Monthly Archives: November 2012

Biblical Evidence for God’s General Foreknowledge of the Future

This is the second of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “An Introduction to Open Theism.” In it I expand on this paragraph:

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 none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Psalm 139

The ESV rendering of Psalms 139:4, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether,” makes clear that the Psalmist believed that God knew in advance all the words that he would speak. (Biblical quotations in the rest of this post are also from the ESV.) Even stronger support for God’s foreknowledge of the future is found in Psalms 139:16,  “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Clearly the passage indicates that the Psalmist believed that God had formed or ordained the days of his life before he was even born.

Isaiah 40-48

Bruce A. Ware devotes over twenty pages (pages 101-121) of God’s Lesser Glory to the portrayal of God’s foreknowledge given in Isaiah 40-48, considering separately 41:21-29; 42:8-9; 43:8-13; 44:6-8; 44:24-28; 45:1-7; 45:18-25; 46:8-11; and 48:3-9. Since I’ll comment on just two of those passages–the first of them (41:21-29) and the one that I quoted from in “Introduction to Open Theism” (46:8-11)–and my comments will be brief, I recommend that members of my family borrow God’s Lesser Glory from my library and read what Ware says about all nine passages.

In Isaiah 41:21-29 God challenges the gods of the nations to “declare to us the things to come . . . that we may know that you are gods” (verses 22-23) and goes on to give an example of how He did so “that we might say, ‘He is right'” (verse 26). In his classic Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God Stephen Charnock comments: “He [God] puts his Deity to stand or fall upon this account, and this should be the point which should decide the controversy, whether he or the heathen idols were the true God; the dispute is managed by this medium,–He that knows things to come, is God; I know things to come, ergo, I am God; the idols know not things to come, therefore they are not gods.”

In Isaiah 46:9-10 God clearly asserts that He had declared in the past things about the future and that they would come to pass. Open theists argue that the things that God declared about the future that would come to pass were just things that God intended to do and not the freewill actions of people. However they included “calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executest my counsel from a far country” (Isaiah 46:11), probably a reference to Cyrus, whom God predicts in Isaiah 44:28 would restore Jerusalem (Ezra describes the fulfillment of this prediction). God’s bringing this about involved using the apparently freewill choices of Cyrus and others, providing support for the view of traditional theism that God foresees the whole future, not just what He intends to do.

In my next post I’ll consider some more passages containing prophecies later fulfilled.

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Calvinism and Arminianism

This is the first of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “An Introduction to Open Theism.” In it I expand on this statement:

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).

Calvinism

Calvinism is based on the teachings of John Calvin (1509-1564), a leader in the Protestant Reformation in Switzerland, and is often often summarized by the acronym TULIP:

tulip for CalvinismT
otal Depravity – Because of Adam’s sin, people are born enslaved to sin and thus are unable to choose to follow God.
Unconditional Election – Because people are unable to choose to follow Him, God has chosen by an eternal decree those whom He will bring to follow Him. This election is apart from any foreseen human merit or faith. Those not chosen will receive damnation.
Limited Atonement – Jesus’s death atones for the sins of only those chosen to follow God (the elect). Although it is sufficient for all, it is efficient for only the elect.
Irresistible Grace – When God calls the elect to follow Him, they cannot resist. Besides the external call that He gives to all to follow Him, He extends an internal call by the Holy Spirit to the elect, which they cannot resist.
Perseverance of the Saints – Those whom God has chosen to follow Him will never be lost but will persevere until the end.

Arminianism

Arminianism is based on teachings of Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), an early Dutch Protestant theologian who tried to obtain acceptance for his belief in conditional rather than unconditional predestination. Shortly after his death, his supporters issued a Remonstrance summarizing in five articles their divergence from Calvinism:
1. Conditional Election – God’s decree of salvation applies to all on condition that they believe on Jesus and persevere in faith and obedience. This article corresponds to TULIP’s U.
2. Unlimited Atonement – Jesus died for everyone, not just for the elect. However only those who believe obtain forgiveness. This article correspond’s to TULIP’s L.
3. Deprivation – People are incapable (deprived) of doing anything good and so must be helped by the Holy Spirit to receive God’s saving grace. This article corresponds to TULIP’s T.
4. Resistible Grace – God’s grace is free to all but can be resisted. This article corresponds to TULIP’s I.
5. Assurance and Security – The Holy Spirit can keep those who are Christ’s from falling away from him. Whether they are still able through negligence to fall away from him is uncertain. (Later Arminians thought that they could). This article corresponds to TULIP’s P.

Calvinism and Arminianism

In response to the Remonstrance, Dutch Calvinists held the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. It issued the Canons of Dort summarizing the orthodox position against Arminianism and commonly known as the “Five Points of Calvinism” or TULIP. Although condemned as heresy, Arminianism didn’t die and was later promoted by John Wesley (1703-1791) and the Methodists. (Calvinism was spread by the Reformed and Presyterian churches.) However despite the popularity of Arminianism, many Calvinists still view it as heresy.

Their Opposition to Open Theism

Similarly many Calvinists and Arminianists view open theism as heresy because it holds that part of the future is open and thus unknown to even God whereas Calvinists and Arminians hold that God knows the future completely. Not only do they think that the Bible indicates that God knows the future, but also they think that His being perfect implies that He knows the future. Moreover Calvinists think that He preordains all that is going to come to pass and thus must know what is going to come to pass.

In my next article I’ll consider a few of the Bible passages that supporters of traditional theism cite in support of their belief that God knows the future completely.

Remembering Why We Are Free

Remembrance Day poppy

Remembering Why We Are Free

We will remember
Since it’s November
Who made us a free country
Many sacrifices a soldier made
Soldiers came with no fear of death
Until it became their final breath
Poor soldiers died
Their family cried

We will remember
Since it’s November
The soldiers who came home
Or the soldiers who fell alone
They thought of you and me
They made us free
We will shed tears
For the brave soldiers who fought away our fears

Now we remember
Since it’s November
All the things that made us free
Everybody’s free, even you and me
Because the soldiers thought of all of us
We rejoice in being free
We live our lives how we please
But we will always remember

“Remembering Why We Are Free” was written in recognition of Remembrance Day by my younger daughter, Shekinah, when she was in grade 8 (2009). Thank you, Shekinah, for allowing me to post it here.

Shekinah

Some Websites on Open Theism

In my first post, “An Introduction to Open Theism,” I recommended these websites on open theism, the first two supporting and the third opposing open theism: Open Theism Information Site, ReKnew – Open Theism, and The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry – Open Theism. In this post I’ll describe them and give links to a few other websites or blogs about or with significant material on open theism.

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Open Theism Information Site

As its name indicates, Open Theism Information Site contains information about open theism. It has these sections: Home, Information, Publications, Questions, Opposition, and Contact. Home features a definition and summary of open theism by John Sanders, author of The God Who Risks. Information contains items favouring open theism by Gregory Boyd, William Hasker, Clark Pinnock, John Sanders. and other scholars and an enlightening debate about open theism between John Sanders and Christopher A. Hall, “Does God know Your Next Move?” Publications lists several books on open theism and related topics by various authors. Questions contains answers to various questions submitted by visitors to the site. Opposition contains a few items opposing open theism.

ReKnew – Open Theism

ReKnew is the website of Greg A. Boyd, the author of God of the Possible. Its Resources / Essays / Open Theism section contains several items, one of which I especially recommend to anyone wanting to know what open theism is, “A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View.” The other items are more advanced.

CARM – Open Theism

For more material opposing open theism, see Open Theism at Matt Slick’s The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). It has four sections: Introduction, describing open theism; Issues and Answers, criticising open theism; Scriptures Examined, explaining Bible passages cited by open theists as evidence that God learns; and “A Dialogue with an Open Theist.”

My high opinion of these websites is indicated by my having printed much of the material at each of them.

Two Blogs about or with Significant Material about Open Theism

Kent Viklund’s nOFuTuRe is devoted to open theism. Its posts are easy to understand and personal. For health reasons Kent hasn’t made any posts for a couple years, but he hopes to resume making them. I’m looking forward to reading his new posts.

As its name suggests, Glenn Reed’s Splat’s Musings contains a variety of interesting material, including several posts expressing open theistic views. For technical reasons Glenn is currently rebuilding Splat’s Musings, but he plans to eventually move it to another site that he’s working on.

Two Websites for Discussing Open Theism

I’m registered at two websites that host discussions of open theism, Facebook – Open
View Theists and Open Theism Discussion Board.

I joined Facebook so that I could participate in its Open View Theists group and I do so regularly. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn more about and/or to discuss open theism. Its longtime members may clash with each other over differences of opinion but so far they’ve been quite kind in their interactions with me, and I’m sure that they’d be the same with other newcomers. I also visit and contribute to discussions at Open Theism Discussion Board occasionally.

Three Reference Websites with “Open Theism” Entries

Many descriptions of open theism occur on the Internet. These three are at standard reference websites:
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Open Theism
Theopedia – Open Theism
Wikipedia – Open Theism

I’d appreciate your telling me, either in a comment on this article or by e-mail, of other websites or blogs about or with significant material on open theism.

Next weekend I’ll begin a series of posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “An Introduction to Open Theism.”

Some Books on Open Theism

I used to subscribe to the prestigious evangelical magazine Christianity Today. Its January 9, 1995, issue carried an article, “Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy?”, in which four scholars reacted to a recently published book, The Openness of God (InterVarsity Press, 1994), which proposed that God limited His control over the present and His knowledge of the future when He created beings with a free will. Since I’d reached the same conclusion when I was doing a study of the attributes of God with California State University Dominguez Hills in 1984, I purchased The Openness of God and some of the books that appeared in the next few years supporting or opposing the view set forth in it. Here I’ll summarize The Openness of God and four other books, two supporting the view and two opposing it.

The Openness of God

book 1The Openness of God contains five chapters, each by a different author. In “Biblical Support for a New Perspective,” Richard Rice explores the Scriptural evidence for the openness of God and takes into account passages that seem to call it into question. In “Historical Considerations,” John Sanders argues that traditional theology interprets the Bible differently than The Openness of God does because of the influence of Greek philosophy on it. In “Systematic Theology,” Clark Pinnock portrays God as not only the creator of and ruler over the world but also as a loving parent who limits himself to interact with us. In “A Philosophical Perspective,” William Hasker shows that the openness view is rationally superior to other ways of understanding God and His knowledge and action in the world. In “Practical Implications,” David Bassinger considers the practical implications of the openness of God on petitionary prayer, divine guidance, the problem of evil, social responsibility, and evangelistic responsibility.

The high calibre of the authors of The Openness of God is indicated by each of them also writing an entire book supporting open theism:
– Richard Rice, God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985; revised version of The Openness of God, 1980).
– John Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998).
– Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God’s Openness (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2001).
– William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989).
– David Basinger, The Case for Freewill Theism: A Philosophical Assessment (Downers Grove, Ill., 1996).

Although the view had been expressed previously, The Openness of God was the first major attempt to bring it into the evangelical theological arena. It succeeded, being voted one of Christianity Today’s 1995 Books of the Year and sparking widespread and vigorous discussion and over the next few years the production of several books supporting or opposing the view expressed in it. And, despite the overlapping of material that occurs in it because of its fivefold coverage of the view, I think that it’s still a good place to start one’s exploration of the view.

Two Other Books Supporting Open Theism

book 2Another good place to start is John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (InterVarsity Press, 1998). It consists of nine chapters. “Introduction” introduces the idea of God as a risk taker. “The Nature of the Task” considers methodological matters, in particular defending the author’s taking seriously the metaphorical language used in the Bible about God. [I’d suggest skipping the chapter in one’s first reading of the book.] “Old Testament Materials for a Relational View of Providence Involving Risk” and “New Testament Materials for a Relational View of Providence Involving Risk” discuss numerous texts to demonstrate that the risk model of providence enjoys Biblical support. “Divine Relationality in the Christian Tradition” argues that the model is consistent with the major themes of Western theology. “Risk and the Divine Character” explores philosophically certain attributes of God in relation to the idea of His being a risk taker. “The Nature of Divine Sovereignty” compares the two basic models of divine sovereignty, specific and general. “Applications to the Christian Life” explores the two models in light of various aspects of the Christian life—salvation and grace, evil, prayer, and divine guidance. “Conclusion” summarizes the book and the risk model of providence.

book 3A briefer and easier primer to open theism than The Openness of God and The God Who Risks is Gregory A. Boyd’s God of the Possible (Baker Books, 2000). It consists of four short chapters. “The Classical View of Divine Foreknowledge” presents examples of God predicting future events in the Bible and then explains the passages from the open perspective to show they do not teach that the future is exhaustively settled. “The God Who Faces a Partially Open Future” examines the Scriptural evidence for divine openness and concludes that the future is partly open and partly settled. “What Practical Difference Does the Open View Make?” shows that the belief that the future is partly open and that God knows it as such has important, beneficial, and practical implications for our lives. “Questions and Answers” considers the commonest questions asked about and objections raised against the open view. [Personally I disagree with Boyd’s assertion in “Questions and Answers” that possibilities and probabilities, unlike actualities, are eternally in God’s mind.]

Two Books Opposing Open Theism

book 4Bruce A. Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory (Crossway Books, 2000) passionately opposes open theism. It consists of an introduction, three main sections, and a conclusion. Part One, “What Does Open Theism Propose?”, summarizes the central elements of and support for open theism in two chapters, “The Perceived Inadequacy of the Classical Arminian View of God” and “The Perceived Benefits of Open Theism.” The author said that he sought fairness and accuracy in the description, and I think that he succeeded. Part Two, “What’s Wrong with Open Theism’s View of God?”, critiques the biblical, theological, and philosophical arguments supporting open theism in three chapters, “Assessing Open Theism’s Denial of Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge,” “Scriptural Affirmation of Exhaustive Divine Foreknowledge,” and “The God Who Risks and the Assault on God’s Wisdom.” Although I was impressed by the Biblical evidence given by the author for exhaustive divine foreknowledge in the middle of the three chapters, I found his explanations of open theism’s straightforward reading of divine growth-in-knowledge and of divine repentance texts unnatural and thought that his discussion of the open theism view that the future is open and risk-filled misrepresented that view. Part Three, “What Difference Does It Make in Daily Life” focuses on three main areas of practical application of open theism to the Christian life in three chapters, “Harm to the Christian’s Life of Prayer,” “Weakening of Our Confidence in God’s Guidance,” and “Despair amid Suffering and Pain.” The whole section was disappointing to me because it seemed to be basically name-calling.

book 5John M. Frame’s No Other God (P&R Publishing Company, 2001) also opposes open theism. It contains 14 chapters, the titles of which indicate their content: What Is Open Theism?, Where Does Open Theism Come From?, How Do Open Theists Read the Bible?, Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?, Is God’s Will the Ultimate Explanation of Everything?, How Do Open Theists Reply?, Is God’s Will Irresistible?, Do We Have Genuine Freedom?, Is God In Time?, Does God Change?, Does God Suffer?, Does God Know Everything in Advance?, Is Open Theism Consistent with Other Biblical Doctrines?, and Conclusion. In its preface, the author says, “I have tried to be fair in my interpretation of their [open theists’] writings, to avoid caricature, to give credit where credit is due, and to acknowledge weaknesses where they exist in the traditional position.” I think that on the whole he succeeded. Thus I found No Other God more credible than God’s Lesser Glory and was enlightened by it about both open theism and traditional theism. My main criticisms of it are that the author often draws unwarranted general conclusions from specific instances and attributes to open theism the personal views of individual open theists and that “Is Open Theism Consistent with Other Biblical Doctrines?” is too speculative and thus unfair to open theism. Despite its having those flaws, I think that any reader interested in knowing more about open theism would benefit from reading No Other God.

Where To Start

Where would I suggest that you start? For my family, I’d suggest beginning with God of the Possible. It and the other books summarized or listed in this post are in my personal library, which you have access to. On the other hand, you could just wait and read my weekly posts. For others, I’d suggest browsing Open Theism Information Site and reading my weekly posts.

In my next post, “Some Websites on Open Theism,” I’ll describe some websites and blogs about or with significant material on open theism.