What is Open Theism?

Open Theists believe that the future is “open” to God and that the future itself is based upon man’s self-determining free will. To put it another way, according to the open theist, God does not know the choices that will be made in the future because they aren’t made yet. He knows the present exhaustively, inside and out. What He doesn’t know is the future; that is beyond His determination.

The open theist will affirm that God does know what He can do or will do in the future but He does not know what man will do. He can know what a man or woman or angel will do to the extent that He can exert influence; but beyond His influence their reaction is a veiled mystery until the decision becomes a reality. He knows the potential possibilities but He does not know the actualities. Part of the reason for such positioning is based upon the open theist’s understanding of ‘Libertarian Freedom’. This notion suggests that man only has true freedom when God does not know what he will choose. Since God does not know the decisions that will be made He does not know the future, and being that the future is open [they contend] man’s free choices are real and not illusory.

It doesn’t take long to see how this kind of teaching undermines the classic historical understanding of God’s foreknowledge.[1] Openness Theology teaches that God can make mistakes and regret decisions He has made. To the open theist, time is something that God is subject to, not something He is both in and above and Lord over. To the open theist, God is in a state of ever increasing learning, rather than being already and always infinite in knowledge and understanding.

What we will attempt to do over the next two weeks is address the passages that open theists use to make the case for God’s lack of future foresight. The bi-product of such a study is that we will consider not only how to respond to open theist arguments but how to best interpret some controversial passages. There’s much at stake in such an analysis, the results of which can lead to two widely diverging views of God. Either, the Bible affirms the absolute sovereignty, knowledge, and immutability of God, or as open theists contend, God is locked within the bounds of time and is as curious to know the future decisions of men and women just as much as other human beings. Future knowledge, then, for both God and men, becomes a matter of ‘guesses’ with differing amounts of evidence undergirding those guesses.

It is our contention that what we will see from our study of this subject is that the best way to reconcile these Scriptural questions is not by jettisoning the Scriptural teaching of God’s foreknowledge, but rather, it is by seeing clear Scriptural precepts as the foundation for understanding God’s interaction with mankind. When God says that He makes known the end from the beginning (Is 40:28) that, in turn, teaches us that the end is not a mystery left to be decided by a complex series of choices that God doesn’t know. He knows the choices people will make because He knows the days of every human being before they were even formed. Even as David wrote,

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them. (Psalm 139:16)

And again, throughout the text of Scripture, there is evidence time and again that God does indeed know the choices that people will make in the future: Jesus predicted Judas’ betrayal (Jn 13:18-30), Peter’s denial (Mt 26:34), and prophets often times gave predictions about the future that included human decisions (i.e. 1 Sam 8:11-18).

There is much to be discussed and much exegesis to be done as we interact with the text of Scripture and the assertions of open theists.
[1] I refer to the classical historical understanding of God’s foreknowledge not because such an appeal makes the case; indeed it does not. But nonetheless, when Christians throughout the centuries have affirmed the doctrine of God’s in-exhaustive foreknowledge, the novelty of this relatively recent movement should be regarded with caution. See Tom Schreiner’s article My God and Their God for further elaboration. There he writes, “Roman Catholics, Orthodox Groups, and Protestants have consistently taught that God knows everything that will happen in the future…Indeed, the only proponents of this view I have found in history are the pagan Cicero and the heretical Socinians.” Granted, the aforementioned reference is by no means an endorsement of Roman Catholicism or the Greek Orthodox Church, both of which contain serious errors and blatant departures from Biblical Christianity, but I think Schreiner’s point is worth noting: within ‘Christendom’ the teaching of open theism is a novelty. To be clear, I think there are references that can be made beyond the Socinians to the Audians and the followers of G.W.F Hegel, but again, openness theology is by no means often found throughout history by those who call themselves Christians.