Newly Discovered Open Theists in Church History
For the last several decades Thomas and Christine Lukashow have been discovering orthodox Christians from the 17th through the 19th centuries who were open theists and who, so far as I’m aware, no one else knew about. Over the last year they’ve been gracious enough to not only keep me informed about their on-going research but to also send me photocopies (and even a few original works) of the material they’ve retrieved. (Thank you Tom and Christine!).
To date, defenders of Open Theism have usually appealed to Calcidius in the 4th century and a number of 18th and 19th century theologians and preachers, including Lorenzo McCabe, Billy Hibbert, Joel Hayes, T.W. Brents, Isaac Dorner and the renowned 19th century Bible commentator Adam Clark. In light of Tom and Christine’s research, it’s now beginning to appear that this may just be the tip of the iceberg. The open view seems to have been espoused and discussed much more frequently than we previously thought.
Of particular interest is an 18th century minister named Samuel Fancourt (1678-1786). He wrote several works in the early 18th century defending the view that the future is partly open, including Free Agency of Accountable Creatures Examined, Liberty, Grace and Prescience and The Greatness of Divine Love. These book generated a lot of discussion, as evidenced by the dozens of books, journal articles, pamphlets and letters published at the time which the Lukashows have uncovered. Other 18th and 19th century orthodox Open Theists I was unaware of are J. Jones, J. Greenrup, W. Taylor, and D. U. Simon. The Luckashows have also recovered a number of 18th century anonymous booklets espousing Open Theism, and Tom has recently uncovered some evidence of Open Theism being espoused by 17th century Arminians.
It seems to me that these discoveries are significant in as much as critics of Open Theism have often alleged that it is an entirely new teaching and even made the [entirely baseless] charge that it derived from Process Philosophy (a 20th century school of thought). I haven’t worked through this material yet, and, frankly, it’s not the easiest stuff in the word to read because most of it is in very old English. (Tom tells me he and Christine are in the process of “updating” some of it). But from my initial cursory review of the material, it seems that these folks based their Open Theism primarily on Scripture, using many of the same arguments Open Theists use today. It’s also significant that, while these debates were sometimes passionate, I haven’t yet found anyone accusing anyone of “heresy” for holding the open view (though again, I’ve only skimmed this material).
Hats off to Tom and Christine for the tireless work in this area. One of these days, somebody needs to thoroughly digest this material and write a monograph on the history of Open Theism in the orthodox Christian tradition. (Anyone out there looking for a great doctoral dissertation topic?). It’s definitely a story worth telling.