Frankly, I don’t know which view of God’s foreknowledge is ultimately correct. For centuries, people have generally fallen into either the Calvinist camp or the Arminian camp. We were all settled into this deeply entrenched, long-standing either-or match when this pesky Open View came along creating more confusion and stirring up new debate.
What if we get to Heaven and find out that the correct answer was (E) NONE OF THE ABOVE? More likely, when we’re in the immediate presence of the Everlasting God, such theological bone-picking will be the farthest thing from our minds. I don’t know.
For many of us living in the Twin Cities area around the turn of the millennium this debate was never merely academic. It quickly became very personal as two of our beloved local pastors, John Piper and Greg Boyd, became the personal object of each views’ attacks.
The debate was even more intense for those of us, like myself, who were just cutting our theological teeth in college at Bethel University (then still Bethel College) when these two figures went head to head. If you loved the Bible and had any theological conviction, it was nearly impossible to NOT choose sides, and I knew which side I was rooting for better than I knew the finer points of each position. Oh, the emotional passion and sweet naivete that rolled through the halls of Bethel in those days “like a mighty river” and “an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
I’ll spare you the ugly details of my trip to the Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting in Colorado Springs back around 2001, the year they put Greg Boyd, John Sanders, Clark Pinnock and the other Open View Villains on trial. I was a 21-year old Theology major who wanted more than anything to become as sharp and wise as my professors someday. But some of my respect and awe for the guild of scholars was shattered that weekend. You see, as Shane Claiborne once said in an interview, “Being right on an issue just doesn’t mean as much if we’re still mean people.” I think I agree, and I witnessed a lot of smart meanies that weekend.
That’s why I’ve always been more concerned about the spirit of the debate than the content of the arguments. I’m a firm believer in the maxim: “In essentials, unity; non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I love this debate, and when we’re not making this issue the litmus test for orthodoxy and throwing around the “H-word”, it can be an enlivening exchange that at the end of the night leads all sides to deeper humility and draw us into worship together. But all too often that’s not how the evening ends….
Now a confession: I love and respect Greg Boyd, and he’s been a huge influence on my spiritual life and ministry. I have equal respect for John Piper, and listen to his sermons alongside Boyd’s sermons every week. Iron sharpens iron, and these two men have both sharpened me. I am not a Calvinist, and find myself somewhere between the Arminian and Open view of God’s foreknowledge — and have days where I wish I were a Calvinist.
But my major concern and passion in this debate is that each side comes to a clear and accurate understanding of the other side. As a pastor/youth pastor who interacts with many college students who are just familiarizing themselves with the differing positions, I’m most frustrated that many come to the table with preconceived opinions or convictions about the opposing side. Since Greg Boyd’s Open View is the “newer” and lesser known position, he is often written off ahead of time and his position much misunderstood. I typically hear: “Oh, he’s the heretic who doesn’t believe God knows the future. But I can’t worship a God who doesn’t know the future.” Well, sort of…..but have you every heard Greg explain it before?
The other night over spaghetti and a game of Settlers of Catan, a couple young college age friends and I explored this issue with great charity and grace. I was proud of their openness of mind and determination to wrestle with the Scriptures on this issue. Sadly, this civility seems to be rather rare, but I enjoyed the conversation immensely — yes, for it’s theological depth but more so for the Christ like gentleness and humility of those involved.
So, again, I’m not taking sides on the issue. I’m grateful to be part of an Evangelical tradition that extends freedom to those who have differing views that are both rooted in Scripture, and emphasizes church unity over theological agreement on all the non-essential doctrines of the faith. My plea today is for each side to take the time to understand the other side from their point of view. In this spirit, here’s Greg Boyd explaining some of his beliefs about God’s foreknowledge from a Q & A. Enjoy!