Can Open Theism 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 What Is 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). I considered a few Biblical predictive prophecies from the perspective of classical theists in my Biblical Passages Containing Prophecies Later Fulfilled.

However, as I explained in God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom, 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 they can’t account for Biblical prophecies involving humans. Open theists respond that all Biblical predictive prophecies fit into one of these categories or into a combination of them:
– they are of things that God intends to do in the future
– they are 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 are 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; all quotations from the Bible are from the ESV).

A good example of a conditional prophecy is found in Jonah 3. Following God’s instructions, Jonah went to Nineveh and proclaimed, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (verse 4). The people of Nineveh believed his message and repented, and “[w]hen God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (verse 10). Jonah’s reaction shows that he realized that God’s prophecies could be conditional, his saying to God, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was yet in my own country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2).

Guidance

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

Open theists admit that “since…God does not as a general rule override human freedom and/or the natural order…individuals might fail to receive that which God desires to share with them” (David Basinger in Clark Pinnock et al, The Openness of God, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1994, page 167). However they argue that 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 (2 Samuel 11) occurred because this was God’s will for him and them. He let David do what he chose to do and then, after having Nathan rebuke David and allowing the child of David and Bathsheba to die, brought good out of the situation, the birth of Solomon (2 Samuel 12).

Classical theists emphasize the supremacy of God, and certainly we should recognize that He is supreme. However should we not also recognize Him as loving and relational? Bruce Ware observes by way of illustration that “many Christians have sung, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ along with ‘Immortal, invisible, God only wise’ with no conflict and, in fact, with mutual reinforcement” (God’s Lesser Glory, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000, pages 188-89). No diminishing of God’s sovereignty, and thus of His ability to accomplish His purposes and ability to guide us, is necessary in affirming that in His love for us He has given up His control over us, because the Bible teaches both. Let us trust His assurance that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:29).

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