By Allan Erickson – June 2, 2019
OPEN THEOLOGY & INCARNATIONAL MISSIOLOGY
the·ol·o·gy – the study of the nature of God and religious belief.
Historic Judeo-Christian theology reaching back 6,000 years has always held that God is Almighty: all powerful, all knowing, always present, everywhere, all the time. For sixty years, this was my understanding, reaching back to Sunday school.
So imagine my surprise when our pastor began teaching Open Theology, a relatively new theology, positing the idea God does not know everything, that he is sometimes surprised by our behavior, that he changes his mind and his methods when surprised by our responses. Some theorists believe God was surprised by the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden, that he didn’t see evil coming. Others note that Abraham and Moses appealed to God to change his mind and he did, all of this demonstrating the truth of Open Theology. Open Theists also claim God does not know all that is going to happen in future, despite his perfect track record in prophesy. So part of the impact of Open Theology is to encourage people to question the inerrancy of Scripture.
When questions inevitably arose our pastor indicated we were not thinking this through properly. He insisted Open Theology was valid, clearly affirmed in Scripture, and further, it did not contradict God’s omniscience, “the state of knowing everything.” One person put it pointedly: “If God does not know everything, then He is not God.”
It is the height of cognitive dissonance to suggest God knows everything, and then in the same breath claim He does not know everything, concluding there is nothing wrong with such a belief system! Clearly, Scripture proclaims from cover to cover the omniscience of God. God himself tells us He is all knowing. So what is this foolishness about? This article helps with a more detailed treatment: A Critique of Open Theism. In further study we find that Open Theology is an attempt to synthesize Scripture and Greek philosophy, heretical in the view of the majority.
If sound doctrine directs the effective work of the Church, then errant theology destroys sound doctrine and renders the work of the Church impotent. If a pastor’s job is to evangelize and disciple, how is it a job well done to teach that God is double-minded, unreliable, superficial or inconsistent?
Can any theology of doubt strengthen faith?
In seminary, another theology eventually discouraged my faith and further attendance. Out of the blue, seminary professors and administration proclaimed students would be marked down for using male pronouns in reference to the Father. We were told referring to “He” or “Him” reinforced patriarchy, the sin of excluding females. Thus, if we prayed to “Him” or wrote about “Him,” we would receive a lower grade. This was not subject to discussion. It was settled theology.
I suggested we were asking the wrong question: that the better question would be, “Lord, why do you refer to yourself both in terms of maleness, and in terms of femaleness?” My suggestion was treated as impertinence. Consequently I stopped going to seminary. This was about 25 years ago.
Errant theology goes a long way toward causing confusion. God is not the author of confusion. He is the author of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Now we have something called “Incarnational Missiology.” This theology invites us to “rethink” the nature of missions. As with Open Theology and our perception of God the Father, we are encouraged to question without merit and revise belief without grounds.
At a church we no longer attend, our daughter was enjoying youth group as a 6th grader. She enjoyed socializing with friends and playing games, having a good time each week. The teaching of Scripture was a bit on the light side, but, we believed she was growing in faith. We would soon be jolted back to reality.
One week she came home with something troubling her. She reported a transgender individual had joined youth group. Our daughter had questions of course. Apparently the transgender person had immediately notified everyone she was a boy in a girl’s body. This caused a great deal of confusion and concern, the primary concern being, ‘How do we rightly respond?’
As with so many ‘cutting edge theologies,’ Incarnational Missiology employs many, many words and Scripture references to explain a systematic approach to ‘rethinking.’
Essentially the idea is we must engage the world with sensitivity, focusing on relationships. We must be present ‘incarnationally’ and influence people by maintaining a soft and accepting proximity. Apparently the idea is this: if we are very, very nice in constant contact with the lost, good will rub off and they will eventually come around. The proclamation of the Word and the call to repent of sin are put on the back burner or removed from the stove altogether. In other words, the real medicine is withheld.
So, when we asked staff how they were going to handle the advocacy of transgenderism within youth group for 6th graders, we were told, “These things take time.” Staff indicated an awareness the issue could not be ignored but there was no plan to intervene on behalf of the child’s welfare, and no plan to disciple Christian kids on how to rightly respond, in love. The answer, according to staff, was to make sure the child felt warmly welcomed.
Obviously my wife and I discussed all this extensively, including our daughter in many of those discussions. It felt as if the LGBTQ movement had kicked down my door and demanded my 6th grade daughter affirm them unconditionally. Further, it felt as if our church was more concerned about offending someone than taking a principled stand, trusting God with everyone’s highest good. The child’s welfare, though not ignored, seemed a lesser priority compared to political activism, cultural warfare and conflict avoidance.
There was no reconciliation between my feelings and the theology being applied: I was convicted about sin, but called to ignore it. It felt as if my daughter’s spiritual growth was not as important as accommodating and even affirming aberrant behaviors. Then, it dawned on me. It wasn’t about my feelings. It was about God’s will for people. It wasn’t about their feelings either. It was about redemption. Once again, Scripture came to the rescue.
God’s Word calls on all unbelievers and believers to repent of their sin—no matter the sin—and enter the newness of life. Only by repentance can we experience the marvelous liberation God delivers! Sin is a cruel task master! Why would we leave a suffering person in sin? It’s cruel! God commands us to show people the way out!
God commands believers to witness to His liberating power. He commands us to preach the Word, always. He urges us to share His love with everyone, everywhere, but nowhere does he suggest we accommodate sin, or preach a different gospel. In fact he condemns compromise.
It has been a year since the transgender girl declared she was a boy in a girl’s body. Reportedly, she now insists people call her by her new male name. She is still warmly welcomed in youth group yet she is apparently further away from salvation. Is it right then to doubt the value of “Incarnational Missiology?”
Notice that with Open Theology, so-called patriarchy in the Bible, and Incarnational Missiology, all seek to address some kind of discomfort we experience. We are not comfortable with evil in the world so to deal with the discomfort we theorize God is not all knowing. We dislike patriarchy so we assume God made a mistake and presume to edit his Word, taking out all the male pronouns. We are repulsed by the leather-lunged preachers of the past, shunning the sense of guilt that leads to repentance, so we come up with a touchy-feely gospel to make it all cushy and comfortable.
The work of the church is to present the Gospel, urge repentance, evangelize the lost and disciple believers. It is a mission presented straightforwardly in the Scripture. It is not complicated. And it is not a soft, accommodating mission. It can be very rugged.
But why do we complicate it?
Why do we think we have to ‘rethink’ or ‘revise’ or ‘redo’ what Jesus and Paul and others clearly modeled for us? Why do we come to believe a Gospel that a 1st grader can understand must somehow be refashioned by Ph.Ds so that the world will be accommodated?
In truth, our churches are weakened, even destroyed, by the author of confusion. As he did in the Garden, he tempts us by questioning God’s word and His character, and by enticing us to play god, rather than worship Him in spirit and truth.
Please consider, in conclusion, the wise words of a 19th century Scottish pastor:
A SOFT & EFFEMINATE CHRISTIANITY
Horatius Bonar (1808 – 1889) Scottish churchman and poet
For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology.
Christianity was born for endurance…It walks with firm step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish. It does not fear to speak the stern word of condemnation against error, nor to raise its voice against surrounding evils, under the pretext that it is not of this world.
It does not shrink from giving honest reproof lest it come under the charge of displaying an unchristian spirit. It calls sin ’sin,’ on whomsoever it is found, and would rather risk the accusation of being actuated by a bad spirit than not discharge an explicit duty. Let us not misjudge strong words used in honest controversy. Out of the heat a viper may come forth; but we shake it off and feel no harm.
The religion of both Old and New Testaments is marked by fervent outspoken testimonies against evil. To speak smooth things in such a case may be sentimentalism, but it is not Christianity. It is a betrayal of the cause of truth and righteousness. If anyone should be frank, manly, honest, cheerful (I do not say blunt or rude, for a Christian must be courteous and polite), it is he who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and is looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God.
I know that charity covereth a multitude of sins; but it does not call evil good, because a good man has done it; it does not excuse inconsistencies, because the inconsistent brother has a high name and a fervent spirit. Crookedness and worldliness are still crookedness and worldliness, though exhibited in one who seems to have reached no common height of attainment.