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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Does God Know Everything?

Don Stewart :: Is Open Theism the Best Way to Understand the Question of God's Knowledge?

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Is Open Theism the Best Way to Understand the Question of God’s Knowledge?

Does God Know Everything? – Question 5

Open theism gives a new view of God’s knowledge, His control of events, and His relationship with human beings. At many critical points, it differs from the traditional view of God which has been universally held by Christians. Yet, a number of Bible-believing Christians hold to some form of the open view of God. What are we to make of the claims of open theism? Does it really matter? Are the issues that important?

The Importance of the Issue

To begin with, we must admit that these questions are indeed significant. Consequently, because of the importance of the issue, we will compare the teachings of open theism to the Scripture and see if they are consistent with God’s Word or whether they contradict what God has said.

We do not want to underestimate the importance of this issue. Open theism presents an entirely different view of God than what has been classically held and taught by Bible-believers. It claims that the church has misunderstood much about God’s character because it has uncritically accepted certain aspects of Greek philosophy rather than what Scripture clearly teaches. Open theists say that a proper interpretation of the Bible will set the record straight. They believe they have this proper interpretation. If they are correct, then the church must abandon many of its long-held beliefs about God, His knowledge and His actions.

Since the Bible gives us a number of commands to search the Scripture “to see if these things be so,” we will do exactly that. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,

Instead, test everything. Hold on to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21 God’s Word)

It is important to test everything.

John wrote about the need to test the spirits. He penned the following words to the believers in his day.

Dear friends, don’t believe all people who say that they have the Spirit. Instead, test them. See whether the spirit they have is from God, because there are many false prophets in the world. (1 John 4:1 God’s Word)

We are commanded to test the spirits rather than believing everything which we read or hear.

The Jewish believers in Berea were commended for their searching of the Scripture. We read the following in the Book of Acts.

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to check up on Paul and Silas, to see if they were really teaching the truth. (Acts 17:11 NLT)

Thus, in obedience with God’s command, we will search the Scripture to see if open theism has a more correct understanding of the nature of the God of Scripture than what has traditionally been taught. As we have indicated, this is an all-important issue. If we think wrong about our view of God, then we will think wrong about other things pertaining to God. Therefore, our thoughts about Him must be consistent with that which He has revealed.

Evaluating Open Theism

Based upon their claims, we can make certain observations and evaluations of the system of theology known as open theism. In doing so, we will cite the common criticisms and objections which have come from other Bible-believing Christians.

1. Open Theists Believe Many Traditional Things about God

To begin with, it should be noted that open theists believe many of the traditional or classical teachings about the nature of God. For example, they believe that the God of the Bible is the only God who exists. They also believe that He by nature spirit. He has no physical form. They also believe that God is the Creator of the universe, who made all things out of no pre-existing material. Furthermore, they believe that He does not need His creation to exist; He is not in any way dependent upon it. The God of Scripture is complete within Himself, needing nothing. In these instances, as well as many others, open theists are in the mainstream of historical belief about the nature of God. Therefore, not everything which they teach about God differs from the historical beliefs of the church. This point is important to understand.

2. Open Theists Believe There Is Divine Ignorance of the Future: God Does Not Know Everything Which Will Happen

While open theists have many beliefs in common with those who hold the classical view of God, they also have some differences. Traditionally, Christians believe that God knows all the details of everything which is currently happening in the present, every last detail of the past, as well as all the details of things which are yet to happen in the future. This includes the future decisions of His free moral agents, the human race.

However, when it comes to God’s knowledge, those who advocate open theism claim that God does not know certain things. Though they claim that the God of Scripture is omniscient, or has all-knowledge, they re-define what this means.

Open theists insist that the God of the Bible is omniscient or all-knowing. His knowledge is exhaustive and perfect; He knows everything that can be known. Yet, according to the open theists God does not know everything which will occur in the future because the future has not yet occurred. By their definition, He does not know these things.

To be fair, many open theists believe that this is a self-limitation which God has placed on Himself. He has the ability to create a world in which the future is known to Him. However, He chose not to do this. Rather He chose to create human beings as free creatures who would, to a large extent, determine the course of history. This distinction made by open theists must be appreciated.

Since human beings are free creatures which have been given the right to make free decisions, these decisions are not known to God. Consequently, there are literally billions of things which God does not know because humans, who have absolute freedom to choose, have not yet made these decisions. Therefore, the future is open. Neither humans nor God know exactly what is going to happen.

Consequently, God, like the rest of us, is waiting to see what will occur in the future. While God may have a good idea of what will occur, He cannot know, according to open theism, exactly what each of us will do. Otherwise, it is argued, we humans do not have true freedom. Therefore, the future is open.

Thus, God’s omniscience is understood to mean that He has exhaustive knowledge of everything knowable, but since the future has not yet occurred, it is not completely knowable, even to God. This, it is argued does not diminish the character of God, because it is something which He has chosen to do. It simply appreciates that there are certain things which are not even possible for God to know because this is the world which He has chosen to create. Therefore, open theists can still speak of God as being omniscient or all-knowing.

Those who hold to open theism recognize that God may indeed intervene in future events. While God surely realizes what He will do in the future, He does not know what we will do. Therefore, the future consists of things which must occur, the things which God has determined will happen, and things which humans bring about by their own free will. Therefore, the future is partly set and partly open.

Open theists also talk of God’s “general plan” for the future. In other words, He has a basic or general idea of what will ultimately occur. His plan for the world will be accomplished.

However, open theists do not believe that He has a specific or detailed plan. Indeed, according to the open view, God cannot have a specific plan since He has left the future in the hands of humans who make their own free choices. Supposedly, God will rarely interfere in events because He does not want to violate human freedom. However, they do say that, if necessary, God will unilaterally act to accomplish His purpose. In the end, God’s general plan will come to pass. However, the details of this plan have not been pre-arranged by God neither are they all known to Him.

Response to the Idea That God Is Ignorant of Some Future Things

The idea that the God of the Bible does not know certain things which are going to occur in the future will come as a shocking statement for most Christians. Not only does this contradict what Christians have always been taught about God and His exhaustive knowledge, there are so many passages in Scripture that seem to clearly teach that God knows everything; including future events. Unless these passages have been seriously misunderstood, we must insist that God does indeed know what will occur in the future. This includes everything which will take place!

Of course it is possible that God has purposely decided to limit His knowledge of the future. He has the right to create any world which He chooses. However, this is not the issue. It is not whether God could have created a world where His knowledge of the future is limited or that the future is completely unknown to Him. The real question is this: did He create such a world? Is there any biblical evidence that the world God created limits His knowledge of the future? This is the question which must be answered.

While those who hold to open theism cite passages which seem to demonstrate God’s limited knowledge there are other passages which cannot be explained away so easily. We will give a few examples.

1. The Lord Compares Himself to False Gods Who Do Not Know the Future

In one passage, the Lord actually challenges the false gods to tell us what will occur in the future in the same way which He has. We read His words in the writings of Isaiah.

Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. (Isaiah 41:21-24 ESV)

The entire argument is based upon the ability of the Lord to tell us exactly what will occur in the future. The fact that the Lord, the God of Israel, is able to correctly declare future events distinguishes Him from all other gods. Therefore, according to the Lord Himself, He is able to tell us the future and by doing so He shows that He alone is God.

Isaiah also recorded the Lord as saying the following.

“I declared the past events long ago; they came out of My mouth; I proclaimed them. Suddenly I acted, and they occurred. Because I know that you are stubborn, and your neck is iron and your forehead bronze, therefore I declared to you long ago. I announced it to you before it occurred, so you could not claim: ‘My idol caused them; my carved image and cast idol control them.’” (Isaiah 48:3-5 HCSB)

Again, the Lord claims that He has told us that long ago He predicted certain events to come to pass and they did indeed come to pass. How could He know what was going to happen if He did not control the future?

2. God Says He Knows the Future

We also read another passage in Isaiah which emphasizes God’s knowledge of the future. The Lord said,

“Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like Me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will. (Isaiah 46:9-10 HCSB)

Therefore, from a number of plain statements of Scripture, God’s knowledge covers everything; past, present and future. Thus, the idea that His knowledge is limited to only the present and the past does not square with the teachings of Scripture. Indeed, there are no clear statements in Scripture to indicate that the future, in any sense, is somehow unknown to God.

While there are some passages in which statements are made that could be inferred to teach that God has limited knowledge, these passages need not be interpreted in this manner. What we do know is this: nowhere does the Bible unequivocally state that God’s knowledge of the future is somehow incomplete.

Therefore, the God of Scripture has not limited Himself to merely knowing the past and the present; He also exhaustively knows the future. There seems to be no doubt about this whatsoever!

Open Theists Believe That God Is Surprised by Certain Events Including Human Tragedies Therefore He Cannot Be Blamed

The next belief of open theism builds upon the previous one. Since God does not know exactly what will happen in the future, He is actually surprised when certain events occur. In other words, He may have assumed that certain things would work out one way but in the end they did not. Therefore, the result is as surprising to God as it is to everyone else.

To be fair, open theists claim that God knows each possibility that may occur. Therefore, it did not surprise Him that such things could happen. The real surprise was that they did happen. In other words, He was surprised by the course of action which was chosen by humans who were given complete freedom to choose.

Therefore, when human tragedies happen, God cannot be blamed for them for He did not know they were going to occur. This supposedly gives comfort to those people who suffer through tragic events. Often we ask why God allowed something like this to happen. If God is an all-powerful God, then why did He allow such-and-such a tragedy? With open theism, this is no longer a problem. They contend God did not know this tragedy would happen therefore He could not have prevented it. This supposedly absolves God of any responsibility.

Instead of assuming that God was responsible for the tragedy, open theists conclude that He had nothing to do with it whatever. Therefore, we cannot look for some explanation for the tragedy that fits into God’s great plan. The tragic event was pointless; it is an example of the pointless evil that continually goes on in our fallen world. There is no specific purpose for these evils in the overall plan of God.

That is not to say that God does not have a plan for humanity and or world. He does. However, while God has a general plan for the human race which He will bring to pass, the specifics of that plan are not pre-determined. This means there is no all-encompassing plan that God has for the human race in which every detail is known beforehand; no single divine will which guides all things. The way in which God has made the relationship between Himself and the human race does not allow for such a detailed plan. God does have a plan, but it does not include the day-to-day decisions of free human beings.

Response to the Idea That the Lord Does Not Know What Will Occur

There are many Christians who reject the main ideas of open theism but who do agree with them that God does not have a specific plan for every detail of our existence. They too believe that He has a general plan but that He does not pre-determine all of the details of that plan.

However, there is a big difference between saying God does not pre-determine every detail and saying that God does not know what is going to happen in the future and therefore cannot prevent human tragedies.

It has been contended that if one holds this position, then there is really no practical difference between the Christian view of God and the views of the atheists or agnostics who say that God does not exist. Tragic events have no real meaning or purpose. Things just happen because they happen. There is no real explanation.

However, the idea that some events are without purpose contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. Indeed, when Paul wrote to the Romans he made this point clear.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 HCSB)

Note that he said that God causes “all things” to work together for good. In some sense, often unknown to us, God is causing these events to work together for His good.

Furthermore, this point of view that sees these tragedies as pointless, do not always provide comfort to those who are grieving. Indeed, rather than providing comfort to those who have suffered through some grief, it would seemingly make things so much worse. The grieving person is now faced with the claim that the entire episode was totally meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Even God could not stop it. He is as helpless as anyone to prevent it. While this may seem comforting to some people, others will have the opposite response. They will see God as impotent as well as irrelevant in our daily lives.

God can and does work in ways which are beyond our knowledge and beyond our understanding. Indeed, He does not have to explain His ways to us. This is where faith enters. We may not know why something happened and we may never know why. However, we trust that an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God had a reason for allowing the event to occur. This alone should satisfy us. The answer given by open theism does not truly comfort the hurting neither does it fit the biblical facts.

God Dwells in Time

Open theists also argue that God dwells in time. In other words, He is bound to the same time constraints as humans. He has not seen the future because the future has not yet occurred. The future is not a reality until it actually occurs. When it does happen, God sees it for the first time along with us. Therefore, according to the open view God is “time bound.”

Response to the Idea That God Is Time Bound

Historically, believers have understood God as not being limited to time as we ourselves are. He does not have to wait for events to happen to know for certainty that they will happen. The fact that He is able to tell us precisely what is going to occur in the future refutes the idea that He is somehow time bound.

The God of the Bible Is Not Ultimately in Control of the Future: He Is a Risk Taker

There is another aspect of open theism which differs from traditional belief. If God does not know everything which is going to happen in the future, then He certainly cannot be in control of all things. The God of open theism does not ultimately control everything in the universe. To the contrary, ultimate control has been left to the freewill decisions of sinful human beings. Indeed, open theists argue that a number of things occur in the universe which are contrary to God’s intents and desires. He expected certain things to happen but they did not happen according to His expectations. Because He does not know what is going to happen in the future He cannot completely control future events.

This is another of the main beliefs of open theism; the God of Scripture takes risks. Instead of determining future events, or even knowing exactly what will occur in the future, God has chosen to leave the future open. In doing so, He is taking risks. By giving humans absolute freedom to choose their path in this life God runs the risk of humans rejecting Him. Even believers may go astray. Yet, because God values the freedom that He has given each of us He is willing to take this risk. Therefore, He does not know what will happen in the future neither is He in control of these events.

They believe that this is a superior view to the traditional beliefs of Calvinists and Arminians. Calvinists hold that God has predetermined every event. Open theists argue that this leaves no room for any authentic interaction between God and humanity since everything has been pre-programmed.

They also reject the Arminian view that God does not pre-program all events but that He merely knows what will happen ahead of time because He has all-knowledge of the future. They claim that this too does not allow for any real interaction between God and human beings. If God has always known what is going to happen in the future, either by His programming it ahead of time or by His exhaustive knowledge of all future events, then there cannot be any genuine freedom for humans. Their alternative is to say that God does not know what will happen in the future and thus does not control what will occur.

Response to the Idea That God Takes Risks

The idea that God is a risk-taker is completely at odds with the biblical teaching on the subject. Passage after passage emphasizes God’s knowledge of the future as well as His control. We will give a brief sample. Paul wrote to the Romans,

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29 ESV)

The Lord has predestined believers to be conformed to Christ. These are the one He specifically “foreknew.”

Paul wrote to the Ephesians how God has not only predestined certain things, or determined them ahead of time He also works all things to the counsel of His will.

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)

Certain things have been predetermined to fit God’s purpose.

These passages make it clear that the Lord knows the future and is in control of it. He does not take risks as open theists contend.

Anthropopathisms, Statements Which Attribute Human Emotions to God Are Accepted as Literal Truth by Open Theists

One of the hallmarks of open theism is the literal acceptance of statements which attribute human emotions and responses to God. Traditionally, these have been seen as anthropopathisms. They can be defined as statements describing God’s emotions, responses and actions in human terms. These passages which attribute human emotions and actions to God have been interpreted figuratively, not literally. However, those who argue for open theism believe these passages are to be understood literally. They believe God does repent, show regret and grieve. God does change His mind and regrets some of His previous decisions. Why does God express regret? It is because He does not know what is going to happen in the future because the future is partly open and partly determined by the free choices of humans.

Open theists accuse those who understand these passages about God’s emotions and actions in a figurative sense as not being true to what the passage is trying to teach us. God does have emotions such as grief and regret. Therefore, open theists differ from the traditional understanding of God in that they see God as similar to humans in a number of significant ways.

Therefore, open theism sees the God of the Bible as the all-knowing sovereign Lord of history. The Lord decrees whatever He wishes to decree. There is nobody can tell Him what to do. Indeed, He controls whatever He chooses to control and no force can stop Him when He determines to do something. However, when things do not happen exactly as He anticipates, He is never caught off guard and He is never at a loss of options. He always has a backup plan. Therefore, He will always achieve what He sets out to achieve.

Response to the Idea That Anthropopathisms Should Be Understood Literally

The interpretations of open theists to these passages which describe God’s emotions are not convincing. Open theists selectively read the accounts and come to conclusions that do not fit with the totality of biblical teaching. They use obscure passages to be their “control passages.” Clear passages are now interpreted in light of these obscure ones.

Furthermore, open theists often use narrative passages to establish their doctrine instead of passages which make doctrinal statements. Again, this is the wrong way to approach the issue. In a narrative statement, we are merely told what has happened. Doctrinal statements explain the reasoning behind the events. Therefore, a direct statement which says God knows all things should be used as the basis for interpreting narrative passages which may seem to say something different.

In addition, there is another issue that must be addressed, anthropomorphisms. Open theists agree that certain descriptions of God are anthropomorphic. Indeed, they agree that God does not have eyes, hands, ears or a nose. They realize that these descriptions are not meant to be understood literally.

If we are not to understand these physical references to God literally, then why must we understand the emotional descriptions of God in a literal way? Open theists are accused of being inconsistent. It is argued that they should either reject all physical or emotional descriptions of God as being non-literal or they should accept all of these passages as literal descriptions of God and His character.

God Does Not Change His Plans

As far as God changing His plans, the Scripture has a number of things to say about this. The psalmist wrote,

The LORD’s plan stands firm forever. His thoughts stand firm in every generation. (Psalm 33:11 God’s Word)

Notice that we are told that His plan stands firm forever!

In another psalm, we read the following.

You are always the same. Years cannot change you. (Psalm 102:27 CEV)

Years change neither God nor His plans. Truly this is a comforting thought.

In the New Testament, James declared,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)

These passages indicate that God does not change His plans. Therefore, passages which seem to teach this must be interpreted in light of these clear texts. It should not be the other way around. This is a basic rule of Bible interpretation; we are to interpret the obscure in light of the clear. Unhappily, open theists use obscure texts to make their point and often ignore the clear texts which teach something entirely different.

The Main Attribute of God Is Love According to Open Theists

Open theists argue that God’s main attribute is His love. All of His other characteristics or attributes flow from His love. Their key verse is found in the first letter of John.

The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8 HCSB)

This verse summarizes the main contention of open theism; God is love. This, they believe, is the most important description of God in Scripture. That all of God’s attributes or characteristics are derived from His love is the claim of open theists. The emphasis is on the relational aspect of God’s character.

Response to the Idea That God’s Main Attribute Is Love

The problem with this view is that the Bible nowhere places love above any of the other attributes of God. Scripture does not minimize God’s knowledge, power, lordship or any other of His attributes at the expense of His love. All of them are equally important.

There is also the problem of using one verse in First John as the interpretive key for the rest of Scripture. Why this one verse which says God is love?

There are other passages in Scripture which say God is a consuming fire, God is light, or that God is spirit. Why not use one of these illustrations as our key to interpreting the nature of God? The Bible also says that God is holy. Why isn’t holiness His central attribute?

This shows the need to study everything which God has revealed. Paul said the following to the Ephesian elders.

...for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God. (Acts 20:27 HCSB)

Everything which God has made known in Scripture should be studied. Our conclusions about who God is and what He is like should be based upon the totality of Scripture rather than a verse here and there.

God Is Passible and Changeable: He Has Real Emotions and Certain Aspects of His Character and Plans Change

Open theists also argue that God is both passible and changeable. This means that He has genuine emotions and that He does change as certain situations dictate. Therefore, He is a “risk-taking” God. Because He takes risks there is the possibility of Him grieving, changing His mind or repenting, and experiencing regret. He is not the changeless emotionless God of traditional Christian belief.

Response to the Idea That God Changes

Historically, it has been taught that God is both immutable and impassible. This means that He does not change in His character and His feelings are unchanged by events. This does not mean that God is incapable of sympathizing with us when we suffer. He does. The Bible does indeed teach that God is concerned with us.

The writer to the Hebrews said,

We have a chief priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way that we are, but he didn’t sin (Hebrews 4:15 God’s Word).

While God can sympathize with us and with our suffering He cannot be harmed or emotionally moved by any outside source. The God of the Bible is not vulnerable to emotional attacks.

When Scripture says that God suffers and is somehow pained, it is not in the same way in which we suffer and experience pain. No creature, whether human or angelic, can inflict God with pain and suffering. If God shows emotions it is because He chooses to show emotion. He certainly does not react to our behavior with a surprised response because it caught Him off guard.

Open Theism Has the Best Answer to the Problem of Evil

Open theists claim that they have the best answer to the problem of evil. Since God made human beings completely free, evil is our choice and ours alone. Open theists do not believe God made the first humans to choose evil. Furthermore, some open theists argue that God was actually surprised when evil entered the world. This puts the responsibility for evil squarely on humans. It is our fault, not God’s.

Response to Open Theism and Evil

Evil is indeed a problem but Christianity does have an answer. However, the answer is not to deny that God knew in advance how Adam and Eve would behave. God did indeed give Adam and Eve a legitimate choice. Many Christians would agree with open theists that Adam and Eve had complete freedom to choose to serve God or choose to do evil. Therefore, evil is entirely our doing.

Yet there are some Christians who contend that God actually ordained that Adam and Eve sinned. In other words, their sin was part of His plan for the world before He created it. This position is heatedly debated among Bible-believers and there is no consensus as to what answer is best.

Other Doctrines Are All Reinterpreted by Open Theists

Another logical step that is taken by open theists concerns other doctrines of Scripture. If we are going to re-interpret our view of God and His knowledge of the future, of necessity, this is also going to cause us, to reinterpret many other teachings of Scripture. If God does not know the future then He did not know Adam and Eve were going to sin in the Garden of Eden. He did not know of the angelic rebellion. Among other things, this means that not all of the events which have occurred in history have a divine purpose.

Events Could Have Turned Out Differently

Furthermore, events which have occurred could have turned out differently. For example, in the life of Jesus Christ things did not have to happen in the way in which they did. Open theists tell us that Mary could have declined to be the mother of Jesus. She could have told the angel Gabriel that she did not want the responsibility to be the mother of the Messiah. God would have had a backup plan if this had occurred.

John the Baptist could have declined the position of forerunner of the Messiah. Moreover, he could have been accidentally killed before he had the chance to proclaim the coming of the Christ or he may have died prematurely. All of these things are possible according to open theists. Therefore, God had a backup plan in case certain unforeseen circumstances occurred. This includes circumstances even unforeseen by Him.

Open theists also argue that the death of Christ did not necessarily have to occur. It did not happen according to some predetermined plan of God. While Scripture predicted the coming of Christ into the world before the world was created, it did not predict His death.

In other words, Jesus did not have to die. They point to His own prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to establish this. Jesus asked the Father if there was some other way. This, it is argued, must mean that there were other choices. The cross was not the only way.

The list goes on and on. Therefore, open theism has a radically understanding of many of the traditional beliefs and teachings of the Christian faith.

Response to Other Doctrines Re-interpreted by Open Theists

If open theists are going to argue for a complete overhaul of our understanding of many of the biblical events, it is essential that they make their case with convincing evidence. However, they have not done this.

For one thing, the idea that Jesus could have somehow avoided the cross is not only contradictory to the teachings of Scripture, it could be considered to be bordering on the blasphemous. One must be careful here. Unless there are good reasons to think that the cross of Christ was not in the eternal plan of God, those who are Bible-believers should not attempt to deny the necessity of Jesus’ death.

As we search the Scripture we do not find any good reasons for adopting the ideas of open theism with respect to the death of Christ. Indeed, the Scriptures are quite clear that the death of Jesus Christ was in the pre-determined plan of God. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter wrote,

“...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23 ESV)

The translation God’s Word puts it this way.

“By using men who don’t acknowledge Moses’ Teachings, you crucified Jesus, who was given over [to death] by a plan that God had determined in advance.” (Acts 2:23 God’s Word)

Jesus’ crucifixion had been planned in advance by God.

Later in the Book of Acts, we read of the following prayer of the believers who had gathered together.

“...for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27-28 ESV)

They recognized that the death of Jesus was part of the pre-determined plan of God. The Bible is thus clear on this issue. Jesus death was not an accident, not an afterthought. It was predicted before by the God of Scripture who exhaustively knows the future.

Open Theists Argue That It Should Not Be Rejected Merely Because It Is New

Finally, open theists contend that their system should not be rejected merely because it is new. They admit that the traditional view of God, with few exceptions, has been held by all members of the church for the last two thousand years. Yet, they assert that the church throughout history has misinterpreted and misunderstood many of the references to God and His knowledge. It is argued that the church wrongly accepted Greek philosophy and its idea of an unchanging and unfeeling God. Consequently, it is time for the biblical view of God to be proclaimed.

Response to Why Open Theism Is Rejected

If someone comes up with a new perspective of God’s nature after nineteen hundred years of Christians discussing and debating the subject, their arguments need to be truly convincing. If they are true then Christians need to change their perspective of God and His character. However, the arguments in favor of open theism are unconvincing to say the least. This being the case, open theism, deserves to be rejected for bringing a concept of God to the world which is foreign to the Scripture.

Open theism is not rejected merely because it is new. It is rejected because it contradicts the biblical idea of the God of Scripture. The God of the Bible is sovereign, all-knowing and all-powerful. The God of open theism is none of these things.

However, no one is saying that theologians in the past have always correctly explained God and His actions. They have not. Indeed, many of their explanations about God and His attributes could use some refining. Yet this does not mean we have to go the route of open theism and radically re-define who God is and what He knows or does not know. Open theism is not the biblical answer; rather it is a doctrinal threat to the truthfulness of the Christian faith.

Concluding Thoughts on Open Theism

We have provided a brief summary of some of the main claims made by those who hold the open view of God as well as how these claims have been evaluated and criticized by other Bible-believers. A few more thoughts are in order.

Open Theists Are Accused of Mishandling Biblical Texts

One of the criticisms which is often made against open theism is the way in which biblical texts are handled. To prove their case, open theists cite a number of narrative passages where certain statements are made about God, His knowledge, and His emotions. These passages are used as proof texts that God does change His mind, that He does not exhaustively know the future, and that He expresses regret for past acts.

However, there are other passages which give clear statements to the contrary. Furthermore, these passages are in contexts where specific truths are being taught. It is from these statements that doctrines should be derived, not from historical narratives. Narratives usually tell us what happened and sometimes why things happened but there are other portions of Scripture which are written to teach specific truths. It is to these passages where one must first go. Open theists do not do this. This has caused their approach to be criticized.

Open Theism Cannot Guarantee the Inerrancy of Scripture

Those who hold to open theism cannot guarantee the complete inerrancy of Scripture. Since their system insists that humans must always make totally free decisions without any interference by God, this would include the writers of Scripture. Consequently, instead of holding to the traditional belief that God supervised or guided the writers to accurately record His words and thoughts, what we may have in the Bible is the personal understanding of the writers themselves as to what God said and meant. Therefore, in any instance, we cannot be certain that we have God’s thoughts on the matter rather than the opinions and thoughts of the biblical writers.

This, of course, brings up some obvious questions, “How do we know they understood God correctly? How do we know were they willingly led by God or merely injected their own ideas?” Ultimately, under this system we cannot know. While certain people who hold to open theism may choose to believe that each writer willingly submitted to the leading of the Spirit of God, this is not a necessary conclusion.

If this is the case, then this leaves us with no final authority whatsoever. While an inerrant Scripture is theoretically compatible with open theism it is also theoretically possible that it is not. There is no assurance here whatsoever. According to open theism, God cannot guarantee the finished result because He has given humans complete or libertarian freedom.

However, Scripture teaches that as far as the biblical writers are concerned the Bible was a divine/human project. The human writers wrote but God superintended their writings to bring about His desired result. The final outcome was God’s inerrant Word. Paul wrote,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV)

Paul said “all” Scripture has been breathed-out by God. All of it.

Peter emphasized the divine nature of Scripture. He said,

...knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20, 21 ESV)

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way.

But you need to realize that no one alone can understand any of the prophecies in the Scriptures. The prophets did not think these things up on their own, but they were guided by the Spirit of God. (2 Peter 1:20, 21 CEV)

Notice that Peter insisted that Scripture did not come from the will of humans, things which humans made up on their own. Instead, Scripture ultimately comes from the Spirit of God.

If those who hold to open theism claim that the books of the Bible are an exception to the idea that God always gives humans complete freedom to make their own choices, then they have conceded the argument. If in some cases, God does guide humans to accomplish exactly what He wishes, then why cannot He do it in other cases? Once a person grants the possibility that God will override complete human freedom to accomplish His purposes it is then only a matter of where and when He does this. Therefore, open theism seems to collapse at its foundation.

Open Theism Has No Answer concerning Bible Difficulties and So-Called Contradictions

There is also one other thing which we must address on this issue of the inerrancy of Scripture. What do we do when we find difficulties and so-called contradictions in the Scripture? Are we to assume they may be real mistakes? Since open theism cannot guarantee that the Scripture is error-free Bible, then it is possible what we have are genuine contradictions. Is this how we are supposed to treat difficulties? Instead of attempting to harmonize them with other parts of Scripture we merely admit that the writers made mistakes because they were completely free to write as they pleased. Not only does this contradict the clear teaching of Scripture that the entire Bible is God’s infallible Word, it leaves the believer with no confidence whatsoever that the Scripture are to be trusted. Open theism is in serious error at this point.

We Do Not Have to Decide between an Aloof God or the God of Open Theism

Often open theism is presented as an either/or proposition. Either one accepts the view of God’s nature as an aloof king who is not intimately involved in the lives of His people or the view of open theism which has Him as a caring, loving God who has our best interest at heart. The classical view of God can and should be refined. However, any refinements which are to be made are to clarify what Scripture says about God’s nature and knowledge. Open theism is not the answer.

Having said this, it is not a fair to conclude that all people who have held the classical or traditional idea of God have seen Him as unresponsive to humanity. Indeed, many, if not most, who have argued for the traditional view of God have recognized that God is both a mighty king as well as a king who is vitally interested in the well-being of His people. He is a caring loving king; not the aloof monarch that open theism thinks the classical view makes Him out to be. Those who hold the traditional view recognize that Scripture teaches a God who is in complete control, One who exhaustively knows the future. Yet this same God is also dynamically involved in the lives of people. Indeed, He responds to our needs, He answers our prayers. Therefore, it is wrong to say that classical theism has somehow removed God from His involvement with the human race.

Open Theism Is Criticized for Being Too Human-Centered

Open theism is usually criticized as being human-centered as an alternative to being God-centered. Instead of God being glorified, open theists see God working all things for the benefit of humans. Our happiness seems to be His chief goal. Open theists have seemingly remade God in our image. Instead of God guiding history it is human beings who are the ones determine their own destiny. We become the ultimate masters of our own fate. Open theism demeans God and exalts humans. This is certainly the reverse of what the Scripture teaches.

Consequently, we need to take seriously the passages which speak of God’s majesty and power. In the Book of Isaiah there is a passage where the curtain is rolled back and we have a glimpse of heaven.

It says the following.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth. The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke. Then I said: Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts. (Isaiah 6:1-5 HCSB)

Here the Lord is pictured as the all-powerful King. We must have this proper picture of Him. He is not merely sitting on His throne in heaven waiting for humans to make the next move. Instead, He is the One in control of all things!

In the Book of Revelation, there is another passage where the curtain is rolled back and we see events in heaven. The Lord is given His proper adoration as the King of the universe. Thus, it becomes clear that we human beings are not equals with God. Thus, we should never make the mistake of having our belief system to be too human-centered.

There Are Mysteries When It Comes to Understanding God’s Nature

We also must appreciate that there are certain mysteries about God which we cannot comprehend. While we would certainly like to understand more about God and the ways He works we are limited to what the Scripture tells us. As we examine the Bible we find that it speaks of God as acting in ways beyond our human understanding. For example, the psalmist wrote,

How great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this... (Psalm 92:5-6 ESV)

God’s thoughts are deep. The stupid person cannot know them.

Elsewhere in the psalms we read that God’s thoughts are beyond the understanding of the godly. The psalmist wrote,

Your thoughts are far beyond my understanding, much more than I could ever imagine. I try to count your thoughts, but they outnumber the grains of sand on the beach. And when I awake, I will find you nearby. (Psalm 139:17-18 CEV)

This passage is highly instructive. God’s thoughts for His people outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore.

He Has Wisdom Which Cannot Be Measured

Isaiah the prophet wrote the following of the Lord.

Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The LORD is the eternal God, Creator of the earth. He never gets weary or tired; his wisdom cannot be measured. (Isaiah 40:28 CEV)

God’s wisdom cannot be measured.

His Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts

Isaiah also recorded the Lord saying the following.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.” This is the LORD’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9 HCSB)

Notice that the difference between God’s thoughts and our thoughts is the difference between the earth and the highest heaven.

Paul wrote the following to the Romans.

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments and untraceable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? (Romans 11:33-34 HCSB)

The truths taught in these passages must be appreciated. God’s ways are not our ways. In fact, we cannot always understand why He does things. Indeed, it is arrogant of us to think that we can. Therefore, we will always have to live with certain tensions which we cannot completely understand. This is what faith in God is all about. It does not require that we know everything or have to be able to explain everything.

Contrary to Open Theists, God’s Plan Never Fails!

Open theists say that the plans and purposes of God sometimes fail. However, there are also a number of passages which make it plain that God’s plans never fail! We read in Joshua,

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:45 ESV)

All of His plans have come to pass.

The psalmist wrote about the plans which God has for us.

How happy is the man who has put his trust in the LORD and has not turned to the proud or to those who run after lies! LORD my God, You have done many things—Your wonderful works and Your plans for us; none can compare with You. If I were to report and speak of them, they are more than can be told. (Psalm 40:4-5 HCSB)

God does indeed have plans for us.

The psalmist also wrote,

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:10-11 ESV)

Notice the contrast. The plans of the people are frustrated while God’s counsel stands forever. His plans always work, theirs do not.

We read the word of Jeremiah in the Book of Lamentations about the faithfulness of the Lord to His plans.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22 ESV, 23 ESV)

God is indeed faithful to His plan. It never fails.

Isaiah the prophet records the Lord saying that His plans and declarations never fail. Indeed, nothing can reverse what He sets out to do. We read,

“I, I am the Lord, and there is no other Savior but Me. I alone declared, saved, and proclaimed—and not some foreign god among you. So you are My witnesses”—the Lord’s declaration—“and I am God. Also, from today on I am He alone, and no one can take anything from My hand. I act, and who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:11-13 HCSB)

The Lord makes it clear that nobody can reverse His plan! It will happen exactly as He has decided. There will be no changes made by anyone.

The prophet Daniel recorded the testimony of the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar who recognized the greatness of the Lord as well as His control of all things. He said,

“To him the nations are far less than nothing; God controls the stars in the sky and everyone on this earth. When God does something, we cannot change it or even ask why.” (Daniel 4:35 CEV)

Theses passages are about as clear as can be. God has certain plans for our world and His plans never fail!

Conclusion: Open Theism Is Not an Option for Believers

From the above points, we can see that open theism does not fit the biblical account of who God is or what He does. Indeed, open theism contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture at so many places. The God of the Bible is not someone who is moving with humanity to some unknown and uncertain future which nobody, including God Himself, knows what will occur or even can know what will occur.

Instead, He is the God who knows all things and is in control of all things. This being the case, open theism is not a real option for Bible-believers who are attempting to understand God’s nature.

Summary – Question 5
Is Open Theism the Best Way to Understand the Question of God’s Knowledge?

Certain Bible-believing Christians have put forth a unique way of understanding God and His knowledge. It is called a number of things including open theism, the open view of God, freewill theism, and presentism. Those who hold this position are Bible-believing Christians who claim to derive this view of God from the Scripture itself. However, their position does not fit with the overall teaching of Scripture and in many places actually contradicts what the Bible says. We can summarize it as follows.

It must be noted that while their view of God differs considerable from the classical view, open theists do hold to a number of the traditional beliefs about God. For example, they believe that He is the only God which exists, that He is the Creator of the universe, and that Jesus Christ is God Himself who became a human being.

However, an essential belief, the inerrancy of Scripture, cannot be guaranteed by those holding to open theism. Since open theists insist God has given human beings complete freedom to do whatever they wish, the writers of Scripture could not be supernaturally guided every step of the way to write exactly what God determined them to write. Inerrancy, therefore, cannot be certain. If any open theist believes in inerrancy it is not because his position demands it. Just as easily, someone holding to open theism could deny inerrancy insisting that the writers of Scripture decided to either insert their own ideas, or they made honest mistakes. There is no assurance of an inerrant Bible from open theism.

Though open theists have some beliefs in common with those who hold to the classical view of God, there are radically differences. Indeed, the open view of God in many ways, presents an entirely different God that the One in which the Bible portrays.

One major difference is in the area of knowledge. According to the open perspective God knows everything that can be known; the past and the present. However, it is not possible for Him to know the future because the future has not yet occurred. Therefore, nobody, including God knows exactly what will happen in the future.

However, this position is in direct contradiction to what the Bible teaches and what God actually says about Himself. Indeed, one of the things which separate the God of the Bible from the gods of the ancient world is that God can and does predict what will happen in the future. The Lord uses this as evidence that He is the only God which exists. Open theism denies Him of this.

According to open theists, since God does not know everything which will occur in the future He is not responsible for any of the tragic events which occur. He, like everyone else, is surprised by these events. He could not prevent them because He did not know they were going to happen. This supposedly gives comfort to those who wish to blame God for some tragedy in their life.

Contrary to open theism, the idea of a God who is always responding to events because He does not and cannot control them certainly is a God who does not provide much comfort. An impotent God is not much difference than a God which does not exist.

As far as love is concerned, open theism sees love as the main attribute of God. Indeed, the rest of God’s attributes are all interpreted in light of God’s love for humanity. However, the Bible does not do this and neither should we. Whenever we highlight one attribute or characteristic of God against the rest of them we come up with an imbalanced view of who He is. This is what open theism has done. God is indeed a God of love but He is much more than that.

Open theists also deny there are such things as anthropopathisms in Scripture. This consists of attributing human emotions to God. They understand the passages literally which speak of God repenting, regretting, and feeling grieved. Open theists argue that God is intimately involved in His creation and thus takes risks. These risks may involve regretting what He has done or changing His mind.

While we should reject the idea that God is an emotionless Being, we should not go the other direction and assume that His emotions are somehow the same as ours. We have been made in His image and we do reflect Him in many ways but His character is perfect, ours is not. Therefore, we must be careful about assuming that passages which state His emotions in human terms have an exact correspondence to our emotions. They do not. There is an element of mystery here which we must appreciate.

This brings us to our next point. It must be appreciated that God’s nature as well as His dealings with humanity cannot be completely understood by us. While we should certainly attempt to understand the things He has revealed, we should not go beyond what Scripture says. Since there are many things that God has not told us we should leave it at that. We should not try to fill in the blanks where the Bible is silent.

Open theism claims that it has the best answer to the problem of evil. In fact, many people who reject open theism would agree that Adam and Eve had complete freedom to obey God or to disobey Him. However, they would not agree with some open theists that God did not know which way they would choose or that He was surprised by their choice.

Yet many Christians would claim that the sin of Adam and Eve was part of God’s plan. He not only knew that they would sin He pre-planned or pre-determined that they would sin. Since God predetermines all things, the sin of Adam and Eve must have been ordained ahead of time by God.

The idea that God predetermined the entrance of sin into the world is not accepted by all Christians. Indeed, it is a source of much discussion. Therefore, the view of open theism, that God gave Adam and Eve a completely free choice, is held by many, if not most, Bible-believing Christians.

Open theism is a new concept. Consequently, it should be carefully evaluated. In fact, for its supporters to claim that the church has misunderstood the character of God for the last two thousand years is a mighty big claim. There must be overwhelming evidence to back up such a contention. However, those advocating open theism do not provide the convincing evidence needed.

There are other problems. Open theism has been criticized for too much emphasis on humans and not enough emphasis on God. Too often humans are elevated and God is diminished. This is not the proper way to understand the Scripture.

Furthermore, open theism tries to answer a number of questions to which Scripture gives no clear answer. Rather than attempting to understand these things which God has not explained to us, it is better if we reverently confess that we do not have enough information to make a reasonable conclusion.

In addition, we do not have to choose from the view of God as an aloof Monarch and the caring loving God of open theism. Indeed, these are not the only choices we have. The view of a God who is detached from humanity is not the biblical view. This has always been recognized by classical theologians. He does care. He does love His people deeply while at the same time He knows everything which will happen and is in complete control of all things.

Consequently, while the advocates of open theism are sincere, the evidence shows that they are sincerely wrong in their beliefs. A better answer is needed.

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CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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