I’m back to discuss the ideas found in Clark Pinnock’s theological system of Open Theism. He has made implicit claims in his book that Classical Arminianism is inconsistent, as can be demonstrated by the following:
“In fact, by doing so [introducing new interpretations into the discussion], we have made Arminian thinking sharper and clearer and the only and obvious alternative to the conventional options. Our Calvinist critics call it ‘consistent’ Arminianism, a judgment I am not inclined to reject” (Clark Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, pages 11-12).
But today, it is Pinnock’s system of Open Theism that will be put in the hot seat, not mine. Many Calvinists and Open Theists themselves consider Openness Theology to be a consistent Arminian system, but today’s post will show one of many problems with the system: how the system itself holds to a God who changes in essence, but remains unchanging in His character.
First, let’s note Pinnock’s words regarding God’s changing essence:
“While the creatures can be relational, God’s essence cannot be involved in real relationships with a changing world, LEST IT CHANGE TOO” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 6).
Yet and still, Pinnock can affirm that God’s character remains unchanging:
“Let us not treat the attributes of God independently of the Bible but view the biblical metaphors as reality-depicting descriptions of the living God, whose very being is self-giving love. When we do so, God’s unity will not be viewed as a mathematical oneness but as A UNITY THAT INCLUDES DIVERSITY; God’s steadfastness will not be seen as A DEADENING IMMUTABILITY BUT CONSTANCY OF CHARACTER THAT INCLUDES CHANGE” (“Most Moved Mover,” page 27).
“Not only are we as persons affected by God, he is affected by us, or to put it another way, GOD IS UNCHANGEABLE WITH RESPECT TO HIS CHARACTER BUT ALWAYS CHANGING IN RELATION TO US” (page 41).
“God’s character is stable but God is not static when it comes to associating with creation” (page 85).
What these examples show us is Pinnock’s desire to maintain that God’s character is unchanging, but that his essence is changing. This, however, poses problems for Open Theism. As Jay Wesley Richards writes:
“While this strategy [to argue constancy only in God’s character] has some appeal, it hardly seems adequate to say that God’s character is merely contingently reliable and steadfast. If God is perfect, then surely God is ESSENTIALLY reliable and steadfast, since it is surely better to be reliable and steadfast in all possible worlds than only in some. So GROUNDING GOD’S RELIABILITY AND UNCHANGEABLENESS IN HIS ESSENCE MAKES SENSE” (Jay Wesley Richards, “The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity, and Immutability.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003, page 198).
If God’s essence is changing, as Pinnock said it has to for the sake of real relations, how then, can God’s character remain the same? If God must have real relations, then must not his relations with humanity change to fit his changing essence? The point here is that one cannot argue God as unchanging in character when His very nature itself is changing. This not only places God’s character above His essence (which is troubling in itself), but also seems to posit contradiction within God. This notion, however, is contradicted by Jesus’ words regarding good and evil trees:
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of his heart” (Luke 6:43-45, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
Every tree is labeled by the fruit that it gives birth to. In addition, “a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit.” The essence of what the tree is will be made known by public fruit. In other words, the actions (character) testifies to the essence of the tree. Jesus then brings it home: a person will be known by the things they do. “A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom...” How then, could God Himself be one whose essence is changing, while still claiming that He is the Lord and He changes not (in other words, that His character does not change)? That’s quite a contradiction to place on God. And it would contradict His words here. How could God tell us to either be one designation or the other, but then turn around and be both (changing and unchanging) within Himself?
To assert Pinnock’s claim of God’s “changing” essence would undermine the nature of God’s existence as a necessary being. Richards writes:
“Furthermore, for the essentialist God’s essence is not only immutable. IMMUTABILITY IS THE VERY QUALITY THAT DISTINGUISHES GOD’S ESSENTIAL PROPERTIES FROM HIS ACCIDENTAL ONES: the essential properties are, by definition, unchanging, since they are the same in every possible world. The essentialist consigns change or the potential for change only to God’s accidental properties” (Jay Wesley Richards, “The Untamed God,” page 199).
Let’s take an attribute of God, such as “omniscience.” If God’s essence is unchanging, then God will be “omniscient” in every possible world He could have made (possible worlds referring to states of affairs). If, however, there is change in God’s essence, then how can we be sure that God would remain omniscient in ANY world that He could have made? If God changes in essence, then He can be omniscient in one world but lack omniscience in another world. After all, Pinnock’s theology does follow the work of Charles Hartshorne, who is a process theologian. Jay Wesley Richards, in his book, provides a very fitting quote regarding Hartshorne’s view of the divine essence:
“In God’s actual concrete state, he is dependent on every other entity, not for his abstract essence or existence, but for the particularity of his actuality. HIS CONTINGENT STATES ‘CONTAIN’ AS IT WERE HIS NECESSARY ASPECT. For this reason, Hartshorne can claim that relativity is itself the basic principle of contrary theological attributions. It is the one ‘absolute.’ SO GOD IN HIS CONCRETE STATES IS ‘FOREVER INCOMPLETE’ BUT ALSO FOREVER INCREASING IN VALUE. HEREIN LIES TRUE DIVINE PERFECTION” (Jay Wesley Richards, “The Untamed God,” page 168).
If God’s “contingent state” contains the idea of His “unchanging” essence, then in one possible world, God could be unchanging in essence...but He could be “changing in essence” in another possible world. God can change in His essence, according to Charles Hartshorne. Secondly, God in this system is “forever incomplete but also forever increasing in value.” God does not have an identity; His identity is changing, “becoming.” And no matter how much God changes in essence, He will be “forever incomplete,” never allowed to become fully God, regardless of the circumstances. In other words, we now have “an imperfect God” who is as imperfect as His humanity!
And the worst part is that Pinnock advocates some of the views of Charles Hartshorne. I have been very careful to use certain quotes regarding Hartshorne that are characteristic of the statements of Pinnock himself. And if Pinnock were still alive, he would advocate the words regarding Hartshorne above. Just look at the statements below:
“The open view shares something with process thought: what we want to overcome is the tilt towards a METAPHYSIC OF BEING and attain a METAPHYSIC OF BECOMING” (Clark H. Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness.” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001, page 142).
Interestingly enough, Pinnock has moments when he asserts that God’s essence is unchanging:
“In God’s case, we might say that who God is does not change byt what God experiences changes. GOD’S NATURE DOES NOT CHANGE but his activities and relationships are dynamic” (Pinnock, “Most Moved Mover,” page 85).
“God’s experiences change, while God’s essential nature remains the same...God is changeless in nature but ever changing in his experience of a changing world” (86).
“God is immutable in his essence but flexible in his dealings” (87).
“Immutability is about God’s unchanging trinitarian nature and relational faithfulness...God is changeless in nature but his nature is that of a creative agent and personal God” (88).
This is in contrast to Pinnock’s words earlier on in his work, which state that God’s essence must change in order for Him to relate to His creation.
But then, Pinnock wavers back and forth between God being immutable and God not being immutable:
“Arius too rejected the incarnation because it posited change and suffering in God. And he was right; if God truly enters this world, HE IS NOT IMMUTABLE” (“Most Moved Mover,” page 91).
But then, Pinnock still attempts to place God above mankind:
“At the same time, we need to distinguish, as in the case of immutability, ways in which God does and does not suffer. SURELY GOD DOES NOT SUFFER IN EVERY WAY THAT WE DO AS MORTAL, SENTIENT CREATURES. Because God is involved in the world, God experiences pathos, but not in exactly the same way that we do” (91).
In the end analysis, God’s essence changes to have real relation. Pinnock then turns around and says that God’s essence is unchanging while His relationships change. Then, he states that God’s essence is not immutable and cites the incarnation as proof of God’s “mutability.” Last but not least, he attempts to place God’s “changeability” on a different plane than that of humanity. It seems to me, then, that Pinnock clearly struggles with the essence of God. At times, one gets the idea that Pinnock tries all too hard to turn away from the beliefs he formerly held to. And this is supposedly “consistent” Arminianism???