This blog is intended to explain open theism to my family and friends. It is not intended for advanced discussion of open theism or for arguments between supporters and opponents of open theism, other sites being available for both of those activities. Its first post is an updated version of an article that appeared in Christianity – Protestant at Suite101.com on August 31, 2005. Material in square brackets didn’t appear in the original article.
You’re probably asking yourself, “Open theism—what in the world is that?” It is a contemporary view of God that’s created controversy among evangelical Protestant academics. According to it, in giving us free will God limited His control over and knowledge of the future and thus the future is partly open. It has been opposed by most evangelical scholars, some even labelling it heresy.
In this brief introduction to open theism, I’ll summarize the traditional and openness views of God’s foreknowledge, present some advantages claimed for open theism and objections made to it, and recommend some further reading on it.
Traditional theism holds that God knows the future completely either because He preordains all that is going to come to pass (Calvinism) or simply because He knows what is going to come to pass (Arminianism).
Two passages which indicate that God knows the future are:
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. (Psalms 139:4)
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is nine like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: (Isaiah 46:9-10)
Other passages indicating that God knows the future are those containing prophecies later fulfilled and those supporting the Calvinist view that God preordains all that is going to come to pass, such as Lamentations 3:37-38 and Romans 11:33-36.
The following outline of the distinctive theology of open theism is based on John Sanders’s “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site.
1. God’s primary characteristic is love. His intention in creating us was that we would experience and respond with love to His love and would freely come to collaborate with Him in achieving His goals.
2. God sovereignly decided to make some of His actions contingent on our requests and actions and elicits our free collaboration in achieving His goals.
3. God exercises general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for Him to be creative and resourceful in working with us.
4. God has granted us the freedom necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop.
5. God knows all that can be known. However because He decided to create beings with significant freedom, part of the future is open and thus unknowable even by him.
Advantages Claimed for Open Theism
Proponents of open theism claim that only it makes good sense of passages in which God changes His mind, regrets His decisions, expresses surprise over what happens, states He didn’t know what people would do, tests His people to learn what they will do, and shows uncertainty about the future. See A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View at Greg Boyd’s ReKnew website for examples of such passages and Open Theism verses listed by topic at Matt Slick’s CARM website for explanations of the passages by an opponent of open theism.
Proponents of open theism also claim that it makes better sense of Scripture as a whole than alternate views and that it has significant theological and practical advantages over alternative views. Examples of the latter are: it frees God from appearing responsible for atrocities like the Holocaust and for the creation of damned individuals, and it encourages prayer because according to it God may change His mind when petitioned.
Some Common Objections to Open Theism
Naturally opponents of open theism, like its proponents, claim that their view (Calvinist, Arminian, or other) makes better sense of Scripture than alternative views, including open theism. They charge that the latter actually contradicts Scripture, which affirms God’s exhaustive foreknowledge (see Traditional Theism above) and states that God doesn’t change His mind (Numbers 23:19 and 1 Samuel 15:29).
Opponents of open theism also charge that it undermines God’s omnipotence and omniscience, thus demeaning His sovereignty and diminishing His glory. Further they charge that it cannot account for biblical prophecy and that it weakens our confidence in God’s ability to accomplish His purposes and to guide us.
Both traditional and open theism claim to make better sense of Scripture than the other. Which do you think does? Why?
Recommended Reading on Open Theism
Since the publication of Clark Pinnock et al’s The Openness of God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994), numerous articles, books, and websites have been produced on open theism.
Two popular books (besides it) supporting open theism are:
Boyd, Gregory A. God of the Possible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000.
Sanders, John. The God Who Risks. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Two popular books opposing open theism are:
Frame, John M. No Other God. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Company, 2001.
Ware, Bruce A. God’s Lesser Glory. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000.
Above I’ve referred to these websites on open theism, the first two supporting and the third opposing open theism:
Open Theism Information Site
ReKnew – Open Theism
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry – Open Theism
[In the Suite101.com article I gave links to six websites, but the other three are now either not available or only partially available.]
In my next post, “Some Books on Open Theism,” I’ll give summaries of the five books that I recommended in this post.