Open Theism & “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

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“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is an intellectually (and theologically) stimulating movie. One of the more interesting themes that runs throughout: the openness of the future. The movie opens with Xavier narrating the world of a bleak future and asking, “Are we destined down this path, destined to destroy ourselves like so many species before us? Or can we evolve fast enough to change ourselves, change our fate? Is the future truly set?” This is indeed an interesting question: is the future open or closed?

This is also a theological conundrum which has been debated across two aisles: classical theism and open theism. Classical theism, relying on God’s immutability as well as his knowledge of the future, states that the future is, in some definite sense, closed. God has been there (the future) and has seen what must (or simply will) happen. On the contrary, open theism suggests that the future is, at least partially, open. God knows the future in terms of possibilities and our free will has the ability to genuinely impact the reality to be experienced in the future. The interaction between, and implications of, these differing theological options has intrigued me for years [see: Flight Anxiety and Divine Providence (A Comparison of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Open Theism].

What do you think: is the future open or closed?
Can our decisions in the present make a genuine difference in the future?

The movie puts forward its own suggestion. At one point in the narrative, after a failed attempt to alter the future, Hank McCoy states, “There’s a theory in quantum physics that time is immutable. It’s like a river – you can throw a pebble in and create a ripple, but the current always corrects itself. No matter what you do the river just keeps flowing in the same direction.” However, the end of the movie finds Xavier concluding the opposite: “Countless choices define our fate. Each choice, each moment, a ripple in the river of time. Enough ripples and you change the tide, for the future is never truly set.”

10 thoughts on “Open Theism & “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

  1. The strange thing here is Mike … I’m your prime candidate for thinking a critique of classical theism is critical for actually recovering our doctrine of God in a fully trinitarian sense. I’m of course following Stan Grenz here. But I never seem to land as an Open Theist, despite a whole lot of people telling me I will just love it (and I’m even far less likely to land as a Process Theist). Now notice, I didn’t say that Open Theists aren’t or can’t be trinitarians (and this is the central issue for me), Greg Boyd’s ‘Trinity and Process’ (which actually ends up as a critique of Process) is actually very trinitarian. But despite its own quibbles with Classical Theism, OT seems to me to buy into some pretty modernist philosophical and hermeneutical assumptions of its own. Thus, while it quibbles with it, I’m not sure OT actually breaks with the classical model as much as it thinks it does. Just some thoughts off the top of my head.

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  2. I’ve been an X-men fan forever and I’ve been studying open theism lately. Now, I’ve gotta go see the move, lol.
    I think there is a segment of the church that has always believed the future was partially open. Any Bible believing church that affirms that prayer really does move God’s hand and change the future is in some sense affirming open theism. Some of these debates have been around for a long time, they are just being fleshed out better now. I kind of look at it this way-God has an outline of the story, he knows the end from the beginning, but there is a whole lot in the middle that is yet to be scripted.

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  3. Important observations, particularly within the context of a summer blockbuster such as X-Men. It would be interesting to see if movies/tv have made any marked changes away from narratives of fatalism. The Adjustment Bureau comes to mind. Given how formative film is in forming worldviews–look at Disney princess movies and young girls worldview developments, for example–a move away from fatalism in Hollywood might reflect “ripples” in pop theology/societal worldviews. Great read, man.

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  4. Great observations. It’s significant that a major summer blockbuster would employ such anti-fatalistic themes. I wonder if there has been any sort of marked shift away from fatalistic themes in film over the past years. I think about films like “The Adjustment Bureau” and wonder if Open Theistic themes are becoming prevalent. Given how influential film and pop culture is in forming societal world views–an examination of the impact Disney princess films has had on young girls, “damsel in distress/I need a knight to come rescue me” might be interesting.–a shift away from fatalism in pop film and literature might result in very interesting “ripples” in society/contemporary theology. Either way, nice post my man. I enjoyed it a good deal. Write on.

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