What is your view of “open theism?”
I have a theological question. I want to hear your thoughts on “open theism”, the idea that God is all-knowing and all-powerful but that He can’t “see into the future” because it hasn’t happened yet. The idea came up when discussing the nature of God with my son. He is a teen and is trying to figure out if he believes in God or not. He had a question about God knowing what would happen before it happens. My wife brought up an idea mentioned by Dr Greg Boyd in “Letters from a Skeptic.” Here’s the quote: “If we have been given freedom, we create the reality of our decisions by making them. And until we make them, they don’t exist. Thus, in my view at least, there simply isn’t anything to know until we make it there to know. So God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates until He creates these people and they, in turn, create their decisions.” He goes on to say that he knows this is not a traditional Christian position and I’ve read a little more of what he thinks about it on the internet and that certainly is his position. Now that we’ve discussed it I can’t believe I’ve never thought of it before because it makes a lot of sense. My initial skeptic thought is that it couldn’t be true because we have prophecies so therefore God had to have looked into the future to make those predictions. But then I realized that it’s just as likely that God knew those events would transpire because he knew his plan to make those events happen and knew His ability to cause them to happen (i.e when Samuel tells Saul he’s going to die in battle the next day that could be because God was going to cause it to happen not because He already saw it happen). And many other predictions could be made by knowing the hearts of men and their intentions, such as when Jesus predicted that Judas would betray him. This idea seemed really outrageous to me but that could be because Calvenism is still so broadly accepted. I would have never thought to have challenged those ideas if someone wouldn’t have taught me differently. And because our society largely believes in the idea of time travel even though there is nothing close to proof that it’s possible. Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. Can you let me know if you believe in the open theism idea and why or why not? If there are any articles on the subject that you could point me to that would be helpful.
I have come across a number of believers who are pulled toward what is sometimes called “open theism.” My experience tells me that most of these are people who are trying to make Christianity “logical” or are trying to make Christianity make sense in a philosophical perspective. It is my opinion that this is a mistake. I have studied church history in much detail and I have discovered that whenever humans try to make “sense” of the things that God has left as a mystery they get into trouble theologically and end up in a rabbit hole which can even lead to heresy. (by the way, I do not believe that open theism is heresy!)
Here is the bottom line. I cannot fully explain logically everything that can be said about God, but there are a few things I am quite sure of, and I am sure of these things because they are consistent with the way that the Bible describes God consistently throughout. First, God does know what happens before it happens. This is proved, not only by historical prophecy, but by types, prefigures and foreshadows, as well as by clear and direct statements by God about himself. Jesus is a lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. God tells us in Isaiah, Ezekiel and other places that he knows what happens before it happens. Isaiah 42:9 is one of many examples of God saying this. Exactly what this means, I guess I do not know, but it is apparent that God exists outside of time and that he is not affected by time. This is why he does not change. Time and the three physical dimensions have no limitation for the one who created them.
What is so difficult for us humans, living an existence in which time is linear, is that God apparently can know the future without determining it. God gives us freedom and we work within that freedom which he declared for us. The best human effort at explaining this that I have seen is known as Molinism. I suggest you look this up. William Lane Craig is a proponent of this philosophy. I do not fully accept Molinism, as it is philosophical speculation. In essence Molina speculated that God is aware of all possible paths and chooses the best possible path within which our free will can work along with his sovereign will. This is a simplification.
I do not disagree with the statement of Dr. Greg Boyd. From a human perspective it is no doubt true, but I am not convinced that God is limited by such a statement. Have you ever read the book Flatland? It is a great little book about beings who live in a 3-D world trying to explain 3-D reality to people in a 2-D world. I believe that this is a useful analogy to trying to understand how God’s perspective is so utterly different than ours. In Romans 8:29-30 Paul tells us that those God foreknows, he predestines. God foreknows who will choose to love and obey him. He predestined that all would be saved, because God desires all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, not for just some of us (1 John 2:2) . But of those whom he predestined for the opportunity to be saved, only some accept that invitation, and God foreknows who these people are. To tell you the truth, this gives me a headache thinking about it, but it is the only way I can consistently view the Bible. I believe we should avoid philosophical speculation such as open theism because, although it might feel “logical” it is rather obviously contradicted by multiple statements in the Bible.
So, for what it is worth, I do not agree with you that “God can’t foreknow the good or bad decisions of the people He creates…. I do agree with your statement that “God knew these events would happen because he knew his plan to make those events happen.” However, God’s ability to do these things interacts in a world in which we have free will. In the scripture we are told that God knows what will happen before it happens. I will go with scripture on this one. You might be right, but it seems like speculation to me and you are not quoting scriptures on this speculation. I like to remember that there are things about God which do not make logical sense according to human logic. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. I do not understand this but I accept it as true. This applies to my understanding of God’s foreknowledge. Is it limited in some way? Maybe, but I have no reason to believe that it is and I prefer to stay away from speculation about how it might be in the absence of scripture on the topic. God predicted that Cyrus would save his people from bondage well over one hundred years before he was born. This tells me something.
I definitely agree with your insight that Calvinism casts a long shadow over the thinking of many if not most Christian believers on these questions. Calvinism proposes that God not only foreknows but also predetermines. This is NOT TRUE. Tulip is very bad theology. Limited atonement is not only unbiblical, it also makes God into the author of sin and into the one who decided that person X goes to hell. One could argue that we have Calvinism on one side and open theism on the other. If I had to choose between the two I would definitely choose open theism, but I believe that it simply is not consistent with scripture, so I am going to stay somewhere in the middle on this one. God foreknows without predestining who will be saved.
I hope this will get you started.