By Elias Ayala (M.A.T. & Mdiv)
What is Open Theism?
Open theism is the position that God does not know the future. While affirming God’s omniscience, the term is carefully defined in a fashion so as to suggest that God knows all things that are possible to be known. On Open theism, it is not possible to know the future, or if it is possible to know the future, God limits His knowledge of the future to allow for human free will. It is suggested that for man to have genuine free will, God must not know the future. The reason for this is that if God foreknows what John will do tomorrow, then John is not free to do otherwise, since God’s foreknowledge cannot be mistaken. However, if John is not free to do otherwise, then John is not to be held responsible for his actions. Further still, if John does not have free will, then a genuine love relationship with his creator is impossible. Hence, out of love, the God of Open Theism either limits His ability to know the future, or the future itself is not something that can be known since it does not yet exist.
A Supposed Solution to the Problem of Evil
The attractiveness of Open Theism for some people comes in the fact that it seems to solve the philosophical Problem of Evil; for if God does not know the future, then God is not responsible for the existence of evil which comes into existence as the result of the free choices of creatures. However, unfortunately, in an effort to answer a philosophical question, the Open Theist position sacrifices biblical truth. Further still, in a desire to maintain free will, the Open Theist sacrifices a God who is sovereign and in complete control of His creation. The following portion of this article will explore 5 reasons to reject the theology of Open Theism.
Reason #1: It fails to take seriously the purpose of anthropomorphisms in scripture
An anthropomorphism is an attribution of human characteristics to God. The infinite God and creator of time itself has chosen to interact with his creatures in time, and hence, there is a give and take interaction between God and men, even though, from the divine perspective God knows all things before they happen. For instance, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam sinned and God said, “Adam, where are you?” This was a question not of ignorance of Adam’s location, but of a true give and take relationship between God and Adam. Because God interacts with man in time, then communication between God and men must be described in temporal fashion, and for the sake of man’s understanding, not God’s. However, the Open Theist does not make these proper distinctions and hence takes in an overly literal sense the anthropomorphic language utilized to describe God’s activities and interactions with man and in so doing not representing God accurately in His own divine and eternal essence. They confuse God’s interactions in time with His eternal perspective which includes His omniscience, and transcendence.
Reason #2: It teaches that God can make mistakes
The implications of Open Theism is that God can make mistakes. Because He does not know the future, even with God’s immense power and knowledge, it is possible therefore, for God to miscalculate the logical outcomes of free will decisions and choices and hence not get the results He desires. If God meticulously plans for some event “A” to occur, given the unknowability of human free choices, His desired conclusion “B” may not come to pass. Even if we grant that although God does not know the future, He is super smart, and so His ends will most likely be reached, the “most likely” is to assume probability language and thus makes room for, small as it may be, a chance that God is mistaken in His calculations. The scriptures do not present a God to us that makes mistakes, and by extension, takes risks. Rather, we are told in scripture that “He declares the end from the beginning” (Isaiah 46:10). To declare the end from the beginning is to do so because one knows the end from the beginning. Open theism’s denial of God’s knowledge of the future, and the implication that God takes risks and can make mistakes does not square with scripture.
Reason #3: Open Theism overemphasizes God’s attribute of Love
A danger in theology is not accepting all of what scripture has to say about God. While it is true that the scriptures teach that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), that is not all God is. The scriptures also teach that God is holy (1 Peter 1:16), God is just (Psalm 25:8-14), and God is righteous (Psalm 145:17), and ironically, God is omniscient (1 John 3:20). To say that God is love and to ignore what the scripture has to say in regards to the fullness of who God is to mishandle the Word of God. The Open theist focuses so strongly upon the “love” of God, that they undermine His righteousness and holiness, and judgment. Furthermore, some of them suggest that in order for there to be a genuine love relationship between God and man, there must be “free will” in the way they understand it, and therefore, either God limits His knowledge of the future, or it is explained that it is actually impossible to know the future. Keep in mind their assertion that if God knows the future, then the actions and choices of human beings are not genuinely free.
Reason #4: Open Theism implicitly sets scripture against scripture
All of scripture is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Every Word of God is pure and flawless (Psalm 30:5), and the scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35). Because the Bible is God’s Word, we do not hold to the position that God’s Word is in contradiction with itself. However, an implicit contradiction is implied if we approach scripture the way the Open Theist does. For instance, Open Theists pride themselves in the assertion that they take serious the plain reading of the text. It is for this reason that they claim they are being faithful to the text by understanding certain texts which seem to clearly teach that God does not know all things, and is surprised at certain events and so forth. Let us take a look as some of those texts:
God Changes His Mind:
“And the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:14).
God does not change His Mind:
“God is not a human, that He should lie, not a human being that He should change His mind” (Numbers 23:19).
If we were to follow the Open Theists advice and take the plain reading of the text as the meaning of the text, we run into the problem of contradiction. However, since we know that the Word of God does not contradict itself, it follows that we then have to look a little closer than merely taking the plain reading. Sometimes, the plain reading of the text needs to be examined while taking into consideration the wider witness of the Bible and what it has to say on the particular issue under dispute.
Reason #5: It seems that Open Theism is more concerned with answering a particular theological and philosophical puzzle as opposed to allowing the scriptures to speak for itself:
As mentioned before, in the attempt to maintain “free will”, the Open Theist is forced to either limit God’s knowledge, or redefine omniscience in terms of which the future is something that in principle, cannot be known. When seeking to derive the meaning of the scriptures, we really want to allow the text of scripture to speak such that we derive its meaning from the text regardless if we like the conclusions or not. While the Open Theist will affirm the desire to allow the scriptures to speak for itself, it seems clear that there is a hidden agenda in that the Open theist takes the interpretations they do so as to resolve what they see to be theological and philosophical difficulties. In my estimation, I believe that the attempt at resolving theological and philosophical difficulties comes after we derive from the text, the clear data. Afterwards, we can with caution reflect upon ways to coherently understand the data.