At last week’s Fellowship of Word and Spirit Conference, Richard Pratt drew a really useful diagram to highlight the differences between open theism, reformed theology and fatalism with respect to the sovereignty of God and the providence of God. The hinteraction of these two can be shown in a Venn diagram:
Open Theists – Big on providence
The open theist sees God’s hand of providence in all things. God is at work, like a master chess player, interacting with the world, relating to people, loving people, frustrating the wicked, though often the wicked seem to get away with things. God is immanent and intimate. Life is dynamic and fluid.
Fatalists – Big on sovereignty
The fatalist is aware that God controls all things to the point that the fatalist is resigned to whatever happens if life, que sera sera. He feels unable to change the course of events because his distant God pulls all the strings and so there’s no point in pulling back.
Reformed theologians – Big on sovereignty and big on providence.
As the Westminster Confession of Faith puts it in section 5.2
Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.
In other words, from God’s perspective, he is in complete control and yet, from a human perspective, we face the reality of choice as God uses second causes such that all events are, to us, free and contingent. The reformed Christian thinks “I have a choice to make, and I want to make it under the guidance and will of God. If I make a good choice blessing will come and if not it will result in bad fruit. When I look back on life, I see God at work in directing all things. Looking forward, I have confidence that God will build his church and see me through, even as global events unfurl and I make bad choices.”
The question which I wanted to ask at the conference and didn’t is, “what is life for according to these three schools of thought?” Open theists seem to believe that life is for interacting with the inter-actable God. Life is an adventure with no assurance of a happy end but it is fun and hardship on the way. Fatalists believe in the opposite, that whatever they do in life makes no meaningful difference so life is for enduring, as they suffer whatever comes their way. But Reformed theologians get the balance right. God is sovereign, yes, but we also learn about him and we are changed from one degree of glory to another. Safe in his sovereignty, we grow and change before the unchanging God and we do this by making choices and reflecting on life in the light of his word.