Category Archives: Open Theism

Open Theism on the Internet

Open theism is a contemporary view of God that’s created controversy among evangelical Protestant academics. 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. It has been opposed by many evangelical scholars, some even labelling it heresy. In the fall of 2012 I created this blog to explain open theism to my family and friends.

In my first post, An Introduction to Open Theism I recommended these websites on open theism, the first two supporting and the third opposing open theism:
Open Theism Information Site [http://opentheism.info/open-theism/]
ReKnew – Open Theism [http://reknew.org/topic/open-theism-essays]
Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry – Open Theism [https://carm.org/open-theism]

The second of those is still available and useful but cannot be accessed by the above link. ReKnew is the website of Greg Boyd, the author of God of the Possible. It contains several items on open theism, one of which I especially recommend to anyone wanting to know what open theism is, A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View. The other items are more advanced. To access them go to ReKnew – Browse by Topic and click on the links under “Open Theism.”

Alternatively, to get an overview of open theism, I recommend reading the descriptions of it in Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Theopedia, and Wikipedia. Their addresses are:
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – Open Theism
Theopedia – Open Theism
Wikipedia – Open Theism

Since I posted “An Introduction to Open Theism,” many other websites and blogs about or containing significant material about open theism have appeared or at least become known to me. My favourite so far is the open theism section of the website of John Sanders, the author of The God Who Risks. It contains these sections: Open Theism Home, containing an explanation of open theism and a timeline of it throughout history; Books on Openness Theology, Books with an Open Theistic Perspective, and Articles on Open Theism. I’d be glad to send readers links to other websites and blogs on open theism that I have bookmarked.

A few years ago I joined Facebook so that I could participate in its Open View Theists group, and after joining it I found that it hosts some other open theist groups. So far I’ve joined just one of them, the Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Pentecostal group. The two groups are administered by Michael Faber and William Lance Huget, respectively. I recommend both to anyone who wishes to learn more about and/or discuss open theism. Their addresses are:
Open View Theists
Open Theism, Moral Government Theology, Pentecostal

I’d appreciate your telling me in a comment on this post of other websites or blogs about or with significant material on open theism.

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).

Does Open Theism Lessen God’s Sovereignty and Glory?

This is the third in a series of four posts on the objections made to open theism that I identified in What Is Open Theism?. It expands on “demeaning His sovereignty and diminishing His glory” in this passage in the post:

Opponents of open theism also charge that it undermines God’s omnipotence and omniscience, thus demeaning His sovereignty and diminishing His glory.

God’s Sovereignty

Opponents of open theism charge that it demeans God’s sovereignty because according to it much that happens is the result of decisions made by created beings, humans and fallen angels, rather than what God wants.

However God’s giving us (and angels) free will so that we could resist His will if we chose to doesn’t mean that He put himself at our mercy, as opponents of open theism claim. He retained the right and power to intervene when and how He wished so that He could make things ultimately work out according to His will. He demonstrated this when, as pictured in Philippians 2:5-11, Jesus Christ became one of us, was crucified, and rose from the grave so that we could be reconciled with God.

Certainly God’s controlling everything, even forordaining millions to spend eternity in Hell (as Calvinism teaches) would demonstrate that God is in control and thus is sovereign. But

How different, and how much more glorious, is the portrait of of a God who chooses to create a cosmos populated with free agents. Out of love, God empowers others to be personal beings. Out of love, he respects their God-given ability to make decisions even when doing so causes him pain. Out of his love for his whole creation, he wisely weaves their free decisions into his general providential plan. Finally, out of love he becomes one of them and dies for them that they might eternally share in his love. That is divine sovereignty! Gregory A. Boyd, God of the Possible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2001, pages 149-50)

For full consideration of the sovereignty of God, see the chapter on God’s sovereignty in John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1998; pages 208-236).

God’s Glory

From the beginning to the end of his God’s Lesser Glory (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2000), Bruce A. Ware expresses his concern that open theism diminishes God’s glory. In its concluding chapter, “God’s Greater Glory and Our Everlasting Good,” he identifies three ways in which he thinks open theism diminishes God’s glory: God’s failure in the past to move the world forward in the way that He intended and His possible failure to do so in the future, our receiving credit for good produced by our free actions, and God’s lessened sovereignty (see above). For Ware’s explanations of the three ways, see pages 219-230 of God’s Lesser Glory.

As regular readers of this blog may know, I arrived at open theistic views while considering the problem of evil sometime after the death of my first wife O God, Why Did You Let Esther Die? and God’s Omniscience and Man’s Freedom). Thus it was natural for me to react to Ware’s objection by thinking of it in connection with the problem of evil. I would find it hard to view as glorious a God who foreordained (or who foresaw but couldn’t do anything about) all the evil and suffering in the world. On the other hand, it seems to me that recognizing that evil is brought about created beings and that God will ultimately intervene to bring about His will enhances rather than diminishes God’s glory.

However I also read what others thought about Ware’s objection. I was especially impressed by Clark Pinnock’s response to it in his Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2001). After admitting the seriousness of Ware’s objection, Pinnock responds, “The open view does not lessen God’s glory if the gospel is true. Is it not to God’s glory that he wants a relationship with his creatures, a partnership in which he makes himself vulnerable and suffers for sinners? Is it not conventional theism that lessens God’s glory with its all-controlling and unconditioned deity?” To each of his questions, I emphatically replied, “Yes,” even before reading the rest of his eloquent response to Ware’s objection on pages 182-83 of Most Moved Mover.

Surely rather than lessening God’s sovereignty and His glory, as its opponents charge, open theism enhances them!

Does Open Theism Undermine God’s Omnipotence and Omniscience?

This is the second 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 also charge that it undermines God’s omnipotence and omniscience.

God’s Omnipotence

God’s omnipotence is His being all-powerful. He can do everything that is in accordance with His nature and isn’t self-contradictory. However He can’t, for example, lie or make a square circle, the former not being in accordance with His nature and the latter being self-contradictory.

Calvinists believe that God foreordains everything that happens, including everything that we do. They grant that we don’t always do what He values, which they call His preceptive will, but claim that we always do what He foreordains, which they call His decretive will.

Arminians and open theists believe that God voluntarily limited Himself by giving us free will and that what we do is a result of our choosing to do them rather than of God’s foreordaining them. Calvinists accuse both of undermining God’s omnipotence by believing this.

How do Calvinists reconcile God’s foreordaining (and thus causing) everything and yet so much happening that doesn’t seem in accord with what God wants? John M. Frame ascribes it to God’s evaluating every possible state of affairs and choosing among them for the sake of His “historical drama” (No Other God, Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2001, page 110). Personally I think that a God who would send His Son to the cross for us looks upon what happens here as more than just an historical drama. It’s a real life adventure in which both He and we, as a result of His giving us free will, participate.

For an explanation of who Calvinists and Arminians are, see Calvinism and Arminianism.

God’s Omniscience

God’s omniscience is His being all-knowing. He knows Himself perfectly, all things actual and all things possible, and according to traditional theists the future as well as the past and the present.

Calvinists attribute God’s knowing the future to His foreordaining everything, and Arminians attribute His knowing it to His knowing all things by one simultaneous intuition. However, open theists argue that since the future doesn’t exist yet it can’t be foreknown except for those aspects of it that He determines will happen or that are logically entailed by the present. Holders of all three views hold that their view best fits the Scriptural data.

Because traditional theists believe that God’s omniscience includes complete knowledge of the future and open theists believe that it includes only partial knowledge of it, traditional theists charge that open theism undermines God’s omniscience. Open theists deny the charge, pointing out that they believe that God knows all that it is possible to know and thus that they believe that He is omniscient.

Although I appreciate the charge by traditional theists that open theism undermines God’s omnipotence and omniscience, I think that the open theistic view of God’s omnipotence and omniscience is more Scriptural and more logical than the views of traditional theists.

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.

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!