I wish to preface this critique of Open Theism by stating I have no hostility toward any open theist brethren. I have gained much from the friendship and ministry of some particular brethren who hold to Open Theism. Though we share a love for the Lord Jesus Christ and for holiness, this critique will undoubtedly provoke howls of disagreement from them and others, and likely a slew of rebuttals, including some that I have anticipated and provided preemptive responses to.
The main purpose of this critique is to present a layman’s view against Open Theism and for the orthodox, historical view of God having exhaustive foreknowledge. Of course, detractors will try to marginalize my view because I am a layman, but I would just ask that anyone looking at my position do so on the basis of its own merits, the evidence from the scriptures that I present. I would also ask that before someone comments, that they read my entire presentation.
After researching Open Theism more, I have come to the conclusion that Open Theism needs to be debunked…and it is easy to do so. And the orthodox, historical view needs to be affirmed, and it is easy to do so. I have an interest in history, prophecy and interpreting the bible from multiple interpretive lenses. I immediately recognized that Open Theism is an assault on the historical tenet of God’s immutability and exhaustive foreknowledge that the ecclesia has historically held to. I am hoping that my position will inspire discussion and careful consideration of both sides of this issue.
Defining Open Theism
Open Theism is an attempt to reconcile God’s sovereignty with our free will. It is an extreme position that, if it were true, has serious implications for the Christian faith, who God is, His attributes and how He relates to us and we to Him. It also has significant implications for how we communicate who God is to others. Open theists claim that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge and that the future is ‘open’, not fixed. The implications of this are very serious. God’s will might be accomplished, or it might not. It just depends on what man chooses to do. God stays in the background, hoping that we choose to do what’s right and occasionally, interacting with His creation to ‘tweak’ things His way.
Open theists claim God knows everything that can be known, but this does not include a certain future. Thus, the future is ‘open’ in that it could be realized in any number of possible scenarios, based on our free will made choices. The open theist believes that based on what God knows of the present, He just guesses about the future. Some of His guesses are accurate, some are not. Sometimes He discovers things to happen as they happen. Open theists claim God changes prophecy when needed too. Open theists claim biblical support for their position by citing scriptures that purport to show God changing His mind (Exodus 32:14), being surprised (Isaiah 5:3–7), and testing people to see what they will do (Genesis 22:12). They are ready to cite many scriptures and then declare that those scriptures are teaching or demonstrating Open Theism.
Tactics By Open Theists
In an effort to win people over to Open Theism, some open theists may try to ‘flood’ a person with an abundance of scripture citations. Since most people are unprepared or unable to adequately research a multitude of scripture citations, the open theist will feel vindicated and that his position is untouchable when no refutation of open theism comes forth. When someone comes along who is critical of Open Theism, open theists may claim that such detractors are “not knowledgeable about Open Theism”, that they “just don’t understand” and they “should read this book or that book by such and such open theist author”. This seems more like a symptom of cultish brainwashing than a reasoned, scriptural defense of Open Theism.
Muslims often (and mistakenly) claim that the Quran is the perfect word of Allah. So, all one has to do is show one error, and their claim is shown to be false. Like with Muslims, all I need to do is show at least one instance that God has exhaustive foreknowledge to prove Open Theism is false and the orthodox position of God having exhaustive foreknowledge is true. In this presentation, I will present many. I believe that by the time you finish reading this critique, barring any philosophical bias or a priori commitment to Open Theism, you will be convinced that Open Theism does not have the support from the scriptures that open theists believe it does and is in fact, false.
Appeal To History (argumentum ad antiquatum)
Open theists will claim that their view is anchored in ancient history, but so is Gnosticism, Docetism, Arianism, Marcionism, Platonism, Epicureanism, and other ancient heresies and philosophies. Greg Boyd, a popularizer of Open Theism, admits….
““Until the time of the Socinians, the belief that God’s omniscience included all future events was not generally questioned.”
Source: Gregory A. Boyd, Trinity and Process: A Critical Evaluation and Reconstruction of Hartshorne’s Di-Polar Theism Towards a Trinitarian Metaphysics (New York: Peter Long Publishing, Inc. 1992), 296-297
Socicianism was a 16th century heresy started by Fausto Socinus. Among other things, Socicianism denied the trinity, the deity of Christ and the substitutionary atonement. Socinus’ heresy eventually became what is known today as Unitarianism….not the best source for commentary on biblical truth. Regarding God’s omniscience, Socinus said…
“Since, then, there is not reason, no passage of Scripture, from which it can be clearly gathered that God knew all things which happened before they happened, we must conclude that we are by no means to assent such a foreknowledge of God….”
Source: Praelectionis Theologicae 11 (1627); 38, as quoted by Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (reprint; Phillipsburg, NJ.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992)
Such a view is eerily similar to that of Open Theism, which postulates that God can be influenced by what He learns about the choices men make and therefore has no knowledge of a certain future. Though open theists claim the concept of God’s foreknowledge in Christian thought is based on Greek philosophy, Open Theism itself is no less philosophically-based for the sole reason that it is not taught anywhere in the bible as a doctrine.
Along with Greg Boyd’s published works, a major portion of his internet web site, Christus Victor Ministries, is dedicated to the philosophical support of Open Theism. This is not to say that open theists do not postulate biblical support for Open Theism, which they do, but those passages depend on strictly surface readings of the text. This will be demonstrated later in this presentation. When the claims and tactics of Open Theism are peeled back and exposed, it is clearly promoted by a few surface readings of selected scriptures, and then a mountain of philosophical interpretation and conjecture.
On the accusation of the orthodox view having its source in Greek philosophy, Carl Henry wrote….
“The fact is, however, that the Hebrew-Christian belief in God’s immutability arose independently of Greek philosophy; it stemmed from revelational sources rather than from speculative conjecture.”
Source: Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority V.1 (Waco: Word Books, 1982), 286.
For the historical, orthodox understanding that God has exhaustive foreknowledge (that the future is certain and that God knows the future), one only needs to look to the Old Testament to discover that over a thousand years before Fausto Socinus, and hundreds of years before Greek philosophy, exhaustive foreknowledge was assumed in ancient Judaism. For example,
(Isa 40:13) Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, Or as His counselor has informed Him?
(Isa 40:14) With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge And informed Him of the way of understanding?
These rhetorical questions raised by Isaiah clearly show that nobody can teach God something He doesn’t already know. In other words, and contrary to Open Theism, God has never learned anything from anyone. God knows all things, from the beginning to the end….
(Isaiah 46:9) “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me. Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’”
Not only does God know the end from the beginning, but He is certain that His purposes will be established and His will accomplished. Open Theists will of course object, and claim that Isaiah 46:9 is describing God’s omnipotence, and it is, in its latter portion. But it is describing what God knows in the former portion, that being….’the end from the beginning’.
God already knows what man would do in all possible futures, including what He will do in the actual future. This is a form of ‘middle knowledge’, a Molinist concept. This knowledge in no way causes anyone to do what they choose to do, for it just says what they would freely do, not what they must do. God knows all that could happen in all circumstances, so nothing is a surprise to Him. Man is therefore the cause of his own actions, and man’s choices affirm what God has known to be true for all eternity.
Molinism affirms that God has knowledge of what would be if other possible contingencies were realized. For example, God knew that the city of Keilah would betray David to King Saul if David remained in that vicinity (1 Samuel 23:4-12). God demonstrates ‘middle knowledge’ of a possible future in…
(1Sa 23:12) Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.”
David then departed Keilah before this would happen, and went to the wilderness of Ziph. David actualized a different future than the one what God warned him about.
Similarly, in the New Testament, Jesus knew that the cities of Tyre and Sidon would have repented and been spared if they had seen the miracles that He did elsewhere. This is another example of God having ‘middle knowledge’.
Jesus knew the judgment against the places that had seen His miracles would be more severe than for the places that had not. Demonstrating ‘middle knowledge’ in describing Chorazin and Bethsaida’s possible futures, Jesus says in Matthew 11:21-23 …
(Mat 11:21-23) Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For IF the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
And demonstrating His exhaustive foreknowledge (knowledge of the actual future), Jesus said….
(Mat 11:22) “Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.
Exhaustive foreknowledge again in….
(Mat 11:23) “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades;
…. For if (middle knowledge, possible future) the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day..
In this example, we see Jesus demonstrating both ‘middle knowledge’ (knowledge of possible future outcomes) and exhaustive foreknowledge (knowledge of what is the actual future outcome).
Another example of ‘middle knowledge’…. In the exchange between the rich man in Hades and Abraham, the rich man makes a prediction that Abraham corrects with middle knowledge.
(Luk 16:30) “But he [the rich man] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’
The rich man claims that if someone (Lazarus?) goes to the rich man’s family and warns them, that they will repent and thus, be spared the torment the rich man was experiencing. Jesus narrates Abraham’s answer with a statement affirming ‘middle knowledge’ when he replies…
(Luk 16:31) “But he [Abraham] said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Jesse Morrell in an online article on his ‘OpenAirOutreach’ website said in his comments after his 2016 debate with Calvinist Matt Slick…
“…God expresses great brokenness of heart over the abundance of man’s sin, as if things could have been differently”
I would have to agree with Jesse on this point. God definitely knew things could be different. If there wasn’t some other possible future to know, then God would not have known that men could have made different choices. So we see from at least four examples that God knows more than just the past and present. He also knows the future, and other, possible futures.
Is God culpable for evil?
Open theists seem motivated by a goal of coming to God’s rescue, or ‘getting God off the hook’ as it were, for all the evil He could have prevented. This may be in part a response to hyper-Calvinism’s sovereign view of God, which implicates God as being the author of evil. But one doesn’t have to be a Calvinist to see that Open Theism is just as philosophically unsatisfactory as Calvinism. Nor does one have to resort to the extreme of Open Theism to know that God is not culpable for man’s choice to do evil. For it is easily shown that the open theist’s rationale for defending God is unfounded in both the scriptures and logic.
It is logically inconsistent to consider that God could be culpable of evil. God is by definition, good, so what He does is good. If a good God allows evil to occur, it is because He has a morally sufficient reason to allow it to occur. The accusation of culpability is thus a betrayal of the word of God and a departure from logic, for we know from the scriptures that God is good.
(Psa 136:1) Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
and that everything God created is good
(1Ti 4:4) For everything created by God is good……”
and that man is created good…
(Ecc 7:29 ESV) See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
apostle Paul teaches that man is…
(1Co 11:7 KJV) ….the image and glory of God…..
Since God is good, it follows that what a good God allows sinful men to freely choose is morally justifiable and thus, does not make Him culpable for the evil that may result from man’s freely made choices. A good God will always have morally sufficiently reasons for allowing certain evil to exist, especially if it is in a world that He knows His purposes will be accomplished. We don’t need to know, nor is God obligated to tell us what those purposes are.
(Isa 55:9) “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.
The open theist will try to make a God with exhaustive foreknowledge culpable, but this fails when the argument is turned back on the open theist. For example, open theists will try to implicate the God with exhaustive foreknowledge for allowing Hitler to murder 6 million innocent men, women and children (forgetting that a good God cannot do evil, so it’s impossible for God to be culpable, but we’ll look past this for now).
But the open theist God would be equally culpable. He would have had thousands of years of background knowledge (observations of human interaction) and sufficient insight into the human character to recognize Adolf Hitler as a potential murderous dictator and intervene before he came to power. Obviously, the open theist God did not intervene, and history has recorded Hitler’s regime being responsible for the murder of over six million innocent Jewish men, women and children. Using the open theists own reasoning, the open theist God would be just as culpable for not preventing Hitler from coming to power as the God with exhaustive foreknowledge.
The argument for culpability is in my opinion, little more than an appeal to emotion at this point. It does not comport with God’s a priori quality of being necessarily good and thus, unable to be culpable for evil. If it’s not Hitler, then open theists will use other emotionally charged examples (like abortions, war, rapes etc etc). Let’s not stop there! Would a God who has exhaustive foreknowledge be responsible for the starvation of children in Africa too? The 270 million who have died untimely deaths at the hands of Muslims? How about the fish that die from ‘red tide’ bacteria? Is the God with exhaustive foreknowledge responsible for the pain and suffering experienced by the ant that the open theist may have stepped on?
The claim of God being culpable of evil in any theodicy outside of Open Theism would be a very serious charge, since only an evil god could be culpable of evil. But the bible clearly shows that God is good and has exhaustive foreknowledge. So, it follows that the open theist who resorts to this type of reasoning is calling a good God evil. That should be a cause for concern for anyone who is considering adopting Open Theism. Rather than adopt an unorthodox and blasphemous philosophy that makes God out to be evil, bumbling, ignorant and indecisive, the more reasonable view is to consider that out of all possible worlds, God realized a world where His greater purposes would be actualized through the freely made choices of His creations who often do evil. Instead of trying to judge God by man’s finite standards and form a philosophy that “gets Him off the hook” (as if He is guilty of wrongdoing), it’s better to accept God as He is, a good God who for His own morally sufficient reasons, allows evil to occur.
An Examination Of Some Texts Open Theists Use
The scriptures have been explained for over a thousand years. We simply do not need a new, unorthodox philosophy of man to declare the rather arrogant presumption of how little God knows. But for purposes of exposing the poor exegesis and faulty reasoning open theists employ to defend their position, we will examine some of their key texts.
Two of the primary texts open theists use to suggest God doesn’t know the future and learns about it from His creations is Gen 22:12 (God discovering Abraham really does fear Him) and Deuteronomy 8:2 (God testing Israel).
(Gen 22:12) He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for NOW I KNOW that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”
Open theists readily admit that God knows all things that can be known, which (to them) are all logical and truth propositions that are in the past and present. But the bible says….
(1Ch 28:9 ESV) “….for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. ….”
Since Open Theism says that God knows all things about the present, then God would have known the intention, plan and thoughts of Abraham, that Abraham would follow through with killing Isaac even before he raised the knife to do it. Indeed, God would have known that Abraham believed God would resurrect Isaac from the dead and both would ‘return’ to Abraham’s young men (caps mine for emphasis).
(Gen 22:5) Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey, and I and the lad will go over there; and we will worship AND RETURN TO YOU.”
God would have known that Abraham believed he would return to his young men, so it would not have been a surprise that Abraham obeyed God and demonstrated His fear of and obedience to God. Since we know that God knew what Abraham would do, the claim of “….now I know….” was not said to illustrate that God did not know that Abraham feared Him. It was idiom, for Abraham’s benefit. It was meant to convey acknowledgement of Abraham’s act of faith and that his obedience would be rewarded. With this understanding, Open Theism is thus defeated by one of its primary proof texts, which end up showing that God didn’t really learn something He did not already know.
Open theists will often read open theism into a text. Open theists believe that Deut 8:2 shows God testing the Israelites because He didn’t know if they would obey Him or not.
(Deu 8:2) “You shall REMEMBER all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
But the next verse explains more about the purpose of the testing.
(Deu 8:3) “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which YOU DID NOT KNOW, nor did your fathers know, that He might MAKE YOU UNDERSTAND that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.
Upon further examination of the surrounding context, it’s clear that the testing wasn’t to reveal to God whether the Israelites would obey or not. It was for the Israelites to know and remember that they can and should depend on God.
Two of the primary texts open theists use to suggest that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge is Gen 6:7 (God’s regret for making mankind), and 1 Sam 15:11, 15 (God’s regret for appointing Saul). Beginning with Genesis…
(Gen 6:7) The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”
Was this new information for God, as open theists claim? No. God knew from ‘before the foundation of the world’ that many would not have their name written in the book of life (Rev 13:8), which prefigures a future need for a Savior and the reason why the names of some would be in the book of life but not others.
“And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:8)
God is therefore not discovering for the first time that mankind needs a plan of redemption and a Savior. This cannot get any clearer than from the book of Hebrews…
(Heb 4:3) For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
God knew the works of Jesus, including His redemptive work ‘from the foundation of the world’, from before time began. God also knew who His Son would be.
(1Pe 1:20) For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you
(Rev 14:6) And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;
Rev 14:6 clearly shows that there is an ‘eternal gospel’ that includes the need to fear God. The ‘eternal gospel’ is the gospel that is known from eternity past, which means God utilized exhaustive foreknowledge of a future that had not happened yet, to know man’s moral and spiritual state would be so fallen that it would require a plan of salvation and that a gospel would be provided.
Additionally, God is free to regret the outcome of His actions, even if He foreknows them. The assumption that God should not have any regrets in a world He creates is tantamount to believing that God should not have made a world where both good and evil co-exist. But without a world where good and evil co-exist, man is not free to choose. So we should expect a holy God to have a broken heart every time somebody sins against Him, even if He knew in advance it would happen.
On a positive note, God knew from ‘before the foundation of the world’ that mankind would need a Savior. He also knew that on account of His making man, and man’s subsequent choice to sin, that others will end up repenting, and knowing Him in a conditional relationship that in some cases would endure forever
Another example open theists try to use to suggest that since God was unaware of future actions on account of expressing regret, is from 1 Samuel.
(1 Sa 15:11) “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not carried out My commands.”
(1 Sa 15:35) Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.
Was God’s regretting the appointment of Saul an evidence that He was unaware Saul would be a disaster? Was God unaware of the evil Saul would commit? Of course not. God knew Saul would be an evil leader long before He chose Him. Back in Deuteronomy 17:14, God foreknew that a rebellious people would later demand a king.
(Deu 17:14) “When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’
Now eight chapters into 1 Samuel, the people are seen rejecting God and demanding a leader (1 Sam 8:7).
God warns them their choice will be the appointment of a king who would later prove to be very troubled. God even listed some of his abuses of power (1 Sam 8:11-17). For example, taking people for servants and workers, taking lands that previously belonged to the people while living a life of indulgence and comfort, taking a tithe from privately owned vineyards, a tithe of privately owned animals and that the people would become his servants. Though normal for kings of that time and culture, these royal privileges would be burdensome to a people unaccustomed to them. God then tells them what their response to this king will be, once he was appointed.
(1Sa 8:18) “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
God had exhaustive foreknowledge of the people rejecting Him and seeking a man to be their king. He also foreknew many of Saul’s abuses and even the people’s response to Saul, clearly showing that God can foreknow something He would do and also regret. Incidentally, this is the same chapter that clearly, unambiguously, declares that God does NOT change His mind.
(1Sam 15:29) And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind
Why would God foreknow something that would come to pass, but show regret about it? For a greater good. Here, God foreknew that His plan of salvation would later be actualized in part through an evil man (Saul) and his relationship with David, who would go on to write the Psalms, which includes prophecies about Jesus, the future Savior. Jesus being part of God’s predetermined plan and foreknowledge is clearly stated in…
(Act 2:23) this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
…a salvation that was known from all eternity…
(2Tim 1:9) who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity
Evidently, open theists are content to read open theism into selected verses, and after a mere surface reading of the text, conclude that God doesn’t have exhaustive foreknowledge. However, if we widen the context a bit and take into consideration other scriptures, it is clearly seen that scriptures open theists often use to promote Open Theism actually point to God having exhaustive foreknowledge.
Three primary texts open theists use to suggest God ‘repents’ or ‘changes His mind’ are Jonah 3:9-10 (God’s repentance occasioned by Nineveh’s repentance), Isaiah 38:1-8 (God’s adding fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life) and Exodus 32:14 (God repents, or changes His mind about the harm He will do to His people). Let’s begin with Jonah 3:9-10.
(Jon 3:9) Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
(Jon 3:10) When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.
Open Theism critic Bruce Ware comments….
“God’s secret intention was to show mercy to Nineveh (which Jonah suspected) and God accomplished this intention exactly as he had purposed, but he accomplished it through Jonah’s warning of the Ninevites and the repentance that the warning elicited”
Source: Ware, Lesser Glory, p. 94.
In other words, God knew that a simple warning (through Jonah) would be sufficient to cause the Nineveh to repent. From the people’s perspective, God was ‘changing His mind’. From God’s perspective, He knew all along they would repent. His purposes were achieved through a perceived ‘threat’. The idea of God ‘repenting’ is simply a figure of speech, an anthropomorphism, whereby God comes to us and condescends to speak in our language. It is in the same way we read of God’s hands, His nostrils, or even His feathers. God does not have these physical characteristics. Neither does He repent. Likewise, Jesus is not a real Lamb, a real door or a real piece of bread. He also does not really repent, or change His mind.
Another example that open theists use that ends up backfiring on Open Theism is from Isaiah 38 (and 2 Kings 20:1-6), we read….
(Isa 38:1) In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’”
(Isa 38:5) “Go and say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.
Open theists will claim that God ‘changed His mind’ or ‘reversed the prophecy’ as evidence that we do not have a fixed, certain future. Hezekiah would have understood this to mean that he would die relatively soon, which explains his sorrowful prayer to God in Isaiah 38:3 (and 2 Kings 20:3). But this whole story is simply an example of God’s foreknowledge, since God was very specific about the number of years He would grant Hezekiah (fifteen). This is of course, consistent with what other scriptures have to say about God’s foreknowledge of the lifespans of men and where they would live.
(Act 17:26) and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
In this scenario, God was using the prospect of Hezekiah dying soon as a way to elicit a stronger, more fervent prayer out of him. This was for Hezekiah’s sake, so that he would know God is faithful and answers prayers. God then demonstrated it immediately for Hezekiah, by causing the shadow on the stairway of Ahaz to go backwards seven steps (2 Kings 20:11). God knew what Hezekiah would pray, because He knows all of our prayers before we even pray them.
(Mat 6:8) “…… for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
Open Theism critic Bruce Ware comments…
“Is it not entirely conceivable that God’s purpose behind these words was in fact to elicit from him such earnest, heartfelt dependence on God in prayer? … God granted to Hezekiah fifteen years of extended life – not two, not twenty, and certainly not, “we’ll both see how long you live,” but fifteen years exactly. Does it not seem a bit odd that this favorite text of open theists, which purportedly demonstrates that God does not know the future and so changes his mind when Hezekiah prays, also shows that God knows precisely and exactly how much longer Hezekiah will live? On openness grounds, how could God know this? Over a fifteen-year time span, the contingencies are staggering! The number of future freewill choices, made by Hezekiah and innumerable others, that relate directly to Hezekiah’s life and well being, none of which God knows (in the openness view) is enormous.”
Source: Ware, Lesser Glory, pp. 95-96
Another example that open theists may use…..
(Exo 32:14 KJV) And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
This was not God actually ‘changing His mind’ (or planning evil), for we know that….
(Num 23:19)….God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Rather, God can have certain intentions and issue decrees in the form of threats in order to cause human beings to, from their perspective, freely choose the right course of action that achieves His foreknown purposes. These decrees are to show intention for man’s benefit. From the perspective of an ancient Israelite, it is as if God is ‘changing His mind’, but from God’s perspective, His eternal will and foreknown purposes are being achieved through the freely made decisions of men.
Additionally, scriptures that open theists use to suggest that God ‘changes His mind’ are easily debunked by scriptures that explicitly say that God does NOT change His mind. For example….
(Jer 4:28 NASB) “For this the earth shall mourn And the heavens above be dark, Because I have spoken, I have purposed, And I will not change My mind, nor will I turn from it.”
(Eze 24:14 KJV) I the LORD have spoken it: it shall come to pass, and I will do it; I will not go back, neither will I spare, neither will I repent; according to thy ways, and according to thy doings, shall they judge thee, saith the Lord GOD.
We could, I suppose, continue debunking each and every verse that open theists read Open Theism into, but this writer believes these few are sufficient to demonstrate that Open Theism is the result of simplistic, surface readings of the text. We will now turn to some good examples proving God’s exhaustive foreknowledge, that there is a certain future and that God knows what that future is.
Examples of God’s Exhaustive Foreknowledge
Open Theism only grants that there are propositions in the future, but not that they are true. The examples that follow from the scriptures clearly prove that there are true propositions in the future that are known by God before they happen, which is evidence that God does have exhaustive foreknowledge, proving Open Theism to be false.
For example, God knows what the Psalmist will say even before he says it.
(Psalm 139:4) “Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, oh Lord thou knowest it altogether.”
Verse 16 shows that the Psalmist’s entire life is known even before he is born.
(Psa 139:16) Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
Open theists will play down this verse’s application toward exhaustive foreknowledge, claiming that it is ‘just metaphorical’ or other such excuses, but truths about God can be extrapolated from metaphorical descriptions of His character or abilities.
Other Old Testament passages affirm God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future…. such as Isaiah 5:1-7; 1 Chronicles 5:26; 2 Chronicles 21:16-17; Proverbs 21:1; Isaiah 44:23; Daniel 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Notably, if God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge, then how could Jesus have described in detail the events leading up to and surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later? (Mat 24:3-28) How could He have predicted His resurrection (Luke 18:32) and events pertaining to His future return from heaven (Mat 24:29-31)?
(Joh 14:3) “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
Jesus demonstrated exhaustive foreknowledge when He told Peter that he would deny Him exactly three times and that even a rooster would crow. On the open theist view, Jesus was guessing, even that a rooster would crow.
(Joh 13:38) Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.
Jesus demonstrated exhaustive foreknowledge when He made known His awareness of Judas’ soon betrayal, and it happened as both He and the Old Testament predicted.
(Joh 13:18) “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’
(Joh 13:19) “From now on I am telling you before it comes to pass, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am He.
(Joh 6:64) “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew FROM THE BEGINNING who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.
(Joh 6:70) Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?”
Judas’ betrayal was actually prophesied in the Old Testament, and fulfilled to the letter.
(Psa 41:9) Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.
Open theists would play down the significance of the prophesy, and limit it to the category of ‘parallel prophecy’ as a way to lessen its application as exhaustive foreknowledge. Instead, Psalm 41:9 is an example of ‘dual predictive prophecy’, a prophecy that has applications in two future time periods or contexts.
Other notable dual predictive prophecies are…Joel 2:28 having its secondary fulfillment in Acts 2:14-21. Miraculous manifestations of God’s power through the Holy Spirit did indeed occur then (verses 1-13). But these were only the first fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. The ultimate fulfillment will come at the time of the end and will involve, among other things, the gathering of the nations in judgement.
There is also John 19:37, which is a partial fulfillment (where Jews were not repentant), and Zechariah 12:10, which has an future fulfillment (when they will be repentant). John 19:37 only quotes half of Zechariah 12:10. The other half is what was missing when they pierced Him. Their sorrow and repentance to belief.
(Zec 12:10) …..and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.
Jews did not do this then. According to Zec 12:10, they will when Jesus returns. Rev 1:7 confirms that this will be literally fulfilled in the future, clearly showing exhaustive foreknowledge in dual predictive prophecy.
(Rev 1:7) BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.
The list of dual predictive prophecies continues… Messianic prophecies in the Psalms, which applied to David’s life as well as foretold of the Messiah. Isaiah 28:11 speaks of the Babylonian Conquest of the Holy Land, yet Paul uses it to describe Pentecost with the same type of judgment from the Romans (1 Corinthians 14:21). Psalm 2:7 speaks of David, yet at the same time looks forward to future fulfillment in the Son of God, Jesus.
In Acts 2:23, the apostle Peter attributes the death of Christ to the “predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.”
(Act 2:23) this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Peter even describes the human agency employed to commit the act by saying, “you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.”. In other words, God knew that godless men would nail Jesus to a cross long before it actually happened.
The implications of this passage do severe damage to the proposals of open theists. According to the apostle Peter, God not only knew the future, but He brought about His predestined plan using the so-called freewill actions of men.
The same can be said for Acts 4:27-28 which says…
“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 purpose predestined to occur”.
This passage clearly implies that God placed in Jerusalem those whom He wanted there so that they could play a part in the execution of His Son. This was what God’s “hand and purpose had predestined to occur.” One must conclude from this passage that God knew about it prior to it actually happening. One can only begin to imagine how many freewill choices were involved in the unfolding of this occasion, choices that God was aware of and planned for, both occurring at the same time.
In Acts 17:22-31, the apostle Paul clearly states that God “determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitations,” for the express purpose that men would “seek Him.”
Additionally, in this passage, Paul indicates that God has “fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, through a man whom He has appointed.”
In other words, God determined the appointed times of men, the boundaries of their habitations, and He has predetermined and knows exactly the day in which He will judge the world through Christ, His appointed Man. There can be no doubt from these passages that God not only knows the future, but has predetermined its outcomes through the freely made choices He knew men would make.
Five verses that clearly demonstrate God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and that have particular relevance to the gospel and salvation.
(1Pe 1:20) For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you
Jesus was known ‘before the foundation of the world’. In other words, God knew the man Jesus would appear at a particular time.
(Eph 1:4) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
God chose those who in His exhaustive foreknowledge, He knew would freely choose Him and that they would live holy and blameless lives, in love. God knew from His perspective. At some point in our lives, we chose Him from our perspective and lived holy and blameless before Him, in love.
(2Ti 1:8) Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,
(2Ti 1:9) who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,
Open theists would have us believe that God didn’t have any redemptive purpose, that things just unfolded and He learned about them and created a narrative to explain it after-the-fact. But the bible text clearly shows that God’s redemptive purpose was planned ‘from all eternity’, clearly debunking the open theist philosophy.
(Rev 13:8) All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.
This verse is also very problematic for open theists. From it, we can see that God knows who will worship the ‘beast’ and those who have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life. Those names were written in the book ‘from the foundation of the world’, meaning, before time in our dimensional realm began. God must have exhaustive foreknowledge if He knows which names will remain in the book of life.
The scriptures above demonstrate that the redemptive death of Christ as atonement for sin was known and incorporated in the plan of God before time began. No textual or grammatical ambiguities mitigate this conclusion. The very least that can be said of these passages is that provision for salvation from sin was taken into account, as settled fact, before the foundation of the world, and that this provision centered in Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God.
As if it could not get any clearer, the bible plainly describes the redemptive plan of God as a result of His foreknowledge (caps mine for emphasis).
(Act 2:23) this Man, delivered over by the PREDETERMINED PLAN AND FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
With Open Theism, these foundational passages would take on new meaning. No longer would God’s redemptive plan be planned from before time began, but would have been a last minute decision based on His observations of the freely made decisions of man. In other words, God got lucky and the crucifixion was accomplished solely by man’s free will choices.
Open Theism is especially vulnerable, given that it requires that God not foreknow the morally free acts of his creatures, especially the fall of man. The passages we have examined, however, make clear that before he created the first humans, God both knew about our sins and knew his Son as our Redeemer by virtue of his death on the cross, clearly demonstrating exhaustive foreknowledge.
But if God’s redemptive plan was known from before the foundation of the world and Open Theism is correct, then this has serious implications for our understanding of salvation. For example; The open theist Jesus did not know for whom He was dying or for what sins He was suffering for. The God of Open Theism did not even know two thousand years ago who would exist since our existence depends on a multitude of free will choices of which a God who has no definite foreknowledge must be ignorant.
The open theist’s God, because He does not know propositions of the future that are true, would not have known that any of us would even be born. He would not have known the sins we would commit. He would also not know whom He would know. So, when the open theist Jesus says something like, “I know my sheep” (John 10:14), he must be referring to the disciples of his time, not us today.
The implications of this for the church, evangelism and salvation are staggering. Open theist critic Bruce Ware says…
Not only would it be impossible for [the open theist] God to know whether and who would come to exist in the future (so that he could not actually substitute for them in his death), in addition, God would also be clueless regarding what sin(s) would be committed in the future. Therefore, there could be no actual imputation of our sin to Christ … In fact, Christ would have had reason to wonder, as he hung on that cross, whether for any, or for how many, and for what sins, he was now giving his life. The sin paid for could only be sin in principle, and not sin by imputation, and the people died for was a blurry, impersonal, faceless, nameless, and numberless potential grouping.
SOURCE: Ware, Beyond the Bounds, p. 333
Despite the claims of open theists with a few scriptures read on a surface level, it seems clear from the scriptures that God’s foreknowledge extends to the future and that it is exhaustive in its scope, that it is consistent with logic and the more reasonable philosophical view that answers more questions instead of creating more problems. Indeed, the bible affirms that God knows every word before it is spoken (Psalm 139:4), the ordained number of days we have to live (Psalm 139:16), and the rise and fall of nations, governments, and alliances (Dan 2:1-49). He even foreknows people by name a century and a half before they are born (Cyrus).
(Isa 44:28) “It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.’ And he declares of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’”
Approximately 150 years later, a man named Cyrus became king of Persia and decreed the rebuilding of the temple (Ezr 1:1-2, 6:3).
There is simply too much scriptural evidence showing God’s exhaustive foreknowledge to entertain the unreasonable interpretations of the scriptures that would at first glance appear to support Open Theism. Based on demonstrably poor exegesis, Open Theism is simplistic and irresponsible. Some may go farther and consider a God that ‘changes his mind’ to be heretical and representing a different god. For the bible says…
(Num 23:19)….God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
So, what could an open theist tell someone about his god? He could tell others that the open theist God is indecisive. He changes prophecy as needed. He changes His mind as new information from within His creation becomes evident (as if he is locked into our temporal realm). He doesn’t know the future. He’s surprised by what we do and that He learns from His human creations. That’s not a very impressive God. In fact, that is a God with very human limitations.
Open theists will plaintively plead…. “But, you just don’t understand Open Theism” or “You have improperly defined terms” or “You haven’t read a single book by Greg Boyd”…the excuses are numerous ad nauseum. Others can intelligently describe Open Theism, along with arguments against it. One does not need to become a Greg Boyd groupie, or an open theist to understand what Open Theism is and why it’s wrong.
Judging from the poor responses I have seen, the fallacious types of reasoning being employed to defend Open Theism and the constant quoting from Greg Boyd instead of the scriptures, Open Theism just looks like a warmed over heresy. I am very disappointed in the current trend of many who have readily adopted this unorthodox philosophy, one that is so easily debunked by both the scriptures and logic.
Finally, the God of the bible uses foreknowledge as a criterion for establishing authentic diety. From Isaiah 41, we see God challenging the nations to bring forth their idols and demonstrate foreknowledge as a test (caps mine for emphasis)…
(Isa 41:21) “Present your case,” the LORD says. “Bring forward your strong arguments,” The King of Jacob says.
(Isa 41:22) Let them bring forth and declare to us WHAT IS GOING TO TAKE PLACE. As for THE FORMER EVENTS, declare what they were, That we may consider them and know their outcome. Or announce to us WHAT IS COMING;
(Isa 41:23) Declare the things that are GOING TO COME AFTERWARD, That we may know that you are gods; Indeed, do good or evil, that we may anxiously look about us and fear together.
God possesses foreknowledge and the idols do not. God has a very serious warning for anyone who choose any idol (or god) that that does not have foreknowledge.
(Isa 41:24) Behold, you are of no account, And your work amounts to nothing; He who chooses you is an abomination.
God calls anyone who chooses a [false] god that does not know the future an abomination. This should be a sobering message to open theists, who eagerly promote the idea that God does not know the future.
Molinism: The Reasonable Alternative
The Molinist is comfortably situated between Calvinism and Arminianism, in that God calls, elects and predestines from His perspective, while we choose, repent and believe from our perspective. Molinism is also useful in explaining the formation of the canon of scripture…God breathed yet man selected. Molinism provides a satisfactory theodicy. Christian philosopher William Lane Craig says…
“Under it, God retains a measure of divine providence without hindering humanity’s freedom. Because God has middle knowledge, He knows what an agent would freely do in a particular situation. So, agent A, if placed in circumstance C, would freely choose option X over option Y. Thus, if God wanted to accomplish X, all God would do is, using his middle knowledge, actualize the world in which A was placed in C, and A would freely choose X. God retains an element of providence without nullifying A’s choice and God’s purpose (the actualization of X) is fulfilled.”
Unlike Open Theism, Molinism doesn’t make God out to be a bumbling, indecisive, ignorant Creator of the universe who learns from His creations. Unlike Open Theism, which damages the understanding of the purposes of God toward our salvation, Molinism preserves these essential truths just as the bible describes them.
The open theist God doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the future, seems indecisive and changes His mind as new information from within His creation becomes evident. Aside from seeming characteristically human, this suggests that the open theist god is locked into our temporal world. How can the Creator of the universe be limited by His creation?
A God with foreknowledge exists from an extra-dimensional perspective that is independent of our time (which He created for us) and from His perspective, can see all of our past, the present and all of our future. He can know all of our thoughts (Rev 2:23), how many hairs are on our head (Mat 10:30) and He can inspire predictive prophecy in the word. He can be separated from us on account of sin, but closer to us than our own breath at the same time. He can be invisible to us, but can also see inside our heart (1 Sam 16:7). The orthodox view explains many other circumstances where God’s extra-dimensionality and timelessness is required to have exhaustive foreknowledge, including knowing what we need even before we pray.
(Mat 6:8) “…… for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
It explains how God can know in advance that on Judgement Day….
(Mat 7:22) “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
(Mat 7:23) “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’
For more information, I would recommend watching the debate between John Sanders (Open Theism) and James White (Exhaustive Foreknowledge). It is available on YouTube.
Also, the booklet “What Does God Know?”, by Christian philosopher William Lane Craig, published by Ravi Zacharias Ministries and available at the Biola online bookstore.
Also, William Lane Craig has a book out that I will be reviewing after I finish reading it, entitled “The Only Wise God: The Compatibility Of Divine Foreknowledge And Human Freedom”, available at Amazon.com.
Also, the book “God’s Lesser Glory: The Diminished God of Open Theism”, by Open Theism critic Bruce Ware.
And lastly but not least, research the claims of fellow believers thoroughly by the word of the bible as your single standard of absolute truth.
(1Th 5:21) But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good;
(1Th 5:22) abstain from every form of evil.