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Tuesday
Jan252011

Theological Term of the Week

open theism
A movement emerging from within evangelicalism that denies the historic Christian view of God’s omniscience, teaching instead that God does not know the future exhaustively, since he cannot know for certain the choices and actions of free creatures until the choices are made and the actions are done in time; the future, then, is not certain, but “open,” for both God and his creatures; also called free will theism, open theology, or openness of God theology.

  • Scripture that disproves open theism:

    16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
    in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.

    17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
    18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you. (Psalm 139:16-18 ESV)

    In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will…. (Ephesians 1:11 ESV)
  • Belgic Confession, Article 13: 

    We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

    Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

    We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

    This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.

    In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

  • From Their God Is Too Small by Bruce Ware:

    [T]he very greatness, goodness, and glory of God are undermined by the open view of God. While the open view tries to understand God as more “relational” and “really involved” in human affairs, the way it does so is by portraying God as less than he truly is. Of the open view we cannot help but say, “Their God is too small!”

    Think about it. Here we have a God who has to wait, in so many, many cases, to see what we will do before he can decide his own course of action. While this is a very natural way to think of human choice and action, does this rightly apply to the God of the Bible? The true and living God of the Bible proclaims, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isa. 46:9b-10). Surely such a majestic God stands high and exalted and far above the proposed God of the open view. The Bible’s abundant prophecies, most of which involve innumerable future free human choices and actions, should be enough by themselves to indicate that the true God does not have to wait to see what we do before he makes up his mind. If God doesn’t know what we will do before we do it, how could Christ, for example, warn Peter that before the rooster crowed, Peter would deny him three times (John 13:38)? Was this a good guess on Jesus’ part? Hardly! Recall that just a few verses earlier in John 13 Jesus had told the disciples that he would begin telling them things before they take place so that when they occur, “you may believe that I am he” (John 13:19). God knows in advance what we will do, and he can, when he wishes, declare it to us as evidence of his very deity. The open view brings God down, pure and simple. It tries to give more significance to human choice and action at the expense of the very greatness and glory of God. The God of open theism is too small, simply because he is less than the majestic, fully knowing, altogether wise God of the Bible.

Learn more:

  1. GotQuestions.org: What Is Open Theism? (A good simple explanation, especially the first 3 paragraphs. I have quibbles with the last paragraph.)
  2. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry: What are the basic tenets of open theism?
  3. Gary Gilley: Open Theism, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
  4. Martyn McGeown: Closing the Door on Open Theism
  5. Ligon Duncan: The Openness of God Controversy
  6. John Frame: Open Theism and Divine Foreknowledge 
  7. John Piper: Answering Greg Boyd’s Openness of God Texts
  8. Al Mohler: Problems with Open Theism (mp3)
  9. James White and John Sanders: Open Theism Debate (You Tube video)

Related terms:

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.

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Reader Comments (2)

Rebecca,

Have you read Gregory Boyd, or John Sanders? Perhaps Clark Pinnock?

I'm thinking more specifically about the books God At War, Satan and the Problem of Evil, The God Who Risks, or Most Moved Mover. They're allvery impacting reads and make exceptional cases for providential openness.

Cheers!
Kane

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKane Augustus

Hello Kane,

Welcome back.

I've read John Sanders quite thoroughly. (Once upon a time we went to the same church.) I'd have to say that I didn't consider his arguments compelling and here's a quick summary of my reasons why:

First, I don't share the philosophical assumptions that gave rise to the whole openness system. It's hard to buy the system if you don't buy the presuppositions.

I'd also argue that the notion that classical view of God borrows from Greek philosophy is bogus. That criticism actually better fits the openess view.

What's more, I find the exegetical arguments unconvincing. I accept that most of the proof texts used to support the open view are anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms. After all, God is not like us, so we would expect that when he communicates truths about himself to us by means of human language, it will always be by way of analogy, because there are only inadequate human categories to use.

And last, even though open theists claim to be vindicating God, I find open theology to be useless as a theodicy.

If you want me to explain more about any of the points, let me know.

I've also pieces from Boyd, Pinnock and Hasker, to name those I can remember. It's been several years so I can't speak to their arguments specifically. Let's just say that they didn't impress me much.

January 26, 2011 | Registered Commenterrebecca

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