What is open theism? It is a contemporary view of God that has created controversy among evangelical Protestant academics since the publication of Clark Pinnock and others’ The Openness of God by InterVarsity Press in 1994. 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. In this brief introduction to it, I’ll summarize the traditional and openness views of God’s foreknowledge and present some advantages claimed for open theism and objections made to 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:
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalms 139:4, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV.)
Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (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 “A Summary of Openness Theology (Open Theism)” 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 Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry 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 Objection 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.
The above is based on an article that appeared in Christianity – Protestant at Suite101.com on August 31, 2005. That article contained a list of recommended reading on open theism. Instead of including it here, I’m going to devote my next post to descriptions of four books that I’d recommend beginning one’s exploration of open theism with and a list of links to earlier posts by me describing some of the many books and websites/blogs about open theism.