According to an article in today's Chronicle of Higher Education John Sanders, a professor at Huntington College in Indiana, has been fired for his writings on Open Theology. Huntington is an Evangelical college and I gather that there has been over the last year or so considerable political pressure to fire him. (Thanks to David Paulsen for the link)
Since the article isn't open to non-subscribers, allow me a few excerpts.
Bruce A. Ware, senior associate dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an ardent opponent of Open Theism, says the controversy is of much more than scholarly interest. By rejecting the notion of a supreme being who knows or has even planned the whole future, he says, "Open Theism undermines people's confidence in God." It "makes God pathetic."
Other theologians see the debate over Open Theism as a proxy for a struggle over who will lead the evangelical movement -- free-will-believing liberals or old-fashioned Calvinists. As the debate has spread, a number of evangelical institutions, including the six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, have started to require faculty members to sign statements saying that they believe in God's complete knowledge of the future. The statements are intended to keep out supporters of Open Theism.
But the idea's impact is spreading beyond the walls of evangelical seminaries. "For philosophers who speculate about God, it has breathed new life into the debate," says Kelly James Clark, a professor of philosophy at Calvin College and secretary-treasurer of the Society of Christian Philosophers.
. . .
The society's decision not to expel the two men was viewed as inappropriate leniency by some members. Norman L. Geisler, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary and a former president of the theological society, resigned from the group in protest.
"Before my own eyes," he says, "I saw an organization I belonged to go down the tubes and officially approve a view which denies the infallible foreknowledge of God."
Yet while conservatives failed to get Mr. Sanders removed from the society, they are forcing him from his faculty job of seven years at Huntington. Last month the college's president, G. Blair Dowden, told a stunned faculty meeting that pressure from the United Brethren Church and the prospect of falling enrollments had become too much to resist. Mr. Sanders, he said, would have to leave.
Mr. Dowden says he was not happy with the decision, which was made by the Board of Trustees. He acknowledges that the move could be a blow to academic freedom.
An other post on the topic from the Christian Post. Also at BP News. They don't mention the firing, but some of the other events leading up to it.
Since this is all taking place in an other faith, I don't have too much to say about it. I have strong doubts about Open Theism, but certainly it is not something I think would cause huge problems in Mormonism. Indeed it has, the last couple of years, been an active topic among many scholars. John Sanders actually spoke at the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology last year. However this is apparently a surprise to some people, who wonder if this bespeaks a movement among Evangelicals towards a more Calvinistic theology.
Being more ignorant of the range of beliefs permissible among these various groups, I can't say much. I will say that if this is a significant doctrinal matter, that Mormons ought not be that surprised. One wouldn't be surprised if someone at BYU teaching against LDS basic theology was fired. However, since BYU has itself been involved in a firestorm of controversy over academic freedom due to various firings thought to relate to religion, it will be interesting to see how the Evangelical community deals with this.
This is sad indication of where evangelical education is going. I'm no friend to open theism, so I don't sympathize with his view. Nonetheless, the university--even a Christian evangelical one--should be a place of sharing new and challenging ideas. Moreover, Sanders is a committed inerrantist on scripture, which speaks to his commitment to broadly evangelical views. If they find Sanders's views unorthodox, who's next? Molinists? Arminians? Amillenialists?
Speaking as one within the evangelical camp (and as a hopeful professional academic), I believe that firing Sanders only because he is an open theist is ridiculous. (His academic credentials are superb.) I believe this is part of the growing trend among evangelicals to equate orthodoxy with Calvinism.
John, I have noticed a very strong upswing in Calvinism. Nothing against Calvinism, but I seem to recall that when I was in college I met few Evangelicals who were Calvinists. Indeed most Evangelicals I had discussions with seemed quite opposed to Calvinism. Yet the last few years the vast majority of Evangelicals I've had discussions with definitely adopt more Calvinist positions. Well, I should hedge my bets somewhat, since I confess to not being that up on all the nuances of what is or isn't Calvinist. But they definitely seem to take a much narrower view of what is appropriate within Christianity.
It is interest to see what this will result in. I know of many Baptists who were concerned at the more conservative swing that especially the Southern Baptist Convention has taken the last decade.
At the same time I know Mormons and some Evangelicals have been trying to mend fences. (A lot of Mormons have experience with severe persecution from a minority of Evangelicals) I think many Mormons thought that inter-faith dialog, such as having Dr. Sanders speak at the SMPT conference were helping. But with the firing of Sanders and the rather strong criticism of Richard Mouw's recent comments among many Evangelicals, I wonder what will happen.
I woulds't call it Calvinism as much as I'd call it a bunker mentality. Especially the backlash against Richard Mouw's comments, which presumed that any criticism at all was better than nothing and therefore justified (I've read several of the articles covering responses, and I really think that this is a reasonable characteristic of them).
I believe that the firing of Sanders is surprising -- especially in light of the fact that Bill Hasker (recently retired) has taught philosophy at Huntington College for years and is a very articulate proponent of Open Theology. I am an Open Theologian within the LDS camp -- and I find the same tendencies among many in the LDS camps who equate Mormonism with a McConkie take on scripture (one that is insupportable in my view given the LDS view of scripture open to updating and emendation). I fear that the same inability to respond to Open Theology in an academic forum will lead LDS to demonize those who adopt it in LDS camps. Indeed, I have already been shunned for a position at the Lawfirm that represents the Church because of my open view of scripture! No -- this phenomenon is not far from us.
I find the comments by Bruce Ware to be most interesting. He fears that people will adopt Open Theism more and more -- and as a Calvinist they must do so because God causes them to do so!
One of these days Clark is actually going to articulate his position with enough clarity that we can discuss it. Up until now I've only seen vague concerns about Open Theism. It is time Clark. I am excited by the prospect of discussion (respectfully) the issues related to semi-compatiblism with you. For now, I believe that Open Theism is not merely an option for LDS thought, but one that is natural given the notions of limited omniscience adopted by BY, WW, LS and other Church Presidents (and embodied BTW in official First Presidency Statements).
I also believe that the firing of Sanders is rerehensible. Firing another simply because he differs in a theological issue as intricate as God's foreknowledge is reaching into areas where academic respect ought to reign. Unlike Jim Faulconer, I believe that Sanders' firing is not at all like firing someone for not believing in the BofM. Rejecting scripture is one thing; rejecting a particular theological reading of scripture is quite another. It is more like firing a BYU teacher because s/he believes in evolution or in post-modernism (whatever it means).
Of course, Arminius was treated the same way for rejecting predestination in the 16th century. Let's not kid ourselves, however, in Evangelical circles the Calvinists can be as controlling as the god they propose to worship -- when one worships an all-controlling god who even determines people to be cast into hell, I suppose all kinds of unrighteous dominion can be justified.
Blake, I was going to put together a brief outline of my position for the SMPT conference. But given my current contract bid, a new baby and a tonne of other things, I'm just not going to have time to write it in a fashion I'd want to present. So let me write something brief up tonight.
"Rejecting scripture is one thing; rejecting a particular theological reading of scripture is quite another. It is more like firing a BYU teacher because s/he believes in evolution or in post-modernism (whatever it means)."
Without defending or condemning the firing of Sanders or the merits of Calvinist theology, it seems to me that the Calvinists response to what Sanders offers is a concern for undermining God's sovereignty--a doctrine that is at the heart of Calvinist belief, not at the (debatable) boundaries. That would be more serious for them than a concern over whether evolution or postmodernism might be for Latter-day Saints. One may argue, of course, that "the openness of God" doesn't undermine sovereignty, but the great majority of Calvinist will hold that it does.
I think one of the most significant things here (as Johnny Dee hints at) is the trend to make Calvinism the norm for Evangelical.
(Blake, which First Presidency Statements talk about limited omniscience? I'd be really interested to see them. I haven't made my mind up yet, though I tend to lean toward belief in full omniscience. I'd like to see the Statements to throw into the mix (particularly in my discussions with some who are absolutely sure there must be full omniscience). Is this in your book (or upcoming book)?)
Without speaking for Blake, I suspect he has in mind Brigham Young and his notion of continuing to increase in knowledge as an implication of eternal progression. I don't think that follows that God doesn't have absolute knowledge of our world. Further there is the ever interesting issue of universals and whether God knows those. Those of a more Ockham bent will obviously have problems with knowledge of universals.
I agree with you, btw. I think that any religious organization ought to be able to maintain some doctrinal orthodoxy in its staff. That's part of working at a religious school. The problem I have is that there is this sense I read in various groups that Calvinism is Christianity. I certainly understand believing ones theology and thinking it the correct interpretation. By the same reasoning I think Mormonism is correct. But I'd never say it is the only valid form of Christianity. (i.e. tolerate other forms of belief)
It's an interesting question since clearly BYU has non-Mormons working at it. So long as they abide by the ethical rules, some of which may seem silly to non-Mormons, I don't think there is a problem. That was, I believe, Jim's point. Yet when a particular theological movement is perceived as a political threat then things are different. Events around the early 90's are one example in our own religion.
On a slightly different tack, this is just another illustration of the political uses of heresy charges. Too often, heresy is just about institutional infighting or power struggles. Administrators who terminate faculty on such grounds might promote certain institutional agendas, but will likely undermine the sense of free academic inquiry that a successful university depends on. It's nice that, for once, the culprit isn't BYU.
While I think heresy can be political in the sense you use it, that's not really the sense I meant it in. Specifically I think that heresy can be a valid concern as a political matter. You suggest heresy arises out of politics while I see the politics arising out of the heresy.
The 1860 and 1865 statements by BY and his counselors discuss the problems with Pratt's views and articulate a clear view that God increases in knowledge. I quote them in chapter 3 of my book.
BTW Clark, given your present state of sleep-deprivation incident to new-papa-hood (congratulations!), you deserve to have a ton slack. It would be nice to have an SMPT discussion of your views, but don't feel any pressure. Life lifes.
Thanks, Blake. The 'other Church Presidents' and 'embodied in FP statements' caught my interest. I was thinking you might have found something other than BY--something more recent. Though I don't have time to read it all now, I suppose I really ought to buy your book. (It's the time factor right now, by the way, that is delaying my reading and commenting on the material you sent me on atonement.)
Eugene England had some interesting thoughts on the omniscience of God. The way he expressed it to me was that God has a perfect knowledge of what he needs to know to save us. There might be other realms of knowledge that do not apply to us currently that He continues to learn and grow in. I have no idea if this is published somewhere, though I have read a letter of unknown provenance from a Bruce R. McConkie rebuking England for these ideas on a website some time ago.
I think, John, that McConkie probably was a nominalist, in the sense that he didn't accept the reality of universals. Thus the only way to know what we'd call a universal would be to know the extension of it. (i.e. the only way to know all about redness would be to know all red things) At least that's the only way I find his logic making sense. This is somewhat understandable given the positivism of the times.
I've often wondered if someone ever brought that distinction up to him.
Is anyone familliar with the purported McConkie letter to Prof England? I have never seen it anywhere other than Anti-Mormon sites, and thereby doubt its origins.
Also, I cannot help but feel that Calvanism smacks of the ancient greek mode of mythology, in that it depicts an immature and self-concious god who treats his creations as more playthings than children.
If you need an online version of the letter, you can look here:
It appears the U of U has a copy of this letter. I don't know if there is any reason to doubt its veracity: