“What’s Wrong with Open Theism?”

Click here for the episode on “Redeeming Truth” that deals with Open Theism.

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.

Conclusion:

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.

Works Cited:

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).

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2 thoughts on ““What’s Wrong with Open Theism?””

  1. Sorry – but I just don’t agree with your statements above. The following in done in all respect though 🙂

    1. God’s Omnipotence. There are no well known Open Theist theologian who don’t believe in God’s Omnipotence. They fully adhere to this aspect. They fully believe that God can do all things that are logically possible (ie can’t can’t make square circles because they aren’t logically possible).

    2. Prayer. If anything Prayer becomes much more vital under a Open Theists point of view. There is the real sense that prayer can influence the mind of God. And that we are free agent to choose to pray. Hence, responsibility falls on us. The Romans 8 passage you quote can equally be interpreted as speaking of a group ie Believers – rather than individuals. So in summary that passage could mean (and I believe it does mean) that ‘God has foreknown and predestinted that Christians will be confirmed to the image of Christ.

    3. Time. You can’t go out and buy a bucket of time. It isn’t a thing. Now the measurement of time is another thing. I don’t think that God is above sequence. It is not superior to Him at all….it is just a statement of reality. The Bible talks about the love that the Godhead had trinity ‘before’ (interesting word when we are talking about time) the creation of the World. Now for Love to take place there has to be action and reaction – these occur in sequence. Time (or at least sequence) wasn’t part of the creation – it is merely the description we give to sequence. This happened, then that happened, then that happened etc etc.

    4. End times. As we have said God is all powerful. He can bring these times to close whenever He wants to. As an aside it is interesting that scripture notes that we can ‘hasten the Lord’s coming’. This implies that our actions can influence His decision. It probably is more that God is waiting to see certain actions from us before He comes again. So again, this strongly implies that God doesn’t have a particular date in mind.

    Again, I am saying this with all respect. But Open Theism is a legitimate option amongst evangelicals in their understanding of God.

    Thankyou

  2. Greetings Tim!

    Four things I want to express concerning your post: First and foremost, thank you for your kindness in your response. The reason I monitor comments before approving them to the site is that I desire the content of this site to remain respectful while expressing good arguments without ad hominem assaults. You did both and I thank you greatly for that.

    Second, I would like to respond to the comment that I made concerning Open Theism being a heresy. I should note that the reason behind my comment has more to do with the problems I see concerning the demotion of God’s Omnipotence. I shall deal with that later. Perhaps, there should be a further explanation of the statement concerning heresy. I think “extreme” Open Theism could be listed as a heresy. However, it may be that lesser forms of Open Theism could be considered under the umbrella of genuine Christianity. I will leave that to the reader to work through.

    Third, I would like to briefly respond to some of your objections.

    1) Omnipotence. I understand your reasoning completely. Yes, it would be difficult for God to create a square circle like it would be difficult for a person to be a “married bachelor.” However, I would like to press the issue a bit. Where did this logic arise? I believe that God is the creator of logic. Could God have put our arms where are heads are and our legs where our arms are? Yes. But was it logical for God to do so? Not in this realm, but perhaps God could have made a world where we walked with our arms and reached out our heads. It seems illogical to us now, but God has the power to do something like that if God chose to do so. The logic we understand existed before us. I believe that God created the logic that guides our world. Yes it does not make sense for God to create a square circle, but that is because God set the parameters of logic before creation. Some have claimed that “Logos” in John’s Gospel could be translated “logic.” Perhaps, it could.

    2) Prayer. In this section, I would simply like to respond to the Romans 8:29 passage. Paul uses a powerful Greek term in the passage: “proginosko.” “Proginosko” is the term in which we get our English equivalent “prognosis.” It literally means “to know beforehand.” Scripturally, it gets worse for the Open Theist. In Jeremiah 1:5, God told Jeremiah, “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations” (New Living Translation). This clearly shows God’s ability to foreknow things in advance. This makes it even more relevant for a person to pray for the will of God to take place. Being an Arminian, I believe that we have the ability to respond positively or negatively to the grace of God. But, our will does not negate God’s power to foreknow our decision before we make them.

    3) Time. Time may be a sequence of events. However, that does not necessitate time is not a thing. Time is quantitative. Time can be measured. Time is even found to be relative. Time around black holes slows down considerably. Einstein’s Law of General Relativity speaks in part to this issue. But, keeping the science at bay, we must ask if God can know the future. Yes, He can. How else could the promise be given in Romans 8:28 that God would work out all things for good? How could God do this if God did not have the capacity to know future events? Furthermore, what does this do to prophecy?

    Also, it can be shown that at the beginning of the universe time, at least as how we understand it, began to exist. This falls in line with Dr. William Lane Craig’s Kalaam Cosmological Argument which follows: 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2) The universe began to exist. 3) Therefore, the universe had a cause. Time is a strange thing. But, it is quantitative. So, I would suggest that time is a created thing. If God did create time, then it would be His to be outside of time.

    Finally, let’s assume for a moment that time is only a sequence of events and nothing more. If God is Omnipotent, why then could God know every possible outcome and know the heart of a person so well that God knows the response made before it is ever made? I have met some people before that I knew so well that I could almost know how a person would respond to a certain stimuli. Take God, who knows the heart and thoughts of a person; He could know with certainty what a person would decide if given the opportunity. So even if time is only a sequence of events, God could run the sequence of events and the thoughts of a person and still know the future. But what of the chance that a person would respond differently? Could God not also know the change of heart that a person could have at a certain point? I think He could. The problem is that we have a difficult time understanding Omnipotence and eternity because we are in many ways impotent and finite (in this world’s scheme).

    4) End Times. A lot could be said here, but I want to respond to one issue. You stated, “This implies that our actions can influence His decision. It probably is more that God is waiting to see certain actions from us before He comes again” (Tim). This is problematic because it could be that our decisions imprison God. This would make humans greater than God. Also, I do think that God has a date in mind due to God’s ability to know the hearts of humans and know how things will take place before they do. Jesus stated, “…No one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. (Does this demote Jesus from the Trinity? No, we will address that in future articles.) Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert” (Mark 13:32-33, NLT)! Jesus implies that God DOES know the time when God will bring creation to a close.

    Finally, I would like to offer you a chance to express your views on Open Theism in more detail. If you would like to write a paper laying out the core essentials of Open Theism, I would invite you to do so. Quite frankly, I personally have not met many Open Theists, so this would do well for everyone to know where Open Theists stand. Also, I would offer you a chance to write rebuttals to the works of Drew Payne’s Calvinism and my Arminianism. If you would like to take me up on this offer, respond by sending me your email address on a reply comment. I will email you a link to send me your work and I will keep your email address private (by disapproving the reply and keeping your email address). Mr. Payne and I would likewise offer rebuttals, as well.

    Most of all, let me say that I greatly appreciate your comments. Please note that I seek to be respectful in the comments I make here and now and I hope that it is received that way. Although we may not agree on the details, we are both brothers in Christ. That is something that is of the utmost importance.

    Blessings in our Risen Lord!

    Pastor Brian

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