I have been reading about the horrifying case of sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, former doctor for Michigan State athletics as well as for USA Gymnastics. It is astonishing, sad, and infuriating that he got away with it for decades, ruining so many lives and even leading to the loss of life as a couple of people committed suicide, partially as a result of his crimes. This is a man who already was sentenced to 60 years in prison for having tens of thousands of images of child pornography and videos of him molesting kids. Now, over one hundred victims have come forward to share their stories, making certain that even an elixir that doubled the average human life span would not allow him to ever leave prison.
He is a grotesquely evil man, and in many ways he is more dangerous than other traditional criminals because he is the kind who befriends people and gains their trust before abusing their beloved children. The bitterness and anger that his victims unloaded on him the past few days to go along with the anger of the wider world is richly deserved. Here is a piece of human garbage that one victim aptly called “a spawn of Satan.” A coach who sent over 100 girls to Nassar for treatment, ignorant of what was happening, said to him out of guilt and anger, “Go to hell,” a sentiment that is probably shared by even those people who generally have a problem with the doctrine of hell. If he were put in a room with every father of those girls to beat him in whatever way they chose, that would still be too light a sentence.
And yet, as Christians, we are to believe that if he were to put his faith in Christ, he would be saved and given eternal life. At first glance, such a statement makes even Christians uncomfortable and downright enrages atheists. Sam Harris finds such a belief to be utterly unjust and disgusting. Harris has never made an argument that has impressed me, but I understand his emotional reaction here; it seems deeply unfair. Sure, Jesus saves sinners, but come on: There’s a massive difference between a serial child sex abuser and someone who cheated on a test or has mild anger issues.
My primer on open theism has made me think that it’d be useful to write ones for other theological systems or topics, as I often receive questions about them as well. A good one to do is Calvinism because it is so prevalent, yet many Christians (including a good number of self-proclaimed Calvinists) do not really understand it. Now, this one is a bit more difficult to condense into one article because it is more of a full blown system than open theism, but I think it will help to stick to what can be considered “classical” Calvinism and largely ignore certain varieties such as “four-point” Calvinism (Amyraldism) and libertarian Calvinism. Still, what follows will be heavily simplified, though I think it will still be largely accurate.
As usual, I’ll attempt to give a charitable portrayal of Calvinism despite being a pretty sharp critic of it (as readers of this blog know). I’ll then give a brief critique, though I won’t say much and will just invite the reader to find other articles I’ve written on the topic.
Recently, I was asked by a college student to explain what open theism is, so I might as well make my answer into a blog post.
Open theism does not alarm me nearly as much other Christians who react like it’s some crazy heresy, but I do think it’s in error and I’ll explain why. As always, I’ll aim to give a charitable portrayal of the view, though my explanation and critique will naturally have to be short if I don’t want this post to get too long.
Open Theism: What it is and Who Believes it
In a nutshell, open theism is the belief that the future is at least partly “open” even for God, such that he does not know with 100% detail what is going to happen. This comes from the alleged incompatibility between these two ideas:
- Human beings have libertarian free will.
- God universally knows exactly what every free creature will do.
Libertarianism is the view that we have free will and that it’s ultimately incompatible with determinism. Since open theists hold strongly to libertarianism, they think #2 should be dropped or amended. The reason is that if an omniscient God, who cannot be wrong, knows ahead of time what people will do, then those facts about the future are “settled” and cannot be changed, thereby jeopardizing freedom. Interestingly enough, most Calvinists, seemingly their mortal enemies, agree with them about this incompatibility but instead opt to drop #1, advocating for a theory of free will called compatibilism (free will and determinism are compatible). In any case, examples of Christians who are open theists are pastor/philosopher Greg Boyd, philosopher William Hasker, and the late theologian Clark Pinnock.