A Critical Bashing of Open Theism
Open Theism (OT) is the belief that God does not have an exhaustive knowledge of future events. The argument goes something like this:
- 1. God does not know things that do not exist.
- 2. Future events do not exist because they have not occurred.
- 3. Therefore, God does not know future events.
OT contends that God is still omniscient because He knows all things that can possibly be known. There are different versions of this explanation varying from the belief that God has chosen to not know the future to the idea that the future simply cannot be known. In any case, all Open Theists contend that in order for God to truly love, and in order for man to truly be free, the future cannot be determined nor known exhaustively. I would like to examine the following issues related to this school of thought: God’s relationship to time, the relationship of foreknowledge and freewill, the problem with theodicies, and scriptural support for Open Theism.
God and Time
The strongest argument that the OT has comes from this angle. That is because the strength of this argument is due to our lack of knowledge concerning God’s relationship to time. Thus, this argument possesses a paradoxical speculative strength. The success of the argument requires that, a) time is linear and b) God is in time. I cannot definitively state that either premise is false. However, the OT cannot definitively state that either premise is true.
The conventional linear concept of time has been challenged for quite awhile. Time is not simply the temporal space in which events occur. It is an actual dimension that can be measured (we normally think of time as the measurer). Physics has demonstrated that the measurement of time differs depending upon factors such as location in the Universe and the size and density of objects. There is a degree a relativity to time. On the other hand, does not the sequence of events still follow a linear progression? Join the club if you are a bit confused. Apparently the Open Theists do not think they belong to this club.
If we do not yet have a clear understanding of the nature of time, how can we possibly state anything definitive about God’s relationship to it? It is not certain whether God is inside or outside of time. It is uncertain if time exists in eternity. The speculation over these matters protects OT’s argument from being refuted, but it serves to demonstrate the weakness of the argument as well. Is time linear? I do not know. Is there a sequence of events in eternity? I do not know. Does God exist in either one, or both? I do not know. Neither do the Open Theists.
Foreknowledge and Free Will
Theism has always been riddled with the mystery of the simultaneous existence of God’s sovereignty & man’s freewill. It is logically incoherent to believe in both without qualifying at least one. The question that OT proposes is whether or not we can even believe in divine foreknowledge and still maintain that man is free in the libertarian sense. If God knows the future, then how can man be free to choose otherwise? This discussion is linked to the previous one. The dilemna assumes that time is linear and that God is in it. If God exists outside of time then everything is “now” to Him and nothing is determined.
I am really not that concerned about reconciling foreknowledge and freewill. I am much more concerned over the fact that OT considers man’s freewill to be more important than God’s sovereignty and even foreknowledge. If it is true that I cannot believe in both, then I will choose to believe in foreknowledge without hesitation. OT is obssessed with the idea of libertarian freewill to a heretical extent both theologically & philosophically. The current climate of philosophy is becoming more and more critical of the notion of freewill. Most neuroscientists now consider it to be a mere illusion. Yet, OT will fight for belief in it until the death and that will most likely be the cause of death.
God is good and Theodicies are bad
At its essence OT is a theodicy, thus making it fundamentally flawed. Theodicies seek to justify God in response to the problem of evil/suffering and end up creating more problems than solutions. The theodicy of OT is that God is not responsible for evil/suffering, nor can He prevent it, because He does not know the future. Quite simply, God doesn’t see it coming. First, this explanation does not at all get God off of the proverbial hook. If a person is diagnosed with cancer, even if God didnt know that was going to happen, He is still able to remove the cancer after the fact. Lack of foreknowledge does not resolve the problem of evil/suffering. Second, like most theodicies, OT has to reform the traditional view of God in order to propose a solution. Reform isnt necessarily false, but if it is motivated by an agenda and not reason or evidence, it is not credible. As is the case with OT.
Most theodicies (OT included) committ three flaws: 1. They are motivated by an agenda (to make God look good). 2. They do not accomplish their agenda (they do not make God look good). 3. In attempt to accomplish the agenda, they make inaccurate and unfounded statements about God (they are ad hoc). No other book of the Bible deals with the problem of evil/suffering more directly than the book of Job. It does not propose a theodicy. God does not explain to Job why he suffers. He is not concerned with justifying His actions before men. Why are we so concerned with it?
The Bible says so
OT makes a weak attempt to support itself with scripture with examples like God regretting creating (Gen. 6: 6-7) and God changing His mind like He did with Moses and Hezekiah (Ex. 32: 7-14; Is. 38: 1-5). Remember, OT is not motivated by biblical evidence so it is not surprising to see that the evidence is lacking. Most biblical scholars have always regarded these scriptures as anthropromorphistic-they use human characteristics in order to communicate something about God. They are not supposed to be taken literally. For example, we do not believe that the Father literally has hands or a face even though He is sometimes described as such.
The other problem with this misuse of scripture is that these examples use descriptive passages as opposed to prescriptive passages. A general rule of doctrinal formation is to base doctrines upon prescriptive passages and then use descriptive passages for support. Not surprisingly, the biblical evidence against OT comes from prescriptive verses like: 1Sam. 15: 29, Is. 46: 10, Mal. 3: 6.
The chief piece of evidence against OT is biblical prophecy. OT explains this by stating that God has complete knowledge of all probabilities in the Universe. With this knowledge, He is able to make accurate predictions about the future (why could He not use this knowledge to prevent the kind of suffering that has nothing to do with freewill, e.g. natural disasters?) According to this explanation, Jesus was not ordained to fulfill his role as Messiah, he just happened to. Heresy aside, this explanation does not at all represent the biblical view of prophecy. God is not making educated guesses; prophecy demonstrates His sovereignty throughout history.
I do not worship a God who makes really educated guesses about a future that He does not know. I trust a God who knows the future that He controls. Regardless of His relationship to time and its effect upon my freewill, God has exhaustive knowledge of all past, present, and future events. This essentially comes down to whom is more important in our doctrinal formation, God or man? The Open Theists have exalted man and his freewill while showing no regard for biblical truth in their attempt to justify God to man. Despite this humanistic attempt, unbelievers are not impressed and neither am I.