Open Theism

I have been reading non-stop regarding this subject. Currently I have two books that I have been reading, one is by The Benefits of Providence
by James S. Spiegel, and What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?: The Current Controversy over Divine Foreknowledge by Millard J. Erickson.

I have dropped “The Benefits of Providence” over Erickson’s book, because he seems to address it in a more systematic way, plus he presents the open theist views in an understandable way. I plan to write more on this subject when I am done as I see danger in embracing this particular view of God. Will give a small review of each book.

It was brought to my attention recently, and I was asked the following question, “does God know everything?” I responded with “yes”. “Does he know the future?” they asked. “Of course” I responded. After a few questions it became apparent that they had been talking to someone who has an Open Theist view, and created this sudden questioning of God’s Omniscients. I am always amazed when these sorts of doctrine’s make their way into the church.

The chief proponent of this view seems to be Gregory Boyd. You can read a short bio at Theopedia

I also plan to hold a seminar at my church dealing with the subject “Does God Know All Things”. I am a Traditional Theist, and I have different points of views on this matter, but to deny that God does not know all things is a something that must be challenged, and confronted.  to deny that God does not know all things, I think presents a set of challenges for us, and what are the ramifications of embracing such a doctrinal position?  As C.S. Lewis once said

“Everyone who believes in God at all believes that He knows what you and I are going to do tomorrow.”

You can read Justin Taylor’s introduction on this subject from his book “Beyond the Bounds – Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity” Which is another book I plan to read as soon as I am done with the other two.

My question is:

  • have any of you had encounters with this subject?
  • do any of my regular visitors embrace Open Theism?

29 Responses

  1. I was discussing open theism with Esteban Vázquez a little while back and he said he had a professor once who told him that open theism was pure Socinianism, and when you think about it, he’s right. For the Socinians, reason reigned supreme. If there was anything about God that went beyond (not necessarily against) reason then it was deemed unnecessary. God’s omniscience fell into this category. It’s funny how centuries old heresies can be repackaged and given a new name and then all of sudden are considered within the limits of orthodoxy.

    BTW, I’m not an open theist. 🙂

  2. Nick,

    I didn’t figure you were, and was hoping you would shed some insight. I don’t think any of my regular visitors are, most are reformed in their theology, and hold a very high standard of scripture, and seem to be Traditionalist Theist. But you never know, so I thought I would ask.

  3. I adopt a moderate form of open theism and am happy to talk about it. It’s particularly appealing to charismatics, which Boyd is, and has nothing to do with Socinianism (sorry Nick). They were heretics for other reasons, specifically their views of Christology. People have adopted similar ideas to the contemporary version of open theism in every church century – Protestants and Catholics. Remarks like that professor’s are cheap shots with more interest in encouraging doctrinal consensus than authentic dialogue.

    I suggest you start with Boyd’s book “God of the Possible” and Pinnock ,etc’s “Openness of God” rather than read their opponents. Erickson (I’ve read the book) hardly undertands the premise behind it. I dealt with some of the philosophical reasons behind classical theism’s demise in my second post of Calvinism on my blog. Open theists are reacting to those (and other) issues in Reformed attributes of God. They derive from Hellenistic, not biblical, attributes of God.

    So, there you are – fire away!

  4. I am not an open theist, but I was for a number of years. The essay that convinced me to become an open theist was John Sanders’ chapter in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, edited by Clark Pinnock. (There are a number of great essays in the book, mostly on classical Arminianism. There is also a great chapter by William Lane Craig on Middle Knowledge.)

    To the question, “Does God know all things?” open theists answer universally, “Yes,” but they qualify it by saying He knows all things which are logically knowable. Theologians are generally in consensus that God cannot do anything that is logically impossible, e.g. make a round square. Calvinists have argued for years against Arminians that libertarian free will (i.e. freewill decisions that are not dependant on God’s will) is impossible because God foreknows what decisions we will make, and therefore every decision we make must be part of God’s Providence (generally termed compatiblism). While Arminians have rejected this line of reasoning, open theists have accepted it. Thus they argue that if our freewill decision are really free, then they do not exist and are logically impossible to know until they happen. Thus knowing our future freewill decisions is as meaningless as knowing what color of Porsche I drive (since I have never driven a Porsche). Open theists are very careful to note that this is not a limitation on God.

    The draw of Open Theism is that it takes seriously the Biblical passages where God seems to act this way. The two passages most commonly cited are the Noahic flood sequence, where God repents for having made humanity; and Abraham’s test, where God wants to see whether Abraham will obey him in sacrificing his son. It is comforting to no longer have to explain away these passages, but to be able to take their meaning as it stands.

    But the greatest strength of Open Theism is its emphasis on God’s real interaction with us as His people. When we pray, when we speak to God, we can have a true relationship with Him. He actually reacts and responds to us through true dynamic interaction. This has been helpful for Christian theology across the spectrum, since it is not an insight that is exclusive to Open Theism, but Open Theists have recognized it most clearly.

    What finally convinced me to abandon Open Theism was John Frame’s book, I think called No Other God. He does a good job of demonstrating from scripture that God does know our future freewill decisions. So I have come back to the classical Arminian perspective.

    I do want to encourage you to read at least some of what the Open Theists have written. Clark Pinnock in particular is very good at showing you why he came to this position himself, even if you do not follow him in his theological judgments.

    Open Theists are not Socinians. The Socianians denied the Trinity. Open Theists are orthodox (and Evangelical) Christians and all hold firmly to the doctrine of the Trinity.

  5. Sam, a bit surprised, but very interesting. I would like to hear more about your moderate position in Open Theism. I do appreciate the recommendation by Boyd, but I am a bit turned off by the guy. I think I’ll read one of Pinnock’s books.

    RTJones, I am planning on actually reading one of their books, so I appreciate the recommendations. Definitely will read John Frame’s book

    One of the things that I thought Erickson did well was showing some of the problems that arise when reading the account of Abraham’s test, the famous

    …For now I know that you fear God…

    I don’t have his book in front of me, but I’ll correct any misquotes that I do later this evening. Writing this from memory.

    According to Erickson Open Theist teach that God has Exhaustive knowledge of the past, and complete knowledge of the present. This is how Jesus was able to predict with exact accuracy that Peter (he also adds that Open Theist teach that Jesus knew Peter’s character very well) would deny him 3 times, after the rooster crows.

    According to Erickson, If one was to apply the same principle that is used to predict what Peter did, isn’t it fair to ask why God did not know, or at least be able to predict what Abraham would have done, and isn’t it fair to say the God also knew Abraham’s character very well?
    Also, the amount of knowledge it would it take to predict all of the possible free actions that others would have done, to ensure that Peter did exactly what the Lord predicted, and when. Seems to create some problems as well, and for the Open Theist, it appears that they are going to great measure to explain this situation.

    I think that these are fair questions, and problems that Open Theist must respond to (maybe they have since he wrote his book). Also, according to Erickson if God does have Exhaustive knowledge of the past, and complete knowledge of the present why does he appear not to know what is going on in Sodom & Gomorrah where the Lord says:

    I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to Me. If not, I will find out. – Genesis 18:20-21

    Again, seems to not follow the same rules.

  6. Hey Robert –

    I have some input to give specifically on the verses you’ve cited, but I will be out of pocket and unable to comment for a few days. Hopefully, you all will remain engaged in the topic and I can jump back in. Either way, I commend your willingness to research all the parameters of the debate.

    This may help – the foundational research for open theism comes from OT biblical scholarship. Two things should jump out at your there: OT and bibilcal, not systematic, scholarship. Most Open theist opponents focus on the NT and reject it because it doesn’t square with their systematic approaches to doctrine. But it’s an OT phenomenon that carries over into the NT.

    Particularly the writings of Abraham Heschel on the prophets are important. Heschel conveys the “Hebraic” narrative approach of the OT and the “give and take” between God and humans. As such, we as Westernized Christians have problems with the narrative style of verses like Genesis 18:20-21. It’s a divine drama, complete with a plot, and in this case divine soliloquy. But we assume it’s got to be more than a suspenseful way to tell the story of God. But for the rabbis of old up to the Jewish theologians of today (like David Wolpe), that’s what it’s about. Erickson’s approach implies that those verses must say something specific about the parameters of God’s omniscience within a systematic theological context in order to be valid. He takes himself and the divine drama too seriously – beyond its original intent.

    I would like to talk to you about the role of the charismata, and prayer in open theism. I think you may see its merits in a different light.


  7. Sam,

    I will keep it open, as this subject has captured my attention. Again, I am fully persuaded in my view, but I am seeking to better understand the Open Theist position. But I really do enjoy the open dialog – or debate, although I am not clear that is what we are doing. 😉

    I guess I refrain from much debate because I think that it causes so much antagonism, and can cause hatred, or ruin friendships among Christians. But I would not refrain from debating various doctrines that I hold to be essential to my faith. I am just not sure where Open Theism falls in terms of “Essential”.

    Questions I have are what are the ramification to other doctrine by embracing this view? For example, does this lead to God not being Omnipresent? How do you reconcile all of the prophecies given, those in regards to Christ? How about the list of other prophetic scriptures such as:
    1 Sam. 10:1-7; 1 Kings 13:1-4; Isa. 44:28-45:13

    I have not yet heard, or read a good response to the verses I have listed above, or to Erickson’s conclusions.

  8. Sam & Ryan,

    For the same reasons that Socinians rejected the omniscience of God, they rejected the Trinity and the Dual natures of Christ (as well as his personal preexistence). These things are beyond reason (although not necessarily contrary to it). I’m not calling open theists Socinians in the proper sense, but I wouldn’t have a problem calling Socinians open theists. 😉

  9. Hey Robert (and guys)

    I’m a friend of Sam’s and he introduced me to your site. I enjoy reading your blogs! Don’t bother coming to mine…I’m terrible at posting at this point in my life! 🙂

    I wanted to comment on the recent thread. I like Sam do consider myself an Open Theist. I’m not sure what Sam means by a moderate position (I hope he will explain 🙂 ), and so I wanted to address some of the question’s Rober posed and also ask a few questions myself. I will actually start with the questions.

    Robert, why do you not want to check out Boyd? I hope it’s not from what you read from Theopedia. Theopedia is heavily Calvinistic in its scope and would not offer any sort of unbiased assessment of Boyd. Why not at least check out his blog: He’s a passionate pastor in proclaiming the beauty of the kingdom of God. If you want the best view on Open Theism, Boyd is your best option. I encourage you to go ahead and tackle his works.

    rtjones, you mentioned that you became an open theist because you saw the logical contradiction of the arminian view of God’s forknowledge of all future decisions by man and man’s libertarian freedom to do so. Then you read Frame’s assessment of Open Theism and abandoned it, returning to an arminian position. How were you able to go back once you saw the inherent contradiction to Arminian thought. Frame is a vehement Calvinist. He would not have you choose the Arminian position either. It seems that if you reject the Open Theist position, yet see the contradiction in the Arminian position, your only other options are Calvinism and Molinism.

    Ok Robert, let me take a stab at your first question concerning Abraham and Isaac. First let me say that Erickson for the most part does a sad job of challenging the openness texts. This is a prime example.

    An Open Theist would first acknowledge that God has exhaustive foreknowledge over ever POSSIBLE decision in the future, so from creation, God has forseen all the possibilities that could come to pass. He’s not aloof! Secondly, Erickson is right in stating God’s pefect knowledge of present situations and character would give Him insight into what Abraham would do. So why does he say what he says?

    Well, we know from James that faith without works is dead. Or in other words, faith that is not actualized with corresponding action is not really faith at all. God could know without a doubt the faith in Abraham’s heart, but until Abraham drops the knife so to speak, that faith is not actualized yet. That is why God could say, “NOW, I know that you fear me.” We acknowlege that God would have had an excellent understanding of the situation, but he wants active faith.

    The Genesis passage (18:20-21) does seem to be more anthropomorphic than others. It’s obvious that God could look down from heaven and see exactly what is happening in Sodom at that time. So I offer a few comments in response. Earlier in Genesis, it said that God walked with Adam in Eden? Did he really? Did he really have to? Well of course He didn’t have to, he’s omnipresent right!? His presence was there regardless, but He longs to be intimately connected with humanity. In the same way, and I’m not sure exactly how he would have carried it out, could he not (even with his omnipresent/foreknowledge self) have decided to go “get into the muck” of Sodom and have a more intimate encoutner in which to base his judgment on? It may not have happened like that, but I wouldn’t put it past God to do it either. All that to say, there is not reason to completely deny the validity of those scriptures just to fit them to a classical presupposition of what God must do or be like.

    So before I move forward let me ask an IMPORTANT question:

    What do all the passages which speak of God chaning his mind, or basing decisions off human decisions (all the “if” passages in the prophets) mean if they don’t mean that? Classical theologians often point to these scriptures and say that they are “anthropomorphic” or giving human qualities of God so that we can understand or relate, even though that’s not how he really is. So when a passage speaks of God chaning his mind, a Calvinist will say, “Oh, that’s not really how God is…this is anthropomorphic.” But in fact, the Calvinist believes that God actually does the opposite, mainly say that he will relent or change his mind, when all the while he has already ordained the outcome.

    So, how do you interpret the passages (and there are many) where God seems to change his mind or base His decisions on man’s responses (see Jeremiah 18).

    Since this post is already dreadfully long, let me stop here, and we can hit the other questions of prophecy and so forth at a later time.

    Thanks so much for your willingness to listen to an alternative view and the chance to express my thoughts.

  10. Jonathan, you ask why I accepted that libertarian freewill and God’s exhaustive foreknowledge are contradictory when I first embraced open theism but became an Arminian when I left the open theist position. The simple answer is that I did not embrace open theism because I thought these were contradictory. I was drawn by the desire to be able to interpret certain biblical passages without having to resort to anthropomorphism.

    The way I see it is that God’s foreknowledge is something like me watching a videotape of a debate that I saw in person that happened days ago. If you hadn’t seen the debate, and especially if I could play the tape and make you believe that it was happening live, I could impress you with my amazing ‘foreknowledge’ of the arguments each debator would use. But their freewill decisions to debate particular arguments in particular ways would not be contingent upon my knowledge in any way (though it might appear to be so to my friend). It seems that God’s foreknowledge works similarly because He exsists outside of time.

    If open theism were true, then libertarian free will and God’s exhaustive foreknowledge would be contradictory because God would exist ‘in time’ so to speak. If God exists outside of time, then I do not see a contradiction.

    Nick, except for the chronological anachronism, I would accept that Socinians were open theists. Perhaps we could say that God foreknew that Socinainism was a form of open theism. Open theism is not logically dependent on Socinianism, but even if it were it could not be rejected on these grounds without committing the genetic fallacy. My point is that open theism is not heretical even if it is wrong.

  11. Hello Jonathan,

    I really appreciate the time you took state your position, it’s a bit different from some of the people that I have been talking to, and somewhat different from what Erickson writes.

    In response to your questions/comments.

    Boyd, he just comes across to arrogant for me (just my opinion). Any individual that will take a historic position and reinterpret it without the possibility of admitting he has miss something, just makes we uncomfortable. At least Sander’s and even Erickson are willing to acknowledge the challenges regarding this subject. Maybe Boyd does have this attitude and I just have taken the time to read enough of his writings.

    You say that Open Theist would acknowledge that God does have exhaustive foreknowledge over every possible decision in the future. It sounds like some variation of Middle Knowledge. This view in some ways does not sound as extreme as having no knowledge of any future events. However, it still presents issues. How do you account for all of the prophecies that have accurately come to pass?

    The active faith situation sounds reasonable. However, I still think that it is at best a probable solution.

    When you say “there is no reason to completely deny the validity of those scriptures just to fit them to a classical presupposition of what God must do or be like.” That statement can easily be applied to the Open Theist position as well.

    God changing his mind, well I think that it is one of the easier ones to resolve. At one point in my life, I was a sinner, no awareness of God, living a life apart from his will. I would say that God’s view of me was that of judgment, had I died in that position, I would expect him to pass his judgment on me and send me to hell. But at one point in my life, I repented, accepted Jesus into my life, he became my Lord and Savior. Now his position towards me has changed. Did God change his mind? Yes. His position towards me is relational. We are not saying that God does not change his mind. We are saying that he is not caught of guard, or unaware, or surprised. In most cases it is in fact that God is responding to the changed position of the people or individuals.

    Also, there seems to be inconsistency with Open Theism as to when God is and isn’t defined in anthropomorphic ways. Like the Genesis reference you site, that God is asking Adam, where are you? I would think that if you interpret the other passages literally, why not interpret these the with the same rules? That God does not know where Adam is. It would seem like the natural literal interpretation.

    I do agree that in some ways certain verses in the Old Testament are easier to interpret in the manner that Open Theist do, and Traditional Theist have to give further explanation, with the exception of a few OT verses such as Isaiah chapters 41-48. However, Open Theist seem to have to go to greater length to explain New Testament passages, and Traditional Theist can take a more natural literal interpretation. Like Jesus knowing exactly how many times Peter would deny him, and when he would do this. Like Erickson, I also believe in a progressive revelation.

    Ok, that’s enough for now 😉

  12. Hello all –

    Who’s debating 🙂 For me the move to open theism was a “heart” move considering there are solid points made by adherents and opponents (just like every other doctrinal controversy). I know there are “holes” in the concept of an open future. I’ve decided to be comfortable with those discrepancies, rather than the other available options. But the thing that gets me the most is the constant jabs of “heresy” thrown at open theists. I read Justin Taylor’s intro and honestly the negative, caustic language is sickening. He’s not doing anyone a favor by writing that way. I read in a parenting book the other day where the author took a paragraph to blast open theists as heretics citing no evidence for his claims. And he didn’t even tie it to parenting! Personally, I think that’s disgusting. Like someone said above, open theists are completely orthodox and most consider themselves part of the Arminian camp, though many Arminians shun them. Interestingly one of the greatest open thiest proponents was Lorenzo McCabe, a Methodist minister from the 1880s.

    So, for my moderate view. I believe that most postconservative evangelicals (many who like open theism) are merely trying to be true to scripture. Scripture does fine for itself without us qualifying anthropomorphism. Besides wasn’t Jesus the ultimate anthropomorphism? 🙂 So. if we are true to the text, there are undoubtable instances where God chooses to “play by the rules” of the cosmic order and allows free will to play out to its logical ends. But there are other passages where God seems to know certain events and even wills their occurence. Open theists would say God is looking upon the heart playing to the statistics of probability and we would call that prophecy. I don’t believe that as a charismatic. So, though my mother told me “I can’t have my cake and eat it too,” I beleive God can to a degree. The overwhelming majority of the time, God allows free will to direct future contingencies and works within the parameters and complexity of nature to bring about his desires. Though it seems strange to us, he seems to be fine with his objective being reached through alternative ways that seem “imperfect” based on how we assume God should behave. But that’s his perogative. So staying between the ditches of process theology and reformed theology, I opt for a “soft” version of open theism. Besides, open theism is doing most evangelicals a favor by fending off the onslaught of process theology by accomodating propositional theology to a postmodern construct. Of course, most of us don’t know the difference because we too busy sitting in our “Way of the Master” seminars. 🙂

    Take prophecy for example. In Genesis 37, Joseph got only two of three right in his divine dream (his parents never bow down to him), yet Jesus was dead on with his prophecy of Peter’s denial. So, what’s going on here? Some prophecies seem to be determinative (Jesus) while other seem to act as springboards prompting to action (Joseph). Others are never fulfilled in the way we think they will be (Messianic claims) or are contingent upon the response of someone else (Jonah and Ninevah). So, if we take the text seriously, my moderated position is to allow free-will full latitude except at God’s discretion where moments of charismatic or prophetically inspired speech dictate all details of a particular event in history. But I fall into the open theist category since I assume the future is MOSTLY open except in unusual cases where it doesn’t need to be. Most of these unusual cases find their way in to the biblical narrative to encourage us that moments of God’s intervention do in fact happen and presently can happen in a personlized way.

    Yeah, Boyd can be annoying. Sanders or Pinnock is the way to go, though I find the writings of Brueggemann and Fretheim (who I adore) to speak to the possiblity of open theism. Fretheim’s book “The Suffering of God” changed everything about how I viewed God and the OT.

    Most people’s hangup about open theism has to do with what they constitute as an appropriate understanding of God’s sovereingty. I see biblical sovereignty as kenotic and self-limiting, defined ultimately in the work of Christ. Christ shows us God’s mode of operation for all human interaction. For open theists, God sees his sovereingty and power in the ability to function within the complexities of nature yet still achieve his goals. Often this involves the extremely personal and relational act of delegating his authority to his followers to assist the kingdom in “breaking forth.” It’s like that old chess computer program illustration: who is the most powerful, a computer that arranges all the moves of his opponent, thereby defeating him? OR is it the computer that uses its resources and intellegence to determine the most likely moves of his opponent and even when “surprised” by a random move adjusts accordingly? I think it’s the second.

    Finally, prayer. At the risk of being overly simplistic, I believe that prayer to be fully effectual must be able to influence the world order. That means that everything cannot be predetermined, otherwise prayer falls within compatibilism. I think that eviscerates the relational qualities of relationship that God desires. The best illustration comes from the Jewish rabbis: Honi the circle drawer. Why would Honi draw a circle in the dirt and refuse to leave it until God caused rain UNLESS God was willing to take Honi’s request under consideration? I believe God is just that practical. What about all unanswered prayer? Well, you can say God didn’t answer it because he didn’t want to or you can say that though desiring the answer it, God chooses to “play by the rules of the game” and sometimes even finds his desires eclipsed within the complexities of the world order. Though the second option has affinities with process theology, I believe that God’s self-limitation is voluntary, so I adhere to that view.

    Whew! Feel free to tell me I’m wrong. 🙂

  13. Sam, you are wrong – end of discussion 😉

    Well more food for thought. However, I still don’t buy it. I guess I am just very comfortable with God knowing all things. And I feel very confident with the method of interpretation that follow.

    I have been heavily influenced by Dr. William Lane Craig. Excepting that God is outside of time, and is able to see all time at once just does not bother me at all. It has been said that God does not foresee, he just sees. And him simply seeing does not altar my choices in any way, anymore than me watching my son play his Xbox. I know that is a simple view of a very complex idea.

    I don’t think the Open Theist view really solves many of the issues discussed, but creates just as many if not more questions than the Traditional view.

    Just the other day I was reading the story of this Christian Dr, in Africa. She had delivered a baby that was premature, and in the process the mother died, living behind the baby, and her other daughter. The Dr, explained what had happened to a group of the kids that she helps, she also informed them that the hot water bottle had broken and they had nothing to keep the baby warm, and she may die.

    Well they prayed, and one of the little girls prayed that God would provide the water bottle today, and also bring a dolly for the little girl so that she knows that Jesus loves her. Later that afternoon a boxed arrived, with shirts, and various other supplies. What else was in there? The plastic water bottle, and at the very bottom a dolly for the little girl.

    The Dr’s helpers back home had packed the box 5 months ago. Now, I know that this is not scripture, and I am not trying to build a case on experience, however, it begs the question. Was this some weird coincidence? Did God know in advance what the need would be, and that a child would be asking him 5 months later for those two exact items? I don’t know, but it brings me a certain comfort knowing that God does know the future. (Source J.P. Moreland – Kingdom Triangle)

    I lost my older brother, as he was brutally murdered when I was 20 years old. I have gone through some very difficult times, and it was comforting to know that God was in control. I believe it is because of our freedom, that we have evil, and yes even though God knew that evil would come, he knew that in order for us to be free creatures that evil would be a choice we would have to make. He did not create evil, but created creatures who have the choice, the freedom to be evil, or not.

    I don’t see suffering as something that God allows me to go through because he does not love me, but I see suffering as an opportunity to learn to be like God. I lost my job several years back, and that led to me loosing everything I had ever acquired in the last 15+ years of my life. Sure I felt unsure, but I knew that God knew the outcome, and because of that I had comfort. At times I wondered, but I always trusted that God knew the final outcome, and the reason this is happening to me is really an opportunity to be transformed, and become Christ like.

    I know that is not a popular message, suffering. But I think that it is through suffering that we learn to be Christ like. I know that I am drifting a bit, but say all this because prayer is real, and God does hear. I don’t know the future, I don’t know who will or will not be saved. Those things God has not allowed me to know, why? Personally I don’t care. I trust that he knows. I think sometimes we need to be more like the woman in Luke chapter 7:36-50. She just loved Jesus, didn’t ask for anything, she just wouldn’t stop kissing him, washing his feet, and pouring oil on his head.

    We presume to much, even at trying to understand the Almighty. Also, I would rather ascribe to God more than to take away. At least if I am wrong, God will say “Well son, you thought more of me than what I am”, instead of “Son what were you thinking? You were way off on that teaching” which I expect to hear anyhow on some subject.

    OK, I got to personal, sorry all.

    Keep them coming, I do enjoy everyones attitude and helps me to think through what I believe. Plus you guys help give better responses to folks at my church 😉

  14. Hey Robert –

    “Was this some weird coincidence? Did God know in advance what the need would be, and that a child would be asking him 5 months later for those two exact items? I don’t know, but it brings me a certain comfort knowing that God does know the future.”

    That story is a perfect example of how open theism works as well. We assume that in order for those events to occur in that pattern, God must have known they would happen. An open theist says those contingencies were one available of many and God, knowing the personal needs of that girl, led another believer by his Spirit to provide the bottle. But what if that believer disobeys the voice of the Spirit? Well, then God would have arrange another way to achieve that exact same outcome. He’s omni-resourceful. And he has faith in our willingness to responding to his promptings. He can make any scenario occur by acting within the complexities of nature, yet allows free-will cooperation among humans to help him achieve those goals. Then again sometimes he does it by himself. The point is, God didn’t have to have future knowledge to put the “pieces” of that puzzle together, just exhaustive knowledge and the ability to look upon the heart to orchestrate the details.

    I am really sorry about your brother. Most theology has something to do with theodicy in a personal way. I have never had something that tragic happen to me so I am not sure how deeply that would affect my view of God. You’re right – suffering is part of the process of a fallen world. You can ignore it or allow it to help you mature as a person. However, John Sanders began studying philosophical theology and arrived at open theism for the same reasons that you’ve chosen other avenues. His brother was killed in a car accident, I think. He talks about it at the beginning of “The God Who Risks.” It amazes me how people can have similar expereinces and arrive at different conclusions. Like you said, there’s a lot about God that we’ll never know anyway.


  15. Hello all again,

    I apologize in advance for this lengthy post, but I want to go ahead and address several issues at once.
    Robert, again, thanks for allowing me to post my thoughts on here. I’m over in Thailand and so it’s rare that I get to discuss theology to any significant degree. Sam was my main source for these talks but it’s much harder to do over email! 🙂

    Let me start with Sam:
    Hey buddy! 🙂 I’ve got to say that if your position is moderate, than my view and all the Open Theist authors I’ve read so far are as well. From what I’ve read, the whole premise of Open Theism is that God has only left “part” of the future open, and has determined what he has chosen to determine. Correct me if I’m wrong, but where do you see any other view?

    You mentioned that God is “outside of time,” and this is a common view of God that people presuppose, but I have a hard time understanding where the view comes from in scripture. The bible clearly affirms that God is the “beginning and the end” and that he has always existed. But the Bible itself is a portrait of God interacting within time over and over and over again. So if you would, explain how you have concluded that God is outside of time.

    Robert let me address this now. You mentioned that you were a fan of William Lane Craig. I am as well. However, Craig is a Middle Knowledge proponent who believes that since creation God operates within time. Here is an article explaining his views:

    Here is my main problem with the idea of God outside of time theory. What is time? Time is a way that we have come up with to explain sequencing. We have this moment, and this moment, and this moment, so “time” must have passed. Relationships require a sequencing of some sort. You don’t have to call it time, but you must acknowledge that for true relational activity to occur, there must be a sequence of moments. Well, while God as always existed, we know that within the Trinity, he as always “related” to the other members of the Godhead. If God has always experienced relationship, then he must have always considered a sequencing of some sort. Creation’s time “began” when God created it; however, for all eternity God has experienced a sequencing of moments within His relationship with the Trinity. I see no reason for that sequencing to stop once creation started. The sequencing that God experienced must have just continued with creation.

    Ok, Robert let me hit on Boyd again (Can you tell he’s one of my heroes?! :)). Boyd in stating that this view is a revamping of the historical view is no different from the other’s who have said the same thing. One of the foundational premises of Open Theism is that the Platonic and Aristotelian view of God’s (in whatever terms they called Him or it) perfection was incorporated into the Christian view by the early Church. So they are coming against the Hellenistic influence. Every Open Theist acknowledges that this view is a challenge to the traditional view, but that doesn’t mean that they think they’ve nailed it all down. All of them (from what I’ve read) are simply attempting to creat a discussion for the Christian community at large. Boyd is no different.

    As for Middle Knowledge and Open Theism, they are very similar! In fact, Boyd cause Open Theism a neo-Molinist view:

    Now let me address your explanation of God changing his mind. You proposed that when you were a sinner, had you died, God’s judgment would have been upon you, but through God’s grace you were saved and now He no longer condemns you. In this way, God can change his mind. Exactly!! But here is the problem, If God knew from all eternity that you would not be saved and that he would damn you, then that would be the outcome. It’s as good as predestined! In fact, if God has exhaustive foreknowledge of every human decision, than at creation he knew of the billions of people who would reject Him and He would send to hell and created them anyway! That has major ramifications for how we view God.

    Besides that, if this view is correct, then God’s drawing of men to repentance in the hope that they will be saved is to no avail; God would be working against the knowledge he already has. It’s as if He’s stuck with everything He’s set into motion and can’t do anything about it…all because it’s established in His foreknowledge.

    This brings me to my next point: I have a hard time seeing how petitioning prayer works with a God who has exhaustive foreknowledge who hasn’t predetermined everything as the Calvinist believes. The only times our prayers would be answered is if the answer already resided in God’s mind somewhere. If God knows all along that my parents are going to get divorced in the year 2010, then no amount of praying will solve that. It’s settled eternally in the mind of God.

    I’m terribly sorry to hear about your brother. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been or must be.

    Finally, let me address just a few of your points. You mentioned how Open Theists take a lot of scripture literally, so why not when God says, “Where are you” to Adam and Eve. Is our hermeneutic too wishy-washy? I would just say that all people must determine when to take the Bible literally and when to not (and this is obviously not one of those times). Open Theist’s are no different, they just allow more passages to be taken literally then not. They see no reason to take some passages anthropomorphically when it doesn’t seem like there’s a reason to do so. But that doesn’t mean they must take all passages that way! Why would they go to such an extreme? I feel this suggestion is simply an attempt to call the Open Theist’s intelligence into question. The same question could be asked for the Classical Theist who doesn’t take ANY of these passages literally. Or why do they take the miracles of Jesus literally, since they are unwilling to take these passages literally? See the extreme?

    Let me hit prophecy briefly. I’m sure this answer will not suffice, but because of the length of this post, I hope it will do for now. Sam has already raised some issues.

    What is prophecy? Is it a man’s prediction of the future based on what God has seen and then shows him? OR is it a forth telling of events that God will DO because he has the power to do so? I vote for the latter, and this doesn’t require God to have exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events to accomplish this. He just has to be able to “do as he pleases.”

    You mentioned that Open Theists struggle with New Testament passages. But how many prophetic passages are there really? The two main ones are Peter’s denial, and Judas’s betrayal. Open Theism’s answer for these passages may seem insufficient, but it does address them.
    Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now. This is WAY too long of a post…

    By the way, thanks for the article by Feinberg. I haven’t read the one you sent me yet, but I think I’ve read it before. Is it how God’s foreknowledge really isn’t about cognitive ability but about a “fore-loving?” I need to go read yours to make sure there the same one, but if it is, I can only see how this helps the Open Theist/Arminian view because it works beautifully in a corporate election model—God foreknew (loved) His church. But let me stop here considering that I haven’t read yours yet! 🙂

    Blessings to all of you. Forgive me for my lack of brevity.

  16. Jonathan, Sam,

    I can’t keep up with you guys! I do hold an Arminian view of God’s foreknowledge.

    I am super busy at the moment but I promise to get back to you guys within 24 hours.

  17. Jonathan –

    You’re probably right – my view is standard in many respects. I think I expect God to determine some of the little things in life for the purpose of building relationship more than some open theists, but over all, I’m right there with you.

    Robert, take your time, or we can all move on with life. I’d be fine with that as well. 🙂

  18. Sam,

    I appreciate it that, but I do have a few more questions, and really do want to respond to you and Jonathan.

    I will be doing a short lecture on this at my church sometime in April, so you guys are really helping me understand your point of view. I don’t want to misrepresent the Open Theist view.

    Also, I have been reading the link that Jonathan pointed me too, and it has been very interesting. The explanations that I have read so far are a bit different than Erickson’s description but not to far off. They don’t sound as radical as I first thought. But I am still not convince 😉 Honestly, I doubt that I ever will, but I am trying to properly understand this position.

    Also, I noticed that Clark Pinnok gave an endorsement of Erickson’s book, which I thought was very nice of him. To be fair, I don’t care for Bruce Ware’s (traditional theist/Calvinists) attitude either. Sounds like he wants a religious war.

  19. Hey Robert,

    No problem on the response. I’m actually with Sam…I was thinking about it last night, and this is literally what I thought, “How much would it change God if you do know the future exhaustively or you don’t?” It might answer some small questions either way, but the Bible makes it clear that God is relational, and all theists can agree to that. It’s always fun to put forth our favorite arguments, and I may have come on a little strong. So sorry!

    I do have one more article for you to read AT YOUR LEISURE. Don’t rush. But it’s an article written to express Open Theism to an Arminian audience. This been with Calvinists.

    Here ya go:

    Once again, thanks for letting me “spar” a little bit. Sometimes I need it to keep my mind sane! 🙂

  20. Whoops…

    The last sentence before the link should say,

    “This debate has typically been with Calvinists.”

  21. I’m coming in a little late to this discussion so I don’t have a lot to add to the many things that have been said so far by Sam and Jonathan. Sam posted a link to this discussion over on my blog and I have just gotten the chance to check it out today.

    I’ve got to say that it is nice to see this discussion taking the course that it has. All too often, these types of discussions degenerate into arguments and accusations and no one learns anything. The openness and sincerity expressed by all parties in this discussion is truly refreshing!

    As I say on my blog, I came from an Armenian background and have always believed in libertarian free will. However, I also had some serious issues with the problem of evil and suffering in the world. Before I came to the open theist position, I had concluded that God was one of three things.

    1. He was impotent – He wanted to help those who were suffering but could not because it would override libertarian free will.
    2. He was indifferent – Suffering and evil happened and God let it happen because He didn’t care one way or the other since we lived in a fallen world.
    3. He was vindictive – God actively allows suffering and evil because the world is fallen and this is His way of showing just how bad it was.

    I think that every one of us can agree that God is none of these things. That’s just the conclusion that I had come to because I wasn’t thinking things through due to many various issues I was struggling with. Regardless, while I was in this frame of mind, worshiping a God who was impotent, indifferent or vindictive was not an appealing prospect. Eventually, this led me to the brink of atheism since I was sure that God wasn’t one of these three things but I saw no other explanation.

    The thing that brought me back to faith with an open heart and an attitude of worship was open theism. I still have to say that for me personally, if God knew beforehand that my sister in law would be killed in a car accident, that we would lose a child due to miscarriage, that my grandmother would die on mother’s day, that my son would be born with bilateral club feet, that my father would cause my family an immense amount of pain and suffering, that my wife and both of my children would have a degenerative genetic disorder, that I would suffer depression so deeply that I seriously considered suicide as the only option to solve the pain or any of the many other painful things that have happened to me throughout my life and did nothing to prevent or stop them, I would not be able to say that I love Him. The open theist position has allowed me to come to terms with the problem of evil in a way that no other theological position has.

    Instead of hating God and actively rebelling against Him, I am now serving, worshiping, loving and teaching. This is why I, personally, am an open theist. I too will state openly that I do not think that this is a doctrine that is central to one’s faith or salvation and that it has challenges to be considered just as other views of God’s knowledge do. However, for me, this was the answer that God provided when I finally gave up my anger and chose to follow Him in spite of my doubts.

    Keep up the good work in exploring open theism. I hope that regarless of any decision you make about open theism that you grow closer to our God who wants nothing more than to have a deep and loving relationship with each and every one of us.

  22. Brad,

    to some extent I can identify with you in regards to the amount of suffering you have experienced. I do find it amazing how we deal with things in life. When my brother died (murdered), I was extremely hurt and angry. But for some reason I refused to blame God. I have often thought why I did not blame God, and to this day I don’t.

    Sure God could have intervene somehow, but even in the open theist view, I think that God could have intervene as well. I remember walking into church and we began to sing a song from Psalms 100:4

    “I will enter in his gates with thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter in his courts with praise, I will say this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice for he has made me glad”

    I remember just breaking down and crying, and asking God to forgive me, because I did not feel thankful, and did not want to rejoice. I asked him to help me with my anger, and hatred towards the person that killed my brother. It was a very difficult time.

    Why did God allow these things to happen to us? I have personally chosen not to ask God why. I trust that he knows why, and I just do what you recommend grow closer to him. Now I know that is not a sufficient response to an inquiring mind, but after all that is why we study theology, apologetics, and philosophy to be able to provide those answers.

    But if I understand the Open Theist position rightly, again I don’t see how it is different from the Traditional Theist in solving some of the hard questions in life. Open Theist teach that God knows every possible course of action that the future may take, so if God knew of the possibility that this evil person might kill my brother, yet did nothing to prevent it, how is that any different if God knew for certain and did nothing? Again, I just don’t see how this solves some of the issues such as evil, or freedom.

    I don’t recall if I stated this before, but so much is made up about freedom. I do believe with all my heart that I am free to make any choice I will, that is evident by some of the willful sins that I commit. But I had no choice if I would have been born a man or a women, white or black, tall or short, rich or poor. These major choices were already made for me, no one consulted my free will. It was a predetermined choice made for me.

    I have had countless thoughts as to why God allowed my brother to die in the manner that he did. Maybe because of this, or that. But never really found a satisfactory reason, so at some point I just stopped. I hope that someday in the next life we will find our answers to these questions.

    I have also chosen not to create heated debates at my blog, even if I disagree. I have posted Philippians 2:1-4 as I reminder to me to “…Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves…” I am a fighter by nature, and I use to love to debate, I just don’t find the challenge in it any more, and I find that not much good comes out of it, especially when discussing issues with brothers in Christ, who are looking for genuine answers to their questions. I do think that there is a place and a time to hold debates, but I have just chosen not to make that the focus of my blog. When I was younger I debated a Jehovah witness so forcefully with strong arguments that he became an agnostic 😉 Even in victory, I lost.

    It pleases me to hear that you are “now serving, worshiping, loving and teaching” and have found peace with God. I like you love the Lord more than anything, and maybe we over think some of these issues. Last night my wife told me “put the book down, how long are you going to think about this subject. Maybe we weren’t meant to know – the how’s of God.”

  23. Hey guys –

    Your expereinces are exactly what have caused open theism to be so popular. Open theism at least tries to answer questions of theodicy and separate issues of evil from the character of God. I don’t have all the answers but I know this: God is good. I can hold to that truth and allow all the other questions to float into the complexity of space along with a lot of other theological issues. What endears me to open theism is that it at least attempts to find a more accomodating way to deal with suffering. It doesn’t brush suffering aside and tell you “its for your own good.” Springing from theodicy, it takes those complexities of life seriously, even if it attributes voluntary limitations by God. I’ve found that people, though they like the idea that God knows/controls all events in life, will gladly trade that theological certainty for the belief that God truly cares about their circumstances. In the end, God HAS to care or Christianity isn’t worth the adherents its gained over the centuries. Somehow, in spite of theology, 🙂 he seems to get that message through to all of us in a uniquely personal way.

  24. Sam,

    can you explain how “…open theism attempts to find a more accommodating way to deal with suffering”

    I just don’t see it or get it. If God knows the possibilities, then one of the possibilities might be that you might suffer. God either knows in full, or in part but he still knows to some extent.

    In both views you cannot escape that God has some or full knowledge. How does this make it more accommodating?

  25. Sorry for the delay – yeah I posted a first time but this is important enough to post again. 🙂

    The key to OT is to think “present tense” rather than past or future tense. “Pretend” that you’re reading a comic book and the story unfolds as you read each frame. Don’t see God as the person reading the comic book for informational purposes unaffected by its events, but as the highly involved “superhero” within the book who reacts in each frame in the present moment of the story. Traditional foreknowledge sees God outside the book (static) while open theism places him in it (dynamic).

    “In both views you cannot escape that God has some or full knowledge. How does this make it more accommodating?”
    No, in open theism, God doesn’t have full knowledge of people’s decisions until they make the decision themselves. He has a very good idea of what will happen between frames 4 and 5 since he can look upon the heart, but nothing is set in stone until the decision is made. So, since it’s not set in stone until event occurs, God has time to affect the situation for the better within the parameters of frame 4. Sometimes, this goes the way he’d like and other times it doesn’t.

    Open Theism (OT) is more “accomodating” by placing of emphasis on complexities of nature/demonic versus the “silent” approval of God’s uninvolvement in tragedy. Standard arminian foreknowledge assumes that though God knows all tragedy, he chooses to allow its continuance for the purposes of guarding free-will. But if take that idea out of “theology-land” and into the real world, it translates this way: If God knows all tragedy, how can a loving and relational God stand by idly while his people suffer? That makes human suffering trivial and only of secondary importance with God. It’s the same idea that as a father, I would not be able to stand by and watch someonehurt my children, no matter how “educational” the event may be. The lesson never justifies the suffering.

    Furthermore, that approach assumes that the primary way God relates to us is through natural causes. As a charismatic, I believe the Holy Spirit can personally speak to me and tell me which way to go in a decision. He doesn’t need circumstantial “fleeces” to get my attention. In this way OT affirms prayer more than any other system.

    OT assumes that God doesn’t stand by while tragedy occurs. In that “present” moment, he always fights for tragedy’s resolution. A relational God who can speak to us individually doesn’t need to use tragedy as a lesson. So, with understadning of the full possiblities of the future, God, though self-limited by the world he created, fights for the contingencies that most reflect his love for us. Like you said, “If God knows the possibilities, then one of the possibilities might be that you might suffer. ” Correct, but God ALWAYS fights for our relief, never purposefully choosing to allow that tragedy to occur with his knowledge (which is an integral part of traditional foreknowledge). God believes there’s a better way than death, heartache, and destruction.

    In a future knowledge system, God’s “silence” in moments of tragedy creates duplicity in his nature since he already knows about them, yet does nothing. In OT, God’s self-limitation sometimes makes him unable to respond (“silent”) in the present moment due to the complexities of nature and warring against the demonic – either of which can be the cause of that tragedy.

    So, according to OT (and hopefully without your offense) let’s revisit the story/”comic book” of your brother as a “present tense” event. God, bringing to bear all his resources, was engaged in protecting your brother through future possibilities as well as spiritual warfare. But, simply put, the opportunity for your brother’s protection “failed.” As such God did not condone his death by knowing, yet not protecting. He was fighting IN THAT MOMENT for him. His desire for safety and a full life did not occur and his heart broke when your brother’s life was taken.

    OT says there is absolutely no good reason for suffering. Suffering occurs when God is presently thwarted in his efforts to protect. Actively involved in our lives, he does that millions of times a day simultaneously. Most incidents turn out fine while a small minority fails. That minority is the tragedy we see in life. That’s what makes God so incredible – his tireless effort to war against tragedy and bring about salvation. But OT says that those efforts aren’t foreknown, they happen in the precise moment of their disclosure.

    I hope I didn’t offend you using your bro.


  26. Sam,

    You don’t offend at all, you are to nice of person to do that intentionally. 🙂

    Well I have a lot to chew on, and like I said in my Open Theism summary, I also have a lot to read.

    If suffering serves no good reason as you state according to the OT, then why have Christ suffer for us? That served a good reason, right? I don’t think that suffering is necessarily out of the scope of God. For in suffering we learn things that we would never otherwise know. Yes there is great evil in this world, but that is a part of creating creatures that have free will, and a world in where demons live.

    UPDATE: What about Job? What is the deal with that? God allowed Job to suffer, and it must have some divine cosmic purpose. Even if we don’t see it, or get it or understand. What if we are in a similar situation, where God has allowed us to suffer? Which I think he does. Why? That is the question, right? That is what leads to many debates, and discussions.

    I think that there are plenty of scripture (if not more than Open Theist can show) that can build a case that God does foreknow the future actions of free-will humans (I can site a whole list of scriptures just from the Old Testament), and even you will have to admit that, and that humans do have a free-will, I think that we agree here. However, I have chosen not to worry so much about how it works. I have some philosophical ideas, how it may work, but in the end no body really knows.

    So I chose to believe that God does know the future, and we have free will. It’s the how part that is unknown.

    Sam, once again I do thank you for helping me understand the Open Theist position a whole lot better, and I have also expressed that in my summary post.

  27. […] Be?”, I’ve been curious to learn a little more about this position. Robert Jimenez had a post on exploring open theism that I’ve had flagged for a while now – the comments are well worth reading. I’m […]

  28. Robert, thanks for the link. That Piper and Justin Taylor edited book is the most I’ve read against the Open Theism position.

    I believe I need to read some Open Theists.

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