Category Archives: 5 – Objections to

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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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.