What’s Wrong with Open Theism?
by: Pastor Brian Chilton
Does God know the future? Most evangelical Christians would say yes. However, a good number of Christians would say no. Who are those who would espouse such an answer? Adherents of Open Theism would say that God does not know the future. There are various versions of Open Theism with various degrees of how the Open Theist views God’s restraint with time. Since this is an abbreviated article, we will have to spend time with only the general problem of placing time restrictions on God.
Various doctrinal problems arise out of an extreme view of Open Theism. In this brief article, I would like to espouse four problems with Open Theism which would cause severe doctrinal problems when taken to their natural ends: the demotion of God’s Omnipotence, the demerit of the power of prayer, the deification of time, and the endangerment to end-times.
1. Demotes God’s Omnipotence (Almighty Power)
The first major problem suffering Open Theism is the demotion of God’s Omnipotence. The word “Omnipotence” means “all powerful.” In other words, omnipotence is the description of God’s power to do all things logically consistent. By logically consistent, I mean that God would not make a square circle. Yet, in the great mystery of it all, God created logic itself. Solomon writes in his melancholic book, Ecclesiastes, “God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him” (Ecclesiastes 2:26, NLT). How could God give wisdom if He did not create it? For me, this is problematic with Molinism which seems to make a dualism with God and logic. But I must admit that I do not completely understand the tenets of Molinism.
John makes it clear in the first of his gospel, “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him” (John 1:1-3, NLT). The Bible even credits God with omnipotence. “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns” (Revelation 19:6, NKJV)! We could go on and on with the biblical references to God’s “almighty power.” Since this is an abbreviated article. This will have to suffice for now.
But let us point out that since everything came from God, time itself came from God. This, too, is what the scientific data points to, as well. We will discuss this in more detail on the third point. But for the time, it should be noted that God has no equal. Another problem exists with Open Theism. This next problem deals with the arena of prayer.
2. Demerits the Power of Prayer
A second theological problem that exists with Open Theism is in the arena of prayer. If God does not know the future, then how could we trust Romans 8:28-30? “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, NASB). If God is restrained by time, then how could God foreknow anything? If God could not foreknow anything, then how could God predestine anything? If God could not predestine anything, then how could we know that God could make all things work together for good? If God could not work all things together for good, then how is God still omnipotent? If God is not omnipotent, then why should we ask God for help in our prayers as Jesus, Paul, James, and others instructs? I would not say that prayer becomes unprofitable, because the Open Theist could bring about the relational aspect that we all need with God. But, I would say that the Open Theist loses a great deal of comfort in God’s ability to bring about good teleological ends unlike the Arminian and Calvinist. Another problem exists in my mind with Open Theism and that is the issue of time itself.
3. Deifies Time
An element of blasphemy is potential with Open Theism. That blasphemy could come by the deification of time. God stands alone. If time is made superior to God, then in essence time must be greater than God and may be seen as God…as strange as that sounds. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae writes about how there must be a Prime Mover. The first to move is not restrained by time.
“It should be said that we must affirm that whatever in any way exists is from God, for if something is found to be in a thing through participation, it must be caused in it by that which essentially is that something as iron is heated by fire. It was shown above, however, when we treated of the divine simplicity, that God is subsistent existence itself, and it was also shown that subsistent existence must be unique just as if there were a subsistent whiteness there could only be one, since whitenesses are multiplied by recipients. It follows therefore that nothing apart from God can be its own existence, but rather participates in existence. Therefore it is necessary that all the things that are diversified because of diverse participation in being, such that they are more or less perfect, are caused by the first being who is most perfect” (Thomas Aquinas, “On Creation,” 361-362).
Yes, there is a lot in the previous paragraph, but Aquinas in nonetheless logical and factual in his assessment. God is the source of all things. As John said in his gospel, “nothing was created except through him” (John 1:3). So, placing any limits on God even limiting God in time negates the biblical concept of God. Since there is evidence that the Bible is God’s word (let the reader know that we will deal with this issue in a later article and show), then to go against the solid teaching of Scripture could be claimed to be heretical. Yet another problem exists for Open Theism and that is found in the realm of eschatology.
4. Endangers End-times
Lastly, let us consider the danger if the Open Theist is right. If God does not know time, then God is not omnipotent. If God is not omnipotent, then there could be a possibility that God could lose to Satan. We could say that the deck is still stacked against Satan, but what if Satan tricked God by some means? This opens up a disastrous scene. Worse than a movie that ends on a sour note, all of history could prove to be in big trouble. Yet that is not the idea I receive from reading the book of Revelation. As a matter of fact, the way I read Revelation, Armaggedon will not be much of a battle. God will lower the boom and then…game over.
This is what the text states, “When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them. Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:7-10, NLT). That’s it. The Devil gives it one more try. God lowers the boom…and that’s it. As I type this, I can feel the change in the barometric pressure as a severe storm front approaches. It is very ominous. Can you imagine the troops joining Satan as they arm up against the gates of heaven? Can you imagine the power emanating above them as God begins to strike? The power surging and charging causing perhaps the hair to rise on the backs of the perverse. Could they for a moment realize the doom that faces them? Then…BOOM!!! The end. No great cosmic battle. No big finish. Just a big strike sending the powers of evil to their eternal end…a lake burning with crimson and sulfur. But if God is restrained by time, why on earth would God reveal God’s own plans before God enacts them? Some will ask why would a loving God do this? How could a loving God not do this and allow evil to run rampant? That’s the key.
Short and simple, Open Theism does not work. We have discussed four problems with Open Theism, but I dare say that many more exist with Open Theism. Do I think Open Theism is a heresy? Yes, I believe it is. But, we should not condemn our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who hold this view. We should seek to correct their fallacious views with great love. It may be that the Open Theist will receive far more comfort when he or she realizes that God has everything under control.
Aquinas, Thomas, “On Creation. Summa Theologiae, I, 44 (1268), Thomas Aquinas Selected Writings (London: Penquin Classics, 1998).
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).
The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).