I am sure that most of you are not quite as familiar with Clark Pinnock as you are with Joel Osteen. Seeing as how the conversation concerning the possible distinction between Osteen’s God and my God was quite popular and produced some good reflection, I thought that I would take it to the next level and ask the same question about Clark Pinnock. Do Clark Pinnock and I worship the same God?
Clark Pinnock is an advocate of what has popularly become known as “Open Theism” (sometimes “Neotheism” or “free-will theism”).Â Open theism is a theological system which surfaced within evangelicalism in the mid-nineties. Essentially, it reinterprets the nature of God. Where inÂ Classical Theism God isÂ eternal and unchanging, in OpenÂ Theism God is bound by time and can change. Being timebound limitsÂ His knowledge according toÂ Open Theists.Â Yes, God remains omniscient (all-knowing), but only in the sense thatÂ HeÂ knows only that which can be known. The future cannot be known, therefore God does not know the future. Hense the future is “open” to God. It is not settled.
According to Pinnock:
â€œThe God of the Bible is not timeless. His eternality means that there has never been and never will be a time when God does not exist. Timelessness limits God. If he were timeless, God would be unable to work salvation in history, would be cut off from the world, have no real relationship with people and would be completely static.â€ (The Openness of God, 121)
Again, concerning God’s ability to adjust to the unknown:
â€œGod has the power to be . . . an â€˜ad hocâ€™ God, one who responds and adapts to surprises and to the unexpected. God sets goals for creation and redemption and realizes them ad hoc in history. If plan A fails, God is ready with plan B.â€ (ibid, 113)
Without getting into the arguments for and against Open Theism, I would like to make some observations. First, the God of the Open Theist has very different characteristicsÂ than my God, the God of Classical Theism. One God transcends time, the other is timebound like you and I. One God knows everything, the other knows only the knowable. One God cannot change, the other changes according to the demands of the moment. One God cannot learn because He knows all, the other learns oftenÂ and adjusts based upon new information.
Again, the question is this: Do these differnces cause us to cross the line and say that Pinnock’s God is a different God with the same name?
There are some important categories that we need to recognize before coming to any conclusions about this question. When describing something there are three primary things—three points of reference—that we look for in the description so that we can better identify those about whom we are speaking. Hang with me here.
#1 An ontological point or reference (What is God?). This describesÂ the essential essence of the object.Â With regards to God:Â God is trinity (one God, three persons). God is eternal. God is transcendant. God is immutable (unchanging). God is simple (exists without reference to time, space, or matter). God is a se (aseity – God is the first cause who didÂ not have a cause). etc.
#2Â A historical point of reference or point of action (What has God done?). This describes whatÂ someone has done in history to establish who they are now.Â With regards to God:Â God created the world out of nothing. God brought the Israelites out of Egypt to the promise land. God did sent His Son to die for the sins of man. Christ rose from the grace. etc.
#3Â A personal or relationalÂ point of reference (Who is God?). This describes personality characteristics.Â With regards to God: God is sovereign. God loves the world. God is gracious and forgiving. God is offended by sin. God brings about His will. God provides for His people. God comforts us in times of trouble. etc.
With regards to Osteen, the question is whether a person could get #1 and #2 essentially correct, but add and subtract from #3 to such a degree and still have the same object of reference. In other words, can Osteen describe God’s essence and actions correctly (#1,Â and #2)Â yet distort God’s personality (#3)Â to such a degree and still say that his God is the same God as my God? Or is Osteen’s God a different God all-together?
With Pinnock we have a simular situation. However, Pinnock’s God is different in His essential nature (#1). This necessarily affects some of His relational point of reference (#3). Since Pinnock’s GodÂ does not possess metaphysicalÂ trancendance over time (#1), He does not know the future (#1), and can change (#1). SinceÂ He does not know the future, His sovereignty is greatly limited (#3). He can’t really control the future the way things are set up (#3). While He may want to guide His people to truth, He may not be able to do so (#3). So whileÂ Pinnock’s God exists in trinity, His God lacks much of the ontological characteristics of my God. This effects many of the relational characteristics.
Yet Pinnock’s God has the same historical point of reference. Pinnock would believe that God sent his Son, Jesus Christ,Â to die for the sins of the world and that on the third day He rose from the grave.
PinnockÂ would believe essentially the same asÂ myself about what God has done, just not what and who He is.
Using me as an example. You say you know me. Here is your description:
#1 Ontological (What am I?): Michael is 6 foot 1 inch tall male. He is a human being. He exists in time. He lives in Texas. Weights 220.Â He isÂ a 36 waist. He has green eyes.
#2 Historical (What have I done?): Michael became a Christian very early in life. Michael rebelled against God for many years. He got married in 1997. He went to seminary in 1998. HeÂ fathers four children.Â He started The Theology Program in 2001 at Stonebriar Community Church. Michael has often contributed to the Parchment and Pen blog.
#3 Personal (Who am I?): Michael wants to be a good father and husband. He loves superheroes because he wants to be one. He wants a dirt bike (Kawasaki KX 250) because he loves to ride. He loves to teach theology to educate the church. He has a heart for those who struggle with their faith. He is very compulsive.
The Michael that Osteen would describe would get #1 and #2 correct, but then he would sayÂ Michael does not love theology but really loves cats. Osteen would write a book about how much MichaelÂ hates theology and loves cats. In the end, He has either got the wrongÂ Michael or he does not know me very well.
The Michael that Pinnock would describe is 5 foot 6, lives in New York, is 190 pounds, and has brown eyes. The only thing he gets right here is that I am a male and a human being. Yet he gets all of my history correct and much of my personal.
The question is Can you get the essential ontological description so wrong and still have the same chap? With regards to God, it is the same. How much can you reinvent God until He no longer represents the God of the Bible?
With this in mind, I ask you. Do Clark Pinnock and I worship the same God? Is it more destructive to distort the essential nature of God (Pinnock)Â or His personality (Osteen)?