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

Don Stewart :: What Should Our Conclusion Be about Open Theism?

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What Should Our Conclusion Be about Open Theism? Is It a Legitimate Option for Believers, Heresy, or Something Else?

Does God Know Everything? – Question 35

Open Theism has a number of beliefs about the nature of God which are contrary to the positions of historic Christianity. Nobody denies this. Those who hold the open theist position argue that Christians have misunderstood what Scripture teaches about various aspects of God and His character. What then should we conclude about this system?

Final Observations on Open Theism

Having looked at the claims of open theism as well as the criticisms of this system, we can make a number of observations. They include the following.

1. The Advocates of Open Theism Claim They Are Fairly Representing Scripture

Open theists do not see themselves as heretics or those who are perverting the truths of Scripture. To the contrary, they believe that their perspective actually solves many of the problems about God that the classical view has failed to solve. Instead of being contradictory to Scripture, open theism believes that it gives the best solution to many of these thorny issues.

2. Open Theism Draws Attention to Important Issues about God

The open view of God does highlight some important issues. One of the truths which open theism does draw attention to is that the Scripture does indeed speak of a caring, loving God. Too often, God is looked at as an aloof king who rules with an iron hand. His only concern is for Himself and there is no real concern for human beings. This is a distorted picture. God does indeed love His people and is intimately concerned with our well-being.

3. Not All Issues about God’s Actions Have Clear Answers

We should also note that not every issue with which open theism deals has an uncontested answer from Bible-believing Christians. An example of this would be the extent of God’s control over events. Open theists believe that God has given believers freedom to act. In other words, they do not believe everything has been pre-planned.

However, this view is not unique to them. Many Bible-believers, who reject open theism, also hold to this view. They do not see every event which has happened in our world was pre-planned by God before He created the universe.

4. The Main Issue Is God’s Foreknowledge: Does the Position of Open Theism Make Them Heretics?

This is the central question which is at the heart of the debate about open theism. Is their belief about God’s lack of exhaustive knowledge of how the future will unfold an acceptable way of looking at this issue? Can Bible-believers remain Bible-believers by denying that God exhaustively knows everything which will occur in the future or is this one of these issues which can and should be debated? Do we have to draw the line here?

Open theists assert that their view about God’s lack of exhaustive knowledge of the future is only a small part of their overall system. They contend that their system emphasizes that a loving God wants to have a genuine relationship with humanity.

Consequently, He has given us authentic freedom to choose our destiny. Their doctrine of divine foreknowledge must be seen in that light. It is God Himself who decided that He did not want to control everything neither does He desire to know what decisions we will make before we make them. While He knows all the possibilities, He does not know which of these possibilities will be chosen. According to open theists, God has willingly done this. That is, He has willingly emptied Himself of this knowledge so that the relationship between us and Him can be genuine. Therefore, rather than be a heresy, it is actually what the Bible teaches about God’s own knowledge of coming events.

If we conclude that open theism contradicts what Scripture says about the knowledge of God, then should it be seen as a heresy or merely as a misunderstanding of Scripture? In other words, is this where we draw the line? Can a Bible-believing Christian accept the views of open theism regarding God’s lack of knowledge, His seemingly incorrect decisions, and change of mind about His past actions? Should it be seen as a viable option, though a mistaken option, or should it be considered a serious threat to traditional belief about God? Bible-believing scholars come to various conclusions. We can sum them up as follows.

5. Some Think That Open Theism Is a Real Alternative to the Traditional View

There are certain Bible-believers, while not embracing open theism, think it is a legitimate biblical alternative to the traditional view. They see it as a debate which is similar to those who have different views on end-time events, the age of the earth, and the cessation of certain spiritual gifts. Good people differ on these issues and nobody should claim that their particular view is the “right” view. As long as those holding their views claim to accept the full truthfulness and authority of Scripture, they should not be seen as embracing false doctrine. Consequently, they see the discussion about open theism as one that Bible-believers can honestly debate.

Though they do not think that open theists have made their case, some will say that the interpretations of open theists are possible. Indeed, in a number of passages it is those who hold the open view of God who understand the Scripture as literal while those holding the classical view have to opt for some sort of symbolic or non-literal interpretation. While the interpretations of open theists may not be correct, they are attempting to understand the Bible on its own terms. Since those who hold to open theism have plausible interpretations of certain Bible passages about God’s limited knowledge, His change of mind, and regret for past actions, their views should be given a hearing. Therefore, it is argued, that they cannot be faulted for wanting to understand Scripture in a literal manner in certain passages. Consequently, they should not be branded heretics or seen as those who are outside of the camp of Bible-believing Christians.

6. Others Believe Open Theism Is a Dangerous Heresy

Others are not so charitable to the open view of God. They do not believe that the interpretations of open theism about the limited knowledge of God are even plausible. Indeed, they state that open theism is a serious threat to the Christian view of God, even to the gospel message itself. Consequently, they have no sympathy for those who embrace this particular theological system.

In fact, they do not see the debate over open theism as similar to Christians debating the age of the earth, if certain spiritual gifts still exist, or that if the church will experience great tribulation before the return of Christ. These are issues which Bible-believers can and should debate. However, the subject of God’s knowledge of the future should not up for debate. This doctrine is foundational to Christian belief.

The problem is not that open theism has refined the traditional view of God. Indeed, the problem is that open theism has created an entirely different God than the One found in Scripture. The God of open theism does not know the future, is not able to guarantee the inerrancy of Scripture, did not know that Jesus Christ was going to have to die on the cross, etc. This is completely contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. Therefore, open theism should not be seen as an alternative view of God. Rather it is portraying a different God.

Some Bible teachers believe that Paul had these sorts of teachings in mind when he wrote the following to the Galatians.

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ, and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! (Galatians 1:6-9 HCSB)

While the motives of those who hold to the open view of God may be sincere, they are sincerely wrong. They are preaching a different gospel and presenting a different God to this world. In fact, it is a God which does not exist! They also see another problem with open theism, where it leads. When one accepts the open view of God many biblical concepts have to be re-interpreted or outright rejected. Indeed, almost every aspect of traditional belief has to be re-thought and re-stated. People will end up not really knowing what they believe. For these and other reasons, they believe open theism should not only be rejected by Bible-believers it should be renounced as heresy or false doctrine.

7. Open Theism Does Not Reflect God’s True Nature

However a person decides to label open theism, it certainly should not be seen as the biblical model of God and His knowledge of the future. In an attempt to understand some of the mysteries of God, His character, and His dealings with humanity, we should not reinterpret the Scripture to make Him more understandable or more manageable. There are some mysteries in which we do not understand and perhaps we were not meant to understand. We should accept this fact rather than trying to re-define God in such a way that these problems are now solved.

Conclusion: Open Theism Is Not a Legitimate Option

Therefore, in conclusion, the open view of God should not be seen as a legitimate option for those who take the Bible seriously. There seem to be two main reasons as to why this is so.

First, it directly contradicts what the Lord Himself says about His ability to accurately predict future events. There is no doubt about this.

Second, open theism cannot guarantee the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. This is another insurmountable problem for Bible-believing Christians.

Open Theism Contradicts What God Himself Says about His Ability

Open theism says that the God of the Bible has willingly given up His omnipotence, His control over the universe, as well His omniscience; that He has exhaustive knowledge of the future. Denying God’s knowledge of the future as well as denying His absolute control over all things is a dangerous step to make. This is especially the case since this is one of the arguments He uses to distinguish Himself from the so-called gods of the ancient world. We need to listen to His own words.

This is what the LORD, the King of Israel and its Redeemer, the LORD of Hosts, says: I am the first and I am the last. There is no God but Me. Who, like Me, can announce the future? Let him say so and make a case before Me, since I have established an ancient people. Let these gods declare the coming things, and what will take place. Do not be startled or afraid. Have I not told you and declared it long ago? You are my witnesses! Is there any God but Me? There is no other Rock; I do not know any. (Isaiah 44:6-8 HCSB)

According to God Himself, the thing that separates Him from the so-called gods is His ability to accurately predict what will take place in the future. Open theism denies Him of this attribute.

When King Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem he prayed a prayer of dedication. The following word of that prayer should reflect our desire.

So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God. There is no other! (1 Kings 8:60 HCSB)

All the people of the earth need to know the true identity of the God of the Bible. The God of Scripture has said that He is the only God who exists. Indeed, He alone is all-powerful, He alone knows all things, and He alone knows and controls the future. This sets Him apart from all other beings in the universe. There is indeed none like Him.

Open theism denies that the God of the Bible does know the future. They focus more on His ignorance than His knowledge. This is tragic.

Open Theism Cannot Guarantee an Accurate Scripture

The second problem for open theism which does not make it a real option concerns it handling of Scripture. Since open theists insist that humans have complete freedom they cannot guarantee that the human authors of Scripture accurately recorded God’s truth. Therefore, what we have in Scripture are human beings who, without any supervision by God, wrote the various books of Scripture. Such a view causes enormous problems.

While one could argue that each of these writers accurately and inerrantly wrote exactly what God wanted them to write, given the view of open theism concerning human freedom, there is no guarantee for this. In fact, we can have no confidence in the Scripture whatsoever if we accept the open view of human freedom as it pertains to the writers of Scripture.

Contrast that with Jesus’ view as well as the view of the New Testament writers. They believed that God’s Word is trustworthy in all that it says. They had no doubt whatsoever that what was written was the very Word of God.

The Line Must Be Drawn

Christians must draw a line where certain teachings are recognized as not being acceptable. Open theism has crossed this line. For these and other reasons, open theism should be decisively rejected! It is not sound biblical teaching.

Summary – Question 35
What Should Our Conclusion Be about Open Theism? Is It a Legitimate Option for Believers, Heresy, or Something Else?

Open theism, or the open view of God, claims to present an alternative to the historic or classical view of the God of the Bible. Rather than seeing God as an aloof monarch who sternly judges His people, open theism portrays God as a relational being who seems to be interested in our well-being above all things. Those who hold this open view claim this better fits what the Bible has to say about God and His dealings with humanity.

However, the evidence is to the contrary. Open theism does not merely refine the traditional view of God it re-defines God into a different Being than which the Bible portrays. For this reason, it must be rejected as the best way to understand the nature and character of the God of the Bible.

While those who hold to the open view of God should be commended for highlighting some of the deficiencies in the way God has been traditionally explained they go much too far in their quest. The idea that God somehow limited Himself to what He can and cannot know is not something which is taught in Scripture. Indeed, it is contrary to what the Lord clearly says about Himself and about His knowledge.

However, there is something else which needs to be emphasized. While open theism does not provide all the biblical answers to questions of God and His knowledge, this does not mean that we reject everything which it teaches.

For example, open theism agrees with many other Christians in the idea of general sovereignty. This means God has a general plan for the universe but does has not planned every detail in eternity past. Others argue for a specific sovereignty where every detail has been planned before the universe was created. There is no “Christian” answer to this question. There are good Bible-believers on each side of this issue. The views of open theism on this particular matter may indeed be the correct one.

If open theism is not the correct way to understand the God of Scripture then how shall we categorize it? Bible-believing Christians who reject open theism have a variety of responses to it.

Some see it as a possible alternative to the traditional view. Since open theists claim to get their position from the Bible itself, some Christians say the issue comes down to a matter of interpretation. The correct doctrine of God, His knowledge, His control over all events, is something which has to be decided from a study of Scripture. Good Christians can come up with different conclusions on these issues. The interpretations of the Bible by open theists may indeed be incorrect but that is what must be decided by examining Scripture. Therefore, these believers see open theism as one possible attempt to understand God’s nature. Consequently, they do not want to call it a heresy even though they do not accept its conclusions.

However this is not nearly strong enough. Others rightly believe open theism constitutes a real danger for Bible-believing Christians. They recognize the doctrine of God is of all-importance. If we think wrong about God we will be wrong about other issues. Open theism has gone too far in its understanding of the God of Scripture. It robs God of some of the attributes which He clearly claims to possess.

Whichever way a person wishes to categorize open theism, it is certain that when we consider all the facts, open theism falls short of what the Bible says about the majestic God of Scripture.

Indeed, there are two main reasons why open theism should be rejected as a viable option for Christians. First, it rejects God’s own testimony about His ability to accurate predict the future. Second, open theism cannot guarantee that the Scripture are God’s inerrant Word.

Rejecting the idea that God knows the future is denying a central biblical truth about the God of the Bible. This we cannot do. Since the Lord Himself argues that this is what separates Him from all other beings in the universe, we should not rob Him of this attribute. Indeed, instead of highlighting His ignorance we should be highlighting His knowledge.

Furthermore, not being able to guarantee an accurate inerrant Scripture is something which is not acceptable. The Bible is God’s authoritative and infallible Word. Those who hold to open theism cannot guarantee this. With their view of human freedom we cannot have any confidence that God’s Word is exactly what it is supposed to be. For all we know the problems and difficulties in Scripture may be actual contradictions. Open theism cannot assure us that this is not the case. Again, Christians cannot accept this conclusion.

While those who embrace open theism are sincere, they are sincerely wrong about a number of essential beliefs. Therefore, the system of open theism should be soundly rejected by Bible-believing Christians. It is not an option for us.

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