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.
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.
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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Hey J.w. , A quick comment on anthropomorphism:
One argument against such a charge is that it seems difficult to understand these can be mere metaphors. Actions seem to indicate these were no mere figures of speech. God says he repents by undoing what He Himself previously did (e.g., removing Saul as King, 1 Sam. 10:24; 13:13; 15:23-27, 35; 16:1; 2 Sam. 7:8, 15) Common sense tells us that we can only regret decisions we make if the decision resulted in an outcome different than what we hoped for.
One might argue that God isn’t all that wise, that being the case, but I think that once we get that the future is partly open and that humans are truly free, we understand that God really did make a wise decision because it had the greatest possibility of working out. But God’s will was not the only variable here, there was also Saul’s, and in that, God experienced true regret. It is difficult (for me at least) to make sense of the passage any other way.