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The Risk Taking God and Missional Theology.

Reflecting upon open theism and its relationship to missional theology is no small task.

In the limited space provided this essay we will explore the definition of open theism as

compared to freewill theism and examine how it leads to the assumption of God taking risks. We

will define how open theism defines risk through the use of certain analogies. Further, we will

examine some positive and negative implications these analogies have on the mission of God. I

will attempt to show God is not frustrated by the actions of humanity because He is constantly

moving toward a predetermined goal and using every means to bring humanity along.

Open theism is, as Sanders (n.d.) states, “an attempt to solve a few perceived difficulties”

with its traditional roots in freewill theism (p. 33). Open theism affirms several of the basic

tenets of freewill theism: a belief that human prayer affects God, conditional election, God does

not predetermine human actions and “that God takes risks because he does not specifically intend

the evil we do” (Sanders, n.d., p. 33). Though there are mutual affirmations between the two

groups there are some differences. Thomas Oord, in response to a question regarding these

differences, explains the variations lie mostly within the concept of God’s exhaustive

foreknowledge (Melton, 2010). Freewill theists affirm God knows exhaustively what will happen

in the future. Open theists acknowledge, “God doesn't foreknow all things that will occur in the

future” (Melton, 2010). The open theist position insists God took a great risk in limiting His

foreknowledge and giving freewill to His creation because things will “turn out differently from

the way God desires” (qtd. in., Talbot, 2003, p. 79). How is the risk God takes defined in open

theism?

In his essay entitled, True Freedom, Mark Talbot (2003) quotes Sanders using various

naturally occurring but devastating events to illustrate how God might takes risks (p. 85).
Employing the illustration of the destructive power of a hurricane formed by otherwise good

elements (i.e. wind and rain), Sanders creates a scenario wherein those affected may choose to

“turn away from his [God] love” [emphasis added]. In similar fashion Alan Rhoda (n.d.) uses the

analogy of a theater director who allows the actors a “significant amount of autonomy” but, has

to face the menacing reality that the actors will not follow his or her directions (p. 8). Thus, the

director cannot predict, with absolute certainty, the outcome of the production because of the

human variables at work. God’s desire; however, would be for people to turn toward him in

times of suffering and to be obedient to His directives. However, in Sanders and Rhoda’s

analogies there appears to be no possibility of a predetermined outcome because human beings

have a freewill; and, because God can only know what is known. Therefore, these two facts will

always produce a situation where the outcome is unable to be discerned until God knows how the

human response. Assuming the risks Sanders and Rhoda present are true we must ask1, “How

does it impact God’s mission to reconcile the world and all things to Himself” (cf. Col. 1:20)?

These illustrations, on the surface, seem to make logical sense. God waits to see how a

person will respond to a given situation and then He responds. This seems to be reasonable and it

also seems to be relational. That is, God appears to be working in a symbiotic relationship with

humanity as opposed to an antagonistic determinism. The previous analogies do have both

positive and negative implications as it pertains to the mission of God.

In some sense; though, these analogies present a never-ending cyclical chain of events

leading to frustration. To draw on a familiar domestic image - a dog chasing its tail. If God only

knows what is known then reacts, logically there must be a second human reaction to God’s

previous response. This second reaction prompts yet another reaction from God that in turn

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An assumption I am not willing to concede but present here merely for the sake of this discussion.
requires another human response and so on. If my assessment were correct, this scenario would

only frustrate and not further the mission of God because it fails to revolve around an

overarching purpose and plan. Instead, it appears to create chaotic environment that would

ultimately lead to disappointment by both God and humanity due to the fluctuating nature of the

mission. The human response cannot lead God to react outside of His nature but it may create a

human distrust because people are not sure how God will react in any given situation.

On the positive side, Sanders (qtd. in., Rhoda) does insist that the “…overarching

purposes for creation cannot be frustrated, his particular desires for individuals and situations can

be frustrated” (pp. 5-6). The implication is that God has a boundary within which He has

committed to work. Therefore, humanity can trust God. His people are aware of how God

intends to act because the overarching plan is being revealed and God is busy, not reacting to the

whims of humans, but using every available means to bring humans into a full understanding of

His plan. Instead of waiting for the human response God is at work moving toward an intended

goal.

Humanity may very well frustrate particular desires but God in His exhaustive

foreknowledge has provided repentance and forgiveness to ensure His people continue in His

plan. In other words, God’s overall plan to reconcile the world and all things cannot be foiled by

teams of sinners or saints. However, for the saint, there can be frustration as he or she moves

toward sanctification and becomes painfully aware of his or her own inadequacies to align their

life with God’s plan. This human frustration; however, does not frustrate God. He has already

orchestrated, according to His comprehensive plan, every event and every means necessary to

keep the human moving in the right direction. Thus, there may be frustration by the human but
because God knows the “end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10) He is proactively moving His

people toward His goal.

In conclusion, the analogies used by open theists can be viewed from both sides if the

reader takes a middle approach. That is, human beings remain free to make choices but God is

still in control of everything. God will use every available tool to orchestrate the redeemed soul

toward making decisions that align with His predetermined goal. Not in the sense that God is

reactionary but that He is fully aware of every contingency. As such, He is preveniently moving

to influence every aspect of life so that we will choose His plan.


References

Melton, B. (2010, November 23). Summary [Online Forum Comment]. Retrieved from

https://online.nnu.edu/section/default.asp?id=GF10_THEO7940_2L

Sanders, J. (n.d.). Divine providence and the openness of god. Unknown: Unknown.

Talbot, M. (2003). True freedom: The liberty that scripture portrays as worth having. In J. Piper,

Taylor, J & Helseth, P (Eds.), Beyond the bounds (pp. 77-110). Wheaton IL: Crossway

Books.