however, we can trust Him absolutely, and this is what Scripture everywhere teaches.
You are truly and honestly struggling with important matters. I pray that God will give us both His wisdom.
L. Russ Bush, Southeastern Seminary
P.S. By the way, simply for clarification, I have not been persuaded by Craig’s molinist approach either, but his view is consistent with the ETS statement on inerrancy.
September 19, 2003 12:40 PM
cc: Clark Pinnock & John Sanders
Dear Russ, [with a couple of spelling & diction errors corrected]
Surely, God’s knows the end from the beginning. And I do not see Pinnock or Sanders questioning that either, and here I would insert Sanders full defense against Nicole—quite a fine piece.
Dear Russ, you have seen yourself that you misrepresented Open Theism as believing in an absolute openness of the future. Thank you. That is, in my mind, an enormous piece of progress in the Nicole/Pinnock affair. I would hope to convince you to join me in exoneration of Pinnock and Sanders, of course, for the basic issue at hand is Nicole’s challenge that they violated the ETS doctrinal basis. My essential dialogue with you (personal too, and thank you for that too) is to gain your confidence here: that according to Nicole’s own documents (that are now evidence against him) he has violated the ETS to a greater degree than Pinnock and Sanders. That is the essence of my Hezekiah letter to you and all, and I add to that Sanders own fine defense (full version) against Nicole. These must be presuppositions. If you have not read both, then I do not think we can profit one another in much more dialogue. I shall take the liberty to presume you have had reason to doubt me, for I am a very small man in the great theological circles in which you ambulate, and here in the rest of this letter I shall take the greater liberty in believing in your generosity to have taken the time to read both.
So let me take it from here, with the above as presuppositions, taking for granted that by now you have read my Hezekiah letter and certainly Sanders’ defense against Nicole; therefore, let me add to those two documents and our dialogue to date in order to respond to your thoughtful comments below.
Yet is God truly static with no ability grow in a relationship that does not necessarily involve new information? You do not mean in your statement about me—you surely do not mean that there is no actual relationship inside of your belief in exhaustive foreknowledge. Basic compatibilism is understandable for those who hold it, and as Sanders has said so eloquently, many in the ETS do not share compatibilism, much less understand it. I agree with many who find compatibilism far too difficult and troublesome in the coherence of God. If—and I may be presuming a lot here—if I understand you, do you mean that all those who do not share a compatibilist understanding should be ousted from the ETS? If not, then Pinnock and Sanders ought to be exonerated solely upon Sanders’ defense and your own gracious acknowledgement of diversity—and my purpose is complete in helping (yippee, yahoo, I would feeeel very good about that, especially little Twinkie me being able to help titans like you and Pinnock and Sanders). That seems to be the essence of your rationale.
But let’s look further at the heart of the issue, even if I am mistaken—the issue being fidelity to the text and to the ETS doctrinal basis.
On God changing His mind, I see Nicole interpolating into Pinnock what Pinnock does not say about “God changing His mind.” And you seem to imply again that Open Theism believes in an absolutely open future, which is not so. I cannot remember, maybe it was Sanders or Boyd, but in the literature on Open Theism I pursued, one among them said that most of the future was settled. We certainly will not settle the differences between Arminians and Calvinists in our e-mails and the Arminian variants (aka Open Theism), and you must grant me that (and I am certainly not able or in your league or that of Pinnock and Sanders for that matter). Part of my point is that I truly want Pinnock and Sanders to stay in the ETS (even though I am infant in this), because they are true champions far more able to stand than I. (Certainly far more deserving—I mean for honors sake, Pinnock is a professor emeritus with decades of contribution to the ETS, and I get upset when I think about it).
I agree with you that the larger issue is the profoundness of God’s knowledge, even exhaustive foreknowledge that I certainly see to some extent (and outline in my book and we together could footnote volumes). The even larger issue is what I see as God’s truly real time and genuine love in the present. We shall not settle that here, and perhaps I missing something in our dialogue.
The ETS issue for you and me is much smaller: fidelity to the biblical text and the ETS doctrinal statement and Nicole’s charges. If I believe the Bible is certainly true, as you do, and also as definitive for my philosophical understanding about the world—then the Bible ... (a lot of fill in here) ... is the first source, of course. Nicole’s imputation of tradition as well as his forcing of imputations upon 1 Kings 20 are by far a greater breach of the ETS doctrinal statement than both Pinnock and Sanders. You have not addressed my charges against Nicole nor Sanders defense against Nicole, which in both together—unless I am blind—Nicole becomes grossly more guilty of violation of the ETS doctrinal statement. Trying to stick with issue (my own errors aside), let me try to clarify beyond what I shall consider presuppositions for both of us (namely my Hezekiah letter and Sander’s ETS defense).
I know the piece I sent you on Nicole was long (and you shall be receiving a hard copy with the pieces to George and yourself that I sent to the executive committee). And for ETS purposes, the issue as I know you agree is fidelity to the text. My point is this: it is far more respect of the text of 1 Kings 20 to believe in the truth of #1, #2 and #3 than it is for Nicole to force something into #1 that patently is not there. While God may know #3 at the time of #1, knowing the end from the beginning (and I have some problem with Open Theism’s version of God “not knowing” some things), I have to also use 1 Kings 20 to temper something about “God knowing the end from the beginning,” as both are true. The real point for me is Hezekiah at #1, as for me at this very hour, and what God has revealed for me at this very hour (... you know what I could add here [that I can pray …]). But the real issue at hand, is fidelity to Scripture and to the ETS doctrinal statement. And Nicole is not nearly as faithful to the text as Pinnock, most especially in 1 Kings 20 that Nicole claims is pivotal for Open Theism (which it is not, it is actually pivotal for Classical Theists who have to use circumlocutions to get at the truth of #1). One point in the Nicole documents that I forwarded and that is crucial as I see for the Nicole/Pinnock affair and the issue of fidelity to ETS doctrinal statement is two paragraphs (deductions from case I laid out on Nicole [in the Hezekiah letter]):
Let’s be more clear in clearing up the clouds of confusion. The person with the largest circumlocution and who has to add the greatest amount of extra-biblical verbiage to the biblical text to get at the true meaning of the text is the person who more greatly violates the ETS doctrinal base. That should be so very obvious and so very important. ...
These are not rhetorical questions. This is the issue and the heart of Nicole’s spurious allegations. Certainly, obviously, one cannot get closer in fidelity to the ETS doctrinal basis by adding circumlocutions to the plain sense of the biblical text.
Russ, please, I do not transform God when I read that God sits at the gate as a longing Heavenly Father waiting for me to come home. I once was in darkness, very far away from God when I left the Air Force in 1974 bound for hell. After coming to God in Christ in April of 1975, after several years, I came upon that story about the prodigal son. That was good news to me and still is for me definitive of the nature of God. I do not say God is temporalized either. In my book I also go beyond the timeless God as well. As for me time is only a convention that has meaning for us this side of heaven and will cease to be of significance for us in glory. I shall not belabor this, but let me add one more point as I continue on how this connects to our ETS case.
Here’s another picture is use in my book, Heart of the Living God. Russ, with your own children, do they teach you anything new? Not really. When the child sits in your lap, the child teaches you nothing new about the philosophy of life. You know the world and you are the child’s world. The 5 year old child teaches you (nearly) nothing new. Does not the child have a genuine relationship with you? Of course. But what is most important of all to me is this. You, Russ, you yourself have the more genuine side of the relationship: the father and mother have the more genuine side of the relationship with the little child, precisely because you are the wise (all knowing with vast and fearful knowledge of the world) father and the 5 year child is just making pretense at communication.
Here is the point. God has the more genuine side of the relationship precisely because He is the Father and we are the children. Did not Jesus Himself say we were come to Him as little children. I sacrifice nothing such confidence and in such childlike trust of God’s ability to bring about many things. But most importantly, and precisely because the Bible is clear, our heavenly Father, Abba, is the more genuine side of the true relationship because those are the pictures given. And “knowing the end from the beginning” and other things are to be tempered to the more profuse N. T. renderings that say (though I cannot understand it fully) that God is the Father with real feelings for me and certainly not absolutely settled about all things, most certainly not.
Anyway, for ETS affair at hand. The issue is fidelity to the text, and of all things, the Bible depicts God genuinely relating (and often Israel and we do act more like children than not). And here I would also insert John Sanders’ response in total in addition to my own offering against Nicole: they complement each other. Russ, as you have graciously conceded an error in forwarding that Open Theism believes in an absolutely open future, and with my documents clarifying the nature of Pinnock’s use of “God changed His mind” (God changed His mind about my sin, too, in just the same manner as God did with Hezekiah) and with John Sanders’ poignant defense, Nicole becomes more guilty than Pinnock and Sanders in actual fidelity to the biblical text.
I would love to continue dialogue on the nature of time itself, but that is somewhat moot. I question my ability to understand exhaustive foreknowledge, more so because I feel inadequate to place myself inside of the mind of God (Geisler in his Graded Absolutism can discern what actually flows to the mind of or not). I understand God knowing the end from the beginning, that’s big and OK and comforting for me. I do not question that, don’t see Pinnock or Sanders questioning it (and I insert here Sanders defense against Nicole again—it is quite a piece of work too).
Seems that we could join each other in helping Nicole to exonerate Pinnock and Sanders. I know if I should ever be able to attend the ETS meetings with any kind of regularity, I shall want to see a more congenial environment to Pinnock as he is truly engaged without slap-stick and snide remarks. I’ve listened to some ETS tapes, and I have certainly read Nicole’s documents (some of which contain the “puerile” indeed as Sanders remarks). I certainly do not have a corner on a perfect understanding, but we all are to profit when true champions are able to dual in dialogue that remains focused on the issues at hand.
In closing, I do not see how your case clearly makes Pinnock guilty of violating the ETS doctrinal basis, and moreover, it seems as though Nicole is still more guilty (along with many others in the ETS)—even by your own rationale. At the vary minimum, given the complication above, I think there is room for more clarification of Open Theism (even as more true to the Bible), and certainly there is therein room to ask Nicole to withdraw or face his own standard squarely. I think we should all be the ones to profit if Nicole can be reconciled that he is “no more” faithful to ETS doctrinal basis than Pinnock or Sanders.
Very sincerely yours, Mike
Nicole & Pinnock ETS Documents:
Nicole & Sanders Documents
I sent copies of this to Bush and the ETS executive committee and others 9-2003
 Not that anyone pro or con actually has labeled it such. But the writings of many like Ware and Frame sure lead one to believe they are fighting a clearly articulated and fully mature system, even as they have missed dealing with the major theme of Open Theism. Having said that, Open Theism is getting a layer of clarity and degree of theological maturity with Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover.
 See it here: http://www.sebts.edu/downloads/pdf/ETS_OpenTheism.pdf.
 See it here: http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/presidents/1994-Bush.pdf, dated 12 May 2003.
 See it here: http://www.etsjets.org/members/challenge/presidents/1994-Bush.pdf, dated 12 May 2003: a letter to President Howard and ETS membership by Bush as a former ETS president (1994).
 Compatibilism: the theory that determinism and free will are compatible, where Calvinist’s focus upon the absoluteness of the sovereignty of God that allows human choices (not liking free will), and Arminians focus upon God’s exhaustive foreknowledge that allows responsible human free will.
 One of the clear reasons for those inclined to believe in that myth is that some have missed the “relational” theme of Open Theism, just how much God really is involved in our day to day affairs. But that is not Bush’s problem with Open Theism.
 Letter at http://www.sebts.edu/downloads/pdf/ETS_OpenTheism.pdf, to ETS members dated 24 March 2003, p. 8.
 Letter at http://www.sebts.edu/downloads/pdf/ETS_OpenTheism.pdf, to ETS members dated 24 March 2003, p. 7.
 Pinnock in Most Moved Mover, 140-150; Boyd in God of the Possible (Baker, 2000), 31.
 Appendix 2 in reference to Roger Nicole’s effigy of Open Theism.
 Most Open Theists not believing in exhaustive foreknowledge or at least having some questions.
 I would like to think, though we have never had the opportunity to meet to date.
 See Open Theist Gregory Boyd’s God of the Possible (Baker, 2000), as well as William Lane Craig’s multiple and superb volumes; even Frame’s and Ware’s work where Frame and Ware are in their element in defending God’s sovereignty; even Christian history’s greatest defenders like Spurgeon and Boetner.
 Millard J. Erickson, “Evangelical Theological Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 46:1 (March 2003): 5-28.
 See it here: http://www.etsjets.org/.
 For full version of the Hezekiah Letter to Nicole, see www.preciousheart.net/foreknowledge/Nicole.htm.