Previous | Next

Fall 2004 · Vol. 33 No. 2 · pp. 227–229 

Book Review

Does God Have a Future?

Christopher A. Hall and John Sanders. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. 222 pages.

Reviewed by Stephen Tramel

Throughout Christian history, some have suspected that many of the problems we encounter as we seek to understand our faith stem from paying God what Professor Whitehead called “unfortunate metaphysical compliments.” John Sanders would agree. In this exceptionally engaging exchange of nearly forty short letters, he challenges, and Christopher Hall defends, some of these traditional compliments.

Hall defends “classical theism,” according to which God’s perfection implies, among other things, that God is completely self-sufficient, insusceptible to any kind of change that might originate from within the world that he made, including the sorrows and sufferings and hopes and pleas of human beings. God, who is “outside” of time, knows not only the past and the present, but also every detail of the future, including our future free choices. So, insofar as the prayers or decisions of God’s {228} creatures might make any turning-point difference in the actual course of events, then it must be that, having been foreknown, they were taken into account from the very beginning as God created his universe. According to classical theism, everything that happens, including evil and suffering, are from the beginning “ordained by God for good reasons that remain hidden from us.”

Sanders’ “open theism” depicts God as having voluntarily chosen to create a world that involves taking risks, much as human parents voluntarily incur risks by deciding to bring children into the world. In choosing to create free creatures who might or might not react appropriately to his love for them, God opened himself to disappointment and suffering. Of course, God did not have to make a world of this kind. He could have made a safe, totally foreknowable world. Yet God chose instead—in order to experience rich, reciprocally voluntary, loving relationships with his creatures—to create a world in which even he does not have detailed foreknowledge of what his free creatures might do.

Hall and Sanders eventually do a fairly thorough job of airing and arguing the relevant scriptural evidence, the charge that open theism is guilty of a kind of impiety or hubris in restricting God’s characteristics to what makes sense from the point of view of human logic and concepts, the extent to which one may appeal to the Christian tradition in settling such disputes, the range of different views on these matters that were held by the early Fathers, how prayer can make a difference, and the nature and revelatory power of the incarnation. They also consider, but less thoroughly, the problem of evil and the nature and implications of free will.

The most impressive thing about this book is its excellence as a model of how theological disagreement ought to be conducted. Hall and Sanders interpret one another’s positions and arguments fairly, even charitably, and the tone of respect and friendship is a constant.

There will be mixed opinions about the format of the book. I see it as a strength in this respect, that it presents difficult material in an engaging way that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages, and that it lends a feel of storyline and plot to what might otherwise be fairly dry argumentation. Others may find it a little artificial, and everyone will notice that sometimes an unfinished topic is simply dropped before moving on to something else, thereby seeming to produce a fragmented and unsystematic treatment. Yet Sanders and Hall, aware of this danger, take pains to counteract it by providing occasional cumulative, succinct summaries of what has been accomplished and what remains to be investigated. {229}

My only important complaint is that readers aware of the actual range of opinion on these matters will see at once that classical theism and open theism, as defined in this book, are not the only options. One view that is held by many on these issues, here called “freewill theism,” is not considered until the book is two-thirds done, and even then it is treated more as an addendum than as a view in need of sustained examination. I would also have liked to see a constructive, philosophical account of the nature and implications of libertarian free will, but perhaps it is unreasonable to expect this in a book of these dimensions and aspirations. (I am confident that such an account can be given.)

Overall, I regard this book as making important contributions to the centuries-old debate about the divine attributes and their implications, especially in the passages in which Sanders offers persuasive contextual analyses of Scriptures often quoted in favor of classical theism. Although it is written in such a way as to be accessible and interesting even to those with little knowledge of theology or philosophy, it will be a valuable and valued addition to both undergraduate and graduate libraries.

Stephen Tramel
Professor of Philosophy
Ft. Hays State University, Hays, Kansas

Previous | Next