Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Review of 'The Openness of God' (part 2 - chapter 1)

[continued on from here]

Chapter 1

Richard Rice starts by defining both the traditional view of God and then the open view of God, followed by trying to muster support for the open view from Scripture. We would look at the definitions of the open view of God first before examining the passages Rice uses to attempt to support his position.

Humanistic pre-occupation with love

When one looks at the open view as set forth by Rice, it could be seen that the love of God is the central characteristic that is being focused on in this system. According to Rice, 'love is the first and last word in the biblical portrait of God' (p. 18), quoting 1 Jn. 4:8 to that effect. He further states that the 'statement that God is love is as close as the Bible comes to giving us a definition of the divine reality' and that 'Christian theology has always given this expression pride of place among the many descriptions of God' (p. 18). He claims also that 'there is widespread theological support for the idea that love is central to both the revelation and the reality of God' (p. 19). Rice then quotes neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics who states that 'God love because ... this act is His being, His essence and His nature' (p. 20). Rice further quotes the neo-orthodox theologian Emil Brunner who says that 'love is not a mere quality or attribute that God happens to have in common with other beings; it is the very nature of God Himself' (p. 20). Rice also quotes Walter Kasper and Wolfhart Pannenberg who both emphasized the importance of God's attribute of love. Pannenberg is also quoted as saying that 'Only in the love of God does the concrete form of his (God) essence come to expression.' (p. 20). With all this stated, Rice made the following statements, that 'Consequently, when we enumerate God's qualities, we must put love at the head of the list' and that 'Love is the concrete reality that unifies all of the attributes of God. A doctrine of God that is faithful to the Bible must show that all of God's characteristics derive from love' (p. 21).

From what has been seen so far, Rice has decided to place God's love as being of primary importance and thus the lens upon which all Scripture is to be interpreted, and this is the lens whereby he reads all of Scripture in order to support his open theism. However, does the Bible warrants such an emphasis placed upon the love of God, or is that something Rice has just decided to embrace without any biblical support?

Now, when looking at this topic, it must be said that Scripture definitely emphasizes God's love. What is being discussed is not whether God's love is important, but whether it is of primary significance, or more significantly, whether it only is of primary significance. My contention is that the attribute of God as love is not the only attribute of primary significance and therefore Rice has already erred in the first instance.

What does it mean for an attribute of God to be of primary significance? This means that that is definitional of God and is not derived from some other attribute of God. For example, God's mercy cannot be said to be of primary significance, as mercy is an attribute that is derived from God's sovereignty and God's love. The verse used to proof-text Rice's contention that God's love is THE only primary attribute of God, 1 Jn. 4:8, does not supports this thesis of his. Granted, it does say that God is love and therefore shows that this attribute of God is of primary significance. However, it is one thing to say that the love of God is of primary significance and another thing to say that ONLY the love of God is of primary significance. Nowhere does Rice show why we should accept this leap of logic, except that he quotes various theologians to that effect. However, in the absence of Scriptural support, this constitutes a false appeal to authority. Furthermore, of the theologians he quoted, of least two (Karl Barth and Emil Brunner) are neo-orthodox theologians who are unorthodox at best. Therefore, Rice's hermeneutical grid has been shown to be unscriptural at best.

However, even if we accept Rice's hermeneutical matrix, the question is to be asked as to what God being love means. As it has been said, the fact that God is love is actually bad news for us sinners. Because God is love, He must hate us sinners, since He is good while we are evil. Therefore, the only way that Rice's hermeneutical matrix can make sense is that the love of God is being redefined to a modern humanistic understanding of love. The verse Ps. 50:21 comes to mind:

These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. (Ps. 50:21)

With that stated, let us look at the biblical evidence.

The biblical evidence: Old Testament

Under Old Testament evidences for the Openness of God, Rice uses the narrative portion of Scripture to show forth God's feelings, as the 'inner life of God' (p. 24). He also quotes the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel as saying that 'Hosea ... came to see that the anguish his troubled marriage brought him was "a mirror of the divine pathos, that his sorrow echoed the sorrow of God" ' (p. 26), and that 'Whatever man does affects not only his own life, but also the life of God ... He is a consort, a partner, a factor in the life of God' (p. 26). Rice also used the narrative portions of the Old Testament to show that God changes His mind; His intentions, which we shall hereby look into detail now

First of all, with regards to the 'feelings of God', Rice has made a valid point that God does have feelings. However, the fact is that traditional theism does not dispute that God has feelings. What traditional theism has always believe regarding the attribute of God being impassable is that God's emotions are not involuntary and are controlled by God. In other words, God does not have mood swings[1]. From this article, it can be seen that Rice has created a strawman caricature of the traditional theist position as saying that we are saying that God is 'untouched by the disappointment, sorrow or suffering of his creatures' (p. 12), or that 'the real God of the Bible is made of sterner stuff. ... so the tender feelings we read of in the prophets are merely examples of poetic license' (p. 25). This is not true of the traditional theist position at all, and to caricature our position as saying that God is a metaphysical iceberg which have no true feelings is plainly wrong.

With regards as to how we can reconcile the facts that God has feelings without compromising his impassibility, we will say that His feelings are fixed reactions to circumstances that happen in time. Therefore, God will always have that feeling towards a particular circumstance and that feeling would be manifested when the circumstance presents itself. God therefore has control over His emotions which are an expressions of His many attributes. As an example, God would show anger over rebellion against Him because of His attribute of holiness which manifests in a hatred of sin. Therefore, it never be said that God changes in His feelings, just that they are manifested depending on what the situation is, which changes over time. To put it simply, God's feelings are eternally demarcated, but they are manifested only when the scenario demands it.

With regards to God's intention, the easiest response to Rice is to point out that the fact that he is gleaning theology from narrative rather than didactic accounts. This is definitely an illegitimate tactic in biblical interpretation, especially since the didactic account (i.e. Num. 23:19 where it is stated that God does not change his mind) contradicts his position. In opposition to Stephan Charnock's position that when the Bible says that 'when God "turns" from love to wrath, or from wrath to love, this describes a change in the way people relate to God, not in the way he relates to them', Rice points out the fact that in the case of Moses' intercession, God relents in direct response to Moses' plea, not as a consequence of the people's repentance of their apostasy (p. 28). Rice goes further in saying that all these incidents whereby God seems to change his plans indicates that human intercession can influence God's actions (p. 29). In response to this assertion by Rice, we would say that just because a narrative seems to say that God relents and changes his mind doesn't mean that God ever intended to do that action anyway. As Rice has noticed, Moses' appeal in his intercession before God presupposes that God's ultimate purposes must be carried out, which would not be able to be carried out if God had destroyed the Israelites as He has threatened to do (Ex. 32:10). Rice, however, uses this episode to say that God's ultimate objectives required Him to change His intermediate intentions (p. 28). To this, however, we respond and ask Rice where is it stated in Scripture that God has such an immediate intention to wipe out the Israelites. Of course, none can be found, for although God threatened to wipe them out, this does not imply that it is God's intention to do so. Rice has here confused between command/preference and intention[2], as if God expressing a hypothetical wish to wipe out the Israelites means that He will in actuality wants to do so. This is similarly the case with Jonah and Nineveh (p. 31) and the sayings of Jeremiah in Jer. 18:7-10 (p. 31-32).

Rice next attempts to utilize God's promises to David, as they seemed to be an unconditional one as opposed to that made to Saul (2 Sam. 7:15-16) and make a case that they are actually conditional as in the end, the physical Kingdom also ended. He then states that evidently God attached conditions to His promise, even they were not spelled out at first (p. 30). However, this only goes to show Rice's either ignorance or purposely ignoring the true nature of the Davidic Covenant, which is fulfilled in Jesus, who is an eternal King over His people.

Rice finally got down to addressing the passages in Num. 23:19 and 1 Sam. 15:29 which state that God does not change His mind. To get around these verses, he states that 'the word repent in both instance is used synonymously with the word lie. ... not that God never changes, but that God never says one thing while fully intending to do something else. Only in this limited sense of the word does God not "repent" ' (p. 33). However, is that the correct way to interpret the verses? Is the word repent really the same as the word lie? Yes, there seems to be some sort of parallelism in Num. 23:19 between the phrases 'man, that He should lie' and 'son of man, that He should change His mind', but parallelism does not necessarily mean that the terms are synonymous; they only mean that there is some close relations between the terms. In this case, the close relation could be that both are things which are characteristic of Man. In any case, even if I were to grant the case for Num. 23:19, this would not hold true for 1 Sam. 15:29, where a different word for lie was used compared to that used in Num. 23:19 (Shaqar in 1 Sam. 15:29 instead of kazab in Num. 23:19). Therefore, Rice's contention that the verses actually mean that God does not 'repent' in the sense of saying one thing while fully intending to do another thing is wrong. Anyway, this is indeed a novel (re)definition of the word 'repent', which makes it definitely unlikely that the verses actually mean.

Rice next make a logical fallacy by saying that the sentence that 'God will not repent presupposes the general possibility that God can repent when he chooses' (p. 33). Using basic Aristotelian logic, it can be seen that just because there are elements from a set G (God) having elements outside the set R (those who can repent) does not mean that there are elements from G in the set R [G ⊃ ~R does not imply that G ⊃R].

The final part in this argument (which had been more philosophical than exegetical so far) is with regards to God's actions.Rice correctly stated that in a passage supposed to discuss biblical evidences, this was not the place to develop a philosophy of action (p. 36). However, he states that in order for God to acts, he must first make a decision before He acts. This has no bearing in the discussion, however, as God could be said to make all the decisions before the foundation of the world. Only if you postulate a God who changes His intentions could such a thing be a problem for the traditional position.

The biblical evidence: New Testament

Rice's main evidence for open theism in the New Testament centered on the life, ministry and death of Jesus. From what he has written, it seems that his main thought is that if he establishes the fact that Jesus has emotions and that he changes his emotions while on earth, then Open Theism is established. This can be seen in the statement he made towards the end of this segment where he states that "Identifying God with Jesus leads us ultimately to the conclusion that what Jesus experienced in the depths of his anguish was experienced by God Himself' (p. 46). However, is that a valid argument?

Now, it is irrefutable that Jesus experienced change while he was on earth. That is a given, as well as the fact that Jesus experience a wide range of emotions. However, to say that because Jesus experienced change means that God experience change is questionable. Jesus is indeed God, but God is not Jesus, as Rice insisted (p. 39). God is a Trinity; 3 person in 1 God, and therefore the statement that God is Jesus is erroneous[3]. Furthermore, in historic orthodox Christology, we do know that Jesus 'picked up' a human nature at the Incarnation, thus He who was formerly only God as the Second Person of the Trinity is now 100% God and 100% Man. Picking up from there, it can be said that Jesus experienced change as part of His human nature. If such were the case, which it is, then Rice's entire argument would be rendered invalid.

As a side note, it would ne interesting to note that Rice's beliefs regarding the doctrine of the Atonement seems rather strange. First, he misinterprets Jn. 12:32-33 cf. 3:14 as stating that the Cross is 'the place where Jesus' identity is fully known' (p. 44), which is wrong as a look at the context would show. Jesus is saying that the Cross is where He would draw people to Himself, in other words He would save His people from their sins by dying on the Cross, using an analogy to the status of the serpent which Moses made and raised up during his time. Further down, it could be seen that Rice regarded the Atonement as a place whereby God suffered to provide an offer of salvation to all. Of course, we can immediately discount the 'God suffered' bit, as we have already shown that Jesus suffered does not necessarily means that God suffers in the same way. From the statement, we can also see Rice believes in the theory of Universal Atonement and seems to play down the propitiatory portion of the Atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Problem passages: Interactions

In this section, Rice attempts to interact with the main passages that would pose a problem for the Open view. The first group of Num. 23:19 and 1 Sam. 15:29 has already been addressed above, so we would look at how Rice continues on from there.

Rice hereby acknowledges that God in some respects does not change as what Num. 23:19 and 1 Sam. 15:29 has said and in which he has limited to the expression to. Therefore, he states that 'both change and changelessness [can be attributed] to God if we apply them to different aspects of His being' (p. 48). He then states that aspects of divinity are completely unaffected by anything else whereas God's concrete relation to the world is where God is dynamic with respect to his experience of it (p. 48). This sounds all very nice, until you start questioning who determines which aspect of God get placed into which category. Which aspect of God are aspects of divinity? The list made by Rice seems rather arbitrary. After all, why must God's character be a 'divine attribute' since God would be affected by the things which would happen while on earth? It can be seen therefore that Rice has opened a Pandora's Box which has the potential to lead one back to Process Theology and Liberal Theology.

The next text which Rice interacts with is that in Ex. 3:14a, where God reveals Himself as the great I AM. Rice appeals falsely to authority of 'biblical and systematic theologians today' (p. 49), to say that our traditional interpretation of this text as being a statement revealing the ontological being of God is false, favorably quoting the neo-orthodox theologian Emil Brunner to that effect[4]. However, besides making appeals to authority, Rice has never tell us why the traditional view is wrong, and therefore the traditional view stands.

Rice next take on the topic of prophecy, primarily focusing on the genre of "conditional prophecies", or those whose fulfillment depended on certain human responses coming true. As an example, Jonah and the city of Nineveh was used. However, the fact of the matter is that God did not tell Jonah whether Nineveh was to be destroyed or saved in the end, only to warn and speak against them (Jon. 1:2; 3:2), thus the point is invalid. Rice next focuses on promises of blessings and destructions as stated in Jer. 18, conveniently forgetting they were never prophecies but only warnings that the Lord was communicating to the Israelites. Next, Rice made the astonishing claim that God intended Saul to permanently be the king of Israel (in other words David was an afterthought). This is of course not found in Scripture, unless you claim that when God expressed regret over choosing Saul, God is truly surprised by the events that have unfolded. Of course, since the kings and the ultimate King of Kings were to have come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10) and not Benjamin anyway, it could be seen that God's intentions have always been for David to be the king of Israel. not Saul (Saul was just an object lesson).

Rice's preoccupation with "conditional prophecies", however, blinds him to the more important fact of most prophecies which are not conditional at all, like the prophecies regarding the coming of Christ, or that of the end times, or even something as simple as the destruction of Jerusalem (Mk. 13:1-2). If the open view was truly correct, how could it allow for the possibility of the fulfillment of prophecies, especially those that are next to impossible to fulfil (like those of the life of Christ). Prophecy is thus a very problematic topic for the Open theists, unless they were to embrace at least a form of Molinism at this point.

Foreknowledge and predestination

The last major biblical theme which Rice addresses is that of foreknowledge and predestination. Consistent with his Arminianism, Rice attempts to use the Arminian prooftexts 2 Pet. 3:9 and 1 Tim. 2:4 cf. Tit. 2:11 to say that God desires the salvation of all man, with 'all' here referring to every single person, in order to make the point that not everything that God desires will be accomplished. Putting it broadly, the 'fact that God foreknows or predestines something does not guarantee that it will happen, the fact that God determines part of history does not mean that he determines all of history, ... ' (p. 56). Rice also uses the usual Arminian explanation of predestination in for example Rom. 9 as being a 'corporate call to service' (p. 56). In this area, Rice does not interact with the biblical texts unlike his opponents on this very topic and therefore his 'explanation' seems to be more along the lines of how open theism can fit into the Arminian system rather than engaging the Calvinist position. In fact, Rice calls Arminians to task on their interpretation of 2 Pet. 3:9 and 1 Tim. 2:4 as being inconsistent with the classic Arminian doctrine of foreknowledge and more in line with open theism. I would leave the Arminians to attempt to defend their position from open theists like Rice, while agreeing with Rice that Arminianism is inconsistent at this point. From a biblical Calvinist perspective, we deny the interpretation of the Arminian prooftexts 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:4 etc, and also the Arminian understanding of predestination. A look at Rom. 9 for example in context would demonstrate the error of the Arminian position, as they can for example never account for the analogy of the vessels of mercy and the vessels of wrath which are clearly referring to individuals in Rom. 9: 21-23.


After analyzing the Scriptures, it can be seen that Rice's contention falls short of what he sets out to do. The Scriptures can be seen not to support Open Theism, and in fact actually pose a lot of problems for it, especially on the topics of prophecy and God's foreknowledge and predestination.

[to be continued]


[1] God without Mood Swings ( by Phil R. Johnson

[2] This is the same confusion made by many of the 'common grace'/ 'well-meant offer of the Gospel' crowd. Just because God expresses a preference and even pleads for sinner to repent does not mean that he desire their [actual] repentance.

[3] Oneness Pentecostals are a group which do make that claim, but they are not orthodox in their Christology.

[4] According to Emil Brunner, it is a "disastrous misunderstanding" to treat this expression as an ontological definition of God (Christian Doctrine of God, pp. 120, 128-129). As quoted in Pinnock et. al, The Openness of God, Chapter 1 endnote 71

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