Why Open Theism is Frightening for Some Christians

When discussing open theism with those who have a problem with it, the idea or fear of control always seems to come out. The argument is that if God does not know the future as one set of eternally settled facts how is he in control or ultimately sovereign? Not only is there all kinds of logical problems with this fear but its rooted in the false thinking that, in the open view, God can be surprised or learns something new as a result of human action. Nothing can be farther from the truth.

I’ll explain by looking at this using absolute terms. The proponent enters the path of thinking that God either settled the future as in the Calvinist view, or simply knows it but did not cause it as in the Arminian view. The assumption is that one can only truly know the future if the future is known in absolutes.

While open theism states that God knows the future as possibilities, I would add that God knows these possibilities as absolute. Therefore God absolutely knows all the possibilities of what will happen in the future. Because of his infinite absolute knowledge of all the possibilities God knows everything that may happen as well as knowing everything that will happen absolutely. Therefore what may and what will happen is no different in the mind of God because out of all the possibilities comes what will happen.

Therefore all possibilities are foreknown and a plan is in place. There is no possibility that God has not been prepared for since the beginning of time because he is infinitely intelligent and infinitely powerful.

So does God know what i’m going to have for lunch in 15 years. Yep, he knows I will have x, or x, or x, or x, or x etc and he knows I won’t have x, or x, or x, or x etc – absolutely. Divine foreknowledge is foreknowledge none the less regardless of the manner in which it is known.

Is God Less Sovereign in the Open View?

This is really the issue most proponents have. The claim is that the God of open theism is not sovereign unless he knows the future as one set of fixed events. The problem here is who then is defining what or what not makes God Sovereign?

If we say God needs to know the future as a set of eternally settled facts in order to be sovereign then we are really the ones defining his sovereignty. We are forcing our definitions or pre-conceived notions of what sovereignty is onto God, rather than letting the text define his sovereignty. Instead the text says he is in control and no matter the way in which he is, we are assured he ultimately is sovereign and in control.

But Ben, you say, the text clearly states that God states that his knowledge of the future is what sets him apart from other God’s. To that I agree, see above, God knows the future and that is what sets him apart from other God’s. Foreknowledge is foreknowledge no matter how he knows it.

I don’t need God to know the future as a set of eternally settled facts in order to be sovereign. I can fully resolve that he is sovereign, and can still be, even with an exhaustive knowledge of all the possibilities of the future. I know God is bigger and stronger and so Sovereign that nothing can stand in the way of the redemption and reconciliation of all things. What’s more is that I think a God whom can still “work all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) amidst the possible choices of free agents, is a pretty powerful God.

In another post I will dive deeper on God’s relation to time and how many of the proponents of open theism use an analogy that places God in time even though they are a-temporal (meaning God is outside of time) in their theology.

If you are interested in an excellent paper written by a missionary named Thomas Belt to the AOG association download and read it here. It’s one of the most complete statements of Open Theism i’ve seen in a while.

11 thoughts on “Why Open Theism is Frightening for Some Christians”

  1. Dan Martin

    Bro, I’m going to challenge you on this one. First, what’s your source for the statement “the text clearly states that God states that his knowledge of the future is what sets him apart from other God’s?” I can’t think of a reference to back this up. Can you?

    Second, as I stated in my own post back a while, I contend that it’s actually the other way around…BECAUSE God is sovereign, he knows exactly what he intends to do…and that he can do it. The ultimate future, that is, what God has purposed must happen, he obviously knows because he’s decided he’ll do it and no power can stop him.

    However, that same sovereignty also allows God (that phrase is almost blasphemous…he’s “allowed” to do whatever he wants) to release to his creatures, anything he wants…that is, God can delegate decisions if he chooses. And if God delegates a choice, he truly releases it. This is why God is not lying or speaking symbolically when he tells Israel that “I have set before you life & death…therefor choose life” (see Deut. 30:19). God really means Israel can CHOOSE. He has released the choice to them…and until they make it, he doesn’t know which they’re going to choose. And further, though his will (wish) is that they choose life, in point of fact they chose death. God was disappointed…but I doubt he was surprised.

  2. Jody H

    Ben, you’re too smart to fall for this. Knowing possibilities is not the same as knowing. The open theist God is not all-knowing. You cannot have an absolute possibility. You have absolutes or possibilities. Even if the possibilities are narrowed-down, they are still possibilities. True life example: I am living in an empty house with 2 drink choices, water and Coke Zero. V-8 Splash is not in my house, and I hate it, so I know my next drink will not be V-8 Splash. Since there are only 2 possibilities, according to you, I have “absolute” knowledge of what my next drink will be. But I don’t. I have narrowed-down options. Is that really the God that we serve? He knows the narrowed-down options, and then has to have contingency plans based on how we choose, but he doesn’t know what we will choose? That seems strange, at best.

    The whole idea of open theism is crazy. God doesn’t know what will happen, but he’s smart enough to figure out contingency plans so that he puts an infinite (or it seems) amount of plans into the future so that he covers his bases to allow his “will” to be done. Seriously? Absurdity.

    I think most open theists are pushing back because they don’t like Calvinism. I completely understand that. However, there are other options. Have you looked at Molinism? William Lane Craig has advocated for this theory and I love it. In it, we are absolutely free, yet God is still absolutely sovereign and has actual, real knowledge of the future.

    One last thing, how do open theists explain Biblical prophecies? It seems that there were lots of people making real choices during the passion week, really specific choices, that would have made Biblical prophecy incorrect. How does God fulfill specific prophecies if he doesn’t know how free people will respond?

  3. Ben Bajarin Post Author

    So I can point you to all kinds of good resources to address your question. I’ve been in a fairly lively debate on this topic for almost a year now.

    First read my co-blogger Dan Martin’s thoughts here http://www.nailtothedoor.com/gods-foreknowledge-as-a-result-of-his-sovereignty/

    As to knowing in this view God actually knows more about the future then if he knows it as one set of eternally settled facts. He overknows the future basically. This is again all fundamentally an attempt to understand free will and God allowing free agents both fallen and human a level of freedom. Yet how he remains in control and sovereign in the process.

    Again i’d challenge that thought that he doesn’t know it, he certainly knows it as possibilities because he is infinitely intelligent. Also the scripture has many examples where God speaks of things as if they would happen if, and then those things never happen. He uses if statements quite a bit is he disingenuous?

    The real problem which is the crux of this issue for me is two things:

    1. In both Calvinism and Arminian view the future must already exist. Meaning God has already created it, in order to be outside of time and see the future it must already exist. I have problems with this.

    2. God can do nothing about the future because its settled. Let me give you an example. God looks out into the future and see that 5 years from now my family will be killed in a car accident. In Calvinism God willed this, in the Arminian view he sees it, didn’t cause it but can do nothing about it. In the open view this accident is one set of possibilities in which God’s intervention is possible.

    I could go on, quite a bit on this issue and the troublesome philosophies of the views of God and time encapsulated in the view but the open view but I don’t want to make the comment too long.

  4. Dan Martin

    @Jody H, Ben already alluded to this to some level, but to respond directly to you…prophecy–or rather, that subset of prophecy that predicts the future–works one of two ways in the Open View. First, if God has decided he’s going to do something, then he’s merely letting us know what he intends to do. This is a special form of foreknowledge that even we have…we limited creatures still know what we plan. The difference, of course, is that God also knows nobody can thwart what he has determined to do.

    The second form of prophetic foreknowledge is conditional foreknowledge. The best example of this I can think of right now is Jonah. He prophesied that in 40 days Nineveh would be toast. It wasn’t. Was that because the prophecy was wrong? No of course not. But interestingly, Jonah didn’t say “you’ll be toast if you don’t repent.” God clearly adapted his intention of the future based upon the response of the people.

    In response to your third paragraph, while it’s true that I *don’t* like Calvinism, I agree that the Open View is not the only alternative. What I do argue is that *all* views that claim God’s absolute foreknowledge are incompatible with the existence of free will. For a future to be knowable with certainty–by anyone, including God–that future has to be a settled fact. If it’s a settled fact, none of us has any choice in the matter. It’s a done deal and in a certain sense that future already exists.

    My other objection to absolute foreknowledge is that it requires us to play fast and loose with so many Biblical accounts in which God is interacting dynamically with his people, and actually responding to their requests and/or actions. These aren’t lies, half-truths, or God dumbing reality down to our level. In the Open View, they don’t have to be.

  5. Dan Martin

    Ben, thanks for sharing the Belt essay, which I had not read before. I, too, commend it to those interested in further reading. As I have previously commented about Boyd, I think that Belt invests too much of his effort on outlining how God’s exhaustive knowledge of possibilities is a foundation of his sovereignty. I still think, at least somewhat contra Boyd and Belt, that the real issue is that we first must understand God’s absolute sovereignty and power for what they are…for then, whether or not God knows all the future (Calvinism or Arminianism) or all the possibilities (Open View a-la Boyd & Belt) becomes somewhat beside the point. Instead, I suggest that God knows all that is and has been, and is instantly, fully, and completely capable of responding to all that is at the moment it occurs, such that his ultimate will cannot be thwarted.

    It is therefore God’s sovereignty, which I have elsewhere defined as God’s right and his power to do whatever he purposes, that are why we can trust him, rely on his guidance, etc. God’s knowledge isn’t irrelevant, but the character of that knowledge is not a necessary component to sovereignty.

  6. Dan Martin

    Having said all that, I do want to highlight one very important summary Belt made: The real question in Open Theology is not whether God knows everything…it’s rather the ontological question “what is ‘everything'”? In other words, we agree that whatever there is to know, God knows all of it. We disagree whether the future exists as something certain that can be known.

  7. Pingback: Why Open Theism is Frightening to Some Christians « Practicing Resurrection

  8. Tim

    I agree with the posters who question ‘what is everything’. Is the future in that box? If it isn’t then really people shouldn’t have an issue with Open Theism.

    1. Dan Martin

      That’s exactly the point, Tim. I think for some, “everything” means “whatever I might be able to conceive” rather than simply “whatever is.” Or, looking at it another way, does the future exist as a “will be” or merely a “may be?”

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