What Does Open Theism Sound Like? Moses and Open Theism

I knew Terence Fretheim’s name was attached to the Open Theism camp; I see why now in his commentary on Exodus (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1991).  In discussing Yahweh’s dialogue with Moses in Exodus 3-4.17, Fretheim writes this: “God treats the dialogue with Moses with integrity and honors his insights as important ingredients for the shaping of the task.  God has so entered into a relationship with him that God is not the only one who has something important to say.  God will move with Moses, even adapting original divine plans … in view of Moses’ considerations.”

God’s way into the future is not dictated solely by the divine word and will.  God places the divine word and will into the hands of another for him to do with what he will.  That is for God a risky venture, fraught with negative possibilities.  God will now have to work in and through Moses’ frailties as well as strengths.  This will mean something less than what would have been possible had God acted alone; God is not in total control of the ensuing events.”

Fretheim then explains how God lacked “initial success” in trying to persuade Moses to follow his call.  “God’s best efforts do not meet with instant success.” “…But God goes with what is possible…God must often work with options that are less than the best.  God often has to accept what people do with the powers they have been given” (p. 53; emphasis original).

Wow. Ironically, this text (3.22) talks about Israel “stripping” (nzl – Piel) Egypt of her wealth; Fretheim turns the tables and strips God of his omniscience and omnipotence.  Fretheim’s portrayal of God is like Ironman fighting his nemesis, surprised by a few secret weapons and quick shots, but able to adapt in the end to overcome the surprisingly strong enemy – all while taking a few hard hits.  Makes for a fun movie, but a worthless redemption story and a pitiful redeemer.  Or, in another analogy, Fretheim’s portrayal of God is like a cosmic dancing with the stars (see the words “moves with” above): God is the lead dancer, but Moses sometimes pulls a few tricks of his own, to which God adapts and utilizes to win the contest.

Notice: the text does speak about Yahweh’s omniscience and omnipotence (as does the entire Exodus event!): v19 notes that Yahweh knows that Pharaoh will not let Israel go (future) except by a strong hand (future Exodus “wonders of God;” cf. Jesus’ interpretation of this passage as proving the divine power of Yahweh in Mark 12.26, Luke 20.37, and Matt 22.29).  How can Yahweh (I AM WHO I AM) make a promise to deliver his people if he’s not sure how they’ll react or what Pharaoh will do?

Good commentary, but this section puts a red flag on the whole thing; read it and use it, but do so with care.  Also, now you know what Open Theism “sounds like” on the popular level, in case you haven’t heard it so clearly before.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

3 Replies to “What Does Open Theism Sound Like? Moses and Open Theism”

  1. Seriously? Too bad! Thanks for the note. I have his Baker commentaries on the Psalms – I’ll probably be slapped by it in there as well.



  2. Goldingay is a strong OT scholar, just not a strong theologian. Sigh . . . isn’t that the case so often! The Bib scholars give up the one for the many, the fundy-dogmatitions collapse the many into the one. And I thought that the whole point of the archetype/ectype distinction was that we didn’t need to pick one or the other! Oh would that we might return to the wise ways of Vos who taught us how to deal with theological diversity/multiformity by understanding the organic development and progressive unfolding of revelation. . . .


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