“Critics have charged open theism with being negatively influenced by process theology to one degree or another” J.M. Holden


[citations from  “Historical Antecedent to the Open View of God,” Joseph M. Holden, PhD, Copyright Joseph M. Holden, 2011, 2019. All rights reserved. I’m process of publish a “review” of this document that contains appropriate references and a link to the freely available pdf.]

“Pinnock has not altogether denied this charge. In fact, he describes his relation to process philosophy when he says, “Maybe modern influences, which create a distorting tilt in the direction of divine immanence, are present in my work”. Several open theologians, with the exception of Pinnock and Rice, have described open theism’s dissimilarities with process theology, but have not outlined the core similarities.  Sanders’ “Historical Considerations” in The Openness of God and in his “Relational Theism in Contemporary Thought” appearing in The God Who Risks omits this valuable information. Pinnock describes where the views converge as follows:

Besides, there are things about process theism that I find attractive and convictions that we hold in common. We: make the love of God a priority; hold to libertarian human freedom; are both critical of conventional theism; seek a more dynamic model of God; contend that God has real, and not merely rational, relationships with the world; believe that God is affected by what happens in the world; say that God knows what can be know, which does not amount to exhaustive foreknowledge; appreciate the value of philosophy in helping shape theological convictions; connect positively to Weslyan/Arminian traditions.

As for the philosophical influence on, agreement with and appreciation of process theism, Pinnock writes:

The possibility that Whitehead might help us in the area of natural theology, and maybe even in theology, cannot be ruled out. Here is a theology that tries to work with modern science and has a dynamic metaphysic that doesn’t equate God with everything superior and the world with everything inferior. I find the dialectic in its doctrine helpful, for example the idea that God is necessary and contingent, eternal and temporal, infinite and finite. I think it is right about God affecting everything and being affected by everything. I agree with it [process theism] that God is temporally everlasting rather than timelessly eternal. I agree that God is passible not impassible and omniscient in the sense of exhaustively knowing all that can be known − that does not include knowledge of future free contingents. In fact I appreciate Whitehead and Hartshorne much the way that conventional theists appreciate Plato and Aristotle. We are both indebted to philosophers, in their case ancient and in my case modern….I believe that conventional theists are more influenced by Plato, who was a pagan, than I am by Whitehead, who was a Christian.

Rice describes the similarity in their respective views of the doctrine of God when he says:

The openness concept of God shares the process view that God’s relation to the temporal world consists in a succession of concrete experiences, rather than a single timeless perception. It too conceives God’s experience of the world as ongoing, rather than a once-for-all affair. It also shares with process theism the twofold analysis of God or dipolar theism. It conceives God as both absolute and relative, eternal and temporal, changeless and changing. It assigns one element in each pair to the appropriate aspect of God’s being − the essential divine character or the concrete divine experience.

In addition to the above descriptions, by Pinnock’s own admission, he shares substantial unorthodox beliefs in common with process theology such as:

  1. Atheism is better than some forms of theism; 2) the use of a dialogical method for determining truth that produces a synthesis of views; 3) that an aspect of God may be in some sense embodied;  4) that God is bipolar and learns and is in some sense dependent on the world; 187 5) divine foreknowledge is impossible; 6) God suffers; 7) share important convictions; 8) process philosophy should be used to interpret biblical faith and the Christian message;  9) critical of classical substance metaphysics;  10) reject God as an absolute being;and 11) the future is open.  

What is more, following Terence Fretheim’s lead in The Suffering of God, Pinnock agrees in some sense with process theism in regard to God having a corporeal body.

Pinnock asks if “God is in some way embodied?” He dismisses the idea of God being primarily a disembodied Spirit or that embodiment passages should be interpreted metaphorically, instead opting to embrace the possibility of the corporeality of God as a doctrine not foreign to the scripture. He says:

Is there perhaps something in God that corresponds with embodiment? Having a body is certainly not a negative thing because it makes it possible for us to be agents. Perhaps God’s agency would be easier to envisage if he were in some way corporeal…. I do not feel obliged to assume that God is a purely spiritual being when his self-revelation does not suggest it.


People need to know about the theological and philosophical convictions authors had when they wrote various works. For instance Pinnock was at one time the poster boy for the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy. Since then he had repudiated his fomer convictions on that and had embraced a decremented view at the time of the writing of The Openness of God.

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