Monthly Archives: December 2014

Does Open Theism Contradict Scripture?

This is the first in a series of four posts on the objections made to open theism that I identified in What Is Open Theism?. It expands on this passage in the post:

Opponents of open theism…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).

All quotations from the Bible given in this post are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

God Knows the Future

The section Traditional Theism in What Is Open Theism? cites these Biblical passages as indicating that God knows the future:
“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” (Psalms 139:4)
“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)

In Biblical Passages Indicating that God Knows the Future, I explained how Psalms 139:4 and Isaiah 46:9-10 suggest that God foresees the future. Now I’ll indicate how an open theism might respond.

Although Psalm 139:4 can be explained by God’s foreseeing what the psalmist will say, John Sanders observes that it can also be explained by “God’s knowing the psalmist so well that He can ‘predict’ what he will say and do” (The God Who Risks, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998, page 130).

Although Isaiah 46:9-10 can be explained by God’s foreseeing the future, Gregory A. Boyd observes that it can also be explained by God’s “own purpose and intention to bring these events about” (God of the Possible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2000, page 30).

God Foreordains Everything

The section Traditional Theism in What Is Open Theism? cites these Biblical passages as indicating that God foreordains everything and thus knows the future:
“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:37-38)
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how unscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36)

In Passages Supporting God’s Foreordaining Everything, I explained how Lamentations 3:37-38 and Romans 11:33-36 suggest that God foreordains everything and thus knows that future. Now I’ll indicate how an open theism might respond.

Although Lamentations 3:37-38 seems to say that nobody can make anything good or bad happen unless God has commanded that it happen, Sanders observes, “The verses immediately prior to 3:38 assert that the ‘bad’ that has come on Israel is a consequence of sin [as had been forecast in Deuteronomy 28-30 and] consequently, Lamentations 3:38 asserts that the specific historical calamity of the exile, not all calamity in general, is brought about by God” (The God Who Risks, pages 83-84).

Although John M. Frame claims that “all things” in Romans 11:36 includes events (No Other God, Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2001, page 87), commentators consistently describe it as referring to all creation or to the universe and explain the verse as saying that God is the source, sustainer, and goal of all things that exist.

God Doesn’t Change His Mind

Above I cited these Bible passages as stating that God doesn’t change His mind:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoke, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19)
“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (1 Samuel 15:29)

Here is how an open theist might explain the passages.

The king of Moab, Balak, had asked the prophet Balaam to curse Israel but, as commanded by God, Balaam had blessed them instead. Balak offered sacrifices to try to get God to change His mind. Again Balaam blessed Israel, explaining in Numbers 23:19 that unlike a human God would not change His mind.

God had originally planned to establish Saul’s kingdom over Israel forever but rejected him as king because of his disobeying Him. When Saul tried to get Samuel to intercede for him, Samuel repeated that God was going to replace him as king, explaining in 1 Samuel 15:29 that unlike a human God would not change His mind.

In both cases God’s asserted that He wouldn’t, rather than that He couldn’t, change His mind and, as Boyd points out in discussing the two passages, there is a big difference between “couldn’t” and “wouldn’t” (God of the Possible, page 80). That He could change His mind and sometimes does, I demonstrated in Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future and Open Theism Encourages Prayer.

Personally I find the explanations of open theists reasonable and thus don’t think that open theism contradicts the Biblical passages given above as affirming God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and His not changing His mind.

The Announcement of Jesus’ Birth

This post is by Rose Spillenaar Harmer, who posted it earlier this month at her blog and gave me permission to post it here. Rose and I became friends at a church camp in northern Ontario when we were adolescents and have remained friends since then. Here is how she describes herself at her blog: “Rose is a retired marriage and family therapist and speaks on subjects related to prayer, spirituality, marriage and mental health. She travels throughout North America and one of her favorite subjects is ‘listening to God’ through scripture, sermons and the still, inaudible voice of the Holy Spirit. She writes a weekly devotional called ‘Listening to Hear’.” You may read her devotionals at Listening to Hear.

As we approach the Christmas season, I am reminded again that God gave the announcement of Christ’s birth to a very diverse audience.

“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazereth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Jospeh.” Luke 1:26-27 (NIV)

Mary was a teenage girl engaged to be married to a man probably much older. Yet, when asked to bear the Christ child she willingly said yes. However, when Joseph discovered she was pregnant he wanted to break the engagement, privately. But, then he also heard from the Lord.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'” Matt. 1:20 (NIV)

Therefore Joseph took Mary as his bride though she was pregnant. They went to Bethlehem with only a donkey and Mary was heavy with child. Since there was no room in the inn, Mary gave birth to the Christ child in the stable.

“There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them… and said: ‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.'” Luke 2:8-11 (NIV)

Shepherds received the message from a heavenly host of angels and hurried to pay homage to the Savior.

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'” Matt. 2:1-2 (NIV)

The wealthy wise men who studied the stars realized the new star appearing in the heavens announced the birth of a King in Israel. They traveled a very long way to see the Blessed Child.

All of these people listened to God announcing Jesus’ birth in unusual ways. They went to find Him. Jesus came to earth as a baby to show us how to live and gave His life for the salvation of all who seek Him. He came to the rich and the poor. He is the reason for this season.

Open Theism Encourages Prayer

This is the fourth (and last) in a series of posts on the advantages claimed for open theism that I identified in What Is Open Theism?. It expands on this statement in that post:

Proponents of open theism also claim that … it encourages prayer because according to it God may change His mind when petitioned.

Prayer is talking with God. The acronym ACTS is often used to summarize the main kinds of prayer:

Adoration
Confession
Thanksgiving
Supplication

Although whether a person holds a traditional or an open view of God would seem to be irrelevant in most types of prayer, it certainly is relevant in supplications or prayers of request for ourselves and others. According to traditional theism, God has already determined (or at least already knows) what is going to happen and cannot change what is planned. Really believing this discourages our making meaningful prayers for ourselves and others. According to open theism, the future is not entirely settled and God’s plans can be changed. Believing this gives us the hope that God will respond to our prayers for ourselves and others and encourages us to pray more passionately and urgently.

The church Life group which my wife and I host is reading Dr. Gregory A. and Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1994). The next exchange of letters between the two men which we’ll read concerns prayer. In it Dr. Boyd observes:

A genuine relationship … can only occur where there is personal interaction between two persons, where there is “give and take” between two parties…. This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with other people…. So God ordains things so that we are to some degree empowered in our relationship with Him. He ordains things so that we can actually influence the Creator, not because He needs us, but because He wants us. And petitionary prayer … is the principal means of this human-to-divine influence (page 66).

The Bible contains several examples of prayers petitioning God for a change in what He had said would happen being answered. Here I’ll give just two, one of prayer for oneself and one of prayer for others. For more, see my Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future. I’ll also give a parable that Jesus told his disciples to encourage them to pray. Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

In 2 Kings 20:1-7 God told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah that he would not recover from his sickness, Hezekiah prayed with weeping to God, and God told Hezekiah through Isaiah, “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life” (20:5-6).

In Exodus 32:7-14 God told Moses that He was going to destroy the Israelites for making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses interceded for them, and “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (32:14). Later, in Psalm 106:23, David referred to this incident when he observed that God “said he would destroy them–had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.”

Hezekiah and Moses prayed for God to change what He had said would happen because they thought that the future was open for Him to change. And what changes their prayers brought–God added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life and He didn’t destroy the Israelites as He had threatened to!

Jesus told his disciples the following parable to encourage them to pray continually and persistently (Luke 18:2-8):

In a certain city there was a judge who neared feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continued coming.” … “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

The examples and parable demonstrate that God is not bound by a predetermined future and thus is free to answer our prayers. Knowing that, let us “pray without ceasing” (2 Thess. 5:17).

For more on prayer see my Prayer. In it I consider what prayer is, why we should pray, how prayer works, how we should pray, and unanswered prayer.

Open Theism Has Theological Advantages over Other Views

This is the third in a series of posts on the advantages claimed for open theism that I identified in What Is Open Theism?. It expands on this statement in that post:

Proponents of open theism also claim…that it has significant theological…advantages over alternative views. Examples…are: it frees God from appearing responsible for atrocities like the Holocaust and for the creation of damned individuals.

It frees God from appearing responsible for atrocities like the Holocaust.

In O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die? I described my personal search for a solution to what is known as the problem of evil. I concluded that the best solution was the free will defence, about which I said:

The free will defence is rooted in the Genesis account of the creation and fall of man. According to that account, God made the first man and the first woman “in his own image” (1:27). However, unlike Him, they did not “know good and evil” (3:6,22). God provided them opportunity for such by commanding them not to eat of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” at the same time warning them that they would “surely die” if they did eat of it (2:17). Tempted by the serpent (Satan, according to Revelation 20:2), Adam and Eve disobeyed, bringing moral and physical evil into man’s world (chapter 3). Thus, evil exists in the world, according to the Genesis account of the creation and fall of man, because God gave man a choice between obeying or disobeying Him and man chose to disobey Him.

Why would God give man a such a choice, knowing that man could choose to disobey Him, thus bringing evil into the perfect world that He had created? Certainly, being all-powerful, He not only could have prevented introduction of evil into the human world but also could banish it from our world or at least make a new home for us where it could not enter (Revelation 21-22). And, surely, being wholly good, He did not and does not want evil. The answer to this question, according to the proponents of the free will defence, is that God wanted to create the best possible world that He could and a world containing free, moral creatures is better, all else being equal, than a world not containing free moral creatures. Accordingly, God created a world in which there originally existed no evil and He created human beings capable of free moral choice.

Subsequently I demonstrated in God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom that if human beings have the free will referred to in the free will defence at least part of the future is not determined as held by traditional theists but is open as held by open theists. Thus according to open theism atrocities like the Holocaust occur because God gave people free wills and sometimes they choose to perform such atrocities. In other words people, not God, are responsible for atrocities like the Holocaust. Surely this puts God in a better light that the view of traditional theism that God foreordained or at least foreknew but did nothing about such atrocities!

It frees God from appearing responsible for the creation of damned individuals.

According to traditional theism, God foreknew or even foreordained before He created Adam and Eve which of their descendants would be damned to eternal suffering in Hell. Yet according to 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “God our Savior … desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” and 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is … not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Gregory Boyd asks, “If God eternally foreknew that certain individuals would end up damning themselves, and if … God … wants everyone to be saved …, why would he go ahead and create such individuals?” (Gregory Boyd, <i>God of the Possible</i>, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000, page 100).

According to open theism, all people are born with the possibility of going to Heaven but some reject God’s offer of eternal life and end up in Hell. Surely having just the possibility of being damned to Hell is better than being certain of being damned to it, as is the case for those whom God foreknew or even foreordained before their birth would be damned to Hell!

Open Theism Makes Better Sense of Scripture Than Other Views

This is the second in a series of posts on the advantages claimed for open theism that I identified What Is Open Theism?. It expands on this statement in that post:

Proponents of open theism also claim that it makes better sense of Scripture as a whole than alternative views.

Why do they make this claim? Because, at least according to them, they generally interpret what the Bible says about God literally whereas traditional theists often distort the straightforward interpretation of passages in an effort to harmonize the passages with their view of God. I’ll illustrate this with two examples that I gave in my last post, “Bible Passages Suggesting a Partly Open Future.”

7 And the LORD said unto Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These be your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” 9 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

11 But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it for ever.'” 14 And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:7-14, ESV)

In my last post I summarized the passage thus: “In Exodus 32:7-14 God told Moses that He was going to destroy the Israelites for making and worshiping a golden calf, Moses interceded for them, and God changed His mind.” However Bruce A. Ware asserts that God actually knew from eternity that He wasn’t going to bring disaster on Israel and that He just told Moses that He was going to bring disaster on Israel so that Moses would intercede for the people and God could “change.” (see <i>God’s Lesser Glory</i>, pages 90-94). Thus Ware makes the incident consistent with his view that God foresees everything.

5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 And the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7, ESV)

In my last post I summarized the passage thus: “In Genesis 6:5-7 God saw the amount and depth of people’s wickedness, regretted that He had made them, and decided to destroy them.” However Ware asserts that although God experienced and displayed anger at the world’s increasing wickedness, He wasn’t really surprised by it because He knew from eternity that the world would become morally corrupt (see <i>God’s Lesser Glory</i>, pages 91-92). Thus Ware makes the incident consistent with his view that God foresees everything.

In earlier posts I presented Biblical evidence for both traditional theism and open theism. Each has developed from the evidence for its view a model of God and uses that model to guide its interpretation of the Bible, the source of Christian belief and practice. Thus it is important that a model be consistent with the Bible or at least be perceived as being consistent with it. This is why Ware distorts the straightforward interpretation of such passages as Exodus 32:7-14 and Genesis 6:5-7.

Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future

This is the first in a series of posts on the advantages claimed for open theism that I identified in What Is Open Theism?. It expands on this statement in that post:

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 God and the Future at Open Theism Information Site or 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.

For each of the actions of God listed in the quotation, I’ll give two or three examples. Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

God Changes His Mind

In Exodus 32:7-14 God told Moses that He was going to destroy the Israelites for making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses interceded for them, and God changed His mind. “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (32:14). Later, in Psalm 106:23, David referred to this incident when he observed that God “said he would destroy them–had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.”

In Jonah 3:1-10 Jonah proclaimed to the people of Nineveh God’s message that it would be destroyed, the people repented of their evil ways and called out to God, and God changed His mind. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (3:10).

In Jeremiah 18:5-10 God gave this message to Jeremiah for the Israelites: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 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 evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to 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.” Thus God suggests that at least some of His prophecies, such as the one given to the Ninevites through Jonah, were conditional, their fulfilment depending upon the recipients’ freely-made responses to them.

God Regrets His Decisions

In Genesis 6:5-7 God saw the amount and depth of people’s wickedness, regretted that He had made them, and decided to destroy them. “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (6:6).

In 1 Samuel 15:11 God told Samuel that He regretted having made Saul king because Saul had disobeyed His command to destroy the Amalekites and all that they had: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” As a result God rejected Saul as king. The point is repeated in 15:35, “The Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

God Expresses Surprise over What Happens

In Isaiah 5:1-7 God compares Israel and Judah to a vineyard, describing His creation of and expectations for it, His disappointment at its producing wild grapes instead of cultivated grapes, and the destruction that He planned to bring upon it as a result of His disappointment in it. In verse 3 He asks, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”

In Jeremiah 3:6-7, 19-20 God refers to Israel as His wife, expressing disappointment over her leaving Him and worshipping idols after His blessing her with a pleasant land (vv. 19-20) and over her not returning to Him after her whoredoms (vv. 6-7). In verse 7 He tells Jeremiah, “I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me, but she did not return.'”

God States He Doesn’t Know What People Will Do

In three places in Jeremiah, when expressing His anger over Judah’s offering their children as sacrifices, God said that such a thing had not come into His mind. Whatever the phrase means, it implies that such behaviour was not part of God’s eternal plan or knowledge.

In 7:31 He says, “And they have built the high places of Topeth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, which I did not command, not did it come into my mind.”

In 19:5 He says, “And [they] have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind.”

In 32:35 He says, “They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.”

God Tests His People To Learn What They Will Do

In Genesis 22:12, when Abraham was about to kill Isaac in obedience to God’s command, the angel of the Lord, whom some think was the preincarnate Christ, told him, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” The whole incident is referred to in 22:1 as God’s testing Abraham, and the words of the angel indicate that He learned something from the test.

2 Chronicles 32:31 observes that when envoys from the king of Babylon came to ask about the sign that had been given that Hezekiah’s life would be extended, “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to show all that was in his heart.” The result was that Hezekiah showed the envoys all his possessions, was reprimanded by Isaiah for his pride, humbled himself, and was told that the threatened punishment wouldn’t occur during his days. The entire story is given in 2 Kings 20.

God Shows Uncertainty about the Future

In Numbers 14:11 God seems to express uncertainty about the future when He asks Moses and Aaron, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”

In Ezekiel 12:3 God tells Ezekiel, as an explanation of why He instructed him to enact symbolically to exiled people of Israel the forthcoming exile of more from Jerusalem, “Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious people [italics mine].” Unfortunately the people didn’t understand.

These actions make sense in open theism, which views the future as partly open, but don’t make sense in traditional theism, which views the future as eternally foreordained (Calvinism) or foreknown (Arminianism).