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UNIVERSITY OF WALES

CONTINENTAL THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF THE RELIGIOUS ADEQUACY

OF OPEN THEISM: TOWARD AN OPEN THEISTIC THEOLOGY OF

PETITIONARY PRAYER

A THESIS SUBMITTED TO

DR. JOSEPH DIMITROV

IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR

THE MASTER OF THEOLOGY

ADVISOR, DR. GREGORY A. BOYD

BY

THOMAS G. BELT

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA

JANUARY 2007
SUMMARY OF THESIS

TITLE: A Critical Evaluation of the Religious Adequacy of Open Theism: Toward


an Open Theistic Theology of Petitionary Prayer.

NAME: Thomas G. Belt

INSTITUTION: Continental Theological Seminary, Brussels, Belgium & The University of


Wales.

DEGREE: MTh

SUMMARY

Open theists have claimed that their views of the God-world relationship provide a
religiously adequate basis upon which to live life. It is specifically claimed that the open view
makes best sense of petitionary prayer as an act by which believers freely participate in fulfilling
God’s purposes through shaping themselves and the world. How ought the unique beliefs of open
theism to affect our understanding of petitionary prayer? In this thesis I examine the implications
which open theism has for our understanding of prayer as a means by which God accomplishes
his purposes in the world and ask whether or not this understanding of prayer is religiously
adequate. In focusing on the implications which open theism has for our understanding of
prayer, I hope to bring belief to bear upon one of the most practical every-day concerns of
religious persons and thus have an opportunity to judge the existential case for open theism.

This thesis examines the nature and difficulties of adequacy claims, summarizes the
defining claim and essential convictions of open theism, reviews the contributions to an
understanding of petitionary prayer made by open theists, evaluates objections that ground the
existential case for the religious inadequacy of open theism, and offers several guiding theses
towards an open theist theology of prayer. It concludes that open theists may enjoy at least as
vibrant and adequate a prayer life as other Christian believers.
CONTENTS

1. INTRODUCTION
1.1 The arrival of open theism
1.2 The popularity of open theism
1.3 The challenge of open theism
1.4 Proposed thesis
2. METHODOLOGY AND ASSUMPTIONS
2.1 The limits of this study
2.2 The difficulty with adequacy claims
2.3 The relationship between ‘doctrine’ and ‘praxis’
2.4 Assumptions regarding the usefulness of existential arguments
3. ESSENTIAL CLAIMS OF OPEN THEISM
3.1 The defining claim: divine epistemic openness regarding the future
3.2 Supporting convictions of open theism
3.2.1 Love: the divine purpose for creation
3.2.2 Freedom: the necessary context
3.2.3 Risk: the implication of freedom for the God-world relation
3.3 Various relevant diversities within open theism
4. PROPOSED PROVIDENTIAL CONTOURS OF OPEN THEISM
4.1 Reality of spiritual warfare
4.2 Acceptable risk
4.3 Rules of engagement
4.4 Infinite intelligence and God’s governance of the world
4.5 Consequent ambiguity
4.6 Consequent assurance
5. CONTRIBUTIONS OF OPEN THEISTS
5.1 Open theists on prayer
5.2 Summary of contributions
6. THE EXISTENTIAL CASE AGAINST RELIGIOUS ADEQUACY
6.1 General objections
6.2 Bruce Ware: Their God is Too Small
6.3 Stephen Roy: How Much Does God Foreknow?
6.4 David Ciocchi: “The Religious Adequacy of Free-will Theism”
7. RESPONSES TO EXISTENTIAL OBJECTIONS
7.1 Response to Bruce Ware
7.2 Response to Stephen Roy
7.3 Response to David Ciocchi
8. TOWARD AN OPEN THEISTIC THEOLOGY OF PRAYER
8.1 Eight guiding theses
8.2 Trusting God in a risky and ambiguous creation
9. CONCLUSION
A CRITICAL EVALUATION OF THE RELIGIOUS ADEQUACY OF OPEN THEISM:
TOWARD AN OPEN THEISTIC THEOLOGY OF PETITIONARY PRAYER*
PRAYER *

§1 INTRODUCTION

§1.1 The arrival of open theism


With the publication in 1994 of The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the
Traditional Understanding of God1, Evangelicals in America began discussing God with increased
interest. In it authors Pinnock, Rice, Sanders, Hasker, and Basinger proposed a re-examination of
how God and humans relate and in so doing ignited a debate which continues unabated today.
The questions addressed by the authors are hardly new. Christians have long been debating God’s
nature and attributes. One specific question raised by these issues is evident in the attempt to
affirm both exhaustively definite foreknowledge and the efficacy of petitionary prayer. It was a
popular issue of debate in Origen’s day and has been addressed by Boethius, Augustine, Aquinas,
Calvin, and others down to the present. The Openness of God reinvigorated this conversation and
cast academic questions in a new and common light.2
Open theism attempts to articulate an understanding of God’s relationship to creation
that is biblically sound, philosophically convincing, and existentially fulfilling. In the simplest
terms, the open view claims that the future is partly settled and partly open and that God, being
omniscient, knows it as such.3 As we shall see, what the future is and how and what God knows
about it, ostensibly ‘open view’ issues, have turned out to be in effect only the specific field of
battle on which competing views of divine providence face off.

§1.2 The popularity of open theism


After the release of The Openness of God, theologians, educational institutions, and whole
denominations became engrossed in the debate over what has come to be known as “open

*Formating and minor changes (typographical and grammatical corrections) to the text of the original thesis
have been made by the author resulting in pagination different than the original.
1
Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, The Openness of God: A
Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994).
2
For select bibliographies see Justin Taylor in John Piper, ed., Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the
Undermining of Biblical Christianity (Chicago: Crossway, 2003), 385-400; Dennis Swanson, “Bibliography of Works
on Open Theism,” Master’s Seminary Journal 12:2 (Fall 2001): 223-229; and John Sanders “Bibliography on Open
Theism,” available from http://www.opentheism.info/pdf/sanders/bibliography_otism.pdf; Internet; accessed 26
November 2006.
3
“Partly open” and “partly closed” were introduced by Gregory Boyd, God of the Possible: A Biblical Introduction
to the Open View of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000), and have become an established part of open
view language. Exactly what is “open” and what is “closed” will be discussed.
theism.”4 The importance of the view, arguably, was evident in the effect the debate had on a
general lack of interest in doctrinal questions among average believers. People inevitably want to
know what relevance a belief has for their day to day concerns. What difference does it make? is
ultimately the question believers put to theological issues. And where believers fail to see the
practical relevance such questions have for life’s relationships, decisions, and vocations, they fail
to engage those issues for any length of time.
With the publication of The Openness of God, the practical implications of one’s beliefs
about God and the world were being discussed passionately even by those outside the academy.
Where people were reluctant to engage theological questions about God’s nature and attributes
because the language in which the conversation was conducted made the conversation
inaccessible to them, The Openness of God and other early publications related theological
questions to these everyday concerns in terms people could grasp, successfully fusing academic
questions to the everyday issues of Christian believers—prayer, guidance, and suffering. In light
of the increasing popularity of the open view and the intensity of the opposition it faces, I hope to
clarify relevant issues and encourage further discussion and research on the relationship between
‘faith’ and ‘praxis’ in general and the practical implications of open theism in particular.

§1.3 The challenge of open theism


The debate over open theism can be described as carried out in terms of Wesley’s
quadrilateral—the rational/philosophical, the biblical/theological, the traditional, and the
existential/pragmatic, the latter of which shall be the concern of this thesis. It is an approach to life
that open theists argue for. As Paul Sponheim says:

…we have spoken of ‘making a difference’…We have argued that vital lessons for living
follow from Christian faith in God. We have claimed that if what Christians say in
speaking of the presence, power, and action of God is true, life will be seen differently. It
comes down to that: life…to that ‘bottom line’ matter of living…The faith we express in
our God-talk makes a difference in how we see life. The question is: does it make a
difference in how we live?5

Opponents of open theism have claimed that the effects of the open view are ruinous and
will inevitably shipwreck faith in God for those who embrace it. Open theists have argued that
their views make better sense of our existential intuitions, provide a better existential fit, and that

4
The view is variously referred to as “the openness of God,” “open theism,” and “the open view.”
5
Paul Sponheim, Speaking of God: Relational Theology (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006), 81.

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of all the available views of providence on the market, that espoused by open theists is already
assumed in practice by the manner in which Christian believers actually live their lives.6

§1.4 Proposed thesis


How ought open theism to affect one’s understanding of prayer? In response to this and
related questions, I propose (a) to examine the implications which open theism has for one’s
understanding of petitionary prayer as a means by which God accomplishes his purposes in the world
and then (b) to ask whether or not this understanding of prayer is religiously adequate. In focusing
on the implications which a belief has for our understanding of prayer, we bring belief to bear
upon one of the most practical every-day concerns of religious persons and thus have an
opportunity to judge the existential argument for open theism.7
The underlying question regards the relationship between ‘faith’ and ‘praxis’, i.e., how we
relate what we believe about God and the God-world relationship to the practical concerns of
daily life. Theology matters, so all theists seem to agree, and open theists have confidently made
‘adequacy claims’ about the practical advantages of their beliefs. At the same time, opponents
equally object to the open view on existential grounds, insisting that the view undermines one’s
confidence and trust in God, God’s word, and God’s ability to achieve his purposes.
The existential matrix (the inter-relating intuitions, a priori beliefs about the world,
experiences, decision-making processes, etc.) by which we evaluate the truth of a claim is a
complex and fallible guide. I hope to explore this matrix, examine the validity of pragmatic,
outcome-based arguments, and make some suggestions regarding how existential concerns and
assumptions might determine the religious adequacy of open theism’s approach to petitionary
prayer. I shall argue that prayer is the primary existential stage upon which any theology may be
examined and judged. Given the open theist’s core claims, how are we to understand the purposes
and place of petitionary prayer? If one cannot divorce the question of what God is like from the
question of how we pray, then open theism’s proffered revision of the traditional view of God is
most relevant and deserves continued and rigorous consideration.

6
David Basinger presents the existential case in The Openness of God with his chapter “Practical Implications.”
We shall consider his and other open theist arguments in due course.
7
In the words of Pope Clement I (5th century), lex orandi est lex crendendi or “the rule of prayer is the rule of
belief.” This is essentially an existential argument and represents precisely the order for which I shall argue.

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§2 METHODOLOGY AND ASSUMPTIONS

§2.1 The nature of adequacy claims


Let us first clarify what sort of question we are dealing with. When one argues that a belief
is best believed to be true (or not) because of the practical effects of believing it, a particular sort of
claim is being made, one that is notoriously difficult to evaluate. Professor of religion
Christopher Heard has attempted to assess the evidentiary status of the effects that follow from
believing or disbelieving in open theism, a form of argumentation he calls an appeal to outcomes
or argument from affect.8 After reviewing the debate, Heard concludes that God’s defining
attributes are independent of human desires and opinions. Simply put, “God is what God is,
whether humans like it or not.”9 Heard argues that outcome oriented arguments reduce to
arguing one’s “personal preference” and thus are ultimately useless in determining truth. He
writes:

This points to one of the weaknesses of outcomes-oriented argumentation: the


larger debate lacks an objective, consensual framework within which individual outcomes
can be assessed as relatively worse or better than other possible outcomes. Because
outcome-oriented arguments are inextricably linked to human preferences, and because
human preferences differ, outcome-oriented arguments will typically succeed only with
those who already agree with the arguer’s implicit value system which allows the arguer to
categorize certain outcomes as good or bad, beneficial or harmful, and so on.
Even if such an objective, consensual framework were available, however,
outcome-oriented arguments would still suffer from a fatal flaw, in that human preferences
do not determine the divine reality.10

Even if it is true that God is responsive in the sense of adapting to us, Heard says, it would
still not be the case that “we can reshape the reality of God simply by proclaiming one theological
alternative ‘better’ than another and assuming that God conforms to what (some!) humans
consider to be ‘better’.”11 Agreement or disagreement on which divine attributes are “better” than
others, Heard argues:

…would not prove that those attributes actually characterize God. If God’s
foreknowledge is in fact exhaustive, then it is exhaustive, whether or not we judge that
state of affairs to be better, more comforting, more helpful, or more exciting than some
other possible state of affairs; and if God’s foreknowledge is in fact limited or

8
R. Christopher Heard, “‘I AM WHAT I AM’: Inputs, Outcomes, and the Open Theism Debate,” Christian
Scholars Conference, Malibu, California, presented July 22, 2005.
9
Heard, “I AM,” 10.
10
Ibid.
11
Ibid., 11.

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probabilistic, then it is so, whether or not we judge that state of affairs to better, more
comforting, more helpful, or more exciting than some other possible state of affairs. God
is who God is, and human beings do not enjoy the privilege of defining what God ‘must’
be and assuming that God lives up to that definition.12

Heard suggests that the principle “God is what God is, regardless of human value
judgments about the quality of the divine nature” undermines the evidentiary force of existential
arguments proposed in the debate over open theism. At best, such arguments can show what
practical implications a particular theological approach on this question may have.

§2.2 The difficulty with adequacy claims


Three observations in response to Heard seem appropriate. First, neither side in the
debate suggests that our views of God actually “shape the divine reality” as Heard argues. Open
theists agree that God’s self-determining existence and nature are logically prior to and
independent of all non-God actualities. Undermining belief in God’s aseity is not what existential
arguments for (or against) open theism are about. What such arguments are believed to do is
offer a kind of argument from design. That is, assuming God has purposed and designed us for
truth, it is at least safe to reason abductively13 from our experience of ourselves and the world to
the plausible truth or falsity of those beliefs responsible for life’s functioning as it does. So
although outcome oriented arguments involve a subjective element that makes them difficult to
assess, they simply cannot be dismissed given our assumptions regarding the unity of truth and
its role in our properly relating to God and the world.
Second, if the best outcome based arguments can legitimately do is establish what the
practical implications of a view are, and if these practical implications have no part in
determining the truth of the view in question, as Heard appears to claim, then one wonders
whether or how the implications matter at all. Surely what is ‘legitimate’ about the implications
of a belief is their contributing something to the determining of the truth of the claim. Heard,
however, appears to affirm the importance of a belief’s implications while denying that the
implications impinge on the truth-value of the belief in question.
Lastly, with Heard we can agree that it is a weak argument which claims simplistically that
since believing some claim seems at the moment to meet a perceived need, the claim is therefore

12
Ibid.
13
Abductive reasoning is the process of reasoning to the best explanation. Adbuction was first introduced into logic
by Charles Pierce, see his Harvard “Lectures on Pragmatism” (1903) and “Deduction, Induction, and Hypothesis,”
Popular Science Monthly, 13 (1878): 470–482, both reprinted in Charles Hartshorne, Paul Weiss, and Arthur Burks,
eds., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, 8 vols., (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931-1958).

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true. On the other hand, Christian believers will hardly want to deny the intuition that what is
true about God and the God-world relationship will best explain our experience and best enable
our existing in the world with and for God. Truth is, on a Christian account of things, intended to
enable, enrich, and verify our living for God. This conviction grounds the usefulness of outcome
based arguments or adequacy claims. Doctrine must prove itself by demonstrating its power to
transform life. It is a kind of living that God is after. So the truth about God and the world, I shall
assume, ought to secure belief states that enable our living our lives in the honor and enjoyment
of God.

§2.3 The relationship between ‘faith’ and ‘praxis’


Our understanding of the relationship between ‘faith’ and ‘praxis’ is expressed well by
Bruce Epperly:

I believe that good theology integrates: 1) an affirmative, hopeful, and convincing vision
of God and the world; 2) a promise that our deepest beliefs can be experienced as we grow
spiritually and ethically; and 3) practices that enable us to experience the theological
vision that we affirm. The faith we affirm is profoundly concrete and can be a matter of life
and death for persons and the planet. Accordingly, our theological visions must always be
tested in relationship to the concrete practices and experiences of faithful persons as well as
seekers. They must be tested in terms of whether they inspire reverence, gratitude, and a
heart-felt ‘yes’ as we contemplate the universe and our role as companions in God’s holy
adventure. [italics mine]14

We can agree with Heard, then, that existential arguments are difficult to evaluate. But we
disagree that the lines of influence travel in only one direction—from doctrine to how we live.
Theological truth cannot be determined independently of pragmatic concerns. We simply do not
function this way. The lines of influence move in both directions—from doctrine to how we live
as well as from how we live to verifying what is true.
Heard argues that both sides in the open theism debate should spend less time on
existential arguments and return to the role of Scripture in revealing truths about God. To learn
what God is like, Heard suggests that we “move from biblical statements about God to
theological statements about God” and then undertake the “careful exegetical and theological
studies necessary to elucidate God’s character as revealed in the Bible.”15 In response, I submit
that while Scripture is of primary importance, it is at the same time the case that Scripture’s truth

14
Bruce Epperly, “Surprising God: Prayer, Partnership, and the Divine Adventure,” American Academy of
Religion, Washington D.C., presented 18 November, 2006 and available online at
http://www.ctr4process.org/events/ort/06%20ORT%20Epperly.pdf; Internet; accessed December 23, 2006.
15
Heard, “I AM,” 12.

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is a truth designed for our living and to which our living best conforms. Thus the practical/existential
dimension informs our interpreting and theological systematizing by limiting the set of possible
interpretations or claims to existentially meaningful ones.
Finally, while outcome based arguments are somewhat subjective, they can be more than
mere arguments from “personal preference.” The ‘praxis’ for and from which open theists argue
is that of shared experience. An individual experience that remains the experience of a single
person can hardly be the grounds upon which a community understands and expresses itself. But
shared human experience cannot but be the basis upon which a community understands and
expresses itself. And it is a shared human experience that open theists offer as the basis of the
existential fit of their views.

§2.4 Assumptions regarding the usefulness of existential arguments


We have good reasons, then, to conclude that outcome based, or existential, arguments,
while limited and fallible by virtue of their individual subjectivity, can be useful in determining
truth by grounding meaningfulness in the shared experience of a community. This is a
fundamental pragmatic insight.16 The point of existential arguments is not to say that whatever I
find ‘convenient’ is therefore ‘true’, but rather to say that (a) whatever are the natural
consequences of a belief, those consequences are that belief’s meaning for us, and that (b)
whatever beliefs are true (theologically in our case), they will make possible a truly livable
existence on the assumption that God has designed us to function best in truth. In the end, all of
us conclude the truth or falsity of claims based on the difference that believing or not believing
makes.
Granted, we are finite and fallible. With Heard we can agree that our experience itself can
neither determine the divine reality (aseity) nor alone establish truth for a community. But these
are not necessary to existential arguments per se. The usefulness of such arguments does not
require an infallible individual subjectivity that makes individual experience an absolute judge of
truth. Rather, as suggested here, we best look to the shared experience of a community to tell us
what a belief ‘means’ and then admit this into whatever other arguments (exegetical,
biblical/theological, traditional) are at play in order to determine theological truth-value.17 We do

16
Charles Pierce is responsible for the pragmatic maxim, which simply states that we are to consider whatever
practical effects a particular conception might have to be the whole of our conception of the object in question; see
Peirce’s “The Fixation of Belief,” Popular Science Monthly 12 (1877): 1-15 and “How to Make Our Ideas Clear”
Popular Science Monthly 12 (1878): 286-302, both reprinted in Hartshorne, et. al., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders
Peirce.
17
See Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophical Method (LaSalle: Open Court, 1970), 81, and
Gregory Boyd, Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne’s Di-Polar Theism Towards

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not, with Heard, first establish truth on grounds that admit no influence from shared experience and
then seek to accommodate ourselves to it.18
To conclude our survey of issues related to the nature of adequacy claims, I offer the
following four guidelines for evaluating such claims. First, the pragmatic maxim grounds the
meaning of a belief in the practical effects that belief has and so makes it impossible to determine
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the truth-value of claims apart from their practical effects. Second, the practical effects must
constitute the shared experience of a community before they can be admitted into the
hermeneutical process by which that community understands and expresses its identity and
mission. No one individual’s experience should be elevated to the status of being the measure by
which the community is defined.20 Third, Scripture possesses a God-given authority that makes it
an ultimate judge of human beliefs and experience, not visa versa, and this conviction must guide
our reading of experience. This is easier said than done, however, for by our first guideline above,
the practical effects a belief has in our life are what that belief can be said to ‘mean’. We are
bound to live in the tension of this dialectic. Lastly, adequacy claims are still subject to the rules
of logic and meaningful argumentation. No ‘experience’ in itself constitutes an ‘argument’. It
remains for us to argue the place that some shared experience has in our larger theological
framework in a logical and coherent manner.

§3 ESSENTIAL CLAIMS OF OPEN THEISM

§3.1 The defining claim: divine epistemic openness regarding future contingents21
Having defined the sort of question we face and briefly outlined four provisional
guidelines for establishing religious adequacy, let us clarify open theism’s defining claims. There
is significant diversity among open theists, something that is often overlooked by opponents. I

a Trinitarian Metaphysics (New York: Peter Lang, 1992), 65-66, for arguments against determinism based on the
pragmatic criterion of meaning.
18
William Alston argues for the evidentiary value of experience in religious claims in “Divine-human dialogue
and the nature of God” Faith and Philosophy 2 (1985): 5-20.
19
David Ray Griffin, “Process Theology and the Christian Good News,” in John B. Cobb, Jr. and Clark Pinnock,
Searching for an Adequate God: A Dialogue Between Process and Free Will Theists (Grand Rapids: Eerdmands
Publishing, 2000), 3, argues for the “acceptance of the inevitable presuppositions of practice…as the primary test of
adequacy for any philosophical or theological position.” [italics mine] Griffin calls these “hard core commonsense
notions.” But what counts as adequate is a matter of disagreement even among those who agree there ought to be an
agreement between faith and practice. In spite of this, not pursuing such existential, commonsense tests seems more
problematic.
20
Individual experience, yes, but an individual experience shared by a community as opposed to an individual’s
unique experience.
21
The phrase “epistemic openness” comes from Alan R. Rhoda, Gregory A. Boyd, Thomas G. Belt, “Open
Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future,” Faith and Philosophy 23:4 (October 2006): 432-459.

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shall summarize this diversity in due time, but let us first state what core values and
commitments appear to be common to all open theists.
The defining claim of the open view states that the future is epistemically open for God so
far as it is in fact causally open and epistemically closed for God so far as it is in fact causally closed, a
22
conviction open theist philosopher Alan Rhoda calls the epistemic thesis (ET). To say the future
is causally closed in some respect is to say that what occurs is causally entailed by antecedent states
of affairs. To say the future is causally open in some respect is to say instead that what occurs
obtains indeterministically; that is, it is to deny that what occurs is causally entailed by preceding
states. In either case, God’s knowledge of the future follows accordingly, so that to say the future
is epistemically closed for God in some respect is to say God knows that some event ‘will’ or ‘will
not’ occur, that is, God knows the future as “certainly this will occur” or “certainly that will
occur.”23 Theological determinists maintain that the future is both exhaustively causally closed
(because God determines all things) and correspondingly exhaustively epistemically closed for God
(because God knows his own determining will).
On the other hand, indeterminists argue the future is causally open in some respects.
There is genuine indeterminacy in creation. Indeterminists disagree, however, over what follows
from this for God’s knowledge of future contingents. Traditional Arminians and Molinists agree
that though the future is causally open in some respects, it is nevertheless exhaustively
epistemically closed for God. God eternally knows all that shall ‘freely’ occur in the world. God’s
foreknowledge is, thus, ‘exhaustively definite’.24 Open theists disagree with their fellow
indeterminists and argue with determinists that definite foreknowledge is incompatible with
causal indeterminacy, affirming Rhoda’s epistemic thesis (ET), viz., that the divine mind is
epistemically open with regard to future contingents. In this case God does not know how future
contingencies will turn out, though he does know how they might and might not turn out.25

22
Alan Rhoda, “Four Versions of Open Theism,” available from
http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2006/02/four_versions_o.html; Internet; accessed November 26, 2006,
writes: “The core thesis of open theism is that the future is now, in some respects, epistemically open for God. Let’s
call this the epistemic thesis (ET). In general, a proposition P is ‘epistemically open’ for subject S at time T iff nothing
that S knows at T suffices to guarantee either that P or that not-P. Thus, the future is epistemically open for God at T
with respect to possible future state of affairs X iff for some future time T* neither ‘X will obtain at T*’ nor ‘X will
not obtain at T*’ is known by God at T. Whatever is not epistemically open for God is epistemically settled.” The
“openness” in question, I should note, is a feature of the future and not God’s knowledge. It is the ‘future’ that is
open.
23
Again, terms introduced by Boyd, God of the Possible.
24
Ibid., 23f and Trinity and Process, 66, n. 46. Boyd was the first to emphasize the distinction between
‘exhaustively definite foreknowledge’ or EDF (the view that God’s foreknowledge of all that occurs is eternally
‘definite’ or ‘settled’) and ‘exhaustive foreknowledge’ (the view that God’s foreknowledge of the future is exhaustive
but not exhaustively definite). Open theists affirm the latter but deny EDF.
25
See Rhoda, Boyd, and Belt, “Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future” for specific semantic
arguments.

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Open theism is thus essentially the conjoining of (i) Christian theism (i.e., Trinitarianism
and creatio ex nihilo, to distinguish it from process theism), (ii) causal indeterminism, and (iii)
divine epistemic openness regarding future contingents. To affirm these three would, so far as I
have been able to research the question, make a person an ‘open theist’.

§3.2 Supporting convictions of open theism


Apart from asserting divine epistemic openness with respect to future contingents, open
theists typically share a number of other supporting convictions which account for the truth of
this central claim. These supporting claims are ‘love with respect to divine purpose’, ‘freedom
with respect to creation’, and ‘risk with respect to providence’. While the defining claim of divine
epistemic openness essentially defines open theism, these three convictions play a crucial role in
shaping how open theists view providence and prayer, in what sense they trust God to engage the
world in response to their prayers, and how they understand what they may and may not
legitimately expect in a fallen and conflicted world.

§3.2.1 Love: the divine purpose for creation


The primary model that maps open theists’ understanding of God and the God-world
relation is ‘love’.26 God is love and freely creates out of the overflow of God’s own loving,
personal, trinitarian self-related actuality. In the words of Jüngel:

To think [of] God as love is the task of theology. And in so doing it must
accomplish two things. It must, on the one hand, do justice to the essence of love, which
as a predicate of God may not contradict what people experience as love. And on the
other hand, it must do justice to the being of God which remains so distinctive from the
event of human love that ‘God’ does not become a superfluous word.27

God has purposed creation for loving, personal, sociality. God loves creation and the
human beings that populate it. John Sanders expresses this core conviction as well:

26
Vincent Brummer explores love as the defining model for understanding God in The Model of Love: A Study in
Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) and to a lesser extent in Speaking of a Personal
God: Essays in Philosophical Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). All open theists make divine
love the fundamental starting point, see Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids:
Baker Academic, 2001), 126-127; Pinnock, et al., The Openness of God, chs. 1 and 3; Pinnock and Robert Brow,
Unbounded Love (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994); John Polkinghorne and Michael Welker, The Work of
Love: Creation as Kenosis (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001); Barry L. Callen, God as Loving Grace: The Biblically
Revealed Nature and Work of God (Nappanee, IN: Evangel Publishing House, 1997); and Sanders, God Who Risks: A
Theology of Providence (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998).
27
Ebehard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World, trans. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 314,
quoted in Paul Sponheim, “‘The art of power lies precisely in making another free’: God’s Suffering-Action in
Relational Transcendence,” in “And God Saw That It Was Good” Essays on Creation and God in Honor of Terence E.
Fretheim, eds. Frederick Gaiser and Mark Throntveit, (St. Paul: Word and World, 2006), 171, n. 8.

10
According to openness theology, the triune God of love has, in almighty power,
created all that is and is sovereign over all. God has freely decided to create beings capable
of experiencing his love. In creating us, the divine intention was that we would come to
experience the triune God’s love and respond to it with love of our own, freely coming to
collaborate with God toward the achievement of his goals.28

All open theists share the conviction that “God is love” constrains both our
understanding of God’s own nature and self-relatedness on the one hand and our understanding
29
of the nature of creation and God’s purposes for us on the other. Whatever else open theists
might go on to conclude about the God-world relationship, it all proceeds from the fundamental
conviction that God is love and that God’s relationship to creation is defined, motivated, and
directed by divine love, which open theists view as constitutive of the divine essence or nature
itself.30 In the words of Boyd:

Throughout its narrative the Bible shows us that God created the world out of his triune
love with the goal of acquiring for himself a people who would participate in and reflect
the splendor of his triune love. More specifically, God’s goal from the dawn of history has
been to have a church, a bride, who would say yes to his love, who would fully receive this
love, embody this love, and beautifully reflect this triune love back to himself.31

Thus we are created to experience, enjoy, and reflect (or replicate) the love of the
trinity—in relating to God, to others, and to the created order. Once again, Boyd explains, “The
goal…is for the perfect triune love of God to be manifested to people, replicated in people, and
reflected back from people…The whole creation is meant to express and embody the eternal
triune love that God is. It exists to glorify God.”32

§3.2.2 Freedom: the necessary context for contingent love


The next two central convictions shaping the open theist’s worldview follow necessarily
from the primacy of love. Boyd asks:

28
Sanders, “How Do We Decide What God Is Like?” in Gaiser and Throntveit, Essays, 155.
29
For treatments of God’s love from decidedly non-openness points of view, see D. A. Carson, The Difficult
Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999) and Kevin Vanhoozer, ed., Nothing Greater,
Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
30
For a philosophical articulation of the primacy of love as definitive of the divine reality and purpose for
creation, see Boyd, Trinity and Process.
31
Boyd, Satan and the Problem of Evil (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 51.
32
Boyd, Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Evil (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,
2003), 63.

11
If love is the goal, what are its conditions? What must creatures be like if they are to be
capable of participating in the love of the Trinity?...Agents must possess the capacity and
opportunity to reject love if they are to possess the genuine capacity and opportunity to
engage in love.33

It is the metaphysics of creaturely love and moral responsibility which necessitate


libertarian freedom as the context for loving creaturely personhood. Once God determines to
purpose us for loving relations with God and others, endowing us with an appropriate capacity to
determine ourselves is the metaphysical price-tag. God cannot reach his goals apart from such
risk-taking. Creation, Boyd argues, must possess a certain “order” to be a “stable medium” in
which humans can grow responsibly into relationship with others and God.34
We must say something here about the open theist’s view of God’s relationship to time. It
is a complex question but central to the open theist’s view of creation as an appropriately free
context for human choice and true becoming and God’s real relatedness to it. Open theists agree in
three important respects regarding the question of time. First, time and temporal becoming are
genuine and objective features of creation. Thus, open theists are A-theorists with respect to time.
Second, God is viewed as temporally eternal and not as absolutely timeless. Here one must
exercise some caution to distinguish between God’s relationship to time sans creation and God’s
relationship to time since creating, for the question of God’s relationship to time sans creation
remains a matter of debate among open theists. However, because creation is believed to be
(temporally) dynamic and not static, God is seen as temporally related to creation and thus as
dynamically omniscient. His knowledge of the universe changes as the universe changes.35 Lastly,
open theists agree that what is at stake in the debate over God’s relationship to time is the
integrity of divine-human relations and God’s knowledge of tensed facts. These require, in the view
of open theists, the abandonment of the timeless view of God in favor of temporal eternity.36

33
Boyd, Satan, 52. See also Boyd, Is God to Blame?, ch. 5, for more on why these creational constraints of
freedom and risk are metaphysical and not merely incidental.
34
Boyd, Is God to Blame?, 113-114.
35
Does the belief that God’s knowledge changes with a changing universe entail that God “discovers” or
“learns”? Open theists answer this differently. All agree that God cannot “learn” in the sense of moving from a state
of ignorance to a state of knowledge. Applied to God, this would amount to a denial that his knowledge is co-
terminus with reality. Hence, open theism does not require the belief that God either ‘discovers’ or ‘learns’, although
it does affirm that God’s knowledge changes with a changing universe. Being perfectly omniscient, God knows
possibilities for what they are. As these possibilities are resolved into actualities in the course of time, God keeps
infallible, unmediated, and co-terminus account of the state of reality.
36
For a philosophical treatment of the questions, see Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge. Cornell Studies in the
Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989).

12
§3.2.3 Risk: the implications of freedom for the God-world relation
The existence of creaturely freedom has important consequences for the God-world
relation—for the world because freedom constitutes the indeterminacy which open theists argue
is incompatible with exhaustively definite foreknowledge, and for God because such freedom is
also incompatible with it being the case that God can always guarantee that his will is fulfilled.
God, open theists believe, respects our freedom in those situations where our acting freely
constitutes the necessary conditions for our achieving the purposes for which God created us. But
if love requires freedom, what does freedom entail? It entails ‘risk’. And so the reality of ‘risk’
becomes the third in a trinity of convictions that support open theism’s defining claim of divine
epistemic openness regarding future contingents.
Several open theist authors address the question of divine risk-taking and its implications
for our understanding of divine providence and in turn the implications that form the object of
this thesis—the practical effect which such beliefs have upon believers, specifically our
understanding of petitionary prayer.
One open theist who has addressed the question of divine risk from a biblical/theological
point of view is John Sanders, whose chief contribution to this debate is aptly titled The God Who
Risks: A Theology of Providence. Sanders categorizes all views of divine providence under two
models, the “no-risk” view and the “risk” view. Meticulous, or specific, providence, that manner
of relating to the world in exclusively deterministic ways, takes no risks. Sanders responds:

…if God is in some respects conditioned by his creatures, then God takes risks in
bringing about this particular type of world. According to the risk model of providence,
God has established certain boundaries within which creatures operate. But God
sovereignly decides not to control each and every event, and some things go contrary to
what God intends and may not turn out completely as God desires. Hence God takes risks
in creating this sort of world.37

Divine conditionality, Sanders argues, is the watershed issue dividing “risk” and “no-risk”
views of divine providence. If God engages in “dynamic given-and-take relationships with us,
God is conditioned by our freedom in some ways, and this implies that he runs the risk that his
intentions are not always fulfilled.”38
Another key contributor to the defense and development of a theology of divine risk-
taking is Gregory Boyd. Boyd figures risk into a biblical worldview, what he calls the trinitarian
warfare theodicy (TWT). It rests upon six theses that form the core of his theodicy. The second of

37
Sanders, God Who Risks, 10f.
38
Ibid., 280.

13
these theses (TWT2) states that ‘freedom implies risk’. Risk is just the metaphysical price-tag God
must pay to get the sort of loving creation he desires.39 As Boyd states, “God could not have
created a world in which creatures possess a measure of self-determining freedom without risking
some loss. His free creatures might not choose as he wants them to choose.”40 Boyd summarizes:

If the case…for a partially open future is accepted, it is possible to ascribe risk to God for
the sake of love without concluding that God is not in control of the world. While
Scripture assures us that the overall objectives of history are secure…it also teaches us that
the fate of any one of his free creatures is unsettled until they themselves choose to enter
into the saving covenant with him. This is the ultimate risk the Lord takes in creating a
41
world with the purpose of sharing his triune self with others.

Another open theist who discusses the meaning and implications of divine risk-taking is
William Hasker.42 Hasker defines divine risk-taking as follows: “God takes risks if he makes
decisions that depend for their outcomes on the responses of free creatures in which the decisions
themselves are not informed by knowledge of the outcomes.”43 What determines whether God’s
actions are risky or risk-free? Hasker answers, “God is a risk-taker if he endows his creatures with
libertarian freedom; otherwise not.”44 Open theists would agree that what creates risk in the world
is the existence of libertarian freedom. However, an open theist could argue that Hasker has not
captured what is at the heart of risk-taking, the notion of purpose. It is conceivable at least that I
make a decision which depends for its outcome on responses of free creatures but where none of
the possible outcomes constitutes a risk of loss. The point is that loss can only be defined in terms
of purpose. And while every choice is made for a purpose, not all choices that depend for their
outcome upon responses outside my control necessarily entail risk. It might be that none of the
possible responses that lie outside my control presents a risk. One would have to relate possible
outcomes to stated purposes in order to establish risk per se. Still, open theists, Hasker included,
argue that it is often the case that the fulfillment of some purpose of God depends for its
fulfillment upon the free responses of creatures and that this can and does constitute a risk for
God.

39
Boyd, Satan (2001). Boyd’s six thesis are: TWT1: Love requires freedom; TWT2: Freedom implies risk; TWT3:
Risk entails moral responsibility; TWT4: Moral responsibility is proportionate to the potential to influence; TWT5:
Power to influence is irrevocable; and TWT6: Power to influence is finite.
40
Ibid., 23 and ch. 3.
41
Ibid., 115.
42
William Hasker, “The God Who Takes Risks,” in Michael Peterson, ed., Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of
Religion (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 218-228.
43
Hasker, “The God Who Takes Risks,” 219.
44
Ibid.

14
By definition, then, love must be freely chosen. Creating us with the capacity for saying
“yes” to loving God also meant creating us with the capacity for saying “no” to God. If we can’t
say “no” to God, open theists argue, we can’t love God. Creating a world capable of genuine love
and intimacy, therefore, involved a risk on God’s part that we might choose not to love him. On
the open model, the choice to love or not to love God responsibly and with integrity cannot be
predetermined by God (contra Calvin), nor can it be eternally foreknown as certain by God
(contra Arminius).

§3.3 Various relevant diversities within open theism


Having surveyed the defining claim and supporting convictions of open theism, I shall
now note a few relevant diversities. Not all open theists agree on the best way to argue God’s
knowledge of future indeterminacy. Four versions, or articulations, are presently argued by
various open theists.45 These may each be understood as falling along a two-fold continuum
representing ‘bivalent/non-bivalent omniscience’ on one hand and ‘voluntary/involuntary
nescience’ on the other, as follows:
(1) Voluntary Nescience. The future is epistemically open for God because he voluntarily
chooses not to know truths about future contingents. In this view, there are truths describing
what we shall freely do, but God chooses not to know them. Dallas Willard espouses this
position.46
(2) Involuntary Nescience. The future is epistemically open for God because truths about
future contingents are by definition unknowable. In this view, there are truths describing what we
shall freely do, but no one including God can know them. William Hasker represents this version
of open theism.47
(3) Non-Bivalent Omniscience. The future is epistemically open for God because
propositions about future contingents (or future indeterminacies) are neither true nor false. In
this version there are no truths God does not know (either voluntarily or involuntarily) because
propositions positing future contingents are neither true nor false. Thus, not knowing them

45
This four-fold distinction was noted by the present author and friend and professor Alan R. Rhoda
independently of each other and later published online by Rhoda, “Four Versions,” available from
http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2006/02/four_versions_o.html; Internet; accessed November 26, 2006.
46
Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (New York: HarperCollins, 1998): 244-253. John Sanders, “Be Wary of
Ware: A Reply to Bruce Ware,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45:2 (2002): 221-231, n. 4, writes that
Willard has conveyed this to him in personal correspondence, stating, “[Willard] argues that, just as God has all
power but chooses whether to utilize it or not, so God could know our future actions but chooses not to know them.
Willard believes that, for God to have truly personal relationships with us, God cannot know what we will do.”
47
Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge.

15
doesn’t undermine omniscience since there are no truths God does not know. J. R. Lucas argues
this view.48
(4) Bivalent Omniscience. The future is epistemically open for God because propositions
positing future contingents in terms of what “will” or “will not” occur are in fact false.49 What is
true in the case of future contingents is that they “might and might not” occur. Greg Boyd, Alan
50
Rhoda, and the present author espouse this position. In this view, bivalence is believed to hold
universally (or at least for propositions describing future contingents), omniscience is held to
mean “knowledge of all truths,” and God is believed to be omniscient. However, the scope of
future-tense propositions is enlarged from exclusively “will” and “will not” type propositions to
include “might and might not” type propositions, so that the three together are the jointly
exhaustive and mutually exclusive ways of describing the future.51

§4 THE PROPOSED PROVIDENTIAL CONTROURS OF OPEN THEISM

§4.1 The reality of spiritual warfare


We now have firmly in hand open theism’s defining claim of divine epistemic openness
and the essential convictions that ground this claim. According to openness, the triune God of
love has freely created the world and purposed it for personal, loving relationships wherein God
is most glorified as creatures freely choose to replicate that love throughout the cosmos. To this
end God endowed humans with libertarian free will, a commitment which entailed a certain risk
for God and creation, but a risk God deemed worth taking given his purposes.
Before directly considering the implications these convictions have for our understanding
of petitionary prayer, I shall sketch the general providential contours of open theism, for these
determine the game and rules that define the field of play upon which open theists believe us to
be engaged when we pray. Boyd asserts:

48
J. R. Lucas, The Freedom of the Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970) and The Future: An Essay on God,
Temporality, and Truth (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1990). Also arguing this position are philosophers Trenton
Merricks, Truth and Ontology (Clarendon Press, forthcoming), and Dale Tuggy, “Three Roads to Open Theism,”
forthcoming in Faith and Philosophy.
49
Rhoda, “Four Versions,” summarizes, “Positions (3) and (4) are wholly compatible with a traditional
definition of omniscience (i.e., essentially knowing all and only truths). Positions (1) and (2) require some revision
of omniscience as traditionally defined (viz., being capable of knowing all truths; knowing all truths that can be
known).”
50
See Rhoda, Boyd, and Belt, “Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future,” and my “Open
Theism and the Assemblies of God: A Personal Account of My Views on Open Theism” available at
http://www.opentheism.info/pdf/belt/summary_aog.pdf; Internet; accessed November 26 2006. A bivalent version of
divine epistemic openness regarding future contingents is anticipated by Charles Hartshorne in “Real Possibility,”
The Journal of Philosophy, 60:21 (1963): 593-605.
51
See Rhoda, Boyd, and Belt, “Open Theism, Omniscience, and the Nature of the Future.”

16
Scripture certainly encourages the believer to find consolation in the fact that
Christ suffers with us when we suffer…It admonishes us to trust that God is always
working to bring good out of whatever circumstances we find ourselves, however
tragic…It encourages us to be steadfast when we are persecuted for our faith and when
the Lord uses trials to build our character…Finally, as we just argued, the Bible certainly
teaches that we can derive a peace that passes all understanding from the fact that our
eternal fellowship with God in his kingdom will more than make up for our sufferings in
this present age…But I do not believe that Scripture teaches us to find consolation in
52
trusting that everything that occurs has a divine reason behind it.

Boyd expresses the fundamental difference between Calvinistic and Arminian versions of
providence on the one hand and process and open theistic versions of providence on the other.
That difference is whether or not we assign to everything that occurs in the world a specific divine
‘reason’ or ‘purpose’. As we shall see, whether or not we make this assignment transforms our
understanding of prayer.
Sanders has argued that the entire open view debate is essentially not about divine
foreknowledge at all, but rather about competing views of divine providence:

Our rejection of divine timelessness and our affirmation of dynamic omniscience


are the most controversial elements in our proposal and the view of foreknowledge
receives the most attention. However, the watershed issue in the debate is not whether
God has exhaustive definite foreknowledge (EDF) but whether God is ever affected by
and responds to what we do.53

Indeed, it is far easier to lose sight of foreknowledge when discussing love, freedom, and
risk than it is to avoid the question of providence when discussing these. Open theism is a belief
about divine risk-taking before it is about divine foreknowledge. Since one’s beliefs about what
sort of relationship God has with the world and what sort of actions God may or may not take in
pursuing the fulfillment of his purposes determine whether, why, and how we prayer, the
foundation of any theology of prayer begins with one’s understanding of the nature and scope of
God’s providential actions.54

52
Boyd, Satan, 162.
53
Sanders, “Summary of Open Theism,” available from http://www.opentheism.info; Internet; accessed
November 26 2006. Providential models are also discussed by Sanders in “Historical Considerations,” in Pinnock, et.
al. The Openness of God.
54
See Terrance Tiessen, Providence and Prayer: How Does God Work in the World? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press, 2000), who has a fine summary of the options, and Peter Baelz, Prayer and Providence (New York: SCM Press,
1968).

17
Among open theists, Boyd has most thoroughly argued the reality and nature of spiritual
warfare, constructing what he calls a “warfare worldview.”55 The reality of warfare conditions
everything about our lives, including the open theist’s understanding of the nature of providence
and its relationship to prayer. We are engaged in a genuine war facing real risks, not a mock
exercise which is either the inevitable consequence of an unconditional divine decree involving
secondary causation or specifically permitted in its minutia based on definite foreknowledge.

§4.2 Acceptable risk


We have seen that open theists all believe that God has purposed the world for loving
relationship and endowed it with the requisite freedom. This freedom in turn, argue open theists,
entailed the risk that agents would choose contrary to God’s will. This belief shapes the open
theist’s understanding of providence. If God takes certain risks, then some of his purposes may
not be fulfilled, in which case we cannot assume that all that occurs in the world happens as it
does because God is purposefully behind it either by decree (Calvinism) or specific permission
(Arminianism). Boyd characterizes both these understandings as sharing a ‘blueprint’ worldview,
for they both understand God’s governance of the world to mean the world is always precisely
what God decided it should be (either be decree or specific permission).56
The belief that divine providence is compatible with both a warfare worldview and divine
risk-taking has serious consequences for our approach to prayer. There may be occasions when
we pray as we ought in which God responds favorably, but the desired outcome will fail to
actualize because of factors outside the immediate control of God and those praying. As Basinger
explains, “it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be
the best course of action at any given time may not produce the anticipated results in the long
run.”57
In examining the models of divine providence, John Sanders focuses on what he calls the
major traditionalist models that affirm omnipotence and divine involvement in the world. He
names and compares six such models: Augustinian-Calvinism, Thomism, Molinism, Calvinistic-

55
Boyd, God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996). Walter Wink
has also argued a warfare worldview in Engaging the Power: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination
(Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1992).
56
Boyd coins the phrase “blueprint worldview” to describe the traditional understanding of foreknowledge
throughout God at War. See also Is God to Blame?, ch. 2.
57
Basinger, “The Practical Implications,” in Openness, 165.

18
Molinism, Mystery/Antinomy, and Freewill Theism. The latter in turn is divided into traditional
and open view versions.58 Sanders comments:

Openness agrees with traditional freewill theism regarding libertarian freedom,


the rejection of meticulous providence, that some of God’s decisions are conditioned by
what the creatures decide (e. g. conditional election), and that, at times, God’s will is
thwarted. Proponents of openness emphasize that God has chosen to establish reciprocal
relationships with us based upon the eternal love shared by the Holy Trinity. There is
genuine give-and-take with God. In love God takes risks that we will not respond
appropriately to the divine love.59

The three supporting convictions earlier mentioned—love with regard to purpose,


freedom with regard to creation, and risk with regard to providence—together lay the foundation
for the open theist’s understanding of divine agency in the world. While some non-openness
models embrace the first two, open theists are unique in positing diving risk-taking. This means
that prayer will not always issue in the desired outcome even when God wishes to favor us by
acting in response to our request. On such occasions, for God to grant our request means God
agrees to act on our behalf with a view to bringing about the desired state of affairs. It does not
guarantee that the desired state will obtain.

§4.3 Rules of engagement


What sort of conditions must there be if the world is the sort of place where God can wish
to bring about a state of affairs and act with a view to bringing about that state but the desired
state fail to obtain? And does this not decimate any hope that prayer is efficacious? Boyd answers
these concerns by appealing to the multifaceted nature of the conditions or “creational variables”
under which we live and pray. We might say these constitute the “rules of engagement”
sovereignly designed by God to govern the God-world relationship. Boyd argues that whereas
traditionally the church has claimed it understood creation well and posited the mystery of evil in
God, it is rather in the complexities of creation where we ought to locate the fundamental mystery
(about evil, pain, suffering) and God’s character and loving intentions which we ought never to
doubt.
What interfaces between a predictably loving God and the complexities of an
unpredictable and fallen world that might account for the failure of an omnipotent God’s will on
occasion? Boyd suggests that we understand God’s relationship to creation to be guided by
58
Sanders “Mapping the Terrain of Divine Providence,” 2-8, available from
http://www.opentheism.info/pdf/sanders/mapping_providence.pdf; Internet; accessed November 26 2006.
59
Ibid., 6-7.

19
conditions God freely set in place when God created but which God covenants to honor for the
sake of his purposes. The entire project of creation is held together and governed from beginning
to end by overarching purposes and a correspondingly appropriate creaturely context (our
capacities and the capacities of the physical universe to behave freely). This context is required for
the fulfillment of God’s purposes.
We understand that the material universe is an ordered system governed by laws that
apply to material entities (motion and gravity for example). Similarly, Boyd suggests, there are
metaphysical laws that govern the God-world relationship. Several of these can be known by us,
but we can never comprehend the whole of it. One creational variable, Boyd argues, is prayer.
Prayer (or the lack of it) is one of the influencing factors which constitute the totality of relations
that determine outcomes on any specific occasion, but it is not the only factor. This is at the heart
of what makes faith and prayer both comforting and frustrating.

§4.4 God’s infinite intelligence and the governance of the world


One last contribution of Boyd’s is necessary to fill out our understanding of the
providential contours of open theism. Boyd has offered what he calls the Infinite Intelligence
Argument to explain how foreknowledge under the open model provides God a providential
advantage in governing the world. It is argued against the open view that if God does not
foreknow that some particular evil will occur at a particular time, God cannot act providentially
to prevent it. He must wait until things occur to discover anything about them. Hence God is
caught off guard, as it were. Providence then becomes a matter of damage control as opposed to
wise preparation.
Open theists have made two responses to this, one relative to determinism and one
relative to traditional simple-foreknowledge. To the former it is admitted that a God who
unconditionally decrees all that occurs exercises the greatest possible level of control and takes no
risks. Indeterminists, including open theists, have objected that viewing God as exhaustively
determining all things is unacceptable on biblical/theological, philosophical, and existential
grounds. I shall not here present these arguments. I shall only comment that open theists concede
that theological determinism offers us a view in which God exercises the greatest possible control.
However, for such a God, the notion of ‘preparing’ for the future would be precluded on the
basis of the fact that all that occurs is equally unconditionally decreed by the one divine will.

20
To those indeterminists who embrace either timeless knowledge or simple-
foreknowledge, it has been shown that these would be providentially useless to God.60 There is
nothing a God who possesses such knowledge can do that a God who does not possess such
knowledge cannot also do. The challenge is to understand what sort of foreknowledge would
provide God a basis upon which to act providentially in ways not equally foreknown. This Boyd
does with his Infinite Intelligence Argument.
God’s ability to deal with what happens, the argument goes, is not in the least affected by
the fact that God faces a future comprised of “possibilities” and “certainties” as opposed to one
comprised exclusively of “certainties.” The answer lies in appreciating the infinite intelligence of
God. As an infinitely intelligent person, God would eternally foreknow all possibilities, all the
possible story lines, including all the possible responses he might give and all the possible
counter-responses of people. Being infinitely intelligent, God is able to attend to any number of
such possibilities as if each was the only thing that could happen. When any possible event becomes
actual, Boyd insists that God was perfectly and eternally aware that things might happen this way
and so was perfectly and eternally prepared, no less so than if this was the only thing God had to
contemplate from all eternity.61
We humans possess finite intelligence. This means that our ability to think, plan, and
prepare for the future is limited the more we have to consider. Suppose we have ten, fifty, or a
hundred possibilities to contemplate. We are necessarily less prepared for them the greater their
number, for our intelligence is divided among them. But God is infinitely intelligent. His
intelligence is not “spread thin” or “divided” among the possibilities. God can bring all his
attention and preparation to bear on each of any number of possibilities and thus not be any less

60
For a presentation of the simple-foreknowledge view of the future, see David Hunt, “Divine Providence and
Simple Foreknowledge,” Faith and Philosophy 10:3 (July 1993): 394-414 and Hunt’s chapter “The Simple-
Foreknowledge View” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001). The objection
that such knowledge is providentially useless has been offered by David Basinger, “Middle Knowledge and Classical
Christian Thought,” Religious Studies 22 (1986): 407-422, “Simple Foreknowledge and Providential Control,” Faith
and Philosophy 10:3 (July 1993): 421-427; Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, ch. 3; and Sanders, “Why Simple
Foreknowledge Offers No More Providential Control than the Openness of God,” Faith and Philosophy 14:1 (January
1997): 26-40. Hunt offers replies in, “Prescience and Providence: A Reply to My Critics,” Faith and Philosophy 10:3
(July 1993): 428-438.
61
See Boyd, “Neo-Molinism and the Infinite Intelligence of God,” Philosophi Christi 5:1 (2003): 187-204;
“Unbounded Love and the Openness of the Future: An Exploration and Critique of Pinnock’s Theological
Pilgrimage,” in S. Porter and T. Cross, eds., Semper Reformandum: Studies in Honour of Clark H. Pinnock (Cumbria,
U.K.: Paternoster, 2003), 38-58; and most recently “Two Ancient (and Modern) Motivations For Ascribing
Exhaustive Definite Foreknowledge to God: A Historic Overview and Critical Assessment,” American Academy of
Religion, Washington D.C., present November 27, 2006, and available from
http://www.ctr4process.org/events/ort/06%20ORT%20Boyd.pdf; Internet; accessed 22 December 2006. A Middle
Knowledge response to Boyd’s Infinite Intelligence Argument is offered by David Werther, “Open Theism and Middle
Knowledge: An Appraisal of Gregory Boyd’s Neo-Molinism,” Philosophi Christi 5:1 (2003): 205-215.

21
prepared than if he were to anticipate one certain story-line. In the open view, then, God does
not under-know the future, he over-knows it.
Consider the game of chess as an analogy.62 Suppose I challenge Kasparov to a match.
Kasparov doesn’t possess definite foreknowledge of my moves, but he does possess knowledge of
the possible moves I may make (and in certain circumstances throughout the match he will be
able to predict with certainty some of my moves). Because he is far more intelligent than I,
Kasparov is able to anticipate and prepare adequate responses to any move I may make. Is there
any question who is in control of the game? Is there any question who will win? None
whatsoever. Kasparov is not put at any disadvantage by having to consider possibilities as
opposed to certainties.
Let us grant for the sake of argument, however, that Kasparov does possess a printout of
the entire match, including all of my and his moves, in a manner analogous to traditional
indeterminist notions of divine foreknowledge.63 Would this knowledge give Kasparov any
advantage? Would he be able to make use of this knowledge in order to determine his moves
ahead of time? The answer, of course, is no. There is no advantage to be gained (and some
problems created) by Kasparov’s having definite foreknowledge of every move in the game. On
the contrary, such knowledge could not at all explain how it is that Kasparov is able to prepare for
the game or how he is able to interact during the game.
One might argue that the simple-foreknowledge model is nothing more than pre-recorded
open theism. Consider, the simple foreknowledge model believes that we live in a world where
God responds to us in dynamic mutual relations, where we are libertarianly free to choose, where
our prayers make the required difference to God, and where things might sometimes genuinely
be different than they are. Open theists also believe we live in this kind of world. The only
difference is that advocates of simple foreknowledge believe that everything about this world
exists eternally in God’s mind. And, it is argued, our trust in God’s providential care rests in this
being the case. But open theists ask, What difference would such knowledge make? What
providential advantage would God gain by possessing this kind of foreknowledge as opposed to
knowledge of all possible story lines? None whatsoever. But if such knowledge is of no practical
value to God, believing that he possesses such knowledge can be of no practical value to us.

62
Peter Geach devised the chess analogy, Providence and Evil: The Stanton Lectures, 1971-1972 (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1977), 58.
63
Excluding Middle Knowledge, which is problematic on other grounds; see Hasker, ed., Middle Knowledge:
Theory and Applications (New York: Peter Lang Publishers Inc., 2000).

22
§4.5 Consequent ambiguity
Once we posit a universe of intersecting and sometimes competing divine, angelic, and
human wills, together with genuine risk and warfare under a myriad of creational factors we
cannot comprehend, we have an entirely different approach to the problem of evil. We can know
that for any given evil, God, being perfectly loving, always does all God can do to maximize good
and minimize evil, but we also know that given the metaphysics of freedom and risk, how much
good God is able to actualize on any given occasion is conditioned by these creational factors.
Thus, we can never know enough about the complexities of creation and the contributing factors
that determine specific outcomes to judge precisely which variables played which determining
roles. Consequently the world presents us with a good deal of ambiguity, not with respect to the
divine character or intention (which open theists insist is loving and good), but with respect to
the intersecting creational variables.
Open theists generally admit that God can and does on occasion guarantee outcomes.
They also admit that God can and does on occasion make compatibilistic use of evil.
Consequently, given our ignorance of the complexities and the hidden variables, we are consigned
to ambiguity regarding specifics. We can never know whether some specific evil was opposed by
God as such, given all the variables that are part of any event in the world, or whether God was
specifically permitting or making use of agents in their evil intentions in a larger attempt to
minimize evil and maximize good in the world. We must, open theists urge, wean ourselves of
the need to know and therefore of our tendency to judge.64

§4.6 Consequent assurance


This ambiguity just considered relates to creation, however, and not to God’s character or
his loving purposes. We can never comprehend the totality of divine and creational influences
under the rules of engagement established by God, but we may enjoy profound assurances. First,
we may know that God always does all God can do given his purposes and the context in which God
finds himself, to maximize good and minimize evil in the world.65 Here “all God can do” does not
equal something like “flex all the muscle God has” or “exercise all the power God possesses.” It
rather means God always exhausts all the available avenues for achieving his highest glory and the
good and perfection of creation within the constraints he freely put in place to achieve the desired

64
Boyd, Is God to Blame?, ch. 6, explores the ambiguity of life in relationship to prayer. Given the vast
complexities of creation, we cannot judge the specifics of any evil that occurs, why our prayers were unanswered, or
why circumstances do not always turn out as expected.
65
Boyd, Satan, 210-212; see also §8.1.

23
relationship with creation. Within this context, God does all he can to maximize good and
minimize evil. That is his nature.
A second assurance is that however grave may be our suffering, we can rest in the
confidence that God is resourceful enough to redeem our circumstances when we cooperate with
him (Rm. 8.28-29). There is no horror so great that God cannot redeem good and beauty from it.
God is always redemptively engaged in every occasion seeking to bring about the highest good
and most loving state of affairs.
A third assurance we have in a risk-filled world is in the entrusting of our souls to God.
With respect to our final state and our eternal enjoyment of God’s presence, we have an
unconditional divine guarantee that those who trust God cannot possibly be disappointed 66
whatever else may occur in this life.

§5 CONTRIBUTIONS OF OPEN THEISTS

§5.1 Open theists on prayer


Having laid an adequate foundation for an open theistic theology of prayer by noting the
nature and limits of existential arguments, the defining claims and convictions of open theism,
and the general contours of God’s providential actions in the world, we are now ready to examine
specific open theist contributions to an understanding of petitionary prayer.
Let us begin with David Basinger’s contribution in The Openness of God67 since it marks
the beginning of a debate that has continued unabated for over ten years now. Basinger sketches
the practical implications which follow from this view of God and the world. He notes that most
Christians believe that whether God directly intervenes in our world depends at times on whether
we petition God to do so.68 In other words, many times it is the case that “we have not because we
ask not” in the sense that “certain states of affairs that God can and would like to bring about do
not occur because we have chosen not to request that he intervene.”69 God, in the open model,
intends us to become morally mature persons, and our shaping the world in partnership with
God through prayer is part of that process.
Basinger points out the crucial difference between petitionary prayer as viewed by
theological determinists and process theists on the one hand and open theists on the other:

66
Ibid., 239.
67
Basinger, “Practical Implications,” in Pinnock, et. al., Openness, 155-176.
68
Ibid., 156.
69
Ibid., 158.

24
…it is also possible for proponents of the open model to conceive of
petitionary prayer as efficacious in the crucial sense in which it is not possible for
proponents of either specific sovereignty or process theism to maintain that it is. Since
proponents of specific sovereignty believe that God always ensures that we freely make the
exact decision that he would have us make, and since process theists deny that God can
ever unilaterally intervene in earthly affairs, those in neither camp can justifiably maintain
that petitionary prayer initiates unilateral divine activity that would not have occurred if
we had not utilized our God-given power of choice to request such divine assistance.
However, since we who affirm the open view deny that God can unilaterally control
human decision-making that is truly voluntary but affirm that God can unilaterally
intervene in earthly affairs, it does become possible for us to maintain justifiably that
petitionary prayer is efficacious in this sense—that is, to maintain justifiably that divine
70
activity is at time dependent on our freely offered petitions.

Not all open theists agree on just how God ought to be viewed as “intervening” into the
lives of those for whom they pray. All open theists would agree that God as a general rule does
not override a person’s freedom to determine that she perform some action. But what if we
assume, Basinger asks, that what is being asked when we prayer that God intervene on behalf of
someone in a troubled marriage, for example, is that God only “influence their lives in such a way
that it will be more likely that things will work out for the best”? Basinger answers:

The answer depends on what we who affirm the open model mean when we say
that God loves all individuals in the sense that he is always seeking the highest good for
each. For some of us this means that God would never refrain from intervening
beneficially in one person’s life simply because someone else has failed to request that he
do so. And, accordingly, we naturally find prayers requesting even non-coercive divine
influence in the lives of others to be very problematic.
Other proponents of the open model, though, see no necessary
incompatibility in affirming that God always seeks what is best for each of us and that
God may at times wait to exert all the non-coercive influence that he can justifiably exert
on a given person until requested to do so by another person. And thus they readily
acknowledge the potential efficacy of prayers of this type.71

Another open theist who treats prayer is Boyd. In the second of his trilogy on evil, Boyd
develops his view of prayer within an open-warfare worldview, beginning with the affirmation
that “God miraculously intervenes in world history and responds to the prayers of his people.”72

70
Ibid., 160.
71
Ibid., 161. Basinger would classify himself among those open theists who find prayers requesting even non-
coercive divine influence in the lives of others to be very problematic. He counts Hasker and Sanders as examples of
the latter group who do not find such prayers problematic. Among open theists that I have researched, Basinger is
alone is his view. All other open theists agree that there are times that God fails to bestow some good he is otherwise
willing to bestow because humans fail to request it of him.
72
Boyd, Satan, 210.

25
Given this conviction, and the thesis that God’s exercise of power to direct events as he wishes is
restricted by free agency,73 what can petitionary prayer contribute? Boyd explains:

One could argue that [petitionary prayer] is pointless, for if what a person prays for is
something that is best for God to do, it seems God would already by trying to do it
whether or not that person prayed. On the other hand, if one naively prays for something
that is not best for God to do, then it seems that a God who always does the most good he
can would not do it, regardless of the prayer. In other words, if what one is praying for is
best, praying for it seems either unnecessary if God can carry it out or pointless if he
cannot. Moreover, if what one is praying for is not best, God would not carry it out even
74
if he could. So what is the point of petitionary prayer?

We shall consider how others have addressed the problem of petitioning a perfectly good
God. For now we can summarize Boyd’s own answer:

I submit that the problem is solved if we understand prayer to be part of the


morally responsible potential, the spiritual say-so that God gives free agents in his desire
to have a creation in which love is possible. I have argued that God is restricted in terms
of what he can unilaterally carry out by the domain of irrevocable freedom he has given to
agents. I have further argued that this entails that the short- and long-term implications
of agents’ behavior for all other agents must be allowed to unfold, for better or for worse.
We may understand prayer as a central aspect of this moral responsibility. By God’s own
design, it functions as a crucial constituent in the ‘givens’ of any situation that makes it
possible for God more intensely to steer a situation toward his desired end.75

Thus Boyd defines prayer as “creaturely empowerment” and sets it within those
“variables” that define the “givens”76 of any particular situation, givens that just are that situation
to which God relates and within which he must work. That is, among all the variables God
respects in relating to the world (God’s loving purposes, the irrevocable freedom they require and
God endows, the laws of nature, the specifics of any actual situation, and many other variables we
can’t possibly fathom), prayer is fundamental. It is a variable that, along with other variables,
defines the contexts in which God sometimes gets what he desires and other times does not. And
this arrangement is God’s own sovereign design. It is how we help shape ourselves and the world
we live in.

73
Ibid., 226.
74
Ibid.
75
Ibid., 231.
76
The “givens” of any particular situation are those metaphysical and creaturely constraints with which God
must deal. Metaphysical constraints are definitional and are grounded in the existence and nature of God. Creaturely
constraints are contingent features of world God freely decides to create but which, once created, God covenants to
honor and respect. Boyd’s Six Warfare Theses are the fundamental “givens” that define the God-world relationship.
Boyd follows Francis Tupper, Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassionate God (Macon, GA: Mercer
University Press, 1995), is designating these constraints as “givens.”

26
This, Boyd argues, makes sense of prayer as we see it in Scripture, as an activity that
influences God and contributes to outcomes that might otherwise not have been. In Boyd’s
words, “the effectiveness and urgency of petitionary prayer as it is commanded and illustrated
throughout Scripture only makes sense if we are asking God to do something he would not
77
otherwise do and if God at least sometimes does this.”
But why should God design the world this way? What is the divine rationale for such an
arrangement? In Satan and the Problem of Evil, Boyd suggests three reasons. First, such prayer
“preserves our personhood.” Interpersonal relationships require that the persons involved be
empowered over and against one another. Where one party exhaustively determines the other,
the dominated party is depersonalized.78 Thus, we must possess the capacity to determine and
shape ourselves and the world we live in if our relationship to God is to possess personal
integrity. Second, mutual interdependent relationships are maintained and encouraged through
personal communication. By making much of the good God truly desires for us and the world
dependent in part upon our petitioning God, God weaves into the fabric of the cosmos the sort of
interdependent communication necessary to the thriving of divine-human relationships. Third,
Boyd suggests that prayer is an essential part of our learning to reign with God. God wants us to
share in his universal reign by being vice-regents through whom his loving jurisdiction is
mediated throughout the universe. Thus, this life is a kind of probationary training grounds, as it
were, where we learn to employ those gifts and authorities by which we will forever rule with
God. God could not have the desired result without endowing us with the required capacities and
leaving us free to mature into their proper use. Petitionary prayer, freely offered, is an exercise of
creaturely power fundamental to our growing into God’s eschatological aims for us.79
Lastly, Boyd discusses variables related to prayer. These variables are always present. They
define the context in which we pray and influence outcomes, though as noted, we are often
confined to ambiguity regarding specifics. Boyd lists nine such variables: God’s will, the faith of
those prayed for, the faith of those praying, the persistence of prayer, the number of those
praying, human and angelic free will, the number and strength of spirit agents, and the presence
of sin. These, Boyd explains, are only some of the variables we are aware of which influence
prayer’s effectiveness.
In describing his understanding of prayer within a “risk” (open) model of providence,
John Sanders emphasizes the sense in which God acts in the world “because” we request him to

77
Boyd, Satan, 228. See also Boyd’s Is God to Blame?, ch. 6, which further develops his views on prayer.
78
Ibid., 233.
79
Boyd further develops these arguments in Is God to Blame? chs. 6 and 9.

27
do so. “Does it make sense,” asks Sanders, “for proponents of specific sovereignty to claim that
God grants something because of or in response to the request made?”80 He notes Paul Helms’
understanding of prayer within a deterministic worldview. Helm comments that in a “no-risk”
model of providence “intercessory prayer is not one means of settling God’s mind on a course of
action, but one of the ways in which the already settled mind of God effects what he has
81
decreed.” Thus, though God has unconditionally determined outcomes and the means (prayer)
by which they are to come about, Helm claims we can still agree that God answers ‘because’ we
pray. Petitionary prayers are efficacious in the sense that God wills them as the means by which
determined ends are to be actualized. Sanders argues that this sense of ‘because’ is clearly
different than the sense of ‘because’ which attributes contingency to our requests and God’s
responses. Sanders argues:

…the God of specific sovereignty is not actually prevailed on by prayer. God never
responds to us or does anything because of our prayers because this would imply
contingency in God. In this model it is difficult to make sense of James’s statement that
‘you have not because you ask not’ (Jas 4:2) because if the God of specific sovereignty
wanted you to have it, then he would ensure that you asked for it. If God’s will is never
thwarted in any detail, then we can never fail to receive something from God because we
failed to ask for it.82

Sanders goes on to summarize the “risk” model of prayer:

Our prayers make a difference to God because of the personal relationship God
enters into with us. God chooses to make himself dependent on us for certain things. It is
God’s sovereign choice to establish this sort of relationship; it is not forced on God by
us….Our failure to practice impetratory prayer means that certain things that God wishes
to do for us may not be possible because we do not ask.83

Sanders also addresses the debate among open theists over the objection that God, being
omnibenevolent, must always act to bring about the best possible state of affairs in any given
situation whether or not he is requested to do so. Sanders makes two points in reply to this
objection. First, he points out that it is not clear that the notion of a “most valuable state of
affairs” is coherent.84 God, Sanders suggests, would have any of several alternative actions to
pursue. Second, if what God holds to be “most valuable” is the personal relationship with other

80
Sanders, God Who Risks, 269.
81
Paul Helm, The Providence and God. Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,
1994), 55, quoted in Sanders, God Who Risks, 269.
82
Sanders, God Who Risks, 271.
83
Ibid., 271, 273.
84
Ibid., 273.

28
persons, then his actualizing all possible goods independently of our asking him to do so (at least
on occasion) would undermine the integrity of the sort of relationship God wishes to have with
us.85 The first of these two seems less than convincing. Surely it is coherent to suppose that on
occasion there is one best, most loving option to pursue even if there is no one best possible
world to create. So the question remains, what are we to expect of perfect love in such instances?
Sanders’ second point, however, provides what I think is a most fruitful way to understand why
God would sometimes make his actions in realizing good in the world contingent upon our
petitioning him.
The open view approach to prayer is further argued by Clark Pinnock who holds
petitionary prayer “to be a good indicator of the interactive nature of our relationship to God.”86
In his words:

In prayer the practicality of the open view of God shines. In prayer God treats us
as subjects not objects and real dialogue takes place. God could act alone in ruling the
world but wants to work in consultation. It is not his way unilaterally to decide
everything. He treats us as partners in a two-way conversation and wants our input….87

Thus prayer validates the open view of God because it so adequately reveals the
interactive nature of the God-world relationship. Pinnock argues this is crucial to providing a
proper sort of motivation for prayer. “People pray passionately,” he says, “when they see purpose
in it, when they think prayer can make a difference and that God may act because of it.”88
Terrence Fretheim has had an enormous effect on open theism.89 He describes prayer as
“creating openings (relational space) for God in the world.”90 In his review of prayer in the Old
Testament, Fretheim notes that “silence on the part of the people means that God is not able to
be God for them in a way that God would like to be.”91 Likewise, “what is possible for God in
responding to prayer in a way that is in the interests of all concerned may vary from one situation
to the next.”92 With Boyd, who describes prayer as “creaturely empowerment,” Fretheim notes
that “prayer has to do with that which brings the human and the divine factors into the fullest
possible power-sharing effectiveness.”93

85
Ibid.
86
Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of Openness (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic Press, 2001), 171.
87
Ibid.
88
Ibid.
89
Chiefly through his The Suffering of God. An Old Testament Perspective (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).
90
Terrence E. Fretheim, “Prayer in the Old Testament: Creating Space in the World for God,” in A Primer on
Prayer, ed. Paul R. Sponheim (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988): 51-62.
91
Ibid., 54.
92
Ibid., 55.
93
Ibid., 57.

29
The tabernacle provides an example in physical terms of creating space in the world for
God. Likewise, the prayer that is offered in this house of prayer creates space wherein God dwells
and acts in the world. J. Gerald Jenzen, agreeing with Fretheim’s approach, comments:

It is of the utmost significance for both theological reflection and the practice of prayer
that this mystery of unity [between God and humankind] as mutual indwelling is
embodied in an act of prayer, the prayer of Jesus as high priest bearing on his shoulders
and his heart the names of his followers and, ultimately, of his whole creation. To pray as
a Christian, then, is to enter with Jesus into that space, as the space God has freely opened
up for the world to be, a space within which it is safe to invite God, and the company of
94
God, into the space of one’s own internal freedom.

Fretheim’s fundamental insight into prayer as our “creating space for God in the world”
expresses well what is at the heart of open theism’s approach to prayer. Prayer is that “relational
space” we create in response to God’s invitation and in so doing create an opportunity, a space,
for God to move in the world.
Samuel E. Balentine has offered a most thorough review and commentary on prayer in
the Old Testament,95 and his work deserves more review than we can here give. Balentine argues
that prayer in the Old Testament is a means of delineating divine character. He points to prayers
that appear in the text not merely as an individual’s prayer on this or that occasion (insignificant
in terms of the theology that motivates it), but as prayers “put into the mouths of certain pray-ers
for the purpose of conveying the ideological and theological concerns of the editors.”96 Balentine
further shows how prayer reveals the dialogical nature of the divine-human relationship. God
chooses to engage humanity in a relationship of reciprocity. “The texts I have examined,”
concludes Balentine, “repeatedly present God with reality-depicting metaphors as speaking and
acting toward humanity, and as listening for, hence inviting, human response.”97 Balentine
further concludes:

The central point here is that covenant relationship is fundamentally dialogical.


Two parties are mutually bound to one another in a relationship that is desirable and
important to both. Both parties have a voice and a role to play; neither can disregard the
appeals of the other and maintain the relationship as it is intended to be. If either God or
Israel does not participate in the dialogue, then communication fails and the relationship
is impoverished by silence.

94
J. Gerald Janzen, “Praying in the Space God Creates for the World,” in Gaiser and Throntveit, Essays, 117.
95
Samuel Balentine, Prayer in the Hebrew Bible: The Drama of Divine-Human Dialogue (Minneapolis: Fortress
Press, 1993).
96
Ibid., 89. Balentine follows M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1972), 32-45, who describes such prayers as “liturgical orations” and “literary programmatic creations” intended to
confirm the community’s view of God.
97
Ibid., 262.

30
To sharpen this point with respect to the discourse of prayer, covenant
partnership means that God cannot and does not use the divine prerogatives of power to
reduce Israel’s response to monotones of praise, submission, or silence. Such limitations
on human response effectively eviscerate genuine covenant relationship, substituting
98
instead enforced obedience and passive devotion.

Thus, for Balentine, prayer is a constitutive act of faith that creates the potential for
newness in both God and humanity.99 Neither party in the relationship can remain unaffected
after prayer is offered. The view of God that emerges from the Old Testament is of a God who is
personal, accessible, loving, powerful, and compassionate.
100
Let us further consider the work of Robert Ellis. After summarizing both the Old and
New Testament evidence regarding prayer, Ellis has a helpful review of the history of
interpretation on relevant texts and issues. It is when he discusses prayer and the doctrine of God,
however, that Ellis makes very fruitful contributions, arguing the link between our doctrine of
God and our understanding of prayer. Ellis also focuses on Christ as the definitive word on what
God is like. Thus, a Christocentric theology of prayer views God as “Christlike.”101 In drawing
together the evidence from both the Old and New Testaments and the contributions of history,
Ellis concludes that prayer is fundamentally a “participation in the action of the Trinity in the
world.”102 The Trinity is crucial for Ellis because it suggests that prayer is not so much something
we offer to God as it is something that takes place within God. God draws us into himself, into an
experience of his triune love and purposes. Furthermore, God’s being complex (triune) suggests
that God values synergy and sociality (both crucial elements in an open view theology of prayer).
For prayer to reflect these trinitarian values God and humans must mutually engage one another;
humans must be sufficiently autonomous persons in their own right.103
Consider one last contribution to open theism’s understanding of prayer, that of Vincent
Brummer.104 Our concerns take us to three issues taken up by Brummer: the nature of
impetratory prayer as constitutive of personal relations; issues involved in praying to an
omniscient God, and problems faced by claiming a perfectly good God would make his
performance of some good dependent upon the prayers of less than perfectly knowledgeable and
perfectly good agents.

98
Ibid., 262-263.
99
Ibid., 268.
100
Robert Ellis, Answering God: Towards a Theology of Intercession (Waybnesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2005).
101
Ibid., 94.
102
Ibid., 178.
103
Ibid., 180.
104
Vincent Brummer, What Are We Doing When We Pray? A Philosophical Inquiry (London: SCM Press, 1984).

31
Regarding the first of these, Brummer argues a two-way contingency that characterizes
the relationship between us and God. Petitionary prayer makes sense as a free engagement
occurring between personal agents. Brummer places petitionary prayer’s efficacy in the space
between those actions impossible for God to perform (because they are logically impossible or
incompatible with God’s holy character) and those which God performs inevitably by virtue of
105
his nature and character. Constitutive of impetratory (petitionary) prayer is the presupposition
that:

God does what is asked because he is asked. In this sense the petition itself is a condition
for God’s doing what he is requested. On the one hand, however, it is not a sufficient
condition making it inevitable for God to comply with the request. In that case prayer
would become a kind of magical technique by which God could be manipulated by
us…On the other hand, although the petition is not a cause which makes God’s response
inevitable, it is the reason for his response.106

Thus we must reject divine immutability as understood by Aquinas, for:

…not only would all events in the world be inevitable and therefore not the sort of things
that could meaningfully be objects of petition, but God would not be the sort of being to
whom petitions could meaningfully be addressed. If his intentions are immutably fixed
from all eternity, he would not be able to react to what we do or feel, nor to the petitions
we address to him. He could not be said to do things because we ask him to do them.107

Second, Brummer considers the problem of petitioning a God who is believed to know
precisely how future contingents will obtain. Were God to infallibly foreknow every event and
human choice, “no event could take place differently from the way it in fact does, and no human
agent could act differently from the way he in fact does, for that would falsify God’s infallible
foreknowledge.”108 So far as we know, Origen was the first Christian to take up this question.109
And his answers were not novel. He adopts standard Stoic explanations.110 Boethius also urged,
“If God foresees all things and cannot in anything be mistaken, that which his Providence sees
will happen, must result.”111 Brummer declines Boethius’ own solution to this problem (divine
timelessness) and instead concludes:

105
Ibid., 34.
106
Ibid.
107
Ibid., 35.
108
Brummer, What Are We Doing When We Pray?, 41.
109
See §9, n. 167.
110
Boyd, “Two Ancient (and Modern) Motivations,” n. p.
111
Boethius V, quoted in Brummer, What Are We Doing When We Pray?, 41.

32
God…could of course have created a deterministic universe, in which case there would
have been only one possible course future events could take. In that case it would have
been coherent to claim that he knows with absolute certainty what course all events will
take—since there would be only one. However, we all know from personal experience
that this is not the sort of universe which he has in fact created. He has rather created a
world with an open future in which various possibilities could be actualized.112

Prayer cannot, then, be approached with the understanding that God is somehow
informed by his knowledge of future contingents in determining how best to answer our prayers.
That is quite impossible on a presentist, indeterminist cosmology. This does not contradict the
claim that God knows all things, however. Brummer contends that God knows all things as they
are, not as they are not.
Brummer’s third concern is the problem generated by supposing both that God is
perfectly loving and that God makes the provision of our good dependent upon our petitioning
him. This problem has been addressed by both Boyd and Sanders and will be consider again
under §7.2 in response to Stephen Roy’s criticism and David Basinger’s concern. I shall only
mention here that Brummer’s reply is similar to that which I give in §7.2. The problem with
many of the proposed solutions to the problem, claims Brummer, is that these aim petitionary
prayer at stimulating either God or the petitioner himself to action. This is misleading in that it
does not take into account the “relational character of prayer” or the “mediate nature of divine
agency.”113 God acts through the actions we perform.
As will be seen, I am in fundamental agreement with Brummer on this last issue. Both the
relational and mediate nature of divine agency is where we must find a solution to the problem
posed by praying to a perfectly good God. What is needed, moreover, is a sufficient rationale for
justifying a perfectly loving God’s making his loving provision dependent upon our prayers. I
address this in §7.2 and again in the eight concluding theses of §8.1.

§5.2 Summary of contributions


There are other contributions we could include, but the foregoing will have to suffice in
representing what open theists generally perceive to be the nature of divine action in the world
and the role of petitionary prayer.114 To temporarily summarize these contributions, then, we can
say that open theists:

112
Ibid., 44.
113
Ibid., 57.
114
See also Peter Baelz, Does God Answer Prayer? (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1982); Kara E. Verhage,
“Prayer and a Partially Unsettled Future: A Theological Framework for Prayer From the Perspective of Open Theism
Emphasizing Prayers of Supplication,” M.A. thesis, Luther Seminary, 2004; Frank W. Robinson, “Adversity, Crisis

33
● view the God-world relationship as a covenant in which God pledges to achieve his loving
purposes for creation in partnership with human beings.
● understand that our shaping the world with God through prayer is constitutive of the
order and synergy required by the sort of loving relationship for which we were created.
● define prayer as God-given “creaturely empowerment” by which we “create space” in the
world for God to act.
● see prayer as one of many variables that determines what we and the world become, part
of the morally responsible potential God grants us in making possible the sort of free and
responsible world that reflects God’s own triune loving personhood and that is required
for us to develop the capacities necessary to reigning with God throughout eternity.
● acknowledge the necessary ambiguity that characterizes the world and limits our ability to
judge why things happen as they do or why they do not always happen as they might
have.

§6 THE EXISTENTIAL CASE AGAINST RELIGIOUS ADEQUACY

We have now discussed the nature and difficulty of adequacy claims (2.1-2) and suggested
that open theists ground such claims in the pragmatic maxim, the light of Scripture, and the
shared experience of a community (2.3-4). We have noted divine epistemic openness regarding
future contingents as the defining claim of open theism (3.1), reviewed love, freedom, and risk as
the three essential supporting convictions shared by open theists (3.2), and noted various relevant
diversities within open theism (3.3). We then surveyed the main providential contours of open
theism relevant to a theology of petitionary prayer (4.1-6) and surveyed the representative
contributions open theists have made to an understanding of prayer. It remains only to engage
specific objections (§6 and §7) and in response lay out what appear to be the building blocks of
an open view theology of petitionary prayer (§8) that is religiously adequate.

§6.1 General objections


Objections to open theism cover a wide range of issues, including biblical/theological
questions, philosophical objections, the question of church tradition, and of course the practical

Counseling, and the Openness of God: An Evaluation of Open Theism for Pastoral Response to Victims of
Violence,” D.Min. thesis, Azusa Pacific University, 2002; and Tiessen’s treatment of prayer within the open view,
Providence and Prayer, chs. 4 and 5.

34
effects.115 Objections to the practical effects of believing open theism to be true generally claim
that the view results in a loss of trust and therefore of hope in God and his word. Consequently
our confidence in God with respect to guidance, prayer, and suffering is undermined and faith is
eventually shipwrecked.116
John Piper has been unambiguous in his opposition to open theism, listing fifteen
grounds for dismay, which include claims that open theism undermines the Church’s “common
vision of…God,” holds that God “makes mistakes,” attributes ignorance to God, is pastorally
harmful, and undermines the believer’s hope.117 Thomas Ascol has similarly criticized the pastoral
implications of open theism, urging that open theism undermines confidence in Scripture, God,
faith in Christ, the efficacy of prayer, and confident living.118 If God does not know what the
future holds in every respect, and if God’s will is not always triumphant, then prayer at best is
only accidentally efficacious, nothing like a robust biblical portrait of prayer.
Bruce Ware has argued similarly that open theism’s God is unworthy of worship and
unable to answer prayer.119 The open view undermines one’s confidence and hope in God and
adds despair to human suffering.120 Ware urges evangelicals to beware of open theism because
“the very greatness, goodness, and glory of God” and “the strength, well-being, faith, hope, and
confidence of Christian people in and through their God” are at stake.121
Anit-openness rhetoric like the above constitutes a competing contrary existential
argument that makes essentially the same claim. Much of it lacks any logical sophistication in the
way of formal argumentation, but three authors have offered more sophisticated arguments

115
The literature against open theism is growing quickly. See n. 2 for fuller bibliographies. The following together
cover the essential arguments against open theism: John Frame, No Other God: A Response to Open Theism
(Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001); Norman Geisler, Creating God in the Image of Man?
(Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1997); Norman Geisler, Wayne House, eds., The Battle for God (Grand
Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2001); Douglass Huffman, Eric Johnson, eds., God Under Fire (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan Publishing Company, 2002); John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul K. Helseth, eds., Beyond the Bounds:
Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003); John Piper, ed. Still
Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Knowledge and Grace (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2000);
Michael Robinson, The Storms of Providence: Navigating the Waters of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Open Theism
(New York: University Press of American, 2003); Steve Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive
Biblical Study (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006); Bruce Ware, God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton: Crossway
Books, 2000); Douglas Wilson, ed. Bound Only Once: The Failure of Open Theism (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001);
R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996).
116
For a brief summary of the existential arguments against open theism, see Heard, “I AM,” 5-7.
117
John Piper, “Grounds for Dismay: The Error and Injury of Open Theism,” 371–384 in John Piper, Justin
Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth eds., Beyond the Bounds (2003).
118
Thomas K. Ascol, “Pastoral Implications of Open Theism,” in Douglas Wilson, ed., Bound Only Once (2001),
173-190.
119
Ware, God’s Lesser Glory (2000).
120
Ibid., chs. 7-9.
121
Ware, Their God Is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God (Wheaton: Crossway
Books, 2003), 17, 19, quoted in Heard, “I AM,” 5.

35
against open theism based on the perceived adverse effects it has upon petitionary prayer, and to
these I shall now turn.

§6.2 Bruce Ware: Their God is Too Small


Bruce Ware’s most recent response to open theism is concerned entirely with the practical
122
implications of the view. Previous of his works engage this question, but we shall here engage
his most recent arguments.
123
Ware lists three difficulties with open theism and its view of prayer. First, it issues from
a modern psychologized culture which encourages an inordinate estimate of personal self-
importance. Modern culture caters to what we want and places the “customer” first. Open theism
is infected with this consumerism which in turn distorts prayer’s purpose and role. The view has
only managed to grow in popularity, Ware insists, because of the immensely low view of God and
the unrealistically high view of self that characterizes Christian culture in the West. Second,
because God knows the past and all my present thoughts and desires that go into the formation
of my petitions, there is no sense in which God can interact with me in them. They cannot
represent the sort of reciprocal relationship open theists claim they do. And third, since in open
theism God does not know how future contingents will actualize, God lacks the knowledge he
needs to know best how to answer our prayers. Ware is here responding to Basinger’s explanation
of the general providential contours of open theism. Basinger explained in The Openness of God
that divine guidance from an open view perspective cannot mean discovering “exactly what will
be best in the long run” but rather a means of determining what is “best for us now,” because
within the providential contours of open theism “it is always possible that even that which God in
his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may not
produce the anticipated results in the long run.”124 This is intolerable for Ware, who responds:

On the one hand, because God knows the past and present exhaustively and accurately, he
is simply too knowledgeable and wise to learn anything from our prayers. But on the
other hand, because he lacks exhaustive definite knowledge of the future, he is not
knowledgeable and wise enough to answer our most urgent and pressing prayer in the
ways that are, in fact, best.125

122
Ibid.
123
Ibid., 101-105.
124
Basinger, “The Practical Implications,” in Openness, 165. For Ware “best” equals “that which guarantees the
ends God desires,” where for the open theists “best” equals “that which makes most probable the ends God desires.”
In some cases of prayer in the open view, guaranteed ends are assured us. The prayer of repentance for salvation, for
example, and others. But contexts exist in which we are not guaranteed outcomes.
125
Ware, Their God is too Small, 105.

36
Ware also offers four points toward understanding prayer more biblically. First, he
considers the Lord’s prayer (Mat. 6.9-13). Ware believes this prayer assumes God’s mind is
“made up” regarding God’s will. We are not asked to pray “Your will be formed,” Ware
interprets, but rather “your will be done.”126 The assumption is that the God-world relationship
assumed by Christ here precludes our prayers affecting God in the sense open theists claim they
do. God’s will predates our prayers. Thus, “we must never approach prayer,” urges Ware, “or
127
think of God in terms of what we contribute to God.” Second, Jesus teaches us that “your
heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him” (vv. 7-8). Before we bring our
requests to God, Jesus says, God knows what we need. It follows that we can never tell God
something God does not already know and did not anticipate. Ware believes this contradicts
open theists’ claims. Third, Ware argues from Exodus 32.11-14 (a favorite open theist text used
to show that God “changes his mind” regarding destroying Israel in response to Moses’ petitions)
that God need not be thought of as having changed his mind. Could Moses have brought God
some new insight or perspective that caused God to change his mind? Ware shows that all the
points Moses offers to God as reasons for not destroying Israel are believed by open theists to be
known by God independently of Moses’ petitions. Ware then inquires:

On which of these points would God have responded to Moses and said, “Say, Moses,
good point. I just didn’t understand it that way. Thanks for the insight—and for the
reminder! I can hardly believe that I almost forgot about the covenant!”? But isn’t it clear
that, to understand this text in a way in which God literally changes his mind, something
like this must be envisions?128

Lastly, Ware inquires into what sense our prayers might “make a difference” to God. It
cannot be that God ever changes his mind in response to human actions or that we “contribute”
to God. In what sense then do our prayers make a difference? Ware answers:

Simply put…God has designed that his good and perfect will be accomplished, in some
respects, only as his people pray and first ask for God so to work. The role of prayer, then,
becomes necessary to the accomplishing of these certain purposes, and our involvement
in prayer, then, actually functions to assist in bringing these purposes to their
fulfillment.129

126
Ibid., 89.
127
Ibid., 90.
128
Ibid., 95-96.
129
Ibid., 98.

37
§6.3 Stephen Roy: How Much Does God Foreknow?
Stephen Roy has recently offered a comprehensive engagement of the open view that
makes a substantive attempt to establish the religious inadequacy of the view based on four
problems that result from an open view approach to prayer.130 The first regards how the God of
131
open theism decides whether he should answer my prayer in the way I ask. Various crucial
events in the future that would, Roy supposes, make a particular answer to my prayer wise and
loving are unknown to God. Roy cannot see how, given divine epistemic openness regarding
future contingents, God can know how best to answer our prayers. Second, Roy objects that since
there is nothing we can tell God in prayer that he does not already know, our prayers contribute
no new information to God, in which case it is difficult to see how our prayers make a genuine
contribution to God.132 More specifically, it is difficult to see how prayer contributes to a
“genuine and mutually responsive relationship between God and his children as open theists
claim.”133 The point is that God knows too much about us for his relationship with us to be
genuine and real (presumably in the open theist’s sense of ‘genuine’ or ‘real’).134 Since what we
contribute in prayer is the present product of our past experience and present understanding,
and since God knows these infallibly, the sort of “mutually interactive, mutually instructing
relationship with God in prayer that is often promoted by open theists would seem to demand
not only that God not have exhaustive foreknowledge but also that his knowledge of the present
and past be limited as well.”135
Third, God’s commitment to respect our libertarian freedom means that with respect to
prayers whose answer depends on the free exercise of wills other than God’s, God has limited
himself to whether and how he will answer those prayers. This is unacceptable to Roy.136 Lastly,
Roy suggests that open theists who insist God’s love is universal and impartial (admittedly a core
value for open theists) have a hard time squaring this with their belief in the efficacy of
petitionary prayer. Roy wonders how a God of such love is justified in withholding any good gift
simply because he has not been asked to bestow it. If open theists place a high value on the
efficacy of petitionary prayer so that God’s actions in maximizing good in the world are
sometimes dependent upon our prayers, it becomes difficult, insists Roy, to consistently claim
that God’s love is genuinely universal and impartial. On the other hand, if open theists do justice

130
Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow? (2006).
131
This point is the same as Ware’s third criticism.
132
Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow?, 246. This point is the same as Ware’s second criticism.
133
Ibid.
134
Ibid. Ware concurs, Their God is too Small, 102, and God’s Lesser Glory, 166.
135
Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow?, 246.
136
Ibid., 247.

38
to the universality and impartiality of divine love by insisting that God always actualizes the
greatest possible good, then it becomes difficult to consistently maintain an efficacy to petitionary
prayer.137

§6.4 David Ciocchi: “The Religious Adequacy of Free-will Theism”


A more logically formal argument for the religious inadequacy of open theism is offered
138
by David Ciocchi. Ciocchi challenges the claim that open theism supports a rich religious life.
He advances an understanding of ‘religious adequacy’ and then argues that open theism fails to
be religiously adequate with regard to petitionary prayer because it fails to honor beliefs implicit
in the way ordinary Christian believers pray. Ciocchi first defines religious adequacy. A position
is ‘religiously adequate’, Ciocchi suggests, “to the degree that it comports with the common
beliefs and practices of ordinary believers.”139 Religious adequacy is thus, in Ciocchi’s view, a
measure of the “intellectual fit” of a position vis à vie “the actual lived faith of most believers.”
[emphasis mine] Ciocchi then makes two central assumptions. First, the implicit belief of
common believers that Ciocchi believes open theism fails to honor is the presumption of divine
intervention in response to petitionary prayer (PDI). Furthermore, Ciocchi argues, prayers must be
‘appropriate’.140 Thus PDI is the presumption of divine intervention in response to the petitions of
appropriate prayer.141 In Ciocchi’s view, a position’s religious adequacy requires accommodating
PDI. Second, Ciocchi defines “petitioning God” as “mak[ing] a request of an agent who may say
‘no’ but who cannot be blocked from granting the petition if His answer is ‘yes’.”142 William
Hasker, whose response to Ciocchi will be noted shortly, terms this second assumption of
Ciocchi’s the supplementary requirement, or SR, and formulates it as follows: “(SR) It is
impossible for God to be prevented from granting a petition he wants to grant.”143
Given PDI and SR, then, Ciocchi’s basic argument follows rather simply: Many (most)
‘appropriate’ petitions depend for their fulfillment upon the free actions of persons other than
the pray-er. And since libertarian free will is such a value to open theists, and since open theists
allow for the possibility that God may act in view of granting a petition only to have his will
frustrated by free agents, open theists cannot affirm PDI, in which case their view fails Ciocchi’s
test for religious adequacy. Open theists should acknowledge that their views on prayer diverge
137
Ibid.
138
David Ciocchi, “The religious inadequacy of free-will theism,” Religious Studies 38 (2002): 45-61.
139
Ibid., 47.
140
The petition must be consistent with God’s purposes and values and the petitioner must please God (i.e., have
faith and personally be in submission to God).
141
Ciocchi, “The religious inadequacy of free-will theism,” 48.
142
Ibid., 56.
143
Hasker, Providence, Evil, and the Openness of God (New York: Routledge, 2004), 220.

39
dramatically from the beliefs and practices of ordinary believers and that open theism is in fact
religiously inadequate.

§7 RESPONSES TO EXISTENTIAL OBJECTIONS

§7.1 Response to Bruce Ware


Ware’s three criticisms of open theism’s effect upon one’s prayer life were: (1) It issues
from our modern western consumerist’s mentality that fosters an unrealistically high view of self;
(2) it cannot represent the kind of mutually reciprocal and interpersonal relationship open theists
claim since our petitions offer nothing to God in the way of new ‘information’; and (3) not
knowing how future contingents will turn out, God cannot now know how to best answer our
petitions. He also offers comments on the Lord’s prayer and Moses’ appeal to God in Exodus 32.
It is difficult to know how to respond to Ware’s first charge. Undoubtedly western
consumerism exerts its influence on us all. But has Ware actually argued his point or has he
simply claimed that it is so? Establishing a causal link between consumerism’s emphasis upon the
priority of the customer and open theism’s insistence upon the value of the individual would
require much more than Ware offers. One could argue that open theism’s insistence upon
individual responsibility and the value of a person are rooted in biblical concerns—Ezekiel’s
emphasis upon the ‘individual’ (Ez. 18.13, 18, 20) and Jesus’ overwhelming declarations of God’s
love for humanity (Jn. 3.16). One could also reply that much of non-openness Evangelicalism,
including Ware’s articulation of the gospel, is the result of western consumerism’s influence as
well. After all, Ware does not deny that believers enjoy a ‘personal’ relationship with God, and his
emphasis upon the ‘individual’ can be as easily attributed to western consumerism as Ware insists
is the case with open theism’s emphasis upon the individual. How does Ware distance the
personal dimensions of his own faith from such consumerism while implicating open theism’s
personal dimensions? Ware doesn’t say. And then lastly, Ware’s criticism could apply to his own
theology in another sense. One could argue that Ware, unable to live with the truth that God’s
will is sometimes not accomplished, has embraced a theology that feeds the consumer’s craving
for personal security and hence offers as a ‘product’ a risk-free creation and the all-controlling
God.
Regarding Ware’s second criticism, it seems to misconstrue what open theists believe to
be at the heart of mutually reciprocal personal relations. Ware makes such relationships entirely
about ‘information’ and assumes that two persons cannot transact personal loving relationality

40
unless one is ‘educating’ the other by introducing information previously unknown to the other.
But in fact open theists have agreed that petitioning God cannot be about ‘informing’ God.144
Ware’s assumption about information’s relevancy to personal relationships is entirely unfounded
and without analogy. Even human-human relations can be mutually reciprocal in a fully personal
sense without one party having to ‘educate’ the other.
145
One line of thought that sheds light on this point is speech act theory. The fundamental
insight of speech act theory is that the paradigmatic function of language is to do things, not to
say things. We all intend our speech to do something, to accomplish something. Likewise with
prayer. To petition is to perform some ‘act’, an act that is not reducible to a transfer of
information from the petitioner to another party. Information doubtless counts for something.
We are, after all, communicating with language. But we perform a linguistic “act” in terms of
speech act theory. Thus Ware’s objection that since we are not ‘educating’ God of our needs, our
petitioning God cannot amount to the kind of personal act wherein we engage God and God in
turn responds, is ill-conceived.
For open theists, the “act” of petitioning another creates its own reality. It transcends
information per se. Open theists thus do not suppose God responds to our prayers because they
believe they have brought to God some new bit of information about the world which they
believe God did not already know. On the contrary, it is the “act” of engaging another through
petition that creates a personal, social dynamic (or disposition) wherein an exchange of life (the
mutual sharing of thoughts, feelings, and desires) occurs. Consequently, outcomes are defined in
terms of this personal exchange. Take some specific good G. God may provide G independently of
our requesting it or God may act to provide G in response to our undetermined prayers. I submit
that G is not identical in both cases. God’s acting ‘in response to’ our undetermined request gives
definition to G. Thus G achieved synergistically is more complex and so a more beautiful (more
‘good’) or more lovingly relational state of affairs. If the beauty of such loving relationality is at

144
Sanders, The God Who Risks, 272, and Boyd, Satan, 230.
145 nd
See J. L. Austin and J. O. Urmson, eds., How to Do Things With Words, 2 ed. (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1975); John Searle and Daniel Vanderveken, Foundations of Illocutionary Logic (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1985); and John Searle, Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979). Speech act theory is being applied to various interpretive and
doctrinal questions by Evangelicals; see David Clark, “Beyond Inerrancy: Speech Acts and an Evangelical View of
Scripture,” in James Beilby, ed., For Faith and Clarity: Philosophical Contributions to Christian Theology, (Grand
Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006); Kevin Vanhoozer, “From Speech Acts to Scripture Acts: The Covenant of Discourse
and the Discourse of Covenant,” in Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, and Karl Moler, After Pentecost: Language and
Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2001); and Nancey Murphy, “Textual
Relativism, Philosophy of Language, and the Baptist Vision,” in Stanley Hauerwas, Nancey Murphy, and Mark
Nation, eds., Theology Without Foundations, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994).

41
least part of what God is after in creating, then it is simply not available to God via unilateral
action.
Lastly, Ware’s claim that if God were not to know future contingents he would not know
how “best” to answer our petitions begs the question. Ware is doubtlessly assuming a notion of
“best” that entails his own beliefs about the meticulous sort of providence he believes God
exercises. “Best” for Ware just is his way of viewing God’s relationship to the world. But where
there are real indeterminacy and risk in the world, “best” is to be understood in probabilistic
terms. Does this mean God’s will is sometimes thwarted? Yes. Does this mean, as Basinger
explains, that sometimes even God’s attempts to secure our petitions may fail to produce the
desired outcomes? Yes. But it is no argument against this that it fails to satisfy a definition of
“best” on some other construal of providence. That is rather to be expected.
Before moving on, let us consider the two biblical passages Ware introduces, the Lord’s
prayer (Mat. 6.9-13) and Moses’ petition of God (Ex. 32.11-4). Ware argues from the Lord’s
prayer that (a) God’s will predates our petitions and that this therefore precludes our
“contributing to God” in the sense argued by open theists, and that (b) since God knows what we
need “before” we ask, our prayers do not inform God and so cannot be the means of the sort of
mutually influential relationship open theists believe prayer represents.146
Given what we have seen thus far, an open theist response to Ware here is not difficult to
imagine. Open theists do not suggest that God’s mind and will are entirely undecided until we
settle them through prayer. On the contrary, open theists assume God has desires for every
occasion and that he pursues them regardless of human contribution. The question is whether or
not the fulfillment of the aims God pursues are ever at risk because their fulfillment depends
upon the free prayers of believers. Far from precluding such a view, Jesus’ admonition, open
theists argue, expressly makes fulfillment of the will of God contingent upon our requesting it. It
is not the determining of God’s will that open theists here suggest is our contribution to God. It is
rather the accomplishing of his will. And open theists argue (Basinger excluded) that some
purposes of God for us are of metaphysical necessity dependent upon our free cooperation.
There is then Ware’s suggestion that since God knows our needs before we petition God,
prayer cannot be about informing God of our needs. But no open theist argues that we ‘inform’
or ‘educate’ God when we present our needs to him. The efficacy of petitionary prayer for God is
not information driven, and to construe exhaustively definite foreknowledge from God’s
knowing what we need before we pray is to misread the passage. All that is implied by Jesus is

146
Roy, How Much Does God Foreknow?, 86-91, argues the same essential points.

42
God’s perfect knowledge of our present needs. He knows our needs “before we ask,” not “before
we need them.”147
Lastly, what of Ware’s comments regarding Moses’ prayer to God in Ex. 32? He objects to
open theists’ use of this passage to argue a genuine response on God’s part to Moses’ appeal.
Again, Ware grounds any possibility of response in Moses’ informing God of something God did
not previously know. Ware cannot imagine any other basis upon which personal responses to
requests can be made. But we every day respond to requests that introduce no new information
to us simply because the request presents us with an opportunity to value others and realize states
through cooperative agreement rather than unilateral action. Consequently we adjust a course of
action in response to requests in order to pursue a future that yields more relational complexity
and love, and so more beauty, by virtue of being achieved interdependently. We do so because we
value the aesthetic satisfaction of relating and working synergistically. I shall say more of the
value God places upon the beauty of jointly achieved aims in §7.2.

§7.2 Response to Stephen Roy


Roy presented four problems facing the open theist’s understanding of prayer, the first
two of which are identical to Ware’s second and third criticisms which I have already addressed.
Let us then consider Roy’s third and fourth objections, which are: (3) God’s commitment to
respect our libertarian freedom means that with regard to prayers whose answer depends on the
free exercise of wills other than God’s, God has limited himself to whether and how he will
answer those prayers; and (4) open theists cannot affirm both God’s universal and impartial love
(by which Roy believes God would not make his provision for some good dependent upon our
petitioning him) and the efficacy of petitionary prayer (by which God’s actions in maximizing
good in the world are sometimes dependent upon our prayers).
In response it should be obvious that open theists plead guilty to (3). Roy has simply
accurately stated the open view position, not argued against it. Given the providential contours of
open theism (genuine indeterminacy with its consequent epistemic openness, risk, and
ambiguity), it is indeed the case that God has limited himself to whether and how he will answer
some of our prayers. But for open theists this arrangement is just the metaphysical price-tag for
the sort of loving, personal, and morally responsible world God wishes to achieve.
147
Ibid. Roy attempts to argue a future orientation for God’s knowledge here. The point is moot, for open theists
would not deny that God knows a great deal about what we ‘shall’ need as well, even if this is not immediately in
view in Jesus’ statement. What open theists deny is that God can know, for example, that in 2010 I will need help
fixing a punctured tire on such and such a day at such and such a time (assuming the causal indeterminacy of the
event). God surely knows this is one possible future and he is more than prepared for it should it obtain, but it is not,
on an open construal, the only possible future God is able to anticipate.

43
Roy’s fourth objection is more serious and deserves attention. As noted earlier by
Basinger, placing divine love at the center of our understanding of God and his actions in the
world leads to one of the basic tenets of open theism: “God always desires our highest good, both
individually and corporately.”148 Elsewhere Basinger restates this conviction as follows, “an
omnibenevolent God is obligated to maximize the quality of life for those beings he chooses to
149
create.” Consequently, Basinger argues, “God would never refrain from intervening beneficially
150
in one person’s life simply because someone else has failed to request that he do so.” This leads
151
to the problem Roy notes.
For Basinger, then, the belief that an omnibenevolent God always seeks to maximize good
and minimize evil (something on which all open theists appear to be in agreement) entails the
notion that God would never refrain from intervening beneficially in one’s life simply because
someone else failed to request that God do so. But is the latter entailed in the former?152 One
might respond to this as Keith Ward does:

It is not sensible to complain, that, if I fail to pull my neighbor out of a ditch when I could
easily do so, God is responsible for leaving him there. It is no more sensible to complain
that, if I fail to pray for my neighbor when I could easily do so, God is responsible for not
doing what my prayer might have effected.153

But Ward is too quick. Suppose a second neighbor is aware of my first neighbor’s plight
in the ditch and has the ability to help but refrains from doing so unless I ask him. Who would
excuse this second neighbor for refraining from helping simply because I had not asked him to
do so? What possible constraints could my requesting him to help place upon my second
neighbor that would excuse him while implicating me? An articulation of a rationale for such
constraints, freely entered into by my second neighbor, is what Basinger is after.

148
Basinger, “Practical Implications,” 156.
149
Basinger, “In What Sense Must God be Omnibenevolent?” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 14
(1983), 3. This need not be described in terms of God’s being “obliged.”
150
Basinger, “Practical Implications,” 161.
151
The problem has been around at least since Origen, who writes of some who refused prayer, claiming “What
need is there to send up prayer to him who knows what we need even before we pray?...And it is fitting that he…who
loves all…should order in safety all that has to do with each one, even without prayer,” Origen, On Prayer, trans. Eric
George Jay, (London: SPCK, 1954), 94.
152
This debate goes back to Eleanor Stump’s “Petitionary Prayer,” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (1979):
81-91. It is developed in Basinger, “Why Petition an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Wholly Good God?” Religious Studies
19 (1983): 25-41; Joshua Hoffman, “On Petitionary Prayer,” Faith and Philosophy 2 (1985): 21-29; Michael Murray
and Kurt Meyers, “Ask and It Will Be Given to You,” Religious Studies 30 (1994): 311-330; and Basinger, “Petitionary
Prayer: A Response to Murray and Meyers,” Religious Studies 31 (1995): 475-484. See also Keith Ward, Divine Action
(San Francisco: Torch Publications, 1991), 156-158.
153
Ward, Divine Action, quoted in Sanders, The God Who Risks, 274.

44
I have noted responses to this supposed impasse by both Sanders and Boyd. Boyd affirms
that God as love entails God’s always doing all God can do—given the creational variables he
sovereignly established—to maximize good. Limiting certain outcomes to the petitions of
believers is part of the morally responsible “say-so” believers must possess and exercise if they are
to grow into their eschatological ends. Sanders adds to this that if the good we suppose God
pursues as a matter of character includes a personal relationship with us, then God is properly
speaking incapable of unilaterally achieving every possible good. Basinger fails to take the
metaphysical nature of the constraints seriously enough.
Basinger is unconvinced. He does “not believe that a perfectly good God could justifiably
refrain from granting any believer’s essential needs, even if she has consciously decided not to
154
request God’s help.” But in his response, Michael Murray exposes this as problematic. Murray
responds:

If Basinger means to adopt this as a general principal which follows from the conceptions
of God’s obligations he endorses, then serious trouble looms. And the reason is simply
that if (a) God exists, and (b) the principal is true, it would follow that (c) no believers
would ever die from starvation, exposure, or, presumably, death on a cross. Since they do,
we have an argument against not only efficacious petitionary prayer, but theism itself!155

Basinger’s claim seems excessive. It makes it difficult to affirm with James that believers
“have not because they ask not” or any number of other essential goods we know God is desirous
to grant but for which we are told to petition God.156 Basinger objects that none of the rationales
offered thus far are the sort of goods that would justify a divine policy of making provision of
essential needs sometimes dependent on our petitioning God for them.
I submit that Basinger’s essential concern expresses a sound conviction but that he has
misconstrued the matter a bit. That is, God ought to be viewed as ‘maximally involved’ at all
times, in all circumstances, seeking to bring about the most good possible given the variables that
define each circumstance. Thus, it is never the case that God “refrains” from performing goods
simply because he was not petitioned. Where I believe Basinger is mistaken is in limiting the
“good” that an omnibenevolent creator would pursue to the good of “the individual” understood
independently of other considerations. Along these lines I suggest that there is a “good” to be had
in synergistically achieved aims that cannot be achieved by unilateral divine action, that such

154
Basinger, “God Does Not Necessarily Respond to Prayer,” in Michael Peterson, ed., Contemporary Debates in
Philosophy of Religion (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 264.
155
Michael Murray, “Reply to Basinger,” in Peterson, ed., Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, 265.
Basinger never replies to this.
156
See Hasker’s quote as footnoted in n. 162.

45
good is that for which the cosmos has been designed, and that our individual “goods” are
implicated in the interdependence necessary to achieving this larger “good,” which is simply the
consequent beauty of loving relationality, the relational (divine-human and human-human)
synergy reflected in outcomes cooperatively achieved. As noted above, some good G achieved
synergistically is essentially different than G achieved unilaterally. The contingent cooperation of
freely offered petitions shapes the identity of outcomes and makes them more aesthetically pleasing
or beautiful to God. This is what loving relationships produce.
Consider the accomplishing of any task a person may want to undertake and introduce
personal relations into the context, so that the task is transcended by the relations, that is, the
greater task becomes the enjoyment of relational intimacy. An example from my personal
experience will suffice. Some years ago I moved with my wife and children into a new home, and
my daughter’s room needed painting. My daughter (then 12 years old) loved art and wanted to
paint the room, or at least be a part of painting the room. But I was pressed for time and
preferred to do the job myself. I knew I could get the room done quicker, more efficiently, and
more neatly if I did not have to accommodate my daughter. I knew involving her would mean
greater risk of spillage and a less professionally looking job. But I also loved my daughter and
valued our relationship more. Painting the room with her and not just for her or through her,
allowing her to hold the brush in her hand and not determine its every movement to insure a
neater job, would (a) accomplish something between us that could not be gotten were I to paint
the room in any other way, and (b) give definition to the room that reflects this relational
intimacy.
This analogy suggests a way of understanding how nurturing the divine-human
relationship is the ultimate task at hand and that this relationship transcends the specific
creational contexts in which those relationships reside. Basinger objects that a loving parent
would never make her provision of a child’s essential needs (food, shelter, clothing) contingent
upon the child’s petitioning for such needs. Considered purely in terms of this-worldly individual
needs, Basinger may be right. But this begs the question. God’s purposes and agency in the world
are best conceived cosmically and eschatologically, and no individual’s ‘good’ can be conceived of
or realized independently of ‘the whole’. Since God always seeks on every occasion to maximize
good (i.e., the relational beauty ‘of the whole’), synergy must be sought. This just is the good
which open theists ought to insist God necessarily pursues. Basinger misses this point I believe. It
is not as if God “refrains from intervening beneficially” when we fail to petition God. God is
doing all God can do given the failure of prayer, so there is no “refraining” from doing what
perfect love by definition does, viz., seek the highest possible good in every circumstance. Nor is

46
“intervention” an appropriate description of God’s part of the divine-human venture we call
prayer. That assumes that God is sometimes not fully engaged until we petition him. On the
contrary, however, God doesn’t ‘intervene’ in this sense. God ‘supervenes’ as it were. He actively
‘inhabits’ every occasion and is thus always maximally involved, seeking to bring about the most
157
beautiful state possible given what he has to work with.
As noted earlier, Boyd’s and Sanders’ essential point is that our petitions create avenues,
“space” (to use Fretheim’s word), wherein “all that God does” in that instance is able to achieve
more, not less, good. But this means that on occasion “the most that God can do” fails to achieve
what it might have had we prayed. But this is not to say God “refrained” from anything.
In conclusion then, Roy’s claim that open theism provides an inadequate basis upon
which to engage meaningfully in petitionary prayer because open theists affirm a notion of divine
love that is incompatible with God’s making the provision of a person’s ‘good’ depend upon the
prayers of others proves to be false. We have noted that there are conceivable circumstances and
conceivable goods that justify God’s making his involvement in securing these goods sometimes
dependent upon his being petitioned to act.

§7.3 Response to David Ciocchi


William Hasker has responded to Ciocchi’s argument158 for the religious inadequacy of
open theism based on PDI and SR.159 It is clear that SR must be true if PDI is to be satisfied. “If
there is any significant class of requests that are ‘appropriate’ in terms of PDI, but that God could
be prevented from granting,” notes Hasker, “then the satisfaction of PDI cannot be
guaranteed.”160 Hasker has only to demonstrate that relatively few believers upon reflection would
affirm anything like SR, and this he does by showing how equally problematic SR is for other
views of providence (simple-foreknowledge, timeless knowledge, Molinism, and determinism).
Ciocchi’s argument is equally problematic for understanding petitionary prayer within these
views on the assumption of SR. PDI and SR are, in Hasker’s words, “excessively strong claims,”161
not at all implicit in the practice of ordinary believers.

157
Tiessen, Providence and Prayer, 90, more accurately describes God in the open view as “continuously and
impartially active in the world for good.”
158
Hasker, “Is Free-Will Theism Religiously Inadequate: A Reply to Ciocchi,” Religious Studies 39 (2003): 431-
440.
159
Again, PDI is the ‘presumption of divine intervention in response to appropriate petitionary prayer’ while SR,
or ‘supplementary requirement’, is the assumption that ‘it is impossible for God to be prevented from granting a
petition he wants to grant’.
160
Hasker, Providence, Evil, and Openness, 220.
161
Ibid.

47
Moreover, Hasker notes biblical examples of cases in which God’s desired outcomes are
both pursued by God and yet fail to obtain. Jesus prays regarding Jerusalem, “How often I have
longed to gather your children together…but you were not willing.” (Mat. 23.37) Other
presumably “appropriate” prayers go unanswered. What of the petitions for “peace on earth” in
the Gloria or that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” in the Lord’s prayer? Hasker
concludes:

…while some of those who pray the Gloria and the Our Father may for various reasons be
insufficiently pleasing to God, this can hardly be true of all. On the contrary, some of the
most devout believers have also been most assiduous in the use of these prayers. And
given the very extensive use of both the Gloria and the Lord’s Prayer, petitions of this sort
probably constitute a significant fraction of al the prayers that are offered; they are by no
means exceptional. Yet we must confess that peace of earth—especially the spiritual peace
that is primarily intended—and the doing of God’s will are rather the exception than the
general rule. The reason, of course, lies squarely in the wills of creatures such as ourselves,
who in very many cases are far from desiring what God desires and from willing to do
God’s will. Examples such as these constitute compelling evidence that PDI as stated [by
Ciocchi] is overly strong….162

Without SR, Ciocchi’s argument fails. Open theists can agree with Ciocchi, of course, that
religious adequacy requires a certain existential “fit” between belief and practice and that this
practice ought to be the shared experience of a community and not of an isolated individual (as I
earlier argued). Indeed, this is urged by open theists themselves. Whether or not the required
shared experience must constitute the ‘majority’ of believers before it can be considered
‘religiously adequate’ for a community is doubtful. Open theists will gladly admit, though, that
open theism cannot meet the requirements set out by PDI and SR. But this is hardly fatal to the
religious adequacy of open theism for those who reject SR, as Hasker argues, and these may in
fact constitute a great many, perhaps the majority, of ordinary believers.

§8 TOWARD AN OPEN THEISTIC THEOLOGY OF PRAYER

§8.1 Eight guiding theses


We are now at a position to state some essential theses arising from our study which guide
open theism’s understanding of prayer within the larger providential framework already noted in
this paper.163 I state these in terms of eight guiding theses:

162
Ibid., 223.
163
I happened upon David Crump’s excellent Knocking On Heaven’s Door: A New Testament Theology of
Petitionary Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006) too late to include an adequate review of his contribution.

48
(1) Prayer is simply that personal, interdependent, mutually influential communication
necessary to the establishing and flourishing of loving relationships. This grounds all else open
theists might say about prayer.
(2) God is always doing all God can do given his purposes and the contextual variables of
every given circumstance to maximize good and minimize evil. That is, God always and everywhere
‘supervenes’ upon/through/in creation, bringing all the influence that God can bring to bear in
each circumstance within the creational constraints he sovereignly established (and discussed in
this thesis) in order to achieve the most aesthetically satisfying, lovingly relational state of affairs
possible.
(3) The ‘good’ God seeks in creation is the beauty of freely determined loving synergy. The
fundamental conviction here is that an outcome brought about unilaterally by God is less good
or beautiful than the same outcome achieved as a result of the synergy created by our petitioning
God. Outcomes shaped synergistically represent a greater good than outcomes unilaterally
achieved. Consequently, the outcome achieved in each of these two manners is not essentially the
same ‘good’ after all. They are essentially different. This provides us with a divine rationale for
God’s making his meeting essential needs on occasion contingent upon our petitioning him.
Why pray to an omnipotent, omniscient, all good God? Because the beauty and love for which we
and others were created is achievable at least sometimes through an interdependence of both
divine-human and human-human relations, and that interdependence is free and risky. This is
not to say that when the greater good of cooperatively achieved outcomes fails on account of a
lack of prayer that God as a matter of policy settles for the next best thing, viz., bringing about the
same outcomes unilaterally and thus somewhat less beautifully. It is to say the good of
cooperatively achieved outcomes is only possible if there is a certain integrity to the conditions
for such relationality, and this in turn involves a real commitment to risk and precludes God’s
being able to guarantee the same outcomes minus the cooperative component.

After a first and very brief reading, however, it appeared that Crump’s arguments and conclusions are decidedly
favorable of open theism. For instance, he writes, “The Father’s unfolding plans for the world, and our part in those
plans, may develop in more than one direction depending, in part, on how we prayer…The future has options,” 290.
But in footnoting this very comment, Crump qualifies, “Affirming that God’s plan makes room for different future
possibilities depending on human responsiveness (or lack thereof) says nothing, in and of itself, about one’s
relationship to the theology of God’s ‘openness’. Views of flexible providence have a lengthy history that antedate
and develop quite independently of the current openness controversy. What I am affirming is different from the
position typically affirmed by open theists who are distinguished by their commitment to three fundamental tenets—
(1) presentism (God lacks foreknowledge), (2) libertarian human freedom, and (3) divine temporality—none of
which is essential to my argument.” Crump’s definition of presentism, however, is inaccurate; and I should very
much like to hear him defend his core theses on a compatibilist view of freedom and assuming divine atemporality.
Whether he can do so successfully is doubtful.

49
Given (2), God is always maximally involved in seeking to redeem every occasion in the
cosmos and to maximize its potential for loving relationality. But given (3), the nature of loving
relationality limits both God and humans to a fundamental interdependence that links the ‘good’
of individuals to the larger ‘good’ of creation. Petitionary prayer is fundamentally an affirmation
of this interdependence.
(4) The efficacy of petitionary prayer is grounded in the interdependence of God’s purposes for
us and the metaphysical constraints those purposes place on the God-world relationship. God is
‘functionally’ finite in some respects with regard to achieving desired outcomes, and the God-
world relationship possesses an integrity that cannot be undermined by unilateral divine (or
human) action without destroying the very synergy by which God’s aims are to be achieved.
(5) The urgency and motivation for petitionary prayer are grounded in the worth and beauty
of God which God created us to reflect.164 As argued, synergistically achieved outcomes are more
beautiful than unilaterally determined ones and worth the constraints of interdependence.
(6) The religious adequacy of open theism is grounded in (a) the shared experience of a
community that testifies to the existential viability of believing open theism’s defining claim and core
convictions, and (b) the confirmation this experience receives from biblical and theological
considerations. In a word, open theists constitute a growing community of people who experience
life and prayer as fulfilling in the biblical sense of the word.
(7) Prayer involves offering ourselves in answer to our prayers by committing actively to
engage the fallen and conflicted structures in which we live.165
(8) Lastly, what open theists may justifiably petition God for is limited (as it would be in any
approach) by the constraints of their view of God, his purposes, and the nature of divine providence.
In open theism God is believed incapable of unconditionally determining the morally responsible
behavior of agents, including whatever choices persons make that establish and develop their
character relative to the sort of loving relationality they were created for. Thus, a request for God
to “Save Uncle Frank’s soul!” motivated by a belief that Uncle Frank’s choice for God is
something God can entirely determine, is incompatible with the open view, as would be any
request that God determine a person with respect to loving relationality. This does not rule out
our asking God to act in ways that provide Uncle Frank with greater opportunity, understanding,
motivation, and awareness of God. But would not a perfectly loving God already be doing “all he
could do” in this sense without having to be asked? Our answer to this (chiefly in §7.2) was “yes,”

164
See Boyd’s contribution in §5.1 where he describes God’s creating us to “reflect” God’s triune love.
165
Tiessen, Providence and Prayer, 108 (following Polkinghorne) credits open theism with holding that “prayer is
assigning value to thing,” see John Polkinghorne, “Can a Scientist Pray?” Colloquium 26:1 (1994), 9, who suggests
that when we pray for something we commit ourselves to what we really want and so “assign value to it.”

50
but we argued that what God’s “all” is able to accomplish is at least sometimes constrained by the
contributions (actions and prayers) of believers because the fundamental accomplishment God
seeks is the beauty of outcomes synergistically or cooperatively achieved. This is the love for
which we were created. This consideration would figure into an open view missiology as well. The
fact that a loving God is always maximally involved in every situation seeking the most
relationally (loving) beautiful state possible does not rule out the belief that contingent, human
involvement makes greater beauty achievable.

§8.2 Trusting God in a risky and ambiguous creation


What can “trust” mean in such a risky world? What may we confidently expect of God
when we offer our petitions to him in faith? Can a God who ever faces possible futures, whose
expectations sometimes do not come to pass, whose will is sometimes thwarted, be trusted? We
have here considered the place and urgency of petitionary prayer within open theism and have
argued for the adequacy of viewing prayer as God’s invitation to us to participate with him in
accomplishing his purposes. For such prayer to have integrity to it, open theists argue, it must be
the case that we genuinely influence the outcome of events in self-determined ways. Many times
the future God intends to actualize through us fails to come about as desired because we fail to
respond as we might. The point is that things might genuinely have been different from God’s
point of view had people made different choices. But if the potential difference which prayer
makes is as real for God as we believe it is for us, then God faces a future that is in some respects
open and unresolved and has freely decided to allow us a part in resolving it. Open theists simply
point out that it is not resolved until we resolve it and hence cannot be eternally foreknown in its
resolved state. Our lives make a difference to God and the world, and this difference possesses
integrity for both God and us.
I submit that trusting God within open theism amounts to five things: (1) Resting in the
confidence of God’s character and intentions. We can know that God’s intentions for us are
unchangeably loving and good if we understand God to be, in Ellis’ words, “Christ-like.”166 (2)
Resting in the confidence that God always does all God can do, given the limitations inherent in
his own freely determined purposes, to maximize good and minimize evil in the world. (3)
Relying upon the supervening presence and resources of God. If God is everywhere present and
actively seeking to maximize loving beauty and goodness in the world, then we trust that he is
working to bring good out of every evil. (4) Knowing that our prayers participate in shaping the

166
Ellis, Answering God: Towards a Theology of Intercession (2005), see n. 100. Or in the words of Boyd, Is God to
Blame?, 16, “God looks like Jesus.”

51
world though we may not always perceive the difference we have made. And then (5) rejoicing in
the confidence of knowing that in the end God will win and his rule will be realized throughout
all creation. Open theists need not agree that ultimate victory is something God cannot guarantee
even if they agree that much about the journey is open.
Together these five express a robust understanding of what it means to ‘trust’ within the
open view and to engage in petitionary prayer with hope and confidence. Much hangs in the
balance of our praying or not praying, and our prayers make a material difference.

§9 CONCLUSION

Prayer and divine foreknowledge have together constituted a problem that has kept
Christian thinkers busy from at least the early 3rd century CE. Origen reports on those who gave
up on prayer for failure to reconcile it to predestination and foreknowledge. Origen’s On Prayer
was in fact composed in response to controversies of his day over the efficacy of prayer on the
assumption that God either predestines or foreknows all to come. He describes the objection to
prayer as follows: “First, if God foresees everything that will happen, and these things must
happen, prayer is useless. Second, if everything happens according to the will of God, and His
decisions are firm, and nothing that He wills can be changed, prayer is useless.”167 Origen
concludes that divine determination of all things would render prayer meaningless and so the
former is to be rejected. But he concluded that divine foreknowledge does not equally affect
prayer and is to be received. Later, in the classical philosophical tradition, prayer was seen as a
means of effecting change in us, not God, or the decreed means by which God brings about
decreed ends.168 This classical tradition has been rejected by a great many today, open theists
included, who seek a more coherent exercise of a faith that better reflects Scripture’s portrayal of
the difference that praying makes to God and the world.
I have set myself in this thesis (a) to examine the implications which open theism has for
one’s understanding of petitionary prayer as a means by which God accomplishes his purposes in the
world and (b) to ask whether or not this understanding of prayer is religiously adequate in the hope
of judging the existential argument for open theism. We have examined the open theist’s defining
belief and essential supporting convictions. We have suggested eight guiding theses that define

167
Origen, On Prayer, trans. J. J. O’Meara (New York: Newman, 1954), 30.
168
Aquinas put it, “We do not pray in order to change the decree of divine providence, rather we pray in order to
impetrate those things which God has determined would be obtained only through our prayers,” Summa Theologica,
trans. T. Cornall (New York: McGraw Hill, 1964), 2a2ae Q. 83.2, and John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion,
ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Fred L Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), 215, 851-53.

52
petitionary prayer within open theism. And we have suggested what trusting God in a risky and
ambiguous world entails. Is this vision religiously adequate? May open theists engage
meaningfully in petitionary prayer given their core beliefs? I have attempted to show that open
theists can enjoy at least as vibrant and passionate a prayer life as other believers, and perhaps a
more religiously adequate one in terms of the intellectual fit between faith and practice.

53
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