Richard Rice presented "Re-Imagining God—Peril or Promise?" at the Loma Linda University Church on the Sabbath afternoon of February 17. It was the 2018 Clinton Emmerson Annual Address and this was the centerpiece of the ceremonies for the 43rd Annual Presentation by the Charles Elliot Weniger Society for Excellence.
On Sabbath, March 3, he presented it again to the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) in Loma Linda, California.
Rice was one of four people the Weniger Society honored this year. The other three were former LLUH president Lyn Behrens Basaraba, biblical archaeologist and theologian Douglas R. Clark, and educational administrator and General Conference Vice President Ella Smith Simmons. This was an excellent cohort of awardees!
Rice's presentation articulated anew and afresh his controversial "Openness of God" theology which has reinvigorated serious discussions throughout the entire Christian world. Its suggestion is that God knows the past and present completely plus all of the future's possibilities and probabilities; however, because they do not yet exist, God does not know all of the future's actualities.
Richard Rice is one of LLUH's true treasures. Born in Loma Linda, he was raised in Ohio, Arizona, and Southern California, and educated at Loma Linda University (B.A.), Andrews University (M.Div.) and the University of Chicago Divinity School (M.A., PhD), he has been a professor at LLUH from the early 1970s.
I look forward to watching this presentation. The Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School in Loma Linda, California is one of the finest Sabbath School classes in the world.
There is one hermeneutical problem I see with Openness of God theology. If the past, present and future taken together is a text, then our interpretation of each part informs our understanding of the whole and our interpretation of the whole informs our understanding of each part. This is the hermeneutical circle and there is a continual back-and-forth with the expectation that a spiral to greater understanding will result. The hermeneutical circle does not function if God does not know the future. Consequently, if God does not know the future (and thus does not understand the entire text), then He does not have complete knowledge of the other parts of the text, which are the past and present.
The past is not a text; the past is not a synchronic system; the past changes as the clock ticks. Even the present, which can be perceived as a synchronic system, is in reality diachronic, because time cannot be sliced so fine as to exclude change. Accordingly, our understanding of the past and present is continually informed (and more important, changed) by the future as the future occurs and becomes the past and present.
I have not read critiques of Openness of God theology. I would be surprised if no one has noticed that this theology necessarily implies, notwithstanding protestations to the contrary, that God does not have complete knowledge of the past and present.
I read Rick’s book The Openness of God right after it was published, years ago (close to 40?) and I found the new proposition fascinating. Because the foreknowledge of God had been a major problem to my thinking system (aka mind) for quite a while. Then it all settle down since I had finally found an idea that was viable.
(Or future?) The “J” stories in Genesis seem to propose just such a God. God (Yahweh) is surprised and puzzled, “Adam, where did you go? Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of the Tree of Knowledge?”
And later, in Chapter 16, He pretty much confesses that if He had known how humanity would turn out, He would not have created them in the first place. (Better not to have created them in the first place than create them and then annihilate them.) In fact, He is represented as creating the animal kingdom in an attempt to find a suitable helper for Adam from the dust when He seems to stumble onto the idea of using a chunk of Adam for his assistant’s raw material. He waited to see whether each experiment was acceptable to Adam by noting what Adam would call it. Yahweh discerned through Adam’s response to Eve’s undraped differences that He had finally hit on the perfect design!
The author(s) of the later “E” (El, Elohim) version of creation (Genesis 1-2:4a) pictured a perhaps less interesting Creator who was surprised at nothing. Richard Rice obviously leans in the direction of “J”.
The “openness of of God” is a two-edged sward for Adventist theology. On the one hand, it confirms the need for God to spend,what now has become 174 years (and counting), investigating humanity as to who gets to be saved in His kingdom. On the other hand, it totally nullifies Adventism’s point of pride - prophesy.
So, my question to Richard Rice would be - does God “speak” to different ages in different ways like He speaks to different individuals (as brought out by one of the commentators)? When God spoke to Abraham, a Mesopotamian nomad, ordering him to leave for Canaan, to be blessed by God for his faith, did God reference Abraham’s knowledge and experience in a land of many gods? Did God “speak” to Moses differently than He speaks to us today? Did God produce pictures, meaningful to John as he wrote Revelation that would be part of his intellectual experience? In other words, does God present himself differently in the different stages of intellectual development of the human experience?
This “openness of God” theory seems to be based on wording where God reacts to situations like we might - with surprise and regret; sometimes changing His mind. Were the writers of these kinds of statements simply ascribing human emotions to God… and nothing more? Were these human qualities a left-over from the waring gods of polytheism… The ancient religions, including that of the Greeks, who ascribed human emotions to their gods, causing their gods to interact with each other and with men in the only ways they can be imagined at the time.
We really don’t need to “imagine” God. If we ascribe to the Christian view of God, we must look to Christ for a description and definition. Jesus said, “You have seen me, you have seen God”. What that means, is an other matter which men continue to struggle with.
The concept of “time” seems be at the heart of this discussion about God. In our culture, time is linear; but not in all cultures. Regardless of how we understand time, it’s pretty clear that time on this round earth does not apply to all parts of the universe, and not to anything outside of this universe. God being the CREATOR, certainly isn’t bound by something he created, anymore than a painter has to live by the norms he includes in his painting. Yet, we insist on placing God in the same restraints we find ourselves in.
The truth is, we have no idea what this universe is all about. We are all blind men making assumptions based on our limited knowledge and experience. So, then, we write about a God who “regrets” making this world and has to be convinced to spare it - ergo, Noah and his ark. Men, flesh and blood people, with limitations in all areas, wrote the words in the Bible. This makes parts of the Bible incongruous and filled with discrepancies. We get hung up on specifics and miss the over-riding principles.
I was encouraged by how this presentation ended. Finally, the final definition of God comes from Jesus; and all other statements and theories must square with the picture Jesus gives us of God. It might not be the complete picture, but it’s enough to get us through.
If, as Rice suggests. God knows every “possible” future and is prepared for all of them, then, while the actual future does not surprise God (even when it is an outcome of human decision-making which is, at times, outside the cause/effect nexus in history), why is that problematic for the hermeneutical circle which you use as an analogy for the “text.”? Would appreciate a little more clarification.
Suppose you have a good novel or short story. Why do you read the last chapter or the last few paragraphs? The reason is because the last chapter or the last few paragraphs clarify the meaning of the rest of the work. To know the past and present is to know what they mean. God could memorize every fact, every matter of trivia, about the past and present, but if He does not know the future, then He does not know the meaning of the past and the present.
I see. But I was under the impression that the will of God, _ultimately cannot be denied. _Meaning that whichever future in human history finally emerges, when God sees fit, he will intervene. Perhaps God “knows” already that a world impacted by evil, and tectonically and ecologically fragile, has only one possibly future in the end, but the details and timetable toward that end are not settled (though when settled, there is no surprise to the divine?).
Does God know the future in all its excruciating detail?
If so, then our human reality is determined, and we must conclude in predestinarian terms. In such a world God created sin in that he created a being he knew would sin—as indirect causation rather than direct causation, but a guilty God nonetheless.
Those uncomfortable with the logical consequences of such thinking may find “Openness” theology helpful.
Perhaps we can say that God has the power to know the future but chooses not to know the future and possesses the power to make that choice. I have not read the Openness of God literature and am just speculating. Richard Rice is a marvelous scholar, so I am sure he understands all of the arguments pro and con. I might dip my toes into these waters and determine what I think. It seems that Openness of Theology has never had any legs in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. At least that is my impression.
"More than three hundred prophecies from the Old Testament which deal with the first advent of Christ have been listed. Every one of them was completely fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Let us see what happens when we take more than eight prophecies…
In order to extend this consideration beyond all bounds of human comprehension, let us consider forty-eight prophecies, similar in their human chance of fulfillment to the eight which we originally considered, using a much more conservative number, 1 in 10^21 power. Applying the same principle of probability used so far, we find the chance that any one man fulfilled all forty-eight prophecies to be 1 in 10^157 power." http://sciencespeaks.dstoner.net/Christ_of_Prophecy.html#ca
We need an Absolute Compass now more than ever before. . . .
We lost our bearings
Following our own mind
We left conviction behind
Fear of the future
Springing from sins of the past
Hiding the hope that would last
How did we ever wander so
Far and where do we go from here?
How will we know where it is?
There’s a strong steady light
That is guiding us home
In the lingering night we
Were never alone
We need an absolute
Compass now more
Than ever before
True north, True north
Wonders of nature speak
To us all of Your plan
Why would we run from Your hand?
Laws of the earth, just like
The laws of the heart
Only begin where You are
How did we ever wander
So far and where do we
Go from here?
How will we find it again?
Turning back to where
You meet us
We will follow where
You lead us
There is Truth inside
We have come to face
There’s a strong steady light
That is guiding us home
In the lingering night we
Were never alone
We need an absolute
Compass now more
Than ever before
True north, True north
I went to Israel in the early 80’s with a group from La Sierra U (might of been just “college” then?) that included Richard Rice and ironically Bailey Gillespie, who recently passed away. I was taking courses from a non-SDA college but was given history credits for the trip which included Rome and a Greece Isle/Turkey cruise. They gave me the “Kodak Award” written on a shard from an ancient tel in Israel and framed it because I took so many pictures. “Tough” on a 20 something but the trip of my lifetime. I grew great respect, and still have, for both of these men. That said, at that time, we were physically walking through and verifying God’s prophecies via archaeological findings. Later in life I heard of Dr. Rice’s now really life-long thesis but I never understood why he held onto them. That trip verified in my mind that God proves Himself via His prophecies and the “unknown future” concept of God is an unfortunate drop-kick of the facts that Dr. Rice knows all too well. So it concerns me. And as a p.s. I will ask if anyone knows if Dr. Bailey concurred with this hypothesis as they were life-long friends/colleagues?
Against what is, no doubt, my better judgment, I can’t stop thinking about this, and that usually builds up pressure to talk about it, against what is, no doubt, (what I laughingly call) my better judgment.
Richard Rice discusses Thomas Kuhn and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and his famous concept of the “paradigm shift,” the bastardization of which term Kuhn rues, and limits his use to scientific discussion.
Be that as it may, what “anomalies” did Richard Rice find accumulating in classic theism for which a subversive paradigm shift was the only solution? Theodicy and “free will” problems, it seems.
If this new theology is designed to solve the theodicy and free will problems inherent in classic theism, Calvinist, Arminian (or, pointedly, Adventist), it seems to me that it only digs us in deeper, and specifically with Adventist theodicy and theology problems.
As the saying goes, “Yesterday’s solutions are today’s problems.” Now we’ve got all the old problems, plus the ones our “solution” generated, which exponentially deepens the cognitive swamp we’ve all been mired in decade after decade, it appears to me.
Richard Rice, when questioned in friendly conversation on a plane, said to a Baptist gentleman that the reason he was an Adventist was the “Seventh Day,” and the “usual” SDA explanations, but the main reason was that he met Jesus there, and saw no reason to leave.
But he did see a reason to create a new theism which is a radical departure from classic theism, in general, and Adventist theism, in particular.
He said there were no personal consequences for him in doing this, as there have been for others in different Christian traditions who adopted this new theology, since Adventists do not have to sign statements.
The prospect of the creation of an Adventist Magisterium is just as horrifying to me as it is to any “liberal” Adventist, I’m sure.
But I have the impression that Richard Rice has, in general, been flying under the radar for a good long time in this church, else the conservatives on this forum would have formed a flash mob shouting, “Danger, Will Robinson!”
I also found it interesting that in his hour presentation at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School, he did not bring up how this new theology integrates with Adventist doctrine in general, or Adventist eschatology in particular, and nothing was brought up in the question and answer period after the lecture.
Perhaps I’m missing a great deal, but the apparent advantage of this new theology is to enable an immanent, intimate, phenomenological relationship with a distributed, feeling God; and to divest God of karmic responsibility for a Creation run amok, supposedly solving theodicy problems, and imploding Adventist eschatology, with the stroke of a pen.
If that is the case, it seems to me that Richard Rice has not solved any theodicy problems, and has additionally created a False Dilemma: Transcendent God versus Immanent God.
This reminds me very much of the physics “solution” to the apparent fine-tuning of the universe:
The inference to a divine designer or a multiverse typically rests on the idea that, in view of the required fine-tuning, life-friendly conditions are in some sense highly improbable if there is only one, un-designed, universe.
It is controversial, however, whether this idea can coherently be fleshed out in terms of any philosophical account of probability.
The damage to epistemology is similar in both cases, it seems to me, and that cannot be trivial.
I have a general appreciation for the free will and theodicy issues involved in theism, and I don’t think they are adequately solved as yet…but… ad hoc “solutions” don’t appeal to me, either in theology or cosmology…especially exclusively intellectual ad hoc solutions that lacquer over present Adventist theology issues, or present cosmological quandaries (I know the math is supposedly there).
Richard Rice said he spent a good deal of time preparing this presentation, so I can only conclude that he used his free choice to omit talking about how Open Theism fits into the Adventist paradigm.
It seems obvious that it does not.
So that’s why he showed us a picture of Thomas Kuhn, I suppose, but he hardly made his case, to my mind.
Truth never triumphs—its opponents just die out.
Science advances one funeral at a time.
Maybe Richard Rice hopes Adventists will just forget about all that inconvenient doctrinal stuff, and he won’t really have to make his case to them. Some people still notice when the Adventist paradigm disappears in a puff of smoke, with nothing substantive to replace it, however.
The Three Angels’ Messages cannot withstand this withering truncation of the nature of God, and this diminished deity is not the One Whom the angels and saints adore without ceasing, I trow.
I could say a lot more (and probably will) about how no theodicy problems are solved with this apparent abrupt abandonment of the Adventist paradigm, and no theological changes are necessary for communion with an immanent God.
Is it the problem that Richard Rice cannot live with the paradox of a God that is both Transcendent and Immanent?
I think Hanz Gutierrez offers a more organic, fecund, humble and less arbitrary sense of direction that does not obliterate the Almighty and the Adventist landscape in the process:
It is a peculiar American trait to decimate the ecosystem in the name of progress. I’m not buying it.
One can’t just make up new theologies or mythologies to solve problems, and proclaim a new paradigm has been birthed.
This is an organic, dialectical process involving the hermeneutical community moving forward with freedom, over time, and we can’t make an end run around it, and certainly not in Adventism, in my opinion.
A similar logical dilemma has seemingly caused Richard Rice to default to a truncated view of God, in order to make the logic work.
It seems to me there are a number of assumed premises here that make the argument inadequate, on the face of it.
We understand the nature of time
We understand the nature of reality
We understand the nature of consciousness
Time is a directional stream
God is constrained to exist in the earth time stream
Time controls God
Therefore time is more fundamental than God
Therefore time transcends God
We can know the limits of God’s knowledge
Okay, I could go on, but we’re obviously deep in the grickle grass here.
Once one does away with the Transcendence of God, one imagines that “scanning God” is possible.
Not a healthy move at any level, I would say.
The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics
By JULIAN BARBOUR
Oxford University Press
Like Stephen Hawking, Julian Barbour spends his time on time. Like Hawking’s 1988 best seller, Barbour’s book is about time and its history – how it is treated in various physical theories. But unlike Hawking’s book, ‘‘The End of Time’’ is self-contained and really explains its central ideas.
It is arduous work, but for determined readers, even those with little mathematics, the book is gold. Barbour asks what time really is.
His answer, in light of all we know of the physics involved: nothing; time does not exist.
That sounds insane. But Barbour is not mad. He speaks with authority: he wrote a classic study of the history of theories of motion.
And as a physicist he has earned a place in that history.
According to this influential view, God dwells in perfect bliss outside the sphere of time and space. From his lofty vantage point, he apprehends the whole of created reality in one timeless perception: past, present and future alike appear before him. But though he fully knows and cares for the created world, he remains essentially unaffected by creaturely events and experiences. He is untouched by the disappointment, sorrow or suffering of his creatures. Just as his sovereign will brooks no opposition, his serene tranquillity knows no interruption.
—Richard Rice, The Openness of God
I’ll grant that’s probably what some systematic theology books like Millard Erikson’s Christian theology teach, but I’ve never met the living, breathing human being who believed in such a caricature of a solely Transcendent God, or heard it preached from the pulpit. But Rice describes this as the Traditional view.
Where are the Christians who only believe in a Transcendent God? Even Last Generation Theology Adventists pray for the Holy Spirit to come and bring revival. They believe Jesus whenever He says, “Ask and it shall be given.”
Nevertheless, that is one pole of the False Dilemma (in my opinion) Richard Rice presents us; here is the other pole:
The view of God and his relation to the world presented in this book provides a striking alternative to the concept just described.
It expresses two basic convictions: love is the most important quality we attribute to God, and love is more than care and commitment; it involves being sensitive and responsive as well.
These convictions lead the contributors to this book to think of God’s relation to the world in dynamic rather than static terms.
This conclusion has important consequences. For one thing, it means that God interacts with his creatures.
Not only does he influence them, but they also exert an influence on him. As a result, the course of history is not the product of divine action alone.
God’s will is not the ultimate explanation for everything that happens; human decisions and actions make an important contribution too.
Thus history is the combined result of what God and his creatures decide to do.
Striking alternative? Seriously?
God is compassionate love
God is dynamically relational
God wants us to pray
God wants us to develop and use our talents in the world
That is not a striking alternative. That is where every Christian I know lives. So why set up a straw man like that, I have to wonder?
One does not have to repudiate believing in a God who is not constrained by human notions of time in order to believe in, and experience, a sensitively loving, dynamically relational, co-creative God.
Repeating for emphasis: Every Christian I know believes that way. It is not some kind of “striking alternative.”
So what is this about, really? Maybe it’s about something else.
Why make people feel they have to chose between a remote, unresponsive God, and an immanent, sensitive God? Totally unnecessary dilemma.
Something’s up. Why is this happening? What cultural situations might this be a reaction to?
It just doesn’t add up.
Whatever the reason, the effect is to hamstring Adventist eschatology. I notice things like that.
GEORGE KNIGHT: Adventist or Merely Evangelical?
Early in 2007 I presented a paper entitled “The Missiological Roots of Adventist Higher Education and the Ongoing Tension Between Adventist Mission and Academic Vision” to a group of Seventh-day Adventist educational leaders and the church administrators who chair their boards.
The content of my talk dealt with the necessary and ongoing tension and balance between what academics might want to see in higher education and the missiological goals of the denomination.
The paper also focused on the balance between general Christian and specifically Adventist concerns.
In the question-and-answer session that followed I made the point that if Adventism loses its apocalyptic vision, it has lost its reason for existing as either a church or as a system of education.
In response, one administrator quite aggressively stated that what we needed was to get rid of apocalyptic and preach the gospel.
I tried to suggest that rightly understood, apocalyptic is gospel.
But he had his own views on the topic. Getting a bit excited, he pointed out that his institution was growing rapidly by emphasizing the gospel without apocalyptic. He apparently saw little connection between the two realms.
Looking back, I have wondered if he had earlier been a victim of what I will later in this chapter call beastly apocalyptic preaching or had suffered from overexposure to the ad-nauseam bickering by some Adventists over apocalyptic minutia.
—The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism
Knight’s use of the word “neutered” is apropos, I believe. Without this healthy, creative dialectical tension, you have a sterile church.
Like “Sabbath keeping” I don’t think you will be able to nail that jello to the wall. Or did I miss the definition (creed?) all agreed to?
Main question for Richard Rice: Why would God bother with prophecies?
Was that asked?
This is questioning God. This is the core of Babylon. Challenge me here. Please.
I don’t know @Cassie I was just surprised, OK maybe not totally, to see Rice still pedaling his theory after all these years like it’s his legacy. That appears to be the case. It never gained traction from what I can tell. I heard it from him in the early 80’s and being fresh out of Academy I didn’t stop to even try to understand what he was talking about, frankly. This many years later I hear he is still promoting it which is fine in the forum of ideas we all share, especially in this day and age where we can vet things to our own satisfaction. To most of us that means biblically, in context. To others that means extra-biblical which I have never been able to refute or counter as it is not an agreed upon standard… so many use it as to manipulate “truth”.
Please. Contemplate. That.
Others here have shared that this theory helps explain God, for me it diminishes God in many ways not least of which are His prophecies that prove His existence and verify His promises. What’s the point of prophecies if you don’t think God knows the future?
Wow! Such violent reactions to Richard Rice’s “Openness of God,”, even now so many decades after it first came out. I was a student of his back in the 80’s. I took his class on Adventist Theology, and he taught it well. However, when he talked about the openness of God, just as his own thinking about his relationship with God, it made everything come alive to me. When his book was published, I told my parents all about it. I was truly shocked about the reaction to it.
But his class prepared me well for my non-Adventist graduate program’s requirement of a minor in theology. His suggestion of the openness of God helped me to navigate the vicious arguments between the predestination of the Calvinists and the unknowing God of the Arminians (and a few other things). I also learned to appreciate how culture can affect our way of seeing and knowing God, even within the Adventist church.
My parents went to a Consortium meeting and listened to Dr. Rice speak back in the 90’s, and they reread his book. They told me that they had a radical change in their thinking about God and how He works. They felt called to be medical missionaries and did two tours of duty in Hong Kong. They had to open their minds about how God works in another culture, and it changed the way they viewed the world.
My father passed away in June. I understand that he and my mother made a great difference for the people who worked at or who were recruited to work at the Adventist hospitals in Hong Kong. All because of God and the idea of his openness. I just had to put in something positive here, because Dr. Rice has made a huge positive difference in my life, and in a a whole lot of other people’s lives.