by Mark Gutman
One Sabbath I listened as members in my Sabbath School class talked about God and creation. One member (I’ll call him Fred) mentioned that God knew the problem that lay ahead when he created Adam and Eve but he still created them. Immediately I remembered Richard Rice’s book The Openness of God1, which takes the position that God did not know what lay ahead when he created Adam and Eve but that he was ready to deal with the future regardless of their choices.
That led me to wonder why Fred had presented his view as if there were no other view, not even mentioning that he was aware that others see it differently. Maybe Fred had never heard of Rice’s view. Or maybe he’d heard of it but forgotten it. Perhaps he thought it was in the flat-earth theory category, so obviously wrong that it didn’t need to be mentioned. On the other hand, nobody in the class (including me) spoke up to mention a different view to Fred. The thought occurred to me that very few in the class were probably even aware that some Adventists (never mind the wider population) would challenge Fred’s comment that God knew the future absolutely.
Fred probably hasn’t heard of Rice’s teaching. I don’t remember seeing the “openness of God” concept dealt with in depth in a Sabbath School quarterly. Nor do I remember hearing Rice’s ideas discussed anywhere, other than a few very brief discussions in Sabbath School classes, where such an idea was quickly dismissed. Rice’s concepts were discussed (or dismissed) in an Adventist Review column by Clifford Goldstein2, but neither Rice nor his book was mentioned.
In this article I’m not trying to promote what Rice says. I will point out that Rice’s view doesn’t have to answer the question of why God would create Lucifer if he knew that Lucifer would start the sin problem. But the issue that this column is raising is why Fred doesn’t know about Richard Rice or open theism. I suggest at least 3 reasons.
Reason #1 – Church conservatism regarding different views. Adventist Book Centers do not sell Rice’s book. Understandably. Nor do they sell books promoting Sunday observance. If the church has not ruled favorably on Rice’s teaching, why risk problems by selling his book? The Adventist Review has made a notable change of course recently in allowing writing that is favorable to women’s ordination, but there is a tendency among most religious groups to be careful about letting new or differing (challenging?) ideas be promoted.
Reason #2 – The theory is so offbase that it died a natural death. Even if the book had been distributed more, it might not have gained many adherents because of the problems with the theory. The theory has attracted adherents. I don’t have any figures of believers, but someone online named Tim Chaffey3 says that “open theism [as Rice named his teaching] is growing in popularity among evangelical Christians.” An article on bible.org states that InterVarsity Press is “a popular publisher of open theism theology.”4 Apparently the theory is far from dead.
Reason #3 – We’re not reading much. Reading books is becoming less common, at least in the United States.3 Surveys vary on how much reading people are doing, but the trend is clearly down, as brick-and-mortar bookstores are noticing, even if e-books are gaining. If we’re not reading, our main encounters with differing theological views (for better or worse) are likely to come from church or Sabbath School. Which means we probably won’t hear of open theism or other views not considered mainstream.
Nowadays we have a flood of information available from radio, magazines, television, internet, newspapers, and books. We can’t possibly keep up with all the information, so we find it most convenient to stick with what we favor or already believe. Why should I read books by politicians with whom I disagree? Or athletes or actors that I despise? Or atheists or people of other religions who might lead me astray? “Our underlying worldviews move us to select information that reinforces our own opinions and blinds us to those of others.”5
I can take a shortcut by reading safe books that discuss those other dangerous or wicked beliefs, but I won’t run the risk of letting the other side speak for itself. Of course I wish they would listen to my viewpoint but that doesn’t mean that I need to risk my salvation by letting them present their beliefs. You know how it works: if you’re a liberal, stick with MSNBC; if you’re a conservative, limit your watching to Fox News; if you’re a Jehovah’s Witness, don’t read anything that’s not put out by the Watchtower; and if you’re an Adventist, don’t read books (or magazines) that aren’t published by Pacific Press and Review & Herald.
If we encourage non-Adventists to read Adventist material, why might we fear the reverse of that? Do we picture God as one day scolding us for daring to read books that we knew might be wrong before we read them? Or might God encourage us to use our brains to read material from another angle that might help us better understand our own beliefs?
I learned about the English language when I took classes in French and Greek. I didn’t know what verb conjugation was until I learned about it in French class, and I didn’t know what the subjunctive mood was until I encountered it in Greek. We can learn more about our beliefs in inspired writings or health or the Sabbath or . . . by reading others’ explorations of related subjects. We may even discover areas of theology that we hadn’t even realized existed.
The aforementioned Sabbath School class in which Fred made his comment is a place where I look forward to an exchange of ideas, to encounter perspectives I had not entertained before or had not heard in a way that appealed to me as much. But the Sabbath School class is only one day a week for a little over an hour.
Most people can manage to read a book every few months on a topic that challenges their thinking. If nothing else, reading such a book will remind the reader that other people (indeed, most people) probably understand things differently. But at least it gives others a chance to make their point. Let’s stretch ourselves. In the same way that we push ourselves physically to start or maintain an exercise program for physical health, we can gain spiritually and mentally by enlarging our reading repertoire.
We can’t begin to cover all the theological or philosophical topics that are out there to explore, but we can work to enlarge our little boxes. In the same way we gain by visiting new countries or eating new foods, we can benefit by reading unfamiliar ideas. Next time someone says, “God knew . . . “ or expresses some other commonly-held view, we may be more aware of alternative views that provide enrichment for our perspectives.
(1) Richard Rice, The Openness of God: The Relationship of Divine Foreknowledge and Human Free Will, Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing, 1980: also, later – The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God. is written by Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger. Downers Grove and Carlisle: InterVarsity and Paternoster, 1994.
(2) Adventist Review, November 27, 2003, p. 23
(5) Tom Allen, Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong With the U.S. Congress?, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013. p. 130