Apologetic Thursdays: Open Theism

In the Protestant circle, there is a small group of people espousing a highly controversial theology called “Open Theism.” Open theism, espoused by theologians like Greg Boyd and John Sanders, argues that God does not exhaustively know the future. God may know part of the future with certainty, but He doesn’t know all of the future with certainty. The part of the future that is settled or certain to God is that way because He either decrees something to happen or knows it will be an inevitable consequence of certain events. The part of the future that is uncertain, or “open,” is that way because God decided to give human beings free-will. According to the open theists, if humans have free-will and are able to make free decisions, it’s not possible that God can know in advance what we will do. If God does already know everything we’ll do in advance, then, according to them, our decisions aren’t free, because we are not able to do anything other than what God already knows we’ll do.

Why do open theists take the position they do? Here are three reasons why.

  1. Scripture tells us that God changes His mind and learns new information.

Scripture has a myriad of verses that affirm God’s foreknowledge (Isaiah 41-48), but it also has plenty of verses that seem to show God learning something new (Gen. 22:12), changing His mind (Jonah 3:10), or being ignorant of the future (Jer. 7:31). Classical theists tend to interpret the foreknowledge verses as speaking the literal truth about God, whereas the verses speaking of God’s ignorance are in some way literary divices used to tell stories about God, but aren’t literally true.

Open theists think both types of verses should be understood literally. Verses showing God’s foreknowledge mean that He knows those particular things He predicts, but it doesn’t mean He knows everything about the future. The parts of Scripture that show His ignorance mean just that: He’s ignorant. In other words, God knows the future as partly settled and partly open.

  1. It makes more practical sense.

If God already knows and decrees what is going to happen to you in the future, why pray? If God already knows whether you’re going to heaven or not, why do anything? Open theists think their view of God makes more practical sense. It gives them reason for deliberating in matters of prayer, works, and sanctification, whereas the classical view of God makes them question why prayer, works or sanctification are important if they’re already set in stone.

  1. The future doesn’t exist yet, so future-tensed statements have no truth value.

“Patrick Miller will wear contacts tomorrow.” Does that statement have any truth value to it? In other words, is it actually a true or false statement? Open theists say there is no truth value to future-tensed propositions like that – it is neither true of false. God’s omniscience means He knows and believes all true propositions. Since future-tensed propositions have no truth value, it doesn’t diminish God’s omniscience if He doesn’t fully know the future. There’s simply no truth there to know. If future-tensed propositions do have truth value, reasons the open theists, then humans do not have free will. If it is true that Patrick will wear contacts tomorrow, then he has no power to do otherwise. If he has no power to do otherwise, he is not free. If he is not free, he can’t be morally responsible for his actions and he’s simply a puppet of God. So the open theists think that the future must be open for there to be genuine freedom.

I write this because I think it is important for us to know what controversial doctrines are being espoused and how to respond to them.  On my next posts I’ll respond to the various claims that Open Theism makes.

Until then, you can read some previous responses I’ve written on the subject.  Here is where I defend the view that we can be free even if God has foreknowledge.  Here is where I get into a largely biblical response to open theism.

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