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Think on These Things Articles

Open Theism - Part 2

 (June 2002 - Volume 8, Issue 4)

The God Who Is Pretty Sure

The preeminent doctrinal shift required by open theism, the one upon which all the others rest, is the limiting of the omniscience of God. Open theologians hotly deny this, claiming they stand hand-in-hand with classical theists in the belief that God knows all things and is infinitely wise, resourceful, and competent. However, they add a little phrase that totally changes the landscape. God knows all things, they proclaim, that are knowable. That is, there are certain things that are outside the range of knowledge – even to God. God knows the past perfectly; He sees everything going on in the present with complete accuracy; but He cannot know the future for the future has not taken place. Boyd says it as clearly as anyone,

In the Christian view God knows all of reality – everything there is to know. But to assume He knows ahead of time how every person is going to freely act assumes that each person’s free activity is already there to know – even before he freely does it! But it’s not. If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions.[1]

A number of implications immediately arise from this theory. First, since God does not know the future it stands to reason that He cannot accurately predict the future. Clark Pinnock writes, “The future does not yet exist and therefore cannot be infallibly anticipated, even by God.”[2] Even biblical “prophecies are generally open-ended and dependent in some way on the human response to them,”[3] we are told. And God likes it this way for “it would be a serious limitation if God could not experience surprise and delight…. [And] this implies that God learns things and (I would add) enjoys learning them.”[4]

Next, as we might suspect, a God who cannot anticipate the future, One who is constantly learning and reacting to events as they happen, is also a God who will be impacted and changed by those events as they happen. “When I do something wrong, God comes to be in a state of knowing that I am doing something wrong, and this is a change in God…. God, we want to say, exists and carries on his life in time; he undergoes changing states. And this means that God changes – not indeed in his essential nature, his love and wisdom and power and faithfulness, but in his thoughts and deeds toward us and

the rest of his creation, matching his thoughts toward the creature with the creature’s actual state at the time God thinks of it.”[5]

If God is not omniscient, immutable, or infinite just what does He know and how does He interact with His creation? Richard Rice explains,

God knows a great deal about what will happen. He knows everything that will ever happen as the direct result of factors that already exist. He knows infallibly the content of his own future actions, to the extent that they are not related to human choices. Since God knows all possibilities, he knows everything that could happen and what he can do in response to each eventuality. And he knows the ultimate outcome to which he is guiding the course of history. All that God does not know is the content of future free decisions, and this is because decisions are not there to know until they occur.[6]

Interesting explanation, but think with me for a moment. Every day there are billions and billions of choices made by people. If God does not know the content of all these future free decisions; if He is reacting to each of those choices as they take place; and if He is being impacted and even changed by each of those choices what kind of God do we have? If God does not know the future then in what sense does He govern His creation? The open theist tells us that He is an exceptional anticipator. While God does not control or know our behavior “he is able to predict our behavior far more extensively and accurately than we could predict it ourselves.”[7] Or as another author writes, God “can, as the ultimate psychoanalyst, predict with great accuracy what we as humans will freely choose to do in various contexts.”[8]

And what of biblical prophecies? How could a God who does not control the future, lest He violate the free will of man; nor knows the future, because the future is unknowable, even to God, authoritatively prophesy future events? How could He unquestionably know that Pharaoh would harden his heart, that Peter would deny His Lord (three times no less), that Judas would betray Christ? Rice answers, “Knowing their characters as intimately as God knows, one could accurately predict what they would do in certain situations. Genuine freedom excludes the concept that all human actions are predictable in this way, but it allows that some of them may be.”[9] And unfortunately since God neither controls nor knows the future it is possible that God’s predictions could even be in error as well. For example, according to Sanders God not only did not foresee the Fall of man, He was surprised by it. Given all that God had done for Adam and Eve, it just did not make sense that they would reject Him yet, “The implausible… the totally unexpected happened.”[10] God did not anticipate the Fall, and was apparently shocked at its occurrence.

Of course the implications of all of this are staggering. The classical understanding of God views Him as infinite in knowledge and wisdom. Scriptures such as Isaiah 40:13-14,28 lay the foundation for this treasured doctrine, Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, Or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge, and informed Him of the way of understanding…. Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired, His understanding is inscrutable.

By contrast the open view of God reconfigures Him to be devoid of all knowledge of the future; lacking in design and purpose for most events; a responder to the free decisions of His creatures, reduced to predicting, sometimes inaccurately, how events will turn out, and therefore unable to infallibly lead His own people. To be sure we are guaranteed God does have a master plan – an overarching template by which He guides all of history to His ultimate goal. But as far as everyday life is concerned God has

a leg up on us only to the extent that He has a superior understanding of human nature and the world in general. Still He often gets it wrong and grieves with us when He does. In this rather anemic God we are to place our trust, if not for tomorrow at least for eternity. One has to wonder, however, if God

can fumble the ball tomorrow; if He can predict falsely; if He can be surprised by His creation; if He is at risk at the hands of mankind (not to mention the devil), can He confidently be trusted with our eternity?

God, the Omniscient

While there is much left to explore concerning open theism (something we will endeavor to do in future papers) nevertheless we agree with Bruce Ware, who states that “Open Theism collapses as a comprehensive model of divine providence if it can be demonstrated that God does in fact know all of the future, including all future contingencies and all future free choices and actions of his moral creatures…. [And] the scriptural evidence for this position, simply put, is overwhelming.”[11] There are thousands of references in the Bible to the foreknowledge of God but one section of Scripture alone, Isaiah 40-48, pulls the rug out from under openism. This outstanding section of Scripture repeatedly sets forth God’s knowledge of future events and His sovereign control as proof of His deity (41:21-29; 42:8,9; 43:8-13; 44:6-8,24-28; 45:1-7,18-25; 46:8-11; 48:3-8). For example, in Isaiah 41:21-22 the Lord challenges the idols that so enticed His people to “present your case, bring forward your strong arguments”. Let them bring forth and declare to us what is going to take place; as for the former events, declare what they were, that we may consider them, and know their outcome; or announce to us what is coming. Declare the things that are going to come afterward, that we may know that you are gods.

Isaiah 42:8,9 reads, I am the Lord that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images. Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you. Ware says of this passage, “God’s claim to deity and his right to unsurpassed and exclusive glory are founded on his knowledge and control of what occurs in history, including his ability to declare what will take place in the future.”[12]

This truth is even clearer in Isaiah 44:7, And who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place.

In chapters 44 and 45 God foretells the ascendancy of Cyrus to the throne of Persia and his decree to rebuild Jerusalem more than a century and a half later. Think of all the future events that God would have to negotiate, or at the very least foreknow, to pull this off. Billions of free choices would have to be handled; kingdoms would have to come and go; battles would have to be won; even Cyrus' mother would have to somehow name her son Cyrus and not Tommy. Yet, “in the openness model, with the bulk of these future events dependent on future free choices, none of which God can either know or regulate, it becomes impossible to account for the certainty and exactness of these predictions and their fulfillment.”[13]

Isaiah 46:8-11 speaks a bit more to the sovereignty issue but is appropriate here as well. Verse 10b-11 reads, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure"… truly I have spoken; and truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. It doesn’t seem to concern God much that He is stepping on the free will toes of a lot of open theologians in His insistence to get His own way.

The Lord had prophesied certain events that Israel was experiencing at the time to press upon them the fact of His deity. Isaiah 48:5 is helpful, Therefore I declared them to you long ago, before they took place I proclaimed them to you, lest you should say, “My idol has done them, and my graven image and my molten image have commanded them.”

Jesus was in sync with Isaiah when He declared to His disciples, From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He (John 13:19).

Ware sums up our concerns well, “Since God himself declares the criterion by which the question of his deity is to be evaluated and established, and since that criterion is the possession of a knowledge of the future that can be declared and its truthfulness verified (or falsified) by the unfolding of future events, how utterly impertinent and presumptuous to deny of God divine foreknowledge and so deny the very basis by which God himself has declared that his claim to deity shall be vindicated and made known.” [14]

 


[1] Boyd, Letters from a Skeptic, (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1994), p. 30.

[2] Clark H. Pinnock, “Systematic Theology,” in The Openness of God, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 123.

[3] Ibid., p. 122.

[4] Ibid., p.123.

[5] Ibid., p.133.

[6] Richard Rice, “Divine Foreknowledge and Free will Theism” in The Grace of God, the Will of Man (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1989), p.134.

[7] Boyd, God of the Possible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), p. 35.

[8] William Hasker, “Practical Implications,” in The Openness of God, p. 163.

[9] Rice, p. 135

[10] Richard Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), p. 46.

[11] Bruce A. Ware, God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000), pp. 99-100.

[12] Ibid., p. 105

[13] Ibid., p. 112

[14] Ibid., p. 104, emphasis in the original.