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.

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