Evangelicals have just voted another intellectual off their island.With a glowing resume like that, why, in the Wide, Wide World of Sports was he fired? Here's why:
On the eve of April Fools’ Day, while on vacation in Hawaii with his wife, Professor Tom Oord got an email from the president of Northwest Nazarene University (NNU) notifying him that he was being terminated. NNU is one of eight schools sponsored by the evangelical denomination Church of the Nazarene.
Oord was a tenured full professor—the highest rank in academia—who had been on the NNU faculty for 13 years, after several years as my colleague at Eastern Nazarene College. Oord was the university’s leading scholar, with 20 books on his CV; by most measures he was also the denomination’s leading scholar and one of a tiny number of Nazarene theologians whose reputations reached beyond evangelicalism. Oord had won multiple teaching awards and was wildly popular with students and respected by his colleagues. He had brought over a million dollars of grant money to the university—a remarkable accomplishment for a professor at a small, unsung liberal arts college.
He strongly supported evolution and had long been a target of creationists in the denomination. He embraced “open theism,” the view that God does not know the future but responds in love—rather than coercive control—to events as they occur, rather than foreordaining everything. Fundamentalist critics called him a heretic and had been vying for his termination for years. But Oord was also gentle and pastoral, especially with students.What is open theism, you ask? Here is a brief synopsis of this movement:
Open Theism, also called openness and the open view, is a theological position dealing with human free will and its relationship to God and the nature of the future. It is the teaching that God has granted to humanity free will and that in order for the free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. They hold that if God knows what we are going to choose, then how can we be truly free when it is time to make those choices--since a counter choice cannot then be made by us because it is already "known" what we are going to do.1 In other words, we would not actually be able to make a contrary choice to what God "knows" we will choose thus implying that we would not then be free.This is diametrically opposed to reformed theology and reminds me of the joke involving the reformed minister who, after falling down a flight of stairs, gets up and remarks “Whew! Glad that's over with.” Open theism is not process theology, which is even more restrictive on the power of God. The basic premise, that God is bound by time, seems to me (the unaided eye) to have a fatal flaw in that: if God is bound by time, and time began with the creation of the universe, how would God have created it in the first place? Perhaps someone with a much better handle on open theism can point out the response to this argument, but it seems pretty central.
I find it unusual that Northwest Nazarene University had more trouble with his acceptance of evolution than with his acceptance of open theism. Apparently, evolution gets the blood boiling but potentially heretical theology does not.