Open Theism Can’t Account for Biblical Prophecy and God’s Ability To Guide Us

This is the last in a series of four posts on the objections made to open theism that I identified in the first post at Open Theism, “An Introduction to Open Theism.” It expands on this passage in the post:

Further [opponents of open theism] charge that [open theism] cannot account for biblical prophecy and that it weakens our confidence in God’s ability to accomplish His purposes and to guide us.

Prophecy

Classical theists attribute prophecies–divinely inspired utterances or revelations–foretelling what is going to happen in the future to God’s foreseeing the future because He foreordains everything that happens (Calvinists) or because He sees past, present, and future as an eternal present (Arminians). However open theists claim that God can’t foresee the part of the future brought about by humans exercising their free will. Thus classical theists charge that open theists can’t account for Biblical prophecies involving humans. I considered a few Biblical predictive prophecies from the perspective of classical theists in my December 1 post, “Biblical Passages Containing Prophecies Later Fulfilled.”

However open theists argue that all Biblical predictive prophecies fit into one of these categories or into a combination of them:
– they may be of things that God intends to do in the future
– they may be of things that God, because of His exhaustive knowledge of the past and the present, knows will occur as a result of factors already present
– they may be of things that God intends to do if people act in a certain way

Prophecies of the third kind are called conditional prophecies. God describes their nature in Jeremiah 18:7-10: “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I intended to do to it” (ESV). A good example is found in Jonah 3.

For a fuller explanation of Biblical predictive prophecies from an open theistic perspective, see chapter 7, “Prophecy and the Openness of God,” of Richard Rice’s God’s Foreknowledge & God’s Free Will (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1985; pages 75-81). Criticism and defence of it also appear, respectively, in Bruce A. Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000; pages 130-138) and John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998; pages 129-137).

Guidance

Classical theists believe that God has a specific plan for everyone and, controlling (Calvinists) or knowing (Arminians) the future, can guide people to do what He has planned for them. However open theists claim that because of God’s giving humans free will He doesn’t control or know the future. Thus classical theists charge that open theists cannot be sure that God can accomplish His purposes or guide us to do what He wants for us.

However open theists argue that because God knows the past and the present exhaustively and is eminently resourceful, He is able to devise ways to guide people toward doing what He wants for them. And they argue that because God is sovereign, He will eventually accomplish His will for mankind.

Personally I think that the open theistic view accounts better than the classical view does for the successes and failures that I read about in the Bible and see in my own and others’ lives. For example, I don’t think that David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband occurred because this was God’s will for him and them. He let David do what he chose to do and then stepped in to bring good out of the situation.

For an explanation of how God provides guidance from an open theistic perspective, see the section on divine guidance in “Practical Implications” by David Basinger in Clark Pinnock et al’s The Openness of God (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994; pages 162-168). Criticism and defence of it also appear, respectively, in Bruce A. Ware’s God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000; pages 177-189) and John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998; pages 275-278).

In May I’ll be posting a short study of Ephesians 6:10-18 (Spiritual warfare and the armour of God), and in June I’ll be posting updates of my posts last fall on the best books and websites/blogs on open theism. Please let me know of books and websites that you think should be included in the latter.

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4 thoughts on “Open Theism Can’t Account for Biblical Prophecy and God’s Ability To Guide Us

  1. Andulamb

    Having followed your articles on open theism over the past few weeks, and having just about reached the time tonight when I would read your latest posting, I got a surprise when looking through a website’s gallery of funny tweets just moments ago and came to this one:

    “My favorite part of the Bible is when God gives humans free will, then kills them with a flood because they didn’t act the way he wanted.”

    My first reaction was to laugh. Not only because, when it’s put that way, it does sound ridiculous — but also because it fits in so perfectly with the topic of your blog.

    Of course, if you look past the humor and get all serious about it, the tweeter’s criticism doesn’t hold up. That God gave us free will does not require Him to be okay with whatever choices we might make. He gave us free will because He wanted us to be free to reject Him or accept Him, free to make good choices and free to make bad choices. But choices have consequences.

    Parents give their children a certain amount of freedom, but doing so doesn’t mean they must tolerate or condone bad behavior. Children have to be allowed to make bad decisions so that they can learn from their mistakes, via consequences both natural and parental.

    In fact, punishment can only be justified if people have freedom. If God foreordains everything, then why would He punish those who reject Him as a requirement of their programming? The circumstances of the flood can be expressed in a way that sounds ridiculous, but they make perfect sense if you think about it.

    Reply
    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Andy, for sharing here the tweet and your reflections on it. I like your comparison of God’s treatment of us and parents’ treatment of their children with respect to freedom and consequences.

      Reply
  2. Andulamb

    Bob, I’d also like to say that I’ve enjoyed reading your articles. You present your ideas logically, in a way that is easy to understand, and in manageable sizes. I also like that you don’t just present your own interpretation of God’s word, but also share the opinions of those who agree with your position and those who don’t. And, most importantly, you make sure to keep bringing the focus back to what the Bible says.

    Reply

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