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The Openness of God

I have said much in the past year or two about the doctrine known as Open Theism. This is a doctrine that began on the fringe of evangelicalism but is slowly becoming increasingly popular. Many evangelicals, though not willing to embrace the view, are open to regarding it as a non-essential, optional doctrine. They do not believe it is important enough an issue to fight against. In this article I want to first define Open Theism and then provide some quotes from its main proponents. Following each quote I will provide a brief commentary. I believe that allowing the Open Theists to speak for themselves will be more valuable than having me summarize their positions. So first, a definition which I blatantly copied from Monergism.com (apologies to my friend John!).

Open Theism is a sub-Christian theological construct which claims that God’s highest goal is to enter into a reciprocal relationship with man. In this scheme, the Bible is interpreted without any anthropomorphisms - that is, all references to God’s feelings, surprise and lack of knowledge are literal and the result of His choice to create a world where He can be affected by man’s choices. God’s exhaustive knowledge does not include future free will choices by mankind because they have not yet occurred.

One of the leading spokesman of open theism, Clark Pinnock, in describing how libertarian freedom trumps God’s omniscience says, “Decisions not yet made do not exist anywhere to be known even by God. They are potential—yet to be realized but not yet actual. God can predict a great deal of what we will choose to do, but not all of it, because some of it remains hidden in the mystery of human freedom … The God of the Bible displays an openness to the future (i.e. ignorance of the future) that the traditional view of omniscience simply cannot accommodate.” (Pinnock, “Augustine to Arminius, ” 25-26)

The most important things to note are that God knows the future only as it is not dependent on human, free-will decisions. God does not know what any free-will agents (ie humans) will do, because those decisions do not yet exist and God cannot know what does not exist. Therefore, God does not control the future - He learns from our decisions and constantly adapts as necessary. We will turn now to the words of the Open Theists:

We must wonder how the Lord could truly experience regret for making Saul king if he was absolutely certain that Saul would act the way he did. Could God genuinely confess, “I regret that I made Saul king” if he could in the same breath also proclaim, “I was certain of what Saul would do when I made him king?” Common sense tells us that we can only regret a decision we made if the decision resulted in an outcome other than what we expected or hoped for when the decision was made.

Gregory Boyd – God of the Possible, page 56.

Here we see a God who hopes. God regrets making Saul king, wishing that Saul had worked out just as He had hoped. When God does something, the best He can do is hope that things will pan out as he wants.

God makes a covenant with his creation that never again will virtually everything be annihilated. The sign of the rainbow that God gives us a reminder to himself that he will never again tread this path. It may be the case that although human evil caused God great pain, the destruction of what he had made caused him even greater suffering. Although his judgment was righteous, God decides to try different courses of action in the future.

John Sanders – The God Who Risks, page 50.

Here we see a God of doubt. Does God “try” things? Does God ever regret what He has done, doubting whether what He did or said was right? This is not the God of the Bible!

I suggested to her that God felt as much regret over the confirmation [of marriage] he had given Suzanne as he did about his decision to make Sault king of Israel. Not that it was a bad decision - at the time, her ex-husband was a good man with a godly character. The prospects that he and Suzanne would have a happy marriage and fruitful ministry were, at the time, very good. Indeed, I strongly suspect that he had influenced Suzanne and her ex-husband [toward] their marriage.

Because her ex-husband was a free agent, however, even the best decisions have sad results. Over time…[he] had opened himself up to the enemy’s influence and became involved in an immoral relationship. Initially, all was not lost, and God and others tried to restore him, but he chose to resist the prompting of the Spirit.

By framing the ordeal within the context of an open future, Suzanne was able to understand the tragedy of her life in a new way. She didn’t have to abandon all confidence in her ability to hear God and didn’t have to accept that somehow God intended this ordeal “for her own good.” … This isn’t a testimony to [God’s] exhaustive definite foreknowledge; it’s a testimony to his unfathomable wisdom.

Gregory Boyd – God of the Possible, pages 105-106.

Here was a see a God who tries His best. He does the best He can with the information at His disposal, but frankly that often isn’t enough. He makes poor choices just like you and me. Later on he may regret these choices, but the fault lies not with him, but with humans who have made free choices to go against Him.

The overarching structures of creation are purposed by God, but not every single detail that occurs within them. Within general providence it makes sense to say that God intends an overall purpose for the creation and that God does not specifically intend each and every action within the creation. Thus God does not have a specific divine purpose for each and every occurence of evil. The “greater good” of establishing the conditions of fellowship between God and creatures does not mean that gratuitous evil has a point. Rather, the possibility of gratuitous evil has a point but its actuality does not. … When a two-month-old child contracts a painful, incurable bone cancer that means suffering and death, it is pointless evil. The Holocaust is pointless evil. .. God does not have a specific purpose in mind of these occurences.

John Sanders – The God Who Risks, pages 261-262.

Here we see a God of detachment. He does not have any purpose behind the evil that befalls all of us. These are merely events that are beyond His control, brought about by free will agents. They grieve Him as much as us, and catch Him by surprise as much as they do us. Our comfort in suffering is that God had nothing to do with the evil and that we do not need to learn from them.

It is God’s desire that we enter into a give-and-take relationship of love, and this is not accomplished by God’s forcing his blueprint on us. Rather, God wants us to go through life together with him, making decisions together. Together we decide the actual course of my life. God’s will for my life does not reside in a list of specific activities but in a personal relationship. As lover and friend, God works with us wherever we go and whatever we do. To a large extent our future is open and we are to determine what it will be in dialogue with God.

John Sanders – The God Who Risks, page 277.

Here we see a God of give-and-take. God allows us to determine our way through life and He goes along for the ride. He does His best to influence us and to walk with us, but the future is open, waiting for us to decide what it will look like.

[W]e must acknowledge that divine guidance, from our perspective, cannot be considered a means of discovering exactly what will be best in the long run - as a means of discovering the very best long-term option. Divine guidance, rather, must be viewed primarily as a means of determining what is best for us now.

[S]ince God does not necessarily know exactly what will happen in the future, it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may not produce the anticipated results in the long run.

David Basinger – The Openness of God, pages 163 & 165.

Here we see a God of anticipation. He works with us to guide us through the present, anticipating that He may be able to guide us towards a better future.

That brief sampling should give you a good idea of what Open Theism teaches. This is clearly not a doctrine that we can afford to overlook or acquiesce to. Open Theism teaches a view of God that is entirely foreign to the Bible. The God of the Bible is not a God who doubts, who changes, who learns, who fails, who tries His best. This doctrine, as with all false doctrines, elevates man at the expense of God - at the expense of His sovereignty and majesty. As believers we need to know what this doctrine encompasses and have a ready defense against it.