Open Theism

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A Dilemma for Open Theists

John Sanders writes in his treatise arguing for open theism, The God Who Risks, “Following Plato, Calvin declares that any change in God would imply imperfection in the divine being” (74). He proceeds to argue merely that God does change His mind. The problem is that, in arguing thus, Sanders has perhaps unknowingly presented a powerful dilemma for open theism to solve.

If God literally changes His mind, as Sanders desires to demonstrate, then:

1) If God changes His mind, and this brings about a better state of affairs, then it reveals that God was previously operating under a flawed or imperfect plan. [By implication, there are parts of God's plan which could use improvement, but which God either chooses not to improve or doesn't know how to improve.]

or

2) If God’s changing His mind brings about a worse state of affairs, then God has made a mistake, which perfect beings cannot do.

Now an immediate response could be that perhaps neither state of affairs is best. In that case, then, there would be no reason for God to change His mind in the first place and is therefore acting arbitrarily.

A response to this rebuttal may be that the change of mind is not arbitrary, but rather demonstrates God’s responsive, interpersonal nature. By changing His plan, God is responding to prayers and altering the course of history. If that is true, though, we have the first horn of the dilemma: God’s changing His mind is an improvement. And then that would mean God increased in perfection.

One may object with a tu quoque response: “Doesn’t anyone who hold that God becomes incarnate imply that God changes, and therefore wouldn’t they equally be skewered by this dilemma?”

A response to this could be simply that, assuming God has comprehensive foreknowledge, God has planned the incarnation from before the dawn of time, and so there is no changing of the divine plan.

It is interesting to see that Open Theists don’t necessarily hold that the crucifixion was God’s way of bringing about salvation in history. Sanders writes, “Though the incarnation and human suffering and death which would accompany it may have been in God’s plan all along, the cross as the specific means of death may not have been” (102). He concludes this because of his alignment with open theism, and the assertion that, given the free will of those involved, the crucifixion was not predestined (105). Not only that, but Sanders also holds that the suffering and death of Jesus were required by the atonement. Wholly apart from criticizing this theological point of interest, one can see that in this quotation, the open theist is entirely open to the dilemma. Suppose Jesus were to be assassinated, stabbed like Julius Caesar, instead of dying on a cross. Clearly, this wouldn’t suit to fill the prophecies in the Bible which were taken to reference the crucifixion (see Sanders’ discussion 102ff). Thus, it seems that this fulfillment of the divine purpose would have been less perfect than the crucifixion. Perhaps there are ways to improve on the atoning sacrifice of Christ. It seems ludicrous to type such a sentence, but if the crucifixion was unnecessary, it seems at least logically possible that a better way to provide for atonement may have been accomplished.

Finally, one may object that the dilemma could work for any who hold that God created the world. One could adapt the dilemma for the creation of the universe and say that God could have brought about a better world and didn’t (and hence is imperfect). Now there are several ways in which this argument is disanalogous to the dilemma presented above, but one could simply answer it by saying that there are specific reasons for bringing about our world over others’ which are “better” or argue that there seems to be no such thing as a way to measure worlds against each other (for some discussion of this see here).

It seems to me that only versions of theism which imply that God does not know [comprehensively] the future will be susceptible to this dilemma. While some versions of theism hold both that God knows the future and that God changes, these versions will [almost all] fail to be susceptible to the dilemma because they’ll have an account for God’s plan which is unchanging.

SDG.

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Is God just lucky?: Possible Worlds and God’s Providence, a Defense of Molinism

Knowing all the possible circumstances, persons, and permutations of these, God decreed to create just those circumstances and just those people who would freely do what God willed to happen. (William Lane Craig, 86).

I’ve argued previously that molinism allows for human freedom and God’s perfect knowledge of the future. One objection which has been raised to my argument is that, granting all of it, it would seem that God is just really lucky that the world He wants to actualize is possible. Looking back, we can see that the argument flows from the logical priority of God’s knowledge. Central to my defense was the notion that the possible worlds are full of the free choices of creatures. The objection therefore argues that God must simply “get lucky.” There must be a possible world which God actually wants to actualize.

The argument would look something like this:

1) God can only create that which is possible

2) The set of possible worlds covers all possibilities.

3) Therefore, if there is a world which God wants to create, He would have had to be simply lucky–there would have had to be a possible world that contained the outcomes God desired.

The objection is quite thoughtful. It is not easy to resolve. Before rebutting this objection, it is important to note that the set of all possible worlds is the same whether one is a determinist, open theist, or molinist. Granted, open theists deny that this set would include future contingents, but for now that is irrelevant. All the positions agree the set of possible worlds includes no contradictions. Thus, any position must account for the “God got lucky” objection.

I believe that molinism offers a way around this difficulty, and it does so by again focusing upon logical priority. William Lane Craig’s  quote above illustrates this. God’s will is at the forefront. I suggest that God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. Consider the following argument, which focuses upon the redemption (as one of the outcomes God would desire):

1) God only wills what is possible
2) God wills the redemption
3) Therefore, the redemption is possible (modus ponens, 1-2)
4) Whatever is possible exists in the set of possible worlds (tautology)
5) Therefore, the redemption exists in the set of possible worlds (3, 4)

From this argument, it wouldn’t be too difficult to draw the inference that God isn’t lucky in regards to the possibilities–God’s will would have some kind of determining power over the set of possible worlds, because anything God wills would have to exist in a possible world. In other words, God’s will is logically prior to the set of possible worlds. That which God’s will must be possible, so it is not the set of possible worlds that determines what God can will, it is rather God’s will which determines the set of possible worlds.

A potential objection I could see is that this argument just moves the debate up another level–does God will things because they are possible or are they possible because God wills them? My response would again point to logical priority, and I would say that God’s nature (will) is logically prior to the set of possible worlds.

An objection could then be raised: “Why doesn’t God will for a world without evil?” Answer: Free will defense would work here also. God could clearly will for a world to have the redemption without destroying free will for all persons, but to will a world without evil would (possibly) impinge on all persons’ free will.

Therefore, it seems that only molinism can adequately account for both human free will and God’s omniscience and providence. Whatever God wills will occur. God is not lucky, rather, God is sovereign.

SDG.

Sources

William Lane Craig, “God Directs All Things: On Behalf of a Molinist View of Providence” in Four Views on Divine Providence ed. Stanley Gundry and Dennis Jowers, 79-100 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

Image Credit: I took this picture at Waldo Canyon near Manitou Springs, Colorado on my honeymoon. Use of this image is subject to the terms stated at the bottom of this post.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “No Other God: A Response to Open Theism” by John Frame

I recently finished No Other God by John Frame. Seldom have I read a book with which I find I disagree so strongly on some issues, while agreeing adamantly on others. Frame pulls no punches and is unafraid to make sweeping generalizations and assertions. Due to the fact I pretty much split the book in half as far as things with which I agree or disagree, I shall proceed by noting these areas and close with a few conclusions.

Areas of Agreement

One of the strengths of Frame’s book is how clear his thinking is. His style of argumentation is precise, and he clearly lays out what he considers evidence for his positions. He is unafraid to make statements with huge implications.

A particularly interesting aspect of Frame’s work was a brief historical look at the roots of Open Theism, leading it back to the Socinianism. Frame points out that advocates of Open Theism tend to portray their view as the “new theology on the block” despite the fact that it has been around (and rejected) for quite some time.

I believe Frame is correct when he argues against the centralization of any one attribute of God. Specifically, the centralization of love on Open Theism tends to ignore other important attributes of God (49ff). (Interestingly, Frame’s own account of God unnecessarily over-emphasizes Sovereignty, though he disguises this by calling it “Lordship.)

Frame levels strong critiques against Open Theism’s reading of Scripture. Open Theists tend to advocate the “straightforward” reading of texts which help their case. One of Open Theist’s favorite passages is God testing Abraham. Yet Frame rightly notes that if there is a straightforward reading of the text, then God did not know the present truth of Abraham’s heart, whereas Open Theists attempt to use this to support God not knowing the future (47). Further, if God was trying to figure out how Abraham would act in the future, then He was trying to do something He couldn’t (determine what the libertarian free choices of humans would be) according to Open Theism. So the story’s straightforward reading does not work to support Open Theism. Frame urges a similar examination of other passages, though he doesn’t expand on it.

Areas of Disagreement

Despite these areas of agreement, I vehemently oppose Frame’s position on several issues. Most notably, on theistic determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism.

First, libertarianism. Frame correctly notes that the core of Open Theism is the assumption of libertarianism. Yet his critique of libertarianism is wrongheaded. He caricatures libertarians as believing that choices are made in the absence of any motivation. He writes, commenting on the libertarian view, “if our decisions are caused by anything or anyone (including our own desires), they are not properly our decisions… to be responsible, we must be able to do otherwise” (121). Yet this is explicitly not libertarianism. Peter van Inwagen, for example, explicates libertarianism by saying “…that someone’s acts are undetermined does not entail that they are uncaused” (van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will, Oxford: 1983, p. 14).

But Frame explicitly centers his critique of libertarianism on a contra-causal account of freedom, saying, for example, “If guilt presupposed libertarian freedom, then in order to show that Hubert [a man accused of robbing a bank] is guilty, the prosecutor would have to show that his decision to rob a bank had no cause…” (126). But again, libertarians deny this very type of contra-causal freedom, so Frame is arguing against a straw man. Because Frame thinks libertarianism is so utterly central to Open Theism, this means that the core of his critique fails to hit home.

The problem with Frame’s counter against libertarianism is that it barely touches the surface of the philosophical arguments for the position. He correctly rails against the idea that our actions are just random occurrences, but incorrectly assumes that this is libertarianism.

Finally, the greatest area of disagreement I have with Frame is on his view of omnidetermination. Consider the following two quotes:

“The uniform witness of Scripture is that the evils of this life come from God” (140).

“…[I]t is important to see that God does in fact bring about the sinful behavior of human beings, whatever problems that may create in our understanding” (68).

I’d be curious to see how Frame reconciles these assertions with the constant witness of Scripture that God is just; fair; good; opposed to evil; etc. Frame utilizes several verses to support his position, but he makes primary those which say God uses “all things” and verses which say calamities are from God. But regarding the former, this can easily refer simply to permissive will, and regarding the latter, the verses he uses are out of context (and even were one to grant the “straightforward reading,” one could counter by saying the calamities are not every evil action, but merely those things which God uses–i.e. storms, other nations, etc.–to instruct His people). Frame, like many theological determinists, is not building even on sand, but on a void. Literally saying that God causes evil is so utterly repugnant and contrary to Scripture that this view overshadows all the good things Frame has to say.

Conclusions

Ultimately, No Other God is on target in a few ways, but it is wildly gunning the wrong direction on too many issues. Frame’s philosophical case against libertarianism is off the mark, he fails to deal with the strong philosophical arguments for libertarianism, and his view that God literally causes evil is baseless. Interestingly, while I went in reading this book looking for some good arguments against Open Theism, I came out with the realization that theological determinism is a far more dangerous doctrine indeed.

SDG.

Check out other posts about Open Theism here.

John Frame,No Other God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2001).

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against Open Theism: Scrooge and God’s knowledge of the Future

I was listening to William Lane Craig’s Defenders podcast (Doctrine of God: Part 13) and he brought up an interesting analogy about omniscience. He discussed Scrooge in Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” The last spirit to appear to Scrooge is the ghost of Christmas to come. He takes Scrooge around and shows him all sorts of disturbing imagery that will happen. Scrooge asks the ghost whether these are things that must happen, or whether he can stop them. The spirit remains silent.

Craig pointed out the spirit would have to remain silent to have any sort of effect. For suppose the spirit knows what will happen: that Scrooge will repent and so these awful things won’t happen. But then if he tells Scrooge what he knows, Scrooge will feel little remorse about not acting to prevent them. Yet if the spirit told Scrooge these things would happen, then Scrooge has no reason to modify his behavior, for he cannot prevent the events from happening.

Craig suggests, then, that we should look at omniscience and instances of God “changing his mind” in the same fashion. This has some interesting applications in the case of Open Theism, because it undermines one of the core exegetical arguments for the position: cases of God “repenting” or “changing his mind.”

God, on classical theism, knows what will happen in every circumstance. He comprehensively knows the future (contra Open Theism). If this is so, then God would have to withhold some of his knowledge in order to bring things about, despite his knowledge that it would occur. Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, God would know the answer to Scrooge’s question, but would not answer him, so that he could bring it about that Scrooge would repent.

Consider Jonah. Open Theists often point to the story of Nineveh as an example of God not comprehensively knowing the future. Because God sends Jonah with the message that Nineveh will be destroyed, but then, when Nineveh repents, he shows mercy, many people say that God did not know the Ninevites would have such a reaction. Yet why should this be the case? Isn’t it plausible that God did know they would repent and that God sent the message that they would be destroyed because that is the only way Nineveh would be led to repentance? This is, in fact, hinted at later in the book, when Jonah says to God, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (4:2).

But if God had told the Ninevites “I will not destroy you” because he knew that he would not, would not the impetus of Jonah’s message lose its strength. With the threat of destruction, the Ninevites repented. Without, would they have done so? Imagine Jonah’s message going through the streets “Forty more days and Nineveh will not be destroyed!” I think it obvious that this would probably not have the same effect that the initial message was.

So it seems quite plausible that God, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (in our analogous case), may refrain from telling all he knows at many points throughout Scripture. For if he told people everything he knew, he would know that they would not repent, turn aside from their evil ways, or bring about the actions he desired. The instances wherein God ‘changes his mind’ or ‘repents’ are instances of this: rather than revealing his knowledge, God withholds it, in order to bring about the ends that he desires to (and knows will) happen. We, like Scrooge, would not respond to calls for repentance if we felt it didn’t make a difference in the end.

Final note: the above account implicitly assumes molinism to be the case. So much the better for it, I say!

SDG.

This is part of a series I’ve written against the doctrine of Open Theism. If you’d like to read more, check out the original post for discussion and links.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Against Open Theism: The Infinite Knowledge of God

Psalm 147:5

“Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite” (KJV).

“Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” (ESV)

” גדול אדונינו ורב־כח לתבונתו אין מספר׃” (Hebrew Old Testament)

Infinite Knowledge

Within Scripture we find that God knows all things. But here, in the Psalms, we read that God’s knowledge is “infinite.” Of course, this is a translation of the Hebrew, which says “…his understanding is without number/measure.” But this can also be correctly translated simply as the KJV does, “His understanding is infinite.” Thus, within Scripture, we have a picture of God’s knowledge as infinite or without number.

The Argument

1) If God’s knowledge is infinite/without number/unable to be counted, then God’s knowledge cannot be increased (it’s infinite).

2) God’s knowledge is without number.

3) God’s knowledge cannot be increased.

4) Open Theism asserts that God’s knowledge can be increased.

5) Therefore, Open Theism is false.

Defense of Premises

Premise 1 can be defended in a similar fashion as one would argue against actual infinites in the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Basically, we cannot add up to infinite. Nor, if something is actually infinite, can we increase  or decrease its “number” in any way. We cannot add to infinity and increase it, nor can we take away one item from an infinite set and decrease it to some finite number. Therefore, if God’s knowledge is infinite, it is complete–it cannot be increased.

Premise 2 simply asserts what the Bible passage says.

Premise 3 follows from 1 and 2 deductively.

Premise 4 follows from the core of Open Theism. On Open Theism, God knows all things which have happened and are happening, but he does not necessarily know what will happen until it does happen. Therefore, God’s propositional knowledge would continually be increasing. Each day, he would learn an astounding number of truths which he did not previously know.

Premise 5 follows from 3 and 4; if 3 is true, 4 cannot be true. Yet 3 is true, so 4 cannot be true.

Therefore, Open Theism is false.

A Potential Rebuttal

Can the Open Theist get out of this argument? One way would be to challenge that the Psalm is not claiming God knows an actually infinite number of propositions, but simply that conceptually, God’s knowledge is so far beyond our own it appears to be infinite.

I would respond to this counter-argument by challenging the Open Theist to successfully read that off the Hebrew, which literally says “without number”/”infinite.” Open Theism, by definition, would have to entail God knowing only a finite number of propositions. If God did not know only a finite number of propositions, then His knowledge could not increase (it would be infinite).  Thus, on Open Theism, the number of propositions God knows would increase by the second/minute/day. So the Open Theistic reading of Psalm 147:5 would have to read it like “[God's] knowledge is unlimited; it increases forever.” But that reading is not justified by the text.

[Edit: Note the comment section for some great discussion of this post, wherein two commentators provided a "way out" for the Open Theist regarding my argument and a denial of premise 4.]

This is part of a series I’ve written against the doctrine of Open Theism. If you’d like to read more, check out the original post for discussion and links.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy

Against Open Theism: Definitions

I’ve encountered Open Theism a number of times in my readings and online. Many people I respect greatly fall under the category of “Open Theists.” Greg Boyd, for example, wrote one of the first apologetic books I ever read, yet he is an ardent Open Theist. Yet the doctrine of Open Theism is one with which I disagree vehemently. Therefore, I’m going to write several posts outlining a series of arguments against the doctrine.

Definitions

Open Theism: The doctrine that God, through his own freedom and sovereignty, chose to create free creatures (humans) which could make truly free decisions. Because God made these free creatures, he freely chose to limit his knowledge of the future, such that he would not pre-ordain their actions. Therefore, God knows only those things which God unilaterally  brings about.

Another Definition

From http://www.opentheism.info/, a site collecting information and advocating Open Theism (endorsed by John Sanders, a well known proponent of the view) we can examine a 5-part definition:

1) “In freedom God decided to create beings capable of experiencing his love.” (emphasis theirs)

2) “God has, in sovereign freedom, decided to make some of his actions contingent upon our requests and actions. God elicits our free collaboration in his plans. Hence, God can be influenced by what we do and God truly responds to what we do.” (emphasis theirs)

3) “God has chosen to exercise general rather than meticulous providence, allowing space for us to operate and for God to be creative and resourceful in working with us. It was solely God’s decision not to control every detail that happens in our lives.”

4) “God has granted us the type of freedom (libertarian) necessary for a truly personal relationship of love to develop. “

5) “God knows all that can be known given the sort of world he created… in our view God decided to create beings with indeterministic freedom which implies that God chose to create a universe in which the future is not entirely knowable, even for God. For many open theists the ‘future’ is not a present reality-it does not exist-and God knows reality as it is.”

(Again, please note these are quoted verbatim from sections  on http://www.opentheism.info/; I do not claim credit for these 5 steps of the definition.)

Areas of Disagreement/Agreement

There are many areas of agreement I can share with the Open Theist. For example, I agree that God created free creatures, who have libertarian free will (1 and 4). I agree that God has not predetermined all future events (3). I agree at least in some sense that God’s actions are contingent upon our own (2)–but that’s where the differences begin.

I disagree with Open Theists on an unqualified 2 and 5. It is my belief that:

A) Future Events are knowable

B) God knows the outcome of all future events before they happen.

C) God’s knowledge of the future allows him to take into account our free choices and respond to them from eternity.

One final area of disagreement would be with the implicit idea within Open Theism of divine temporality. I believe:

D) God is essentially timeless.

What’s at Stake

“Okay, all this is well and good,” you may say, “but what’s the payoff? What’s really at stake in this debate?”

Fair questions! There are some who argue that Open Theism is a heresy, period. A simple Google search turns up dozens of articles and comments calling the doctrine a heresy. Several have attempted to ban Open Theists from evangelical circles (the ETS voted to keep two prominent Open Theists within their ranks; others have lobbied to call it heretical).

I do not think that Open Theists are heretics. While I disagree with their views, I think that they have some very good arguments for their position. I do think, however, that the Scriptural evidence excludes Open Theism from possibility. While there are many passages which could be utilized to argue for the position of Open Theism, I believe those passages which exclude the position take priority, and therefore the passages appearing to advocate the position are to be interpreted as use of metaphors or anthropomorphism.

Other Posts in the Series

This post will also serve as a host for links to other posts in the series. View them below, with brief descriptions of their content:

God’s Infinite Knowledge- Argues that Scripture clearly states God’s knowledge is infinte/without number/unlimited. Yet, on Open Theism, God’s knowledge increases, and would therefore have to be finite. Concludes Open Theism is false.

Scrooge and God’s knowledge of the future- Addresses one of the main arguments for Open Theism–that God changes his mind or repents of certain actions.

Book Review: “No Other God: A Response to Open Theism” by John Frame- I review John Frame’s work on open theism. Interestingly, Frame combats open theism with the opposite extreme: theological determinism, a view which I disagree with as adamantly (or more) than I do open theism.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy

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